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South Africa could soon lose its status as Africa’s biggest economy to Nigeria, but in the race to be the continental powerhouse, being biggest may not be everything.
Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, will complete a rebasing of its gross domestic product (GDP) by next month, its statistics office says, which economists estimate could expand the size of its economy by between 20 and 60 percent.
This exercise, which has missed a string of previous deadlines, looks set to transform Nigeria into the continent’s most important economy measured in terms of GDP size.
With a current economic output of around $290 billion, the West African country – whose population is more than three times the size of South Africa’s 51 million – already boasts faster growth.
While it has expanded by an average of seven percent annually over the past decade, South Africa has averaged three percent growth, held back by rigid employment laws and recurring labour unrest.
But even if it slips from the top spot, South Africa can still claim the crown of being the more diversified and sophisticated economy. Its financial markets are among the world’s most advanced and while its $350 billion economy is smaller than Mexico and Indonesia, its stock market is larger.
For Nigeria, the aim of the rebasing exercise is to change the base year for calculating output to 2008 from 1990 to reflect sectors of the economy that have since grown in importance, such as telecoms and IT.
However, it is still heavily reliant on oil exports, accounting for some 80 percent of government revenue, and an enlarged GDP will do little to immediately improve life for nearly 100 million of its citizens who live on less than $1 a day.
While agriculture and power sector reforms would improve Nigeria’s fortunes, turbulent politics and a resilient and bloody Boko Haram insurgency in its north take some of the shine off its positive growth story.
Whenever it happens, Nigeria overtaking South Africa as Africa’s economic top dog is “kind of everything and nothing,” said David Cowan, Citigroup’s Africa economist.
“It is everything because you are then the largest economy in Africa so there’s a lot of kudos attached to that. But the reality remains that, on the ground, for every Nigerian there’s no difference ... South Africa can still call itself the most sophisticated economy in Africa.”
South Africa’s expected retreat in the GDP ranking will nevertheless be a big psychological adjustment for a country that has often taken its lead position for granted.
It may also have geopolitical implications, raising questions about whether South Africa should be the sole African representative in the G20 and the Brics group of the most powerful emerging economies, alongside Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Nigeria has been included in the freshly coined Mint group of emerging economic giants, along with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey.
Michael Power, investment strategist at Investec Asset Management, likens South Africa’s situation to that of the United States, whose economic power is expected to be superseded by faster-growing and more populous China eventually.
“Just as the United States is contemplating the prospect of what it’s going to be like to be number two in the world, South Africa (will) have to contemplate what it’s going to be like to be number two in Africa,” he said.
The rise of Nigeria has taken many South Africans by surprise, said Kevin Lings, chief economist at Stanlib, as the country, burdened with an image of corruption and violence, is often portrayed negatively in the media.
“Every time I’ve raised this discussion in the last year, that it looks inevitable that Nigeria will become Africa’s biggest (economy), most audiences are shocked,” he said.
“People have had a certain mindset about the role of South Africa. They haven’t updated that in terms of more recent developments.”
The GDP rebasing is likely to enhance Nigeria’s appeal to investors looking for high growth and alternative markets, while South Africa, with its anaemic economy and faltering currency may appear less compelling, analysts say.
“South Africa’s good infrastructure and sophisticated services industries provide a much easier business environment for investors than Nigeria, but relatively low growth rates, market size and saturation are areas of concern that may turn investment to Nigeria,” said Dianna Games, chief executive of business advisory Africa @ Work.
Still, Simon Freemantle, a senior analyst at Standard Bank, believes multinationals looking for a base from which to expand into the continent will continue to choose South Africa given its effective financial and legal systems.
For investors who may need to seek redress when things go wrong, its enduring, more independent and transparent institutions are a plus.
Decades from now, the gap in size between the two economies will be even wider. By 2050, Nigeria’s GDP will be just under $6 trillion in today’s money as its population heads towards 400 million, predicts Charles Robertson of Renaissance Capital.
South Africa, by contrast, would have 57 million people and a $1.5 trillion economy.
Yet that would give Nigeria a per capita GDP of about $15,000, to South Africa’s $27,000, underscoring the huge development challenges faced by the former.
“Even with the very good trajectory that we see for Nigeria it’s going to take a long time for 170 million people to benefit from this,” said Robertson. “It’s the same in China. You’ve still got hundreds of millions earning virtually nothing and that’s after an extraordinary 30 years.”
But what was the “Mistake of 1914”? Was it the fact or the act of amalgamation? Those who blame the “fact of amalgamation” say there should never have been a Nigeria, that Nigeria is a fraud, that the various ethnic groups had nothing in common and that Nigeria is just a colonial contraption.
In the beginning, there was a mistake – the “Mistake of 1914”. In split seconds, some 250 ethnic groups were compressed into one map by the British colonial masters. The contraption was poetically nicknamed “Nigeria” – an obvious contraction of “Niger Area”. There had been an unruly competition for African territory among the European colonial powers. They hovered over the continent, like vultures, looking for territories and resources to capture and devour. In 1884-85, they queued up at the Berlin Conference to share the loot. The British were gifted with the slices of Nigeria. They then created the Nigerian protectorates for their pleasure.
