Nigeria at 40: Rebuild domestic infrastructure,
punish financial thuggery
Special to USAfrica The Newspaper
Ireturned to Houston a few days ago from reporting the visit of U.S.president Bill Clinton to the most populous country in the Africancontinent, Nigeria. I had covered Clinton during his historic 1998multi-nation working tour of Africa. But this Clinton visit in August2000, and other associated U.S.-Nigeria bilateral interests compel anecessary reflection over developmental questions, includingNigeria's 40th anniversary of its political independence and criticalmatters requiring additional insight as Nigeria staggers into the21st century. This is, after all, a time when Nigeria requiresleadership not dealership; sacrifice not sanctimony; seriousness notserio-comical charlatanry, accountability rather than the serialfinancial thuggery and decades of vulgar cannibalization of thecountry's once promising destiny put asunder, principally, byNigerians and a contingent of dishonest foreigners and briefcasecontractors.
First, and remarkably, the Nigerian government hosted Clinton onlyin and around Abuja, the new gazillion-dollars capital of Nigeriawhich glistens with many marble homes and stained-glass palaces builtwith stolen public funds. Shred of all embellishment, arguably and insome sense, Clinton came to Nigeria without really seeing the realtapestry of Nigeria due to "security considerations." But Nigeria isboy's scout territory compared to the more violent zones of theMiddle East, Pakistan and Colombia he has toured. Imagine keepingNelson Mandela in the paradaisical, almost Edenic splendor ofFlorida's Boca Raton as the zone of an "official" visit to the UnitedStates! It was a short-lived diplomatic razzmatazz, punctuated byhurried business meetings, a needless avoidance of the cities wherereal life lacks the glitz of Abuja, where the daily grind andenterprise in such commercial hubs as Aba and harsh existentialrealities of a majority of Nigerians are in full, non-choreographedinterplay. It was less than a partial picture except, may be, forsuch knowing delegates on the mission such as U.S. congresswomanSheila Jackson Lee who had seen urban and rural Nigeria, decadesago.
Second, on October 1, Nigeria, also celebrates the 40thanniversary of its political independence from Britain. For theaverage Nigerian worker, business persons, students and seasonedobservers, the resounding question remains: what are we celebrating?What can Nigeria's leaders (past and present), seriously show theinternational community, especially its citizens, as reflectingobjective indicators for raising their standard of living? Why arethe country's leaders not doing better to soothe the ethnic, IslamicSharia and other religious conflicts which have heightened economicand political instability?
Third, with this anniversary, Nigerians, at home and abroad,continue to wonder if they have not just been through, yet, anotherdecade of unchecked kleptocracy (rather than democracy), of promisesunfulfilled and squandered dreams.
In the area of public accountability, it will offer anothermocking, if unintended, reminder of the billions of dollars, poundssterling and deutch marks stolen and stashed away by Nigerians insecure, gold-platted and numerically dazzling bank accounts inSwitzerland, London, Antilles, Lichtenstein, Saudi Arabia, Oman,Cayman Islands, New York, and other fast cities.
Again, for a perplexed and penurious citizenry, it marks yetanother parade by Nigeria's ruling elites in a laughable effort atself-congratulations. Indeed, more a parody and serio-comicalreminder of what the richly blessed country could have been. Thisyear's event in 21st century Nigeria animates the pomposity withwhich Nigeria's rulers seek to mask its misplaced priorities.
From my research of Nigeria's political economy, despite someprogress, at 40, the quickest historical, numerical comparison forNigeria is that of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. If only Nigeriahad just 40 Thieves in 40 years of its so-called political"independence." But no; such graces and reprieve do not exist for mycountry of natural origin. It all seems like Forty Thieves a day inNigeria!
But the pre-occupation of Nigeria's president has been probeswhich go largely after the dead (for example, the late monstrousdictator Gen. Sani Abacha) than the living, and pleading for "debtforgiveness" from the international community. It may beunderstandable why the probes are not as active with the living andpowerful. Vital fact: some of those whose questionable and stupendousprivate wealth (including retired soldiers) also took the front seatsto sponsor the campaign and victorious election of Olusegun Obasanjo(a former military dictator and head of state, 1976-1979) aspresident on May 29, 1998.
I toured the major cities in the Northern, Western, Eastern andoil-rich riverine states, shortly after Clinton left Nigeria. Again,the refrain, remained: when shall we have only 500 minutes ofuninterrupted power supply? When will the water pumps cough outenough to fill a glass? Lest I forget, Nigeria ranks among the top 10producers of oil (including the 'sweet' Bonny Light), but Nigerians,sometimes, have to park their cars at petrol stations overnight, onlines stretching almost one half of a mile or more, to getgas/fuel/diesel. Worse, the costs per visit are nearly half of anaverage worker's monthly salary. Meanwhile, Nigeria's leader Obasanjocontinues to blame the same late, murderous Abacha, who died two andhalf years ago, for the current fuel shortages inside Nigeria!
To complicate their expectations, Gen. Obasanjo has broken allrecords in foreign travels by any Nigerian or African president. Inan operational sense, he has become the frequent flyer president!Also, he has been distracted too much by his own overaching interestto "play the role of a regional power" than serving, actively andattentively, to the domestic needs of his citizens. But he, with somekey members of his team, miss the point of international economicdevelopment. Domestic infrastructure enhances inter-state commerceand attracts foreign investments. My solutional point and mantra,therefore is: It's the domestic infrastructure, stupid!
Why? Build a better local infrastructure, Nigerians abroad andother international investors will do more business there. Like mostleaders before him, Obasanjo, wrongly believe that the first thing todo is to keep saying "Nigeria invites foreign investors" rather thanactively, strategically and purposefully build the basicinfrastructure, especially information technology and powergeneration, that will make domestic and international businesses toflourish. For example, one of my Houston-based multimedia companies,USAfricaonline.com, is working with a U.S. information technologycorporation to establish Nigeria's first truly high-speed, nationwideISP (internet service provider) and digital content aggregator forinternational businesses and domestic/private consumers. But onemajor problem: the phone infrastructure in Nigeria is wickedlyunreliable. Again, It's the domestic infrastructure, stupid!
On the positive side:
-progress has been made in the technological development of the oiland gas sector. More Nigerian and U.S. firms (many of theHouston-based) are also involved;
-there's greater liberalization and privatization of aspects ofthe economy;
-there's increased interest and presence of some internationalinvestors.
- islands of neo-feudal entitlements are being knocked down,although substituted, to an extent by other geo-ethnic interests.Hence, the continue hue and cry for fair economic access for all,especially but the long-suffering oil producing communities ofNigeria whose environments have been despoliated by the activities ofShell, Exxon-Mobil and others.
Finally, people are asking: where are the so-called dividends ofdemocracy they were promised by the democratizing government ofObasanjo? Again folks, It's the domestic infrastructure, stupid!
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