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Politics in Nigeria Have 'Ground to a Halt'

Interviewee: Jean Herskovits, Professor of History at the State University of New York, Purchase
Interviewer: Stephanie Hanson, News Editor, CFR.org
March 25, 2009

Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and has long been considered a continental heavyweight. But since elections in 2007 that were plagued by vote fraud and corruption, the government has struggled to gain its political footing. Jean Herskovits, professor of history at the State University of New York, Purchase and an expert on Nigeria, says that despite the billions in oil revenue received by the state, Nigeria's middle class has "been virtually wiped out," and over 90 percent of the population now lives on less than two dollars a day. Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua is very ill, and as a result Nigeria's political processes "have more or less ground to a halt." On a recent trip to Nigeria, Herskovits says she witnessed "extreme disillusionment with the political system, a kind of desperation."

Herskovits points to electoral reform as one of the only measures that can change the deep-seated corruption and dysfunction in the Nigerian government. She notes that the recommendations of an electoral reform committee, issued in a December 2008 report, should be implemented by the government. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely to do so, and instead is "closing off the possibilities for democratic reform." She recommends that the Obama administration push the government to implement the recommendations of the electoral reform committee.

In the Niger Delta, Herskovits says that incidents of piracy are up dramatically, but they have been overshadowed by the piracy off the coast of Somalia. Of the possible methods for combating piracy, she strongly cautions against sending a Western military presence into the Delta.

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