Before then, there was no Nigeria. No Southern Nigeria, no Northern Nigeria. There were many ethnic groups sprinkled randomly over the landmass. There were empires, kingdoms, city-states and emirates. War and peace united and divided hamlets, communities, villages, towns, cities and territories. Trade, military adventures and political alliances crossed borders, tribes and tongues. But there was no Nigeria.
Then, the tag “Yoruba” did not refer to all the people we now call Yoruba. It referred to only the Oyo-speaking people who lived in places such as Oyo-Ile, Ibadan, Ede, Osogbo, Iwo and Ogbomoso, etc. Ekitis were called Ekitis. Ifes were called Ifes. Egbas were called Egbas. Ijebus were called Ijebus. Ijeshas were called Ijeshas. They were not called Yorubas.
In fact, the first newspaper to be published on these shores, established in 1859, was named Iwe Irohin Fun Awon Egba ati Yoruba, literally: “Newspaper for the Egba and the Yoruba”. As at 1859, therefore, Egbas were not referred to as Yorubas. It was the colonial masters and their missionary siblings, for ease of demography and identity, that applied the common identity of Yoruba to all descendants of Oduduwa who greet “eku”, “eka” and “okun” – stretching across what we now have as Lagos, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Ogun and parts of Kwara and Kogi states. Today’s “Yoruba” national identity is, therefore, largely a colonial-era development.
In truth, too, the people we call Igbo today were not all known as Igbo before the amalgamation. For instance, Aro and Onitsha often rejected the ideology of corporate Igbo identity. B.O.N. Eluwa, who was the General Secretary of the Ibo Federal (State) Union, told the story of how he toured “Igboland” from 1947 to 1951 to convince “Igbo” villagers that they were indeed “Igbos”. He said these villagers “couldn’t even imagine” that categorisation. David B. Abernethy wrote: “In the 1930s, many Aro and Onitsha Ibos (Igbos) consciously rejected identification as Ibos (Igbos), preferring to think of themselves as separate, superior groups.” In simple language, therefore, the popular Igbo identity in use today is post-amalgamation.
The Igbo story, as told by Eluwa in his book, Ado-Na-Idu: History of Igbo Origin, is instructive. Unlike the Yoruba who migrated as a group, Eluwa said the Igbo migrated in clans – and that should explain the noticeable cultural and linguistic differences. The people we call Anioma today (Delta Igbo, Onitsha, etc) migrated along with the Edo, hence the cultural and lingual similarities (dressing, kingship, “do”, “ndo” etc). The Nsukka Igbo migrated through present-day Benue State, hence the similarities with the Idoma, including facial marks. Many clans in today’s Anambra settled in Igalaland before moving Southward. On the basis of these accounts, many Igbo clans apparently lived in the North centuries ago.
What’s more, what we call “North” today was just a large expanse of land occupied by various sovereignties – the Kanem-Bornu empire, the Hausa kingdoms, the Kwararrafa (Jukun) empire and the Nupe kingdom, etc. Not until the Hausa kingdoms were captured into the Sokoto Caliphate through Usuman Dan Fodio’s jihad was there a dominant sovereignty in the North. But the North was never one entity. The Kano man, though Hausa, called himself Abakani and the Zaria man Abazasage. They were Hausas and Muslims quite all right, but they were always at war, killing each other. They did not see themselves as Hausa kith and kin, but as rivals trying to expand their territories, just like the pre-colonial “Yoruba” kingdoms.
In sum, contrary to the popular impression, it is not just “Nigeria” that is a colonial contraption. Most of the ethnic and regional identities we so dearly cling to today were either colonial contraptions or constructed by us in the contestation for power in the embryonic Nigeria. The British created the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1893, formed the Northern Protectorate in 1900, and added the Lagos Colony to the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1906 to establish the Southern Protectorate. In 1912, Sir Frederick Lugard was appointed governor for both Northern and Southern protectorates in preparation for the amalgamation for ease of administration.
Then came January 1, 1914. Then came the mistake. The “Mistake of 1914”.
But what was the “Mistake of 1914”? Was it the fact or the act of amalgamation? Those who blame the “fact of amalgamation” say there should never have been a Nigeria, that Nigeria is a fraud, that the various ethnic groups had nothing in common and that Nigeria is just a colonial contraption. Conversely, those who see the “act of amalgamation” as the “mistake” posit that the problem was not the amalgamation per se but the failure of the colonial masters to consciously integrate the 250 ethnic nationalities into one nation. It was like proclaiming a couple man and wife without courtship and without honeymoon. This foundational error in nation-building, they argue, is the “mistake”.
Meanwhile, to say the North and the South had “nothing” in common is a complete exaggeration. Commerce and migration made their paths cross. The story of the farming, trading and consumption of the kola nut puts a lie to the suggestion that the North and the South had “nothing” in common. Many Southern ethnic groups that migrated from Upper Sudan actually settled in the North before their Southward journey. Some political scientists will even argue that the amalgamation was a natural consequence of these historical links. Those who claim the amalgamation was intended to feed the North with Southern resources apparently care little about economic history. For centuries before the amalgamation, Kano was one of the biggest centres of trade in Africa.
