In his recently published 56-page report Nigeria: Elections and Continuing Challenges Robert I. Rotberg writes the following (pgs. 3-6):
Nigeria’s vital importance for Africa’s political development, for U.S. and European interests, and for world order cannot be exaggerated. Nigeria’s sheer aggregate numbers—possibly as many as 150 million of the full continent’s 800 million—and its proportionate weight in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled affairs, make the country’s continuing evolution from military dictatorship to stable, sustained democracy critical.
Moreover, four factors are salient. First, Nigeria’s sizable production of petroleum, 3.22 percent of world output and 8.5 percent of all U.S. imports, emphasizes Washington’s deep interest in sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country. Second, that Nigeria is a committed Muslim land as well as a fervently Christian polity raises questions about Islamism and potential sanctuaries for global terrorists. So far, however, even if northern Nigerians have expressed views favorable to Islam in public opinion surveys, there has been no known embrace of Islamist terror. Indeed, if encouraged and well led, Nigeria could become an effective example of Muslim-Christian cooperation within a plural nation. Third, from a health security vantage point, HIV/AIDS is ravaging Nigeria, as are malaria and tuberculosis. Avian influenza’s reservoirs exist significantly in Nigeria and threaten other countries. Likewise, just as Nigeria’s role in exporting polio and measles after failed inoculation campaigns demonstrated, borders no longer bar contagion. What infects Nigerians potentially endangers all of Africa and the world. Fourth, Nigeria has abundant economic potential beyond oil. It is the fastest-growing telecoms market in the world. Its stock market is thriving. Nigerians do not lack for entrepreneurial talent.
But despite oil wealth, despite its vast human capacity, despite its demonstrated heft in the African Union and its significant role in reversing coups in West Africa and helping to broker the Darfurian and other peace initiatives, Nigeria is still a poor, struggling country, even by the standards of its continent. In 2006, Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was $800. That modest figure, less than Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal, but more than Benin and Ghana, camouflages vast disparities of wealth—Nigeria’s Gini coefficient was 0.44 in 2003, among the least equal income spreads in Africa. The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that 70 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 per day. Nor are Nigeria’s social attainments commensurate with its oil and gas wealth. Although $500 billion of oil has been extracted since 1970, life expectancy at birth was only forty-three in 2006, a poor number even within Africa.
These numbers, and Nigeria’s reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt places, mask the reality that Nigeria, together with South Africa, remains the pivot of Africa. If Nigeria can harness its oil wealth for the good of all of its people, if it can banish (or at least reduce) poverty and squalor, if it can diminish the palpable sense that an overlord class is stripping the people of their rightful shares of prosperity, and if these changes can be funneled into a sustainable effort, then Nigeria can probably become more secure and a strong leader for good in tomorrow’s Africa.
Nigerians want that result. So does the rest of Africa and the international community. But there are severe hurdles to overcome before Nigeria can begin to achieve its national potential—namely, holding free, fair, and credible (incident-free would be too much to hope for) national elections this April, institutionalizing the fledgling steps toward improved governance and transparency begun in the past eight years, and delivering a modicum of political goods to its citizens in all parts of the country. Good governance is just that: the provision of adequate qualities and quantities of the prime political goods of security, rule of law, political freedom, economic opportunity, and access to infrastructure, education, health, and an empowered civil society.
As Nigeria approaches these crucial elections and a series of decisions that may well alter the trajectory of democracy there and throughout Africa, it draws on a strong well of recent national political accomplishment. The woes of Nigerians may be many, but so are its achievements as a reconstructed nation-state since 1999, when President Olusegun Obasanjo led the nation back to democracy after decades of excessively corrupt military tyranny. Nigeria and Nigerians have been resilient. There is a large, expanding middle class that cherishes and demands more, rather than less, stability. The ranks of the hegemonic bourgeoisie are expanding; entrepreneurs less and less depend on the largesse of the state. The government’s dominance of the economy is shrinking, giving space for Nigeria’s numerous, skillful entrepreneurs to take the initiative within an increasingly participatory framework.
Most of all, Nigeria has demonstrated since 1999 that it can survive the kinds of major crises that would have derailed less secure, less mature polities. As a “secular” state, Nigeria has managed without too much dissonance to endure and embrace the introduction of sharia law into its north. Contentious as was that insertion of religious law, the nation itself never crumbled. The nation also survived another census, historically a source of competition and conflict. Last year’s exercise was received with a little less opprobrium than its predecessors in 1962–63, 1973, and 1991, and was endorsed by the Council of State. It was, comparatively, a successful milestone despite ample cries of disdain in the press and from Lagos.
