from Africa in Transition

Discordant Voices in the "New Nigeria" Trope

March 13, 2013

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This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

Alexis Okeowo’s recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek on Aliko Dangote, “Africa’s Richest Man Is Just Getting Started,” paints a positive picture of Nigeria’s economic prospects. Included in Goldman Sachs’ “Next 11 list of the most promising twenty-first century economies,” and seen by Citigroup as a “3G,” i.e., a global growth generator, Nigeria is perceived as booming, and Dangote’s success appears to be a product of “broader improvements in the country’s business environment.”

Earlier this year, the Financial Times, citing among other factors the country’s 6 percent growth rate and Standard & Poor’s rating upgrade, judged that Nigeria’s economy was taking off, so much so that its “economic trajectory” posed a threat to South Africa’s “pre-eminent” position.

But while the financial press continues to gush about the amount of money to be made in the country, a range of Nigerian voices are expressing fear and anger. Former World Bank official Oby Ezekwesili’s passionate convocation address at the University of Nigeria Nsukka in January criticized an “indulgent elite class” that had squandered $67 billion in reserves that the Obasanjo administration handed over to its successor government in 2007. Transparency and accountability, key to governance benefiting the general public, remain elusive.

Nigeria’s “indolent elite,” according to Osun State governor Rauf Aregbesola, is largely responsible for the crisis in the North, and he expects that “a similar level of violence may soon occur in other parts of the country.” Tunde Bakare, leader of the Save Nigeria Group, believes “Nigeria needs total cleansing.”  In a sermon at the Latter Rain Assembly church in Lagos, Bakare stated that, “We need what happened in Ghana [public execution of corrupt officials] to happen in Nigeria to send a shock wave to the corrupt people in the country.”

Yet it is those Nigerians without a voice who may matter most.  Writing about her work in Sierra Leone, Cassie Biggs explains that, “When people feel they have nowhere to turn to, violence becomes the only option.”  An associate adds that “if youth are not given a space, they will make one for themselves, often by violent means.”

While the financial community continues to view Nigeria mainly through the lens of growth statistics and market potential, large parts of the country are witnessing “a steady slide into anarchy,” according to a This Day editorial, where laws don’t apply and violence has become the currency of daily life.