I would rather think the biggest challenge to our nationhood today is how to move away from the ethnocentric mindset of the pre-Independence era. Most of our founding fathers were ethnic nationalists. A notable exception, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, eventually abandoned his pan-Nigerian ideals when confronted with our stark political reality. Today, we are still searching for that pan-Nigerian identity. Unfortunately, more and more ethnic nationalists and their offspring are taking the political centre stage and reinforcing these divisions, with balkanisation in mind. Nevertheless, on several indices of integration – such as inter-ethnic marriage, cultural assimilation and internal migration – we are not doing badly, at least compared to 1914 or 1960. However, the political mismanagement of our diversity means we will continue to live with conflicts and tensions.
But we who believe in “unity in diversity” should refuse to give up on Nigeria. With competent and patriotic leadership, our march to greatness will be unstoppable. This I believe.
•NOTE: This article is an abridged version of a chapter in my debut book, Rethinking Nigeria, due for release later this year.
Simon Kolawole writes from ThisDaty
Nigerian National Anthem
Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria's call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause
Guide our leader’s right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.
I pledge to Nigeria my Country
To be faithful, loyal and honest
To serve Nigeria with all my strength
To defend her unity
And uphold her honour and glory
So help me God.
Nigeria Under-17s are world champions after hammering Mexico Under-17s 3-0 to win the 15th edition of the Fifa U17 World Cup on Friday.
An early own-goal by Erick Aguirre, a strike from Kelechi Iheanacho midway through the second half and a late effort from Musa Muhammed were all the highly-talented Golden Eaglets needed to seal a fourth title on Asian soil.
The Africans' win over the defending world and Concacaf champions sees them lift the trophy for a record fourth time, alongside their triumphs of 1985, 1993 and 2007.
El Tri dominated the early moments of the tension-soaked encounter but were unable to break through the Nigeria defence.
A few minutes into the match, Ivan Ochoa forced Dele Alampasu to make a brilliant save when his header was punched for a corner by the goalkeeper.
Mexico’s dominance was short-lived, though, after Aguirre attempted to clear away Taiwo Awoniyi’s pass meant for Musa Yahaya but accidentally put the ball in the back of his own net.
Mexico launched a comeback but their attacking forays were brought under constant check by the Muhammed-anchored defence. Alampasu made another top save midway through the first half, preventing Ulises Jaimes’s header from a free kick from finding the back of the net.
Yahaya went close to doubling the lead on 38 minutes when he rattled the crossbar from distance as Mexico battled to keep the score down.
With less than a minute to the end of the first half, Awoniyi’s acrobatic bicycle kick was parried terrifically by goalkeeper Raul Gudino, who cleared away the Imperial Academy forward’s effort.
Golden Eaglets’ onslaught continued 11 minutes after the restart when Iheanacho put another past a shell-shocked Mexico, after Gudino could not hold on to a strike from captain Muhammed.
Mexico U17 boss Raul Gutierrez made all his substitutions midway through the second half but the changes could not lift his side, as the Golden Eaglets stamped their authority on the game.
Mexico did fashion a rare chance as the second half wore on, but Ochoa’s header from close range went off target.
However, Muhammed sealed the win with less than nine minutes to play in Abu Dhabi courtesy of a well-taken free kick, after Iheanacho had been fouled by Pedro Teran.
Nigeria now hold the record for the most goals scored in a single U17 World Cup tournament with 26 goals, eclipsing the record set by Germany in 2011.
Moghalu’s Africa is quintessentially African. It is not borrowed. It is not a copycat. It is not stolen. It is not reliant on European blueprints or leftovers. It is endogenously African.
The title of Kingsley Moghalu’s new book, “Emerging Africa,” is puzzling. Rather than being an affirmation of its title, Moghalu’s book begs the question: “Is Africa really emerging?”
Moghalu is suitably skeptical of conventional wisdom. He rejects popular Western thinking in days of old which derided Africa as the Dark Continent; with the cover story of The Economist proclaiming it “The Hopeless Continent.” He is also emphatically cynical about the new tendency to celebrate Africa’s resurgence prematurely, with the same London Economist seeking atonement for its previous impetuosity with a cover story now declaring Africa: “The Hopeful Continent.”
Not so fast, cautions Moghalu; let us address certain fundamental questions first. “Is there real economic transformation going on in Africa, or is what we are seeing merely the façade of an Africa that has become a dumping ground for foreign goods and services?” His answer provides ample food for thought: Africa’s “lions” and “cheetahs” may be on the move, but Moghalu insists this will prove to be illusory if the prognosis is that they are to be armed with Blackberry and Android devices produced in Asia and North America.
Moghalu sees beyond the fig-leaves. He does not deny the fact that sub-Saharan Africa currently enjoys remarkably more buoyant economic output than most other areas of the world. He even acknowledges that seven of the world’s fastest growing economies are African. Nevertheless, he insists, the bottom-line remains that Africa accounts for a measly 2% of world trade and the combined GDP of its 54 countries is only equal to that of Chicago, USA.
So when Moghalu asks if we are nearing the end of poverty and under-development in Africa, the answer is inevitably: “Not yet!” He laments the fact that the fundamental questions of why-is the-world-the-way-it-is, who-are-we–in-it, where-are-we-going, and how-do-we-get-there are yet to be addressed and answered in Africa. This is what his ambitious book sets out to provide. Its success or failure rests on the extent to which Moghalu brings any degree of clarity to these burning issues.
