Its economy may be booming, but Nigeria is convulsed by a personality clash between its old president and his successorby Jonathan Power / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
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Nigeria contains one quarter of the world’s black population. So it is not surprising that—apart from being crazy about Barack Obama—they tend to think the world begins and ends with their country.
But this inward focus seems to have produced results. In the eight years of the last administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, who stepped down as president last May, Nigeria paid off its huge debt, stabilised its currency, cut inflation and established effective macroeconomic and fiscal policies. Economic growth is now at 9 per cent a year. I have been a frequent visitor to Nigeria over the last decade, usually meeting up with Obasanjo, a long-time friend of mine, and seen it change for the better myself.
Outsiders often chide Nigeria for being an oil economy, with all that implies: inflationary spending, corruption, misallocation of resources and so on. But it’s not as simple as that. Following the Norwegian example, a high proportion of oil revenues has been set aside for future generations or for emergency use should oil prices drop dramatically.
Agriculture has upped its share of national income in recent years and is growing. Manufacturing, in contrast, remains sluggish, held back by power shortages—although there is promising interest in foreign investment, particularly from India, China and South Korea.
Religious tensions between northern Muslims and southern Christians have gradually faded away. Similarly, tribal tensions have ebbed, partly because advances in agriculture have brought rising incomes to the countryside and market towns. Even the threat of air crashes appears to have diminished as airlines have been pushed to retire clapped-out planes.
In Lagos, there are no more dead bodies on the roadside. The city is no longer the out-of-control, teeming mass of humanity it was. A middle class is rising, with all its accoutrements—large modern houses, restaurants, shops with the latest fashions. Crime remains a real problem, especially after nightfall. But during the day people walk around at a sharp pace, many of the men in suits and ties despite the humidity, pursuing their work with an intensity that reminds me of New York.
Yet despite its achievements, Nigeria is convulsed by a personality clash between Obasanjo and his successor, Umaru Yar’Adua. This is not a power struggle, as Obasanjo has little power. It springs from the new administration’s different style. Yar’Adua is a fervent believer in due process and consultation. Obasanjo was a corner…