Friday 23 October 2015

Nigeria And The Future Of The Black World (2)

{continuation of: Nigeria And The Future Of The Black World (1)}

On the other side of the ledger, black Americans made the causes of ending apartheid in South Africa and freeing Nelson Mandela their own. They took the lead in agitating for the United States government to support the liberation struggle in southern Africa. The only time I ever got arrested was when I joined a group of former black ambassadors protesting in front of the South African Embassy. These protests directed by TransAfrica continued for months and brought the issue to the attention of millions of Americans. And might I add that it was that same TransAfrica, led by Randall Robinson, which united so much of Black America against the Abacha regime.

Before taking up my post as Ambassador to Nigeria in 1993, I had been deeply involved in the anti-apartheid campaign in the US. I wrote and spoke often about South Africa, as I would later do about Nigeria. By the time I arrived here, Nelson Mandela had been freed and five months later elected as the first President of a democratic South Africa. At the same time, there was much discussion about the expansion of the United Nations Security Council to include one permanent member from sub-Saharan Africa.

I received criticism from the Abacha government and its supporters for suggesting that unless Nigeria got its act together, that seat would not go, as many expected, to military-ruled Nigeria but instead to the newly democratic South Africa. The enlarging of the UN Security Council never took place but the competition between Africa’s two most watched emerging economies continues. It might be compared to that between China and Japan in Asia. China, in a world in which one of every five people is Chinese, lagged for a long time behind its much smaller neighbour. Nigeria, on a continent on which one of every five people is Nigerian, does not seem to be closing the gap between it and its smaller southern rival even though its economy is projected to surpass South Africa’s.

The recently released World in 2050 report by the prestigious management firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers projects that Nigeria could be one of the two fastest growing large economies over the next 35 years. That rapid growth it cautions:

“…requires sustained and effective investment in infrastructure and improving political, economic, legal and social institutions. It also requires remaining open to the free flow of technology, ideas and talented people that are key drivers of economic catch-up growth.”

One impediment it warns would be the continued “overdependence on natural resources.” To overcome this, it insists, countries like Nigeria must diversify their economies. Today, Nigeria ranks 20th. By 2050, it is expected to rise to becoming the ninth biggest economy in the world.

A similar outlook for Nigeria is predicted by the HSBC 2050 report. Its economic growth will be fast while South Africa’s will remain stable.

Nearly 15 years ago, four of the world’s major emerging economies, Brazil, Russia, India and China, came together in a group that became known by the acronym BRIC. In 2010, seeking an African member, they chose South Africa which became the S in BRICS. I look forward to the day when Nigeria becomes the N in a renamed group of six which will be known as the BRINCS.

Nigeria has surpassed South Africa as the continent’s largest economy and yet has not been admitted to that prestigious group of five with which it has more in common with the four non-African nations, as one of the world’s most populous nations, than does relatively small South Africa.

Nigeria is not even thought worthy of being a member of the Group of 20 usually referred to as the G-20. They are not regarded as influential enough internationally or regionally to be included in the company of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States

With such a rosy outlook for the future, why is Nigeria still such an under-performer on the world stage? Why is it when the G-8 group of highly industrialised countries or other gatherings of the world’s most powerful nations occur, it is more often to Johannesburg that they call than to Abuja on those all too rare times when they seek an African perspective at all? Maybe, there is a bit of the old “boy who cried wolf” legend involved. In that story, the boy falsely cried so often that a wolf was coming that when, at last, his warning was true, nobody believed him. So, it seems to be with Nigeria. For how long has it been proclaimed that its vast potential was about to be realised only to have those hopes dashed time after disappointing time? Nigeria has always been portrayed as the country of the future but that future, sadly, never seems to arrive.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Nigeria was seen as the indispensable and most important country in Africa. It had been so since the event whose centennial you celebrated last year – the amalgamation of three large contiguous pieces of British West Africa into what became on October 1, 1960, the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It instantly was acknowledged as the greatest and most important black nation in the world. There was much to back up such an assessment. Nigeria was Africa’s largest producer of petroleum, a member of the powerful international oil cartel, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It became and remains one of my country’s five most important sources of imported crude oil. A decade after independence, it was booming economically. The naira was as strong as the dollar or the pound. Diplomatically, it led the fight to isolate the apartheid government of South Africa. Militarily, it continued the tradition it started in the 1960s in the newly independent Congo of being one of the most responsible members of the UN when it came to providing troops for peace-keeping missions around the world. Nigeria’s universities were the pride of the continent. Its graduates took top honours wherever they studied in Europe or America. And I am happy to say they still do.

The oil boom which once lubricated a growing economy turned from a blessing to a curse. Most of the great wealth it provided was embezzled by government officials and their cronies. While the citizens of other oil producing countries prospered, Nigeria became the only member of OPEC to be listed among the world’s poorest companies.

International storm warnings have consistently been ignored. When I was here serving as ambassador, The United Nations Development Programme mission in Nigeria issued its 1996 report:

“This indicates that Nigeria has all the potential to develop into a true "giant of Africa" if and only if, the appropriate political and social measures are implemented to help the people to alleviate and eventually eradicate mass poverty by adopting a human-centred holistic development strategy.”

That report also observed that regional disparities in Nigeria were among the worst in the world. Noting that a ranking of the Nigerian states by the United Nations Human Development Index put Edo and Delta states on top, while Borno was at the bottom.

The report further noted that were Edo and Delta states constituted into a separate sovereign country, their nation would rank 90th in the world, relatively high among the medium-level human development countries while Borno as a separate polity would rank lower than any country in the world.

Why should there be such scepticism? Nigeria has so much going for it. In this age of intra-state disharmony and sectarian strife, when so many countries especially in the Middle East are threatening to fall apart, Nigeria could be a beacon of how to stay together. Think about it for a moment. What other country contains within its borders as many as 250 ethnic groups speaking even more languages and has managed to stay together, despite a bloody civil war and regional and religious differences? No other country of any significant size has a population that is nearly equally divided between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria’s tradition of religious tolerance must be preserved despite the strains that are being put upon it by fanatics who have killed and kidnapped so many.

- An excerpt of a speech delivered by Ambassador Carrington at the First Eminent Lecture Series of the University of Benin, on October 13

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