Kingsley Moghalu is first and foremost a teacher. He writes as a teacher. Although his book is essentially policy prescriptive, it nevertheless targets the young and upcoming African to whom the future belongs. Moghalu’s Africa is quintessentially African. It is not borrowed. It is not a copycat. It is not stolen. It is not reliant on European blueprints or leftovers. It is endogenously African. Here is a man who obviously feels no inferiority complex to westerners. I believe he has competed with them one-on-one and has bested them. Therefore, he negotiates an Africa with a worldview of self-confidence and self-belief.
Moghalu’s siren is an African version of Obama’s “yes we can.” Yes, we can transform our economies within a generation. Yes, we can do it without undue reliance on foreign aid. Yes we can create our own endogenous technology without relying on the pipe-dream of technology transfers. Yes we can renovate, innovate, and modernize by forming a nexus between politics and economics. We can re-energise and mobilize ourselves through an A-team of constructive leadership. We can engage with the international community on our own African terms. We can move beyond reliance on natural resources and extractive industries to science and technology.
But first, there must be a paradigm shift in the African worldview. Moghalu’s position is that Africa has not developed because Africans have not yet agreed to develop. Agreement to develop would create a paradigm shift in African thinking; a drastic review of Africa’s place and role in the world, and where it needs to be. This would then require the mobilisation of resources, not only economic, but also political, in order to achieve that end. Says Moghalu: “it is the channeling of group energy based on a unity of belief about origins and destinations that creates transformation.”
Lofty words from a man who admits belief in the value of propaganda. He declares: “The fundamental proposition of this book is that the conscious propagation of ideas, values, intent, plans and knowledge is fundamental to the establishment and actualisation of worldviews; and economic transformation must be based on a worldview if it is to have depth, meaning and sustainability. Development is first a state of the mind, brought about on the basis of a view of the world and a people’s place in it.”
Moghalu maintains foreign aid is not a path out of poverty into development. Certainly, the volume of aid is grossly insufficient relative to need. But Moghalu goes further to argue that foreign aid actually militates against growth and development. Indeed, he maintains the chief instrument for the under-development of the continent is foreign aid. This is surely an exaggeration he fails to substantiate adequately. He is right that decades and billions of development assistance has failed to produce significant development in recipient countries, but this does not mean Africa’s underdevelopment must be laid at the doorstep of foreign aid. The fact that many aid-dependent countries are poorer today than they were decades ago does not mean they would not have been even poorer still without foreign aid.
However, Moghalu is right: aid is not a prerequisite for African development. He justifies this by reference to extra-African examples. Emergent China has not relied on foreign aid. Neither has India in recent times. But what really riles Moghalu is the master-servant relationship that the aid structure creates between Western donors and African recipients and its psychological impediments to self-reliance.
In the same vein, Moghalu is sceptical about the value of foreign investment in Africa. He insists there is no such thing as “transfer of technology.” Nations and firms do not willingly transfer their technological advantages to others. For Moghalu, the real interest of foreign capital is not the recipient country’s development, but profits and raw material extraction. It becomes important therefore to formulate investment policies that ensure that the economic and strategic interests of African countries are adequately served by foreign investment inflows.
Moghalu raises a simple but fundamentally important question: who is responsible for Africa’s future? His answer is without ambiguity: it must be Africa itself. His caution is that we must not be seduced by all the current talk in the West about globalisation. Yes, Africa is and remains an indelible part of the international community. But Moghalu insists we must negotiate our participation in that community on our own African terms.
For Moghalu, globalisation is easily colonialism in a modern garb. This neo-colonialism is infinitely more sophisticated and better disguised. The IMF gospel of structural adjustment and liberalisation simply led to the de-industrialisation of the continent by opening local manufacturers to disadvantaged competition with more sophisticated foreign goods. Premature trade liberalisation also denied poor African countries of income previously derived from tariffs.
In spite of all the song and dance made about globalisation, Moghalu says African countries need to realise that there is actually no “international community.” While paying lip-service to globalisation, the countries in the international system continue to pursue their national interest with even greater single-mindedness. Africa must be no different. Moghalu prescribes an endogenous growth model that graduates out of raw materials and the extractive industries into manufactured goods provided first for the protected local market and then the regional market. It is only from there that we can then launch out to engage the lip-synching globalisation world as an economic power in our own right through the exploitation of our comparative advantage.
In the words of Moghalu: “Africa’s path from poverty to wealth goes through one main highway – African countries themselves and endogenous production for internal markets; value added manufacturing and the export of complex, differentiated products to regional markets.”
Seminal books like this one are written out of office. How Moghalu managed to pull this off is remarkable, even if “Emerging Africa” was edited from the agglomeration of different things he had written over the years. But I am reticent when policy-makers get busy with making policy prescriptions. Who then will implement the prescriptions and when?
In addition, a book about emerging Africa should not be too focused on Nigerian exemplification. Nigeria is not the only country in Africa, even if an important one. Moreover, a book about finding African solutions to African problems should provide critical audit of African institutions such as the African Union. The United Nations and Bretton Woods institutions that fell under severe criticism of Moghalu are already invalidated as institutional frameworks for Africa’s development.
Someone once said in order to get the right answers; you have to ask the right questions. This is what Moghalu achieves in “Emerging Africa.” Some of the questions he asks seem to point to his own personal frustrations and dilemma: “Why have African countries failed to prosper when several of them, like Nigeria, have numerous intellectuals and high-achieving professionals?”
