Friday, April 20, 2007

The Battle for Nigeria: Why the conduct and results of the 2007 elections matters

The title of this post “The Battle for Nigeria” was taken from an excellent article written by June Thomas for (a Newsweek Interactive-Washington Post online magazine) on April 11th. I discovered the piece while browsing the blog A Glimpse of the World authored by the New York Times Shanghai bureau chief and noted foreign correspondent and author Howard French. What is significant about June Thomas’s article aside from the useful information and impressions of Nigeria that she provides is that it is part of a little known initiative by some of America’s leading and most influential “media gatekeepers” to improve news coverage of Africa in the United States. I’ll go into that in a bit more detail in my next post on the Nigeria 2007 elections but first I want to share with you some information from a recent report published by one of America’s leading think tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

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 – top Africa news site and press aggregator
Nigerian 2007 election news and editorials from Africa’s leading newspapers

N.Y. Times
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.)

Washington Post
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


imnakoya said...

This is a great write-up on the unfortunate events that now constitute the greatest and most imminent threat to the integrity of Nigeria as a free nation post civil war.

The lack luster response from Washington, London and other super powers following the election debacle is troubling. It makes me wonder if these powers are deeply concerned to see meaningful democratic changes in the country. I’m also deeply disappointed in all Nigerian former heads of state for their silence on the botched elections. Maybe the gravity of the electoral fraud was too over-whelming for them to offer meaningful comments.

However, it is encouraging to read of the presence in Nigeria of Madeline Albright, the former U.S Secretary of State, and some international observers. Not that I’m expecting any upset or an impressive turn-out during the presidential elections, it is remarkable that the old lady could find the energy and time to check out things for herself.

There is no ambiguity on how important it is for Nigeria to get her acts right. The stake is high and the consequences too dear if the country continues to flip-flop as the world saw during the election weekend and weeks prior.

After all said and done, the extent of our successes, or failures, will be determined by sincerity of the Nigerian political players - not the western superpowers - and the depth of commitment of federal government.

The people have spoken unlike never before, they yearn for a change, and they voted in large numbers, but somehow, those that should listen have suddenly turned deaf and blind!

Black River Eagle said...

It's still early yet, give the "superpowers" a chance to figure out their best strategies in dealing with the "fluid situation" on the ground in Nigeria during these elections. What we are all hoping and praying for worldwide are peaceful elections relative to what many of us have witnessed in past elections and changes of government for some West African nations.

If there are enough irregularities and strong evidence of voter intimidation, vote manipulation and outright theft, these issues can be settled before the Nigerian Supreme Court and any number of international civil rights and legal bodies. Chill Imnakoya, chill my friend. Don't explode with anger and frustration but instead apply steady constant pressure on the powers in Nigeria until the people get what they want and what they deserve after having gone to the polls to choose their leaders in a peaceful way.

Good luck and peace to your nation and your people today during the presidential polls which should be wrapping up in just a few hours over here in Central European Time (Nairi Time).

P.S. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright is down in Nigeria as an election observer? That's rich Dude, very rich.

BTW: Madeline Albright would not like you calling her an "old lady" so I would retract that statement if I were you before she reads this. She's a big fan of Jewels in the Jungle you know and "word on the street" is that she still packs a mean left hook when she's pissed off at somebody.

Don Thieme said...

It is clear to me that this author does not regard Nigeria as a "failed state." He does, however, warn of what the United States attitude might be were the national government to lose control and Islamists to stage a coup in the north. We would no doubt try to root out terrorists there as we have just been doing in Somalia.

Black River Eagle said...

Thanks for the visit Don and I have already responded to your comment(s) over at Imnakoya's place, Grandiose Parlor.

I don't think that the U.S. government including the present administration is overly concerned about Nigeria being overrun by radical Islamists from the North or elsewhere, but it might get a bit nervous if Nigeria's petroleum exports were disrupted beyond present levels (periodically < 50% output capacity) due to the ongoing conflicts in the Niger Delta.

Royal Dutch Shell with the backing of the Netherlands and the U.K. governments would act before Washington would do anything, because at the end of the day it's all about the money and Shell is headquartered in Europe, not America. The U.S. always has its friends down in Venezuela and up in Canada in case things get tight with oil imports from Nigeria.

beninmwangi said...


