African business, politics and lifestyle
Nigeria on the brink? Of what?
Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell sparked a furore when he suggested in Foreign Affairs magazine that elections due in Nigeria in January could trigger a conflict between Muslim north and Christian south or even precipitate a coup.
In his article entitled “Nigeria on the Brink”, Campbell argued that the ending of a power-sharing agreement between north and south in the ruling party — and a lack of consensus for the first time since the end of military rule over who its candidate should be — could be a recipe for disaster.
“Nigerians have long danced on the edge of the cliff without falling off,” he said. “Yet at this juncture, the odds are not good for a positive outcome, and it is difficult to see how Nigeria can move back from the brink.”
Campbell’s comments were slammed as irresponsible by Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia, who accused him of “seeming to relish in willing a worst case scenario to occur”.
Other critics say references to the “Muslim north and Christian south” and “religious and ethnic unrest” without setting out the context are misleading, painting Nigeria as a radicalized country engulfed by violence.
Horrific as the unrest in the country’s Middle Belt has been, claiming thousands of lives over the past decade, it has been periodic and localised, and born of rivalry for political and economic power rather than religious fervour, they say.
Nigerian friends in the commercial capital Lagos – heaving and chaotic, but also dynamic and full of opportunity – often comment that the country feels permanently “on the brink”. But not necessarily of disaster. In fact, far from it.
The telecoms revolution has made Nigeria Africa’s largest online audience and put mobile phones in the hands of more Nigerians – rich and poor – than anywhere else on the continent, democratising access to information. Other sectors could follow suit.
If the politicians are to be believed and privatization goes ahead, chronic power shortages that are one of the major brakes on economic growth and one of the biggest headaches for the country’s 150 million people, could be a thing of the past within a few years.
The capital markets are deepening and Nigerian firms – particularly its banks as reforms push ahead – are growing in stature, building international reputations. New shopping malls are appearing and in Lagos, a commuter rail system is promised to end infamous traffic jams.
The military mentality is gradually fading, with retired generals reinventing themselves as businessmen whose interests now lie more in the country’s long-term stability than in having a direct handle on power.
The risk of a coup has never been further from most people’s minds.
A report commissioned by the British Council and published this month said Nigeria stands on the threshold of what could be the greatest transformation in its history, with the average Nigerian 3 times richer by 2030 if education and health standards improve and jobs are created.
But it also warned of ethnic conflict and religious radicalization if its legions of youths cannot find work.
So which is it? Is Nigeria on the brink, and if so, what of? Crisis and conflict, as the doomsayers predict, or the greatest period of economic and social development the country has ever seen?