Undoubtedly, Moghalu himself is one of Nigeria’s leading intellectuals and high-achieving professionals. Moreover, he is not a bystander. He is now engaged in the highest echelons of government as Nigeria’s Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, no less. So what are we to expect now that intellectuals like Moghalu have decided to return to serve?
The danger here is that, wittingly or unwittingly, Moghalu might end up with some kind of self-indictment. But he seems up to the challenge. Inevitably, he dwells on the salutary changes that have taken place within the Nigerian financial system since Lamido Sanusi took over at the Central Bank. But how far-reaching are those changes? Moreover, how long-lasting will they be? As can be expected, Moghalu protects his turf jealously. He says: “Nigeria needs to establish a culture of policy continuity in order to achieve sustainable economic transformation. Too many policy initiatives have short shelf lives.”
Moghalu’s book is a must-read for all those concerned about the pace and trajectory of Africa’s economic transformation. It brings fresh new insights into the nature of the African economic quagmire and provides a beacon light at the end of the tunnel for Africa’s resurgence.
Mr. Femi Aribisala writes from lagos, Nigeria.
Nigeria accused Liechtenstein of using legal challenges as a pretext to cling on to 185 million euros ($250 million) stolen by former military dictator Sani Abacha who died 14 years ago.
Nigeria has been fighting to recover the money for years, but companies linked to the Abacha family keep going to court to prevent the funds being repatriated, Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.
A Liechtenstein government spokesman said the country was making efforts to return the money but a complaint in the European Court of Human Rights brought by companies affected was still pending.
"We feel that the Liechtenstein people have been stalling for 14 years," Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters.
"They are just looking for excuses and I think this is where international civil society should mount pressure on these people," she added. "The authorities are holding things back."
Abacha looted between $3 billion and $5 billion of public money during his five years ruling Africa's top oil producer from 1993-1998, Transparency International says.
A Liechtenstein court ordered the Abacha money confiscated in 2012, but companies linked to his family have mounted a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights and Liechtenstein fears being liable for the money should they win.
"We're asking: why have they been keeping our money all this time? Fronting companies for Abacha family are trying to delay things and Liechtenstein are hiding behind that," Okonjo-Iweala said. "Somebody's making money off it."
Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala
The Liechtenstein spokesman said one of the reasons the cases have dragged on for so long is that Nigeria refused the examination of witnesses in its courts as part of the procedure.
Liechtenstein, like neighbor Switzerland, is seen as an attractive destination for wealth, partly because banking secrecy laws can help keep it away from prying eyes.
Nigeria has recovered around $1.3 billion of Abacha's money so far from various European jurisdictions - more than a third of it from Switzerland.
"Switzerland has actually been quite good. They returned $500 million. But there's still money lying in other parts of Europe," Okonjo-Iweala said.
Other places where Abacha held money include France, Britain and offshore centers in the British isles like Jersey.
Nigeria has appointed World Bank consultants to oversee the money and ensure it is properly spent, Okonjo-Iweala said.
The Liechtenstein spokesman said that, despite the court case, authorities were "looking at the possibility of returning money ahead of schedule whilst still covering liability risks."
The role of Western banks in aiding African corruption was highlighted during the trial of James Ibori, ex-governor of Nigeria's oil-producing Delta state last year.
Ibori and his mistress were convicted in a trial that showed they had laundered millions of pounds (dollars) through accounts they held at several British banks.
($1 = 0.7373 euros)
A year ago, my five year-old son was asked to give a talk to his class about himself. He stuns his teachers when he tells them he’s Nigerian. The teacher corrects him. “You’re American, your father was Nigerian as were your grandparents,” the head teacher tries to correct him.
“No, I’m not American. I’m a Nigerian. I just live in America,” he shot back.
The panicked teacher who has probably never taught a black kid in her career puts a call to his mother. His mother tried to correct my son’s impression of who he was. But, the boy was stubborn. This is what his father told him and his father is never wrong.
Funny thing was, at about that same period, I was making my way through the immigrations lines at Murtala Muhammed airport where there is really no sign that says “welcome to Nigeria” but the stuffy heat in the tiny hall and the customs and immigrations officials with 19th century methods and attitudes straight out of a dentist’s chair welcome you in their own unique way.
At the moment my son was affirming his “Nigerian-ness” I was probably staring angrily, as I always do, on a portion of the form that asks questions about my tribe, religion and local government area. Of all those, the one I hate the most is tribe, disguised on the forms as place of origin.
Tribe. Just five alphabets and it’s the one poison that is ruining the Nigerian nation. Once, men and women fought for Nigeria’s independence. They were called nationalists because they represented a nation. Then came the military who set in motion a bitter war that made us aware of how very different we were.
My son sees my friends gather in the house and talk things Nigeria. He sees us watch Nigerian games on television and proudly waves the green-white-green flag. He rides in the car and mimes the Nigerian hip-hop songs. He doesn’t know under the American skies, he’s been shielded from the reality of a country sometimes so divided you wonder, is it really a country?
A government that should be busy repairing infrastructures instead tasks itself with reminding Nigerians what makes them different. Once, a key part of the anthem was, “though tribe and tongue may differ in brotherhood we stand”. Now, it might as well mean “ yes, tribe and tongue are different so pack your bags and go to your forefathers’ house”.
