Nigeria at 59: Has Nigeria Changed For The Better?

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The name Nigeria was taken from the Niger River running through the country. This name was coined in the late 19th century by British journalist Flora Shaw, who later married Lord Luggard, a British colonial administrator. The origin of the name Niger, which originally applied only to the middle reaches of the Niger River, is uncertain. The word is likely an alteration of the Tuareg name egerew n-igerewen used by inhabitants along the middle reaches of the river around Timbuktu prior to 19th-century European colonialism

Nigeria is the Federal Republic with thirty-six (36) States, a Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) and some 9, 572 Political wards. The States and FCT constitute the second tier of government while the LGAs constitute the third tier of government.

Nigeria is located in the Western region of Africa with a total land area of 923,768 square kilometers sharing boundaries with the Republic of Niger to the north; Chad to the northeast; Cameroon in the east and southeast; Benin in the west and the Gulf of Guinea in the south.

Nigeria has been a home to a number of ancient and indigenous kingdoms and states over the millennia. The modern state originated from British colonial rule beginning in the 19th century, and took its present territorial shape with the merging of the Southern Nigeria Protectorate and Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914.

The British set up administrative and legal structures while practicing indirect rule through traditional chiefdoms. Nigeria became a formally independent federation in 1960. It experienced a civil war from 1967 to 1970. It thereafter alternated between democratically elected civilian governments and military dictatorships until it achieved a stable democracy in 1999, with the 2011 presidential election considered the first to be reasonably free and fair.

Nigeria is often referred to as the “Giant of Africa”, owing to its large population and economy. With 186 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria has the third-largest youth population in the world, after India and China, with more than 90 million of its population under age 18.

The country is viewed as a multinational state as it is inhabited by 250 ethnic groups, of which the three largest are the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba; these ethnic groups speak over 500 different native languages and are identified with a wide variety of cultures. The official language of Nigeria is Nigerian English, with a local variety that is called “pidgin’, chosen to facilitate linguistic unity at the national level.

Nigeria is divided roughly in half between Christians, who live mostly in the southern part of the country, and Muslims, who live mostly in the north. A minority is of the population practice religions indigenous to Nigeria, such as those native to the Igbo and Yoruba ethnicities.

In 2010, several African countries are celebrated their 50 years of independence from colonial rule this year. According to Chung, Solomon in Daily trust in 2010 “Independence: 50 years down the line, where is Africa?”, we can count 16: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, and Togo.

However, no other country may elicit the sort of interest that will be accorded to Nigeria, during what is termed the golden jubilee celebration. This is not because of the earlier squabbling over the cost of the ceremonies, but perhaps due to the sheer size of Nigeria in terms of population or human and material resources, as Africa’s most populous country and containing many of the resources found in other African countries.

At independence on the first of October in 1960, there was great expectation of the emergence of a great modern state in Africa called Nigeria.

The idea of assessment of success is very important, just as the comparative approach, within the African continent, among states in the developing countries and with the rest of the world. In the era of globalism, the interconnectedness of the world presupposes that if you are not looking at the corner of your world from the perspective of globalization, you can at least look at it from the framework of globalization.

Based on oral tradition, written sources, archaeology, geographical materials, ethnographic materials or linguistic materials, it has been established that the earliest contacts between the present area of Nigeria and the rest of the world may have commenced around the seventh century. This was due to the trans-Saharan trade between the northern parts of Nigeria and western Sudan, Sahara, North Africa, Europe, the Nile Valley including Egypt and the Middle East.

According to some of the most authoritative historians on Nigeria, the country was a creation of European ambitions and rivalries in West Africa as part of the “scramble for Africa” leading to its partition.

In the area of Nigeria, the contestants were mainly the British, French, German and Portuguese. And it was created within the territory that once had great kingdoms and states like the Kanem–Borno, the Sokoto Caliphate, Ife, Benin, the Oyo Empire, city-states of the Niger Delta and civilizations like those of Aro or the IgboUkwu and Nok.

The conquest of Nigeria, Crowder has added, was effected through three centres of British interest in the territory: one, trading in Lagos; two, competition for palm oil in the Niger Delta; and three, trade in the hinterland through the River Niger. Tamuno (1984) has affirmed that from 1899, that is after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, the British sought to establish and control a colonial state by removing all African opposition to this project.

By 1914, Britain had become the paramount ruler of most of Nigeria, with the exception of pockets of resistance from Egbaland, Igbo and Tiv areas. This historical sketch cannot be complete without recognizing the role of explorers, traders, missionaries and colonial administrators. Of these, George Goldie and Frederick Lugard, stand out.

The former for expediting trade in the area of Nigeria under the United Africa Company (UAC), later Royal Niger Company (RNC), and the latter for consolidating colonial conquest. The important explorers were Mungo Park, the trio of Walter Dudley, Dixon Denham and Hugh Clapperton.

There was another trio of James Richardson, Adolf Overweg and Heinrich Barth, and the Lander brothers, John and Richard. Much of the colonial history of Nigeria between 1914 to 1960 was social and political engineering to advance British interests, contain the “natives” and engage the nationalist movement which would compel independence in 1960.

British colonial administration was based mainly on the indirect rule through African rulers, as distinct from the mainly French, assimilation policy of trying to make colonial subjects like French citizens and practiced also by the Portuguese; and the German and Belgian paternalism which looked down on colonial subjects as if they were children.