Similarly, Obasanjo’s quest for a third presidential term, breaching constitutional provisions, could have rent the national fabric. Instead, the legislative branch of government diffused hostility and anger, denying Obasanjo what he wanted but without pushing the nation into violence. Shifts in political power from north to south and now, potentially, back again, seem to be accepted as normal—a potential affirmation of Nigeria’s growing political maturity. Power sharing, in other words, has become a recognized norm.
The professionalism of the higher judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, has by and large been a force for good, and for moderation, at the national level. Important constitutional challenges have been debated and judged there rather than settled in the streets or by coups. Obasanjo’s administration has managed to institute improved budgeting practices, begin reforming the banking system, and massively reduce Nigeria’s foreign debt. Furthermore, probity in the petroleum sector has been enhanced thanks to the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI). Outside of the government, Nigeria has a thriving civil society. Active nongovernmental organizations, and especially a vibrant media, mean that public accountability mechanisms function.
For policymakers everywhere, Nigeria should be the central African question. No country’s fate is so decisive for the continent. No other country across a range of issues has the power so thoroughly to shape outcomes elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. If Nigeria works well, so might Africa. If the democratic experiment in Nigeria stalls, and development and governance stagnate, the rest of Africa suffers and loses hope. This report carefully examines Nigeria’s abundant advances since 1999, discusses some of the constraints on further progress, and recommends a range of policy priorities for Abuja, Washington, Brussels, and London in 2007 and thereafter.
In urgent particular, this report argues that Washington should immediately turn policy eyes to Nigerian questions now, in time to help Nigerians to hold democratically confirming elections in April. A presidential-appointed mission or task force is required, together with high-level attention to many of the near-term and medium-term questions set out in this report and in the appended recommendations. A rapid injection of democracy and governance funding is indicated to assist the Nigerian government in strengthening civil society and accountability before, during, and after the election season. Longer term, the United States and other donors should find the means to offer enduring assistance to Nigeria across the range of governance problems specified throughout this report. A high-level forum—a U.S.-Nigeria commission modeled on the U.S.-China, U.S.-India, and U.S.-Brazil commission models—should be established by Congress to encourage regular dialogue between senior American and Nigerian officials and businesspeople.
[End of excerpt from CFR report]
Visit the Council on Foreign Relations website to read more about this report and regularly updated articles about Nigeria written by members of its distinguished staff and board. Also checkout the additional resources I have listed below for more information about the 2007 elections in Nigeria and the ongoing struggle for democracy and good governance in Africa.
Related articles and reports
Council on Foreign Relations – Nigeria reports and articles
Nigeria: Elections and Continuing Challenges by Robert I. Rotberg
Nigeria’s ‘Godfather Syndrome’ by Stephanie Hanson
Nigeria’s Creaky Political System by Stephanie Hanson
Nigeria’s Election Tumult by Stephanie Hanson
Profile of Robert I. Rotberg
United States Institute of Peace
Nigeria’s 2007 Elections: The Fitful Path to Democratic Citizenship by Jibrin Ibrahim
(Hat Tip to the Nigerian Village Square post and summary)
Nigeria’s 2007 Elections: The Fitful Path to Democratic Citizenship – 02/02/07
INEC – Nigerian Independent Electoral Commission
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Democracy Inaction by Josh Kurlantzick – The New Republic 03/21/07
IFES – International democracy assistance organization
Nigerian elections 2007 project, news, and reports
allAfrica.com – top Africa news site and press aggregator
Nigerian 2007 election news and editorials from Africa’s leading newspapers
Nigeria Frets Over How to Give Voters a Real Say by Lydia Polgreen – 04/19/07
(Tip for my readers: Lydia Polgreen is one of the best young foreign correspondents covering Africa for the NY Times in a generation. Read everything she writes and watch her video reports from the continent too.)
Voting in Nigeria Marked by Tumult – 04/15/07
The Battle for Nigeria by June Thomas – 04/11/07
PINR (Power and Interest News Report)
Nigeria avoids a governance crisis – 06/21/06
Foreign Policy magazine and FP Passport blog
And now for some good news from Africa – 05/17/06