A man is born in Lagos but his parents are Ibo. He has no right to aspire to the highest office in the state because everyone thinks he’s a stranger in the land of birth even though he pays his taxes in Lagos. It’s the same for a Yoruba in Kano and an Hausa kid in Onitsha. Forget it if you’re a minority. You have no hope except you were lucky enough to go to school without a shoe and happen to be reading newspapers to pass the time when your boss dies and you have to fill his shoes.
Worse, you can get deported in your own country. I thought the Russians did it just to freeze the butts of criminals in Siberia. In Nigeria, they do it because you’re poor, forgetting that it’s the government’s duty to provide a threshold of survival for the citizens. And, everyone is quiet until it affects one tribe and they forget that within that tribe, they also self-discriminate.
Yet, we are a federation. We’re not talking Goodluck Jonathan. He’s just been here a few years and being a minority, you can’t accuse him of getting here on the wings of his tribe. Or, can you? We’re talking about a life, a pattern and a cancer that’s ridden the whole nation for decades.
When they don’t haul tribe at you, they fish out its twin – religion.
Love him or deride him, one thing Majek Fashek, the one time musical prodigy who took a wrong turn on the streets of New York got eternally right about Nigeria was the line in his song that “religion na politics. Lots of people know all the tricks. Religion na politics”.
You wonder why this is so? Why should this continue? Why should a country with so much promise because of its diversity at birth be trashed in the gutters of history half a century later? You wonder if there’s a way out?
You can’t hide from the grip of tribalism in Nigeria, even amongst the learned elite. I’ve noticed that even my friends now congregate mostly in tribal caucuses. I sit with a politician waving a broom that he says will sweep the country clean but he’s surrounded by men who speak his tongue.
You can argue that tribe is essential to an identity, that a tongue gives you a sense of historical continuum and you may argue that every country has a tribe. But, what you can’t argue is that no country uses tribe and religion to divide and batter its people like our leaders do in Nigeria.
I still wonder what I’ll tell my son the day he asks me what is the meaning of tribe. They don’t really have it in his America. And, you wonder why they still celebrate it in his father’s father Nigeria fifty-three years after we all came together formally as a nation.
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All one sees viewing events in Nigeria with ordinary eyes are hopelessness, chaos and fear. But using the inner eye, what I see is hope. My optimism arose from the fact that Nigeria is a blessed and richly endowed nation, which has continued to survive despite the consistent looting of its rich mineral and financial resources. It has continued to grow in leaps and bounds in spite of our divergences and differences.
I know some Nigerians might disagree with my optimism, because there is too much suffering in the land. They are justified to hold such a view, after all it is only a blind man would not see the desolation and poverty that pervade our nation.
But beyond the sufferings and seeming hopelessness is a glimmer – the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, there is hope. The despondency that has been the lot of many Nigerians today is largely a product of the mind. According to Karl Jaspers (a renowned German psychiatrist and philosopher), man is entangled in the web of daily conflict with self and others. He enumerated such conflicts man undergoes with self to include suffering, struggle and fear. No matter what heights or positions of honour we have attained in life, there is still the fear that we might wake up one morning and see these things vamoose.
It is a possibility. This is why King Solomon aptly described our earthly struggles and possessions as vanity – chasing after the wind.
Can you point at anybody on earth who has no need? The more money you make the more money you desire. This is why we struggle unto death, leaving behind everything we have toiled for to be enjoyed by others. Who among us is sure of tomorrow? Nobody, I am sure. Tomorrow and its content are all known to God alone. So, why do we fret? Why do we dissipate energy on things that do not edify?
Yes, Nigeria is passing through difficult times at present. It is not peculiar to us. Some other nations across the globe suffer worse fate. What makes ours different is that our leaders lack humility and sensibility. They are too self-centred to recognise that the masses are suffering and dying from poverty, hunger, sickness and diseases.
There is no nation today that is insulated from economic strangulation and insecurity. If not for the menace of Boko Haram, I would have confidently claimed that Nigeria is one of the most heavenly places to live on earth. Before the advent of Boko Haram and other forms of insurgency Nigeria used to be regarded by investors and foreign fun-seekers as a haven. What good has God not blessed us with? We have clement weather all year round; arable land, rich human and mineral resources and a happy, understanding people. But we lack love. And when we lack love, we lack God. And when we lack God in our lives, we lack vision. And when we lack vision, we perish.
It is the lack of love that breeds treasury-looters, kidnappers, armed robbers, child-traffickers, rapists, ritual-killers, arsonists, terrorists, cultists, etc. Look at the looting that has taken place since the birth of our new democracy and you see the tragedy that has befallen us!
So, I do not blame any Nigerian that feels outraged by the goings-on in our nation. Nevertheless, the message I bring to all of us today is to keep hope alive and to warn those that make life miserable for the majority of Nigerians to desist from their evil ways and avoid God’s wrath. What justification do our leaders have for their inability to meet the basic needs of an average Nigerian? There is none I can fathom at the moment. I have been left in quandary – thinking about from where Nigerian leaders acquired their kind of wickedness and greed. I recall the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Aminu Kano, etc.
