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Monday, April 6, 2015

In Nigeria, The Establishment Takes A Hit; Is Real Change On The Way?

Links:  A. In Nigeria, Opposition Candidate wins the Presidency.
            B. Petroleum Industry in Nigeria.

Until just recently, nine to eleven percent of all oil imported by the United States originated in Nigeria.  For a variety a reasons, the figure has been reduced to roughly five percent.
Frankly, both numbers were a bit of surprise to me.  I assumed that the Brits and the French would have sewed up all Nigerians contracts early on, but I've learned that U.S. oil companies can be competitive just about anywhere.  As for Nigeria, I'm glad that the Nigerian people are in a position to benefit from the valuable commodity on which they sit (or that waits offshore).  Over the past sixty years, Nigeria has been one of those African countries that, regardless of the political party or brand of leadership, just could not get their house in order.  Arguably more than any other large African nation, Nigeria has been decimated by corruption.  Nigeria is home to 174 million people.  Providing a stable environment for the average citizen to better themselves becomes all the more difficult with a high population and endemic corruption.  Because of its geographic location, Nigeria should have no trouble growing enough food to feed itself, but since the late 1950's, imports have always included foodstuffs.  The first oil well started pumping in 1958, and the oil industry has had a decidedly negative impact on the agricultural sector.  The increase in wealth was partially responsible for a dramatic rise in population, which made it impossible for the Nigerian agricultural sector to produce enough to feed the Nigerian people.  But we all know that petroleum brings in much more money than agriculture, so who cares, right?  One way or another, everyone in Nigeria will care.....when the oil dries up.  If it ever does.

On a more positive note, most analysts believed that the incumbent, president Goodluck Jonathan of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), would win the March 28 election in Nigeria.  Although the party was open to any number of candidates who met the criteria, it was apparent early on that the race would be decided between either Jonathan, or former General and Junta leader, All Progressive's Congress (APC) candidate Muhammadu Buhari.  It was easy to understand why the odds maker's were in Jonathan's corner.  The PDP had mobilized all politically appointed persons in different branches of the Federal Government to either deliver contributions or votes.  Jonathan is widely believed to have been instrumental in the negotiations that ended the conflict with the Niger Delta militants, which once successfully concluded, has allowed Nigeria to finally start taking full advantage of its oil.  And although Jonathan was criticized for the handling of the Boko Haram crisis, in the weeks leading up to the election, the Nigerian Military (with substantial assistance from Chad, Benin, Niger and Cameroon) delivered a string a decisive, strategic defeats to Boko Haram.  The fact that Buhari is a Muslim also encouraged Jonathan supporters into believing that the independent and undecided voters would trend towards Jonathan.  In the end, it wasn't really that close.  Buhari outpolled Jonathan by some 2.7 million votes, and the APC went from 41 seats in the Senate to 64, while the PDP dropped from 64 to 45 seats.  Jonathan faired best in the southern half of Nigeria, particularly in the south south-central part of Nigeria around Port Harcourt and the Niger Delta.  Buhari was strongest in the north and also in the suburbs of Lagos and Abuja.  Enough analysis of the voting; what does this change in governments mean for the average Nigerian?

At least for the near future, don't expect any major developments.  This is not Buhari's first time at the rodeo, as the old saying goes.  He was the leader of a military junta that
President Elect Muhammadu Buhari    
Source: Chatham House (via Wikipedia)
governed Nigeria from 1983 to 1985.  He has the reputation of being a thoughtful, fair man who will fill his cabinet with competent, experienced, and well-educated officials.  His military background, and his expression of continued funding and support for the current operations against Boko Haram, have received a positive reaction.  All of these factors point to the potential success of a Buhari Administration.  But Nigeria is burdened with chronic unemployment and a dangerously high level of poverty.  As some of the recent media investigations have highlighted, corruption is still a major drain on resources and confidence.  And the average Nigerian remains confused about the impact and value of the petroleum industry.  Surprisingly, Nigeria still imports gasoline.  The communities in and around Port Harcourt appear to have benefitted nicely since the end of the trouble with the Niger Delta militants.  Many Nigerians, especially in the poorer north, believe that certain areas of the country have directly benefitted from the largesse of the petroleum industry, while the rest of Nigeria is left out.  During the March 28 election, it is believed that a high percentage of unemployed young Nigerians supported Buhari, who actively courted the economically-burdened classes with speeches about "equality" and "spending oil money on the poor".

President Goodluck Jonathan took a huge step in the right direction when he announced, relatively early by Nigerian standards, that Muhammadu Buhari and the APC had won the election.  Any hesitation on Jonathan's part would probably have brought Buhari supporters into the streets of Lagos.  The decision made by Jonathan to choose a peaceful transition over another contested election, demonstrates that Nigeria is in the midst of a growing spurt.  The recent military success against Boko Haram is another example.  In most instances, growth spurts are accompanied by a certain amount of maturing, which would be so invaluable to Nigeria at this very moment.  I believe that the Nigerian people will avoid the dissent into the type of north-south, Muslim/Christian schism that almost destroyed Cote D'Ivoire during the last decade or so.  The election of Buhari, and his unexpected electoral strength in some Christian areas argue that Nigerians truly want change.  The biggest monster to be tackled, the beast that South Africa appears unwilling to destroy, is the rot of corruption that practically binds Nigerian civil service, the military, education, and politics together.  The end of the cycle of corruption would provide the Nigerian government with the type of resources it needs to strengthen the education system, build schools in rural areas, train teachers, and also get working on so many long-overdo infrastructure projects.  If Nigeria were to eliminate all corruption overnight, and the government focus on education, jobs, health care and infrastructure, in five years, Nigeria would breeze right past South Africa as the new leader of the African Continent.

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