Issue BriefsPublished on Apr 14, 2023 PDF Download
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Nigeria: The Divisions within and the Way Forward

The year 2012 did not begin as auspiciously for Nigeria as the country had hoped. The slashing of fuel subsidies, the subsequent nation-wide strikes, the Boko Haram killings and the resurgence of militancy in the Niger delta have all taken their toll and are pushing the country towards the edge. The government's ability to deal with these challenges is increasingly being questioned.

Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and was declared a federal republic after three years. This period of stability was, however, short–lived. Inter-ethnic conflicts and a struggle for power at the centre among the three largest ethnic groups–the Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa–which dominated the three regions, South East, South West and North respectively, came to dominate the political discourse of the country. Two successive coups, in the year 1966, ushered in a long period of military rule in the country which only came to an end in 1999. Another event that needs to be highlighted is the Civil War of 1967–70, also referred to as the Biafran Civil War, which marked an important chapter in the history of the country. The secession of the Ibo dominated South East from Nigeria, as the Republic of Biafra, led to a 30-month–long war between the newly proclaimed nation and the Nigerian government. Nearly three million people lost their lives in the conflict, the resultant famine and hunger. Though the secession failed, the war reflected the differing interests within the country which would continue to become the leading causes for the successive conflicts in the coming years.

There was a short stint with democracy from 1979 to 1984, but it proved to be even more disastrous for the country than the preceding dictatorship years. During the slightly more than four years of civilian rule, foreign currency reserves plunged from $8 billion to less than $1 billion and the level of corruption rose to new levels. The democracy experience proved to be a disaster for the people as access to basic resources became a problem leading to increased insecurity. Eventually, the military took over again and a second military era was ushered in.

Democracy in Nigeria has been threatened constantly ever since it was re-established in 1999. Almost every election has been accompanied by a fear of a coup or military takeover. The history of the country has become a complex narrative of conflicts intertwined with religion, ethnicity and oil. It has been more than 12 years since the end of military era but the country is still faced with problems that characterized that period—poverty, unemployment, corruption and mismanagement of resources.
In the current form of democracy, a multi-party system has been accommodated in the national powersharing structure. The head of the state is alternatively chosen from North and South so as to maintain the balance of power. Nigeria’s 36 states have been regrouped into six geopolitical zones–North-Central, North–East, North–West, South–East, South–South and South–West.

Given the country’s political background, it may be too early to judge whether a western style government can work in the country. With a population of more than 165 million, problems of integration and accommodation, with special reference to the various ethnicities, have been central to the country’s political evolution. The long drawn clashes in the country, ranging from inter-ethnic to inter–religious and inter–regional at times, are reflective of the failed integrative and accommodative policies.

In order to understand the complexities of these conflicts it becomes imperative to mention the unequal development that took place during the colonial period. While the North enjoyed administrative and political hegemony, the South witnessed economic ascendency. This state of affairs continues till today. The established federal state is weak, marred by years of secessionist movements led by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

The South was destabilised for a long period because of the contesting ownership claims over crudepetroleum reserves in the delta by the Nigerian state and the ethnic minorities. Recent reports of attacks in the delta region indicate a possible revival of militancy. The North is currently facing security challenges because of the attacks carried out by the Islamic militants led by Boko Haram. The issue of fuel subsidy has further alienated the citizens from the government.

Nigeria ranks as the 17th most corrupt country out of the 196 rated in Maplecroft’s Business Integrity and Corruption Index. Corruption is prevalent throughout all branches of government at the federal, state and local levels as well as in the private sector. Even in terms of environment and climate change, Nigeria has fared poorly. According to the recently released Global Risk Atlas of 2012 by Maplecroft, Nigeria is rated the second most risky country in terms of climate change where, “high exposure to the impacts of climate change could have dramatic impacts on economic sustainability” .

There has been a noticeable growth of the economy in the past few years. GDP growth was 7 per cent in 2009, 8.4 per cent in 2010 and 7.4 per cent at the end of 2011. A 2011 IMF report on Nigeria showed that the country’s non-oil GDP (at almost 8 per cent) was much better than most oil exporting countries. Despite favourable figures, there has been no real development of the country. The growing GDP was accompanied by relatively high inflation. Despite the claims by the government, poverty and inequality are
on the on the rise.

According to a survey released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of Nigeria, in 2010, over 110 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. This level of poverty clearly reflects that Nigeria’s economy is not growing in the real sense. There has been minimal growth in job creating sectors such as production, infrastructure, power, manufacturing, etc. According to the NBS, income inequality as measured by the Gini-Coefficient rose from 0.429 in 2004 to 0.447 in 2010, indicating greater income inequality during the period. About 96 million Nigerians have access to only 20 per cent of total consumables in the country, according to the NBS. Poverty and inequality have increased even further since the beginning of this year due to the reduction of fuel subsidy which has resulted in a higher cost of living, especially for the farmers who are mainly concentrated in the North.

The slow pace of economic and infrastructural development can largely be attributed to the poor condition of the power sector. Till the end of the 20th century, Nigeria was producing just 1850 MW of power. The country has experienced massive power cuts since the beginning of this year. Massive cuts in gas supply to power plants across the country led to a reduction of 625 MW from 4,400 to 3,775 MW in February. While power generation rose from 3800 MW to 4000 MW in 2011, power rationing has continued as the country is unable to meet the required demand.

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