These were leaders that placed nation above selves and sacrificed their lives for the good of the nation and others. I have been wondering what Nigeria would have become if our present crop of leaders had emerged 50 years ago. Probably, there would not have been any nation called Nigeria again. Or better put, we would have gone into extinction. Where is the nation, once called, Carthage? It disappeared from the face of the earth after the Carthaginian War, in which Hannibal the Great led a fruitless onslaught against the Roman Empire.
A nation can go out of existence for making a singular, avoidable mistake. For 53 years of independence, Nigeria has been milked and sucked almost to a point of unconsciousness; yet it has continued to survive. Oil thieves have vowed never to allow it to exist in peace. Recent reports revealed that the nation loses over N2.3 billion daily to these, often, faceless but very dangerous cabals that operate in the disguised name of oil thieves. If we look deeply we will see that the so-called oil thieves are top-placed Nigerians who use their acolytes to vandalize and steal oil from NNPC pipelines, providing them security cover. If this presumption is not risible then why have efforts made by the government to stop them failed?
The simple truth we have all failed to appreciate is we are systematically killing Nigeria by our greed, avarice and the large scale corruption that goes on daily. What future do we hope to bequeath to the coming generations of Nigerians? Is it a nation eaten up by locusts with nothing left to feed the majority that are hunger?
Our political party system has been traumatized by the mindless and covert scheming of politicians. There is no stable political space for the people to exercise their franchise. Elections in Nigeria have become are a mere academic exercise with the winners determined long before the due date. Those produced by this heavily-compromised process reign with terror and unconscionable dispositions. They do not listen to anybody or care for the masses they superintend over. This is the lot of the people of this country.
Kidnappers and other categories of social misfits have held all of us hostage. Nobody is safe any longer. It could be Mike Ozekhome today, who knows whose turn it may be tomorrow? It is for this uncertainty that every one of us should be concerned. It is not enough to ride in a bullet-proof car or for your car sirens to blare while driving through the streets. God forbid if anything happens, nobody will be safe. This is why we should demonstrate the eagerness to cooperate with the government to fight corruption and insecurity that threaten to destroy our nation.
Some people think that the future of Nigeria is all about Jonathan and his bid for second term. It is beyond all that. What is happening in Nigeria has a direct bearing on its corporate existence. There is no longer doubt that some Nigerians are hell-bent on scuttling our present democracy in order to achieve their selfish agenda. But we need to warn such persons that they are riding the tiger’s back. Nigeria is bigger than any individual or group that attempts to undermine its sovereignty.
The danger in the seeming gullibility of Nigerians (as I wrote in this column last week) is that they are exposing all of us to possible self-destruction. For how long will the masses look on and do nothing when actually they can do something? If we chose to remain silent, while our house burns all well and good. But posterity must call us to question someday – dead or alive.
I must commend the tenacity and doggedness of the Nigerian masses for absorbing their pains and sufferings with equanimity. Nevertheless, we need to go one step further by ensuring that those who govern are the right calibre of people. We can no longer afford to fold our arms and watch evil men take charge of our collective destiny.
For three weeks now I have laid emphasis on Nigeria’s socio-political developments in this column, because of the compelling need to gainfully redirect the consciousness of Nigerians and stimulate their enthusiasm about the need to continue to work for the development of our fatherland.
As a stakeholder in the Nigerian project, I stand a good opportunity to mirror the future and equate it to the present in order to offer unbiased and objective assessment about events in the country. One undisputable fact is that Nigeria has a very bright and promising future.
Its ability to survive all the pillaging and abuse of the past 53 years in the hands of mindless and corrupt politicians is a visible testimony to its special position in the divine order. At 53 (next month), Nigeria has recorded substantial and verifiable achievements, chief among which, is the sustained peace and unity that characterize our nation in spite of the antics of some wicked people. It is certain that many people within and outside Nigeria would have wished that Nigeria disintegrates. But God, in His infinite mercy, has bound us together as one indivisible people, united by fate and strengthened by our collective heritage.
I do not subscribe to the general notion that Nigeria has not fared well in the past 53 years, just because of the little problems that dog the path of our national development. Agreed, some avoidable mistakes have been made, but these are not enough to obliterate the gains we have made so far. Obviously, every nation has its peculiarities in the process of its development into nationhood. The United States and other developed economies had the dark sides of their histories. There are many reasons to support my position. But that is not the focus of this reflection.
My primary aim in this article, as I said, is to rekindle hope in Nigerians that the future is quite bright. Our nation and its people do not deserve the ongoing destructive media campaign, which tends to heighten tension in the country. The situation assumed a worrisome dimension since the crisis in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) came to the fore. I have refused to join the army of critics for the singular reason that I believe in principles. What is happening in PDP today could happen to any other political party. It is an internal problem that can be handled internally too.
My only fear is that the crisis might be allowed to assume a national dimension if its leaders failed to bury the hatchet, forgive one another and set aside their egos. Ego is a big obstacle to the running of the party. It is the same ego that is responsible for many of the problems we face today as a nation. I wish to urge the President and the helmsmen of the party to move swiftly and resolve the seething crisis before it snowballs into a huge conflagration. Nobody should underestimate the length the crisis can go if we failed to do the needful fast.
The degeneration of a nation into chaos and anarchy is always as a result of neglect of rule of law and constitutionality. There is no doubt that free and fair elections can only be achieved when there is respect for rule of law and the constitution. Aware of the significance of these two ingredients, the president has continued to work towards their realization, with the hope that substantial progress would have been made by the time his tenure ends.