Hi, how is it that we always end up bumoing into each other through comments? :)

Alright, me...I am no political watcher or observer or anything, but sometimes I feel like folks forget that this is the same America that was the subject of two of the biggest voting debaucles in recent history. This issue has my mind racing in way too many directions at one time for me to even come across coherently, but all I'm trying to say is that where there is power, you will find some abuses. No matter the nation.

That being said, do you think that sometimes, we the populace are actually giving the politicians more power than they really have by putting so much of our hopes and feelings into them?

Again, I am commenting from the point of view of someone who is not very educated in the area of Nigerian politics, so I'm acknowledging that this might be off base. If it is, i apologize. But again, I really feel like major change in any georgraphic region must come from its populace first, otherwise it won't be deep-rooted.

Of course, good governance brings forth so many wonderful fringe benefits and has the overall effect of making complicated tasks so simple, thaty one might actually believe that they are everyday-second nature type events, until they go to a poorly governed locale.

But even with that being said, how can a people get beyond the emotions surrounding politics and actually go one to empowering themselves, even in the midst of lackluster support from the powers that be? I will leave that one open...

On a related note, I think that what often happens is that poor and/or corrupt governance somehow goes hand in hand with weak management and loose organization and planning. You will rarely find one without finding the other, especially in developing economies. But, I think that they are not the same thing. And although it may be difficult to actually find the line that separates the two, it is important to find ways of distinguishing them...So that one may accurately assess the problem. Like, lets take elections, for instance- those with high reports of discrepancies. After verifyng the actual existance of the inconsistancies one might ask-ok, was this caused by corruption or was it cause by lack of planning and poor management? What happens if the evidence overwhelmingly points to one cause versus the other? To be honest I am not 100% sure, but believe that just getting a clearer picture of the dynamics involved would allow folks to ask more pinpointed questions, which might lead to more answers.

I have heard that there were a lot of kinks in Nigeria's elections last week. mY honest guess is that perhaps 20 to 30 % directly related to the governing party and the other 70 to 80% of the problems in the election might stem from just poor management. So to me that would mean that Nigeria and its politics are not as polarized as some make it out to be. Which to me offers some glimmer of hope...

But again, I have not studied the situation enough to know whether these proverbial potholes were caused by oversight, i.e. lack of planning and weak management or if they were caused by gross negligent and malice intentions by the ruling party. Since I havent done enough investigation as to the casues, it is impossible for me to advocate any action other than studying it further.

If it was determined that pooor management was the problem, then I would advocate for smaller government and more systematic communication channels. If it was determined that lack of integrity on the part of the policticians was the primary contributor, then more check and balances, less power alloted to the president, more emphasis placed upon smaller and local regions .

But, I kmow what you might be thinking-easier said than done, right? That is where we would agree and I'd say tthat is why my emphasis is on entrepreneurship, because of the way that it empowers the small person to 1) continue thinking outside the box 2) not rely too much on someone else to help one solve their own problems 3)amplify their voice and be heard in a way that has an accutely tangible impact upon politicians.

Well, that is my take on it. I really did not mean to do the written version of vomiting all of my thoughts out onto the beautiful carpet that each of you has labored to buil;d through the discussion. Something about the comments that I have been checking out over the last few days though, just made me really pin up so many differnt takes, emotions, and conflicting thoughts on this topic...

Finally, Imnakoya, you being from Nigeria-I could imagine the way you must yearn for Nigeria to exhibit something more in line with your expectations of democracy and governance, but I just wanted to relay someting to you. That the way I see it, you and others from Nigeria who share your qualities are going to be the folks that take the country to the next level, not the politicians. You are the one that is able to be fluid in your approach and motivate others behind you or around you to follow in your footsteps, that means a lot. I am sure that you already know this, but it is just a friendly reminder from someone who admires you and what you want to accomplish.

BRE: its funny that you should mention what you mentioned about Shell acting quickly versus the US should the oil supply be further compromised, because the activist journalist Saro Wiwa instantly came to my mind when you said

Also, please don't hold it against me, if my endless rants have muddies your waters over here. My intentions to you are pure, partner. Stay you!

Don Thieme:

Cool to meet you here. I would tend to agree with Black River Eagle and say that the US is much more concerned about the oil in Nigeria than the Muslim population there. Otherwise, I am anxious to get to your site. Take care.