• Giant potential

    Nigeria has the promise and the power to become the ‘colossus of the continent’ in the next decade.

    Giant potential

    Boko Haram needs no introduction. Since the group, which is fighting to impose an Islamic state on parts of northern Nigeria, kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in April, it has received almost daily mention in the world’s press. It followed that act with several other high-profile incidents, and was blamed for bomb blasts in the capital Abuja ahead of the WEF on Africa conference in early May.

    Yet the group has been carrying out a reign of terror for over a decade – just without the Western media attention. Nevertheless, it has taken a massive toll. In May this year, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said Boko Haram’s attacks had killed at least 12 000 people.

    The organisation’s full Arabic name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad) but soon after its foundation in 2002 it began to be called Boko Haram, meaning ‘Western education is a sin/forbidden’ in the region’s Hausa language.

    Founded by the Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf, who was later killed – many northerners believe executed – by security forces in 2009, it is now led by the extreme radical Abubakar Shekau. It has singled out schools, which it believes corrupts the morals of Muslims, as one of its main targets, along with military and government personnel and Christians.

    The US has declared the organisation a terrorist group with links to other Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which threatened to overrun Mali last year before French troops drove them out.

    Perhaps a sign of Boko Haram’s pervasive influence is that motorcycles are banned from the city of Maiduguri, in Borno State, such was the frequency they were used by the group in drive-by killings. A state of emergency has been in place, as well as in two other northern states – Yobe and Adamawa – since May last year.

    If Boko Haram wasn’t enough of a security headache for the Nigerian federal government, in the south of the country the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) – an umbrella for several organisations – has been waging a war for a greater share of the Niger Delta’s oil production revenues since the mid 2000s.

    According to Bloomberg, the attacks and bombings on oil plants, especially pipelines, cut nearly 30% of Nigeria’s oil output between 2006 and 2009. Kidnappings made the area a no-go for expats unless they had bodyguards.

    Although the violence died down after an amnesty in 2009, it flared up again this year with attacks on the military. Almost all the world’s major oil companies are active in Nigeria – the continent’s biggest oil producer.

    With a population of over 170 million people (one in five people in sub-Saharan Africa is Nigerian), huge oil and gas reserves, a vibrant though sometimes chaotic economy (Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote is Nigerian) and much fertile land, Nigeria is often called the ‘Giant of Africa’ due to its potential.

    That promise is huge and recognised by almost all quarters. By 2050, it is estimated that Nigeria will be one of the world’s top 20 economies; it is the ‘N’ in the MINTS (a group of fast-growing countries expected to be the next BRICS); and it part of the ‘Next Eleven’, a collection of states expected to dominate growth in the near future.

    In April it rebased its economy, taking into consideration aspects such as its film industry (Nollywood) as well as its ICT and services sectors. Nigeria’s economy now has a GDP of US$510 billion, bigger than the continent’s traditional economic powerhouse South Africa’s US$370 billion.

    A note of caution, however, was added by Nigerian statistician general Yemi Kale, when announcing the figures: ‘GDP growth is not synonymous with development. Developing countries have been known to have higher and faster GDP growth rates than developed countries. The fact that a country has a higher nominal GDP than another does not in itself suggest that one country is ‘more developed’ than another, since development encompasses a broader set of measures of human progress than GDP, which is strictly a measure of economic output.’

    This is perfectly true in Nigeria’s case – many analysts have pointed out that in South Africa, now the continent’s second largest economy, people enjoy a far higher standard of living (around twice Nigeria’s almost US$2.700 per capita). It ranks 153 out of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index and unemployment is estimated at around 30%.

    Despite its vibrant economy and liquid stock exchange, the World Bank rates it 147 out of 189 economies in its 2014 Ease of Doing Business survey. Last year it was 138. Graft, corruption and an entrenched bureaucracy are also singled out as barriers to growth.

    Although having grown at between 6% and 8% for a decade, almost all of Nigeria’s income is derived from its oil and gas industry (around 90% of its export earnings are linked to the sector), which worries economists.

    Agriculture, for example, which formerly played a key role, has been neglected since the early 1990s, even though the World Bank estimates about 70% of the working population earns a living from it. Once a net exporter, Nigeria now has to import many foodstuffs.

    Of even greater concern is Nigeria’s energy situation. A lack of infrastructure is hurting business. Most companies have to operate with their own diesel generators since there are chronic power shortages.

    The national grid is reported to be able to provide only as much electricity (3 500 MW) as that generated by Qatar, a tiny country with a fraction of the population. Compared to South Africa’s 0.84 kW per person capacity, Nigeria can only manage 0.08 kW per head.

    The government has committed to several economic initiatives, such as the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS), which ran from 2003 to 2007, and tried to counter the lack of basic necessities like clean water for households, infrastructure and barriers to private commerce.

    Meanwhile the World Bank, among others, has also run programmes including a 2014 initiative that aims at providing more than 200 000 youths from poor households with ‘re-orientation and life skills training’.

    In a recent report, the African Development Bank pointed out the problems: ‘Nigeria faces an ongoing challenge of making its decade-long sustained growth more inclusive. Poverty and unemployment remain prominent among the major challenges facing the economy.

    ‘One reason for this is that the benefits of economic growth have not sufficiently trickled down to the poor. The national authorities are not oblivious [to] this reality. Thus, poverty reduction, mass job creation and protection of the most vulnerable and those in the large informal sector are the focus of current policy dialogue and initiatives. Increased integration of the poor into global value chains is essential for poverty reduction.

    ‘Adding value to agriculture tradables will create more jobs through its upstream and downstream integration with other sectors of the economy, increase export revenues, boost income of the poor and reduce poverty.’

    The World Bank has also singled out agricultural reform, along with power sector improvement, increased access to finance, strengthening governance and public sector management and ‘improving the quality and efficiency of social service delivery at the state level’, as critical areas for Nigeria to focus on.

    However, despite the obstacles there is no doubt it is a country pulsing with opportunity and a sense of pride and occasion.

    As the Economist magazine put it: ‘Let Nigeria celebrate its new-found status for a moment. And then let it get on with the task of living up to being Africa’s Number One.’

    By John Rossouw
    Image: Greatstock/Corbis