Provision of social infrastructure is a critical area that government should look into. 53 years after attaining nationhood Nigeria is yet to be self sufficient in power generation and distribution. Even though the 6000 megawatts target has not been fully achieved as earlier planned, there has been a remarkable improvement in power generation and distribution in the past 2 days, at least. For instance, Umuahia has had steady electricity in the past 48 hours. How long this will last is what I cannot say. The hope to draw from this situation is that Nigeria can attain self-sufficiency in electricity supply if we put our acts together. And this also means that our nation has the capacity to develop into a global power bloc economically, socially, and politically.
From the position above, I do not intend to defend the excesses or inefficiency of anybody. Rather, I am motivated by sheer patriotism and the singular reason that all that Nigerians need at the moment is encouragement. Surely, mistakes have been made, but they are correctible. They are mistakes that come with growth and development. What President Jonathan and his team need at the moment is prayer and understanding by all Nigerians.
This year, as I had already predicted, will bring dramatic changes to Nigeria. All those that are working against the progress of Nigeria, will be arrested by the power of the Holy Spirit and brought back to God. God in turn will bless Nigeria and bring it out of its present coma and project it into the global arena.
I wish to advise Nigerians to remain focused, abiding in faith and resolute in the defence of our democracy. It will pay us better if nothing happens to our fledgling democracy. Anything in the contrary will smack of doom and retrogression.
Oriji Uzor Kalu is the former governor of Abia State.
The Nigerian-American Leadership Council (NALC) announces its history-making “Boko Haram” and “Niger Delta” Security Summit, to be held September 27, 2013, at the National Press Club Washington, DC.
In a media chat from the Council’s Pennsylvania Ave, Washington, DC, Headquarters, the Executive Director & CEO of NALC, Okechukwu Mbonu stated “We cannot fold our hands and watch Nigeria fall apart, due to sectarian hate or ethnic bigotry, because Nigeria will among other fallouts, drag down the entire West Africa if she fails.”
Continuing, Mbonu, a Washington trained law and government relations professional who previously served as Commissioner in Maryland, said: “A stable Nigeria means peace across West Africa; for Nigeria to cross this bridge successfully, all stakeholders in Nigeria must be prepared to sacrifice selfish and ethnic ambitions for a far-greater good; a future comprising of a peaceful and politically stable Nigeria will spur real socio-economic stability in West Africa. Nigeria needs to anchor her natural role as Africa’s leading nation and a beacon for other African states to emulate”.
Panelists will discuss the socio-political and socio-economic roots of “Boko Haram”, and proffer solutions to the current and fast rising insecurity situation in Nigeria and West Africa.
The full announcement including the free online registration information is outlined below. You may also see the NALC website www.nigerian-americancouncil.org for more information.
Date: September 27, 2013 (Registrations via website: www.nigerian-americancouncil.org )
Theme: Seeking Security Solutions in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan/West Africa, by Exploring the Social-Political and Economic Roots of “Boko Haram” and the “Niger Delta” Security challenges. NALC, in collaboration with various international organizations; has empanelled diverse personalities to discuss the “Boko Haram” and “Niger Delta” security challenges in Nigeria.
Theme: Nigerian-American Leadership Council (NALC) Security Summit ”Securing Our Present-Shaping Our Future” - The 1st Non-Governmental “Boko Haram” Security Summit in Washington
Venue: National Press Club, Washington DC, 529 14th St. NW, Washington DC
Individual Registrations: Free for individuals, Diplomats, Government Officials, Students, and others. All attendees must register through the “contact” page on our website for validations. Corporate Registrations: Corporate sponsors may contact our Washington, DC offices for additional information at: 202 379-2848
NALC is chartered in Washington, DC; it is an emerging Think-Tank, Policy Advisory and Research Center for Nigerian and Sub-Saharan African matters. NALC engages in various scholarly programs including:
NALC Exec. Dir/CEO O. Mbonu
Advocacy for the Nigerian-American and Continental African Community in the US
Confronting human rights abuses, indignity and racial profiling worldwide
Confronting the emerging security situation in Nigeria and the West African region
Facilitating positive interfaith religious dialogue among Nigerian Christians and Moslems
Ensuring good governance and credible elections in Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa
Contact: Ingrid Begman, Media Relations
(NALC) 1701 Pennsylvania Ave, Suite 300, NW, Washington, DC Web: www.nigerian-americancouncil.org Tel: 202 379-2848
The match started with Malawi playing the Nigerians to an even first 44 minutes until Emmanuel Emenike scored to break the deadlock just before the halftime whistle was blown by the ref.
Nigeria came back from the half time break more focused and played a dominating possession football led by Chelsea man John Obi Mikel.
The strategy employed by Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi seems to have worked as it took the Super Eagles just six minutes since their return from the halftime break to add to the scoreboard.
Victor Moses scored a masterful goal from the penalty spot after Musa was brought down in the box by Malawian defender Limbikani MZAVA.
Limbikani MZAVA was sent off at the 53rd minute mark by the referee Hamada EL MOUSSA after another hard tackle on Nigeria’s super-fast man Ahmed Musa.
The win earns the 2013 African Champions Nigeria a spot in the playoffs for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil. Draws for the playoff will be held in Cairo, Egypt on September, 16, 2013.