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Friday, April 24, 2015

Nigeria: Africa's Great Resource and Hope for a Better Future.

Links: A.  Nigeria tackles unemployment, corruption, energy needs.
           B.  Everyone focused on ending poverty in Nigeria.

In the last few weeks, I have received dozens of emails from Nigerians either in-country or abroad, and I have been truly humbled by the thoughtful and polite comments regarding my posts on the recent Nigerian election.  In addition, I have commented on Nigeria with regards to Boko Haram, and also on the state of economics in Africa as a whole.  I receive more feedback on Nigeria than any other subject, which is encouraging, because I believe Nigeria is a tremendously important country, with the opportunity to lead the continent into a century of peace and economic growth.  But words are cheap, if you'll excuse the cliché.  I make no secret that I am very attached to South Africa.  I love the land and the people; I consider it one of three places where I can actually feel at home.  But for the sake of honesty, I have to recognize that South Africa seems bound and determined to abdicate its title as the "leader of the continent", and "powerhouse of Africa".  South Africa has serious internal conflicts, which have yet to really effect the economy (which remains sluggish anyhow), but when they do, it will be a full broadside.  I believe that the ANC government played its last "loyalty, sympathy and tradition" card in the last elections.  Madiba has gone to his great reward, and what sits in his place is a sorry substitute by any measure.  For over twenty years, the ANC, which has governed South Africa since the death of apartheid (1992-94), has been campaigning by promising free housing for millions.  Here is the rub, folks: not only have the people not received their free homes, but the President of the Republic, Jacob Zuma, who already had three official state residences, was provided with "Nkandla", a living compound larger than most luxury hotels.  In order to make Nkandla "livable" for Zuma, it required a helipad, a swimming pool, private hospital, and other amenities with a price tag of over 215 million rand.  So how many modest, four-room homes could 215 Rand pay for?  If we allocated 100,000 Rand per home, we could build over 20,000 homes.  We could make a large informal settlement disappear overnight. 

Instead of recognizing how damaging this scandal could become and ending the improvements (and possibly try to return some of the funds), Zuma has been indignant, and, of course, accepted no blame for the fiasco.  Nkandla is a perfect example of what has become of South Africa.  The ANC government, provided by the South African electorate with unlimited authority and no real oversight, has been like a group of children in a candy shop.  EVERY government department is drowning in either validated cases or accusations of corruption.  What is most heartbreaking about South Africa is that the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is multi-racial and overflowing with brilliant economists, planners, economic experts, teachers, etc.  If only....but it won't happen.  And this is the reason why Nigeria will have the opportunity to pick up the banner and become the leader for the entire continent.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the winner in last month's elections, has a number of pressing issues to address sooner rather than later.  The Niger Delta militias, who, not that long ago, seemed to have the entire country held hostage, were smoothly co-opted by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and a serious crisis was resolved.....temporarily.  Jonathan flooded the Delta region with amnesty, cash, and benefits, and the militia played along.  In the last election, the Delta region voted heavily in favor of Jonathan, out of fear that the good times would come to an end with an All Progressives Congress (APC) victory.  The answer to this problem lies somewhere in between, and I have full confidence that Buhari will be up to the task.  The Delta region needs to be co-opted not into a small group of oil-revenue beneficiaries, but into the Nigerian economic system as a whole.  Many Nigerians (and at least one Texan) continue to be frustrated by the fact that Nigeria has to import refined petroleum.  Nigeria needs to build a refining capacity that is second-to-none.  Buhari need to play hard-ball with these billionaire western company execs who are padding their own retirements with Nigerian resources; there is no excuse for Nigeria to not have a full refining capability, and the fact that Nigeria has to import refined petroleum is an absolute tragedy.

I like both President Buhari and President Jonathan, who earned my deep respect by the manner in which he handled his defeat in the last election.  He could have made the outcome questionable, by encouraging demonstrations and denouncing the legitimacy of the process.  Instead, he single-handedly delivered a peaceful wake-up to Nigeria the next morning.  He could have caused all sorts of havoc in the Delta region alone.  Cheers and hats off to you, President Jonathan.  Buhari, as a Muslim, was in the delicate position of avoiding any inference that he might have sympathies for Boko Haram.  Buhari is a very intelligent and patient man.  When he was military leader of the Junta that governed Nigeria some years back, he never let anyone forget that Nigeria was destined to return to civilian rule in the near future.  He also governed in a fair and responsible manner.  Buhari has promised to address one particular issue that has received a great deal of internal press, and that is the borderline theft committed by outgoing governors and administrators in certain Nigerian states.  The law allows these individuals to assume a great deal of power over the purse strings, and jobs appear out of thin air and are given to friends and relatives.  Bonuses are awarded, and the most egregious act, increases in retirement salaries and related disbursements are summarily created.  A number of Nigerian state governors have become multi-millionaires by abusing the state budgets in this fashion.  Well, Buhari has promised to address the issue.  He has some very close relationships with a couple of men who are accused of such activities.  The Nigerian people will be able to test the sincerity, the mettle, and the honesty of their new president by how he handles this issue.  Not only does he need to create new laws that are uniform throughout the Republic, but he also needs to take measures that will protect the Nigerian taxpayer from this type of abuse in the future.  If at all possible, these men (and women) need to be held accountable, and if possible, the money needs to be returned to the people.

Corruption will always be a problem in a nation of low literacy.  History has shown us that as education becomes more prevalent, nations tend to move away from endemic corruption, although there will always be exceptions.  Russia is a modern country, and yet corruption plays an everyday part in the affairs of state and the economy.  But the people of Nigeria seem to share a determination, a dedication to root out corruption and create a bureaucracy that is accessible to all, not just to those with money.  This is the point of separation between South Africa and Nigeria.  I don't sense that the South Africa people are willing to fight corruption, if it means that the ANC can longer be the governing party.  Nigeria is rich in resources and in work ethic.  That combination will be the platform that lifts this country to new accomplishments.  Nigeria is evolving and growing as it confronts the Boko Haram menace in the north, and the devilish corruption that has taken root in the capital and the state houses around the country.  But Nigeria appears to be united as never before, to demand accountability, to support a government that puts education and job creation as permanent priorities, especially when budgets are being written.  The opportunity exists, with a mature, experienced, and considerate man as president, to make great things happen.  Good Bless Nigeria and South Africa.

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