At birth, Nigeria was imbued with certain structural imbalances. The first post- colonial general elections were organized in 1964 and due to the turbulence surrounding those elections, largely in the opposition Tiv area of central Nigeria and the Yoruba area in the west, the military intervened in a coup d’état in 1966 in which the Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, from Northern Nigeria, the Northern Premier Ahmadu Bello, the Western Premier, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, and several political leaders and military officers were killed.

The ethnically and regionally skewed killings by mainly Igbo-speaking officers would attract a counter-coup in the same year and the killing of the Igbo- speaking Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Head of State, Aguiyi Ironsi, to be replaced by Yakubu Gowon, a minority, from central Nigeria.

The social turmoil and violence accompanying all these developments led to the secessionist attempt by the eastern region to declare the state of Biafra and a resultant civil war of 30 months that claimed about one million lives.

This development could be interpreted as a macabre culmination of ethnic and regional political rivalries, essentially driven by the elite, eager to manipulate social differences for personal gain.

Meanwhile, the largely agrarian and solid minerals economy of Nigeria (cocoa, groundnut, palm products, hides and skins, rubber, and various food products like cassava, yams, guinea corn, maize, and citrus fruits, as well as coal, tin and columbite, iron, limestone , among others) from the pre-colonial up to the colonial period, was to change into a gradually monocultural economy based on hydrocarbons, with the discovery of oil at Oloibiri in the Niger Delta in 1956.

The events from the first military coup d’état, the earlier discovery of oil and the civil war, are very important aspects of Nigeria’s history. For it is possible to suggest that these developments significantly and critically correlate with the challenges and prospects of Nigeria’s development since independence as discussed in the edited volume by Panter-Brick (1978).

Out of Nigeria’s 50 years of independence, the military would rule Nigeria for about 30 years and come to largely shape the socio-economy and politics of the country. Military rule would destroy democratic structures and processes and negate consensual or participatory development for a long period

20 Years Of Unbroken Democracy: Has Nigeria Changed For The Better?

Two decades after the West African country’s army handed power to a civilian leader, many questions if life has improved.

Two decades ago, in a colorful ceremony held in the capital, Abuja, Nigeria’s military handed over power to an elected civilian leader.

Generals had ruled the oil-rich West African country for the previous 15 years.

The ceremony was attended by heads of state and representatives from more than 40 countries.

The mood was upbeat and the new leader promised prosperity to the thousands of his countrymen who were in the stadium. Millions of others watched the ceremony on television. Others listened to newly elected president Olusegun Obasanjo’s speech on the radio.

But after 20 years of democracy and four presidents, where is Nigeria today?

Economic malaise

The country’s economy has seen a boom since the return of civilian rule. Nigeria’s GDP has grown six-fold since 1999, according to World Bank data.In 1999, despite its vast oil wealth, Nigeria’s GDP was a mere $59bn. That figure skyrocketed to $375bn by the end of 2017.

“The economy is doing much better now because there is a greater level of trust in our economic institutions. There are also more foreign investments now compared to the military era,” AliyuAudu, an Abuja-based economist said.

Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, is still heavily reliant on oil. Petroleum represents more than 80 percent of total export revenue, according to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

When the global oil price crashed in 2016, Nigeria’s economy was not spared. The country went into a recession, its first in 25 years.

The economy, the biggest on the continent ahead of South Africa, has not fully recovered. Unemployment stands at 23 percent and inflation at 11 percent, according to official figures.

“Nigeria’s economy needs to diversify. We need to tap into the agricultural sector where the country can put millions of the unemployed to work. Investment in infrastructure will also put many young people to work and reduce double-digit inflation,” Audu said.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics figures, 43 percent of the country’s 190 million population is either unemployed or underemployed.

Despite the recent economic boom, extreme poverty is common. Some 87 million Nigerians live in dire poverty, according to Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Nigeria overtook India, a country of 1.3 billion people, last year as the country that is home to the most extremely impoverished people in the world, it said.

Vast corruption

Nigeria still remains one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. Transparency International ranked the country 144 out 180 in its 2018 corruption perceptions index.

If corruption is not dealt with immediately it could cost Nigeria up to 37 percent of its GDP by 2030, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a global auditing firm.

This cost equates to nearly $2,000 per Nigerian resident by 2030, PwC said.

President MuhammaduBuhari launched an anti-corruption drive after taking office in May 2015.

“Corruption is still a huge problem, but it is not like what it was before. That is because the people have the choice to get rid of a leader if he is corrupt. That was not possible under the military generals. There are also whistleblowers now,” Audu noted.

Security issues

Since 2009, northeastern Nigeria has been hit by security challenges. Boko Haram, a group that wants to establish an Islamic state following a strict interpretation of Islamic law, has waged a deadly insurgency.

The violence has killed thousands of people and forced more than two million from their homes.

The United Nations and human rights activists accused both Boko Haram and security forces fighting it of putting civilians, including many children, in harm’s way.

The violence has spread to neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, prompting a regional military coalition against the armed group.

In recent weeks, the coalition forces have pounded Boko Haram hideouts in the Lake Chad area with airstrikes as well as launching ground assaults.

Boko Haram fighters kidnapped at least 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok town. Five years after the attack, more than 112 girls are still missing.

A total of 107 girls have been found or released as part of a deal between the Nigerian government and the armed group.

Boko Haram allegedly operates its largest camp in the vast Sambisa forest in Nigeria’s northeast.

The forest stretches for about 60,000 square kilometers in the southern part of the northeastern state of Borno, which has borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s violence.

“More needs to be done to protect and preserve basic human rights in parts of the northeast. People live in fear from Boko Haram,” EzeOnyekpere, a human rights activist, told Al Jazeera.

“Apart from the areas facing Boko Haram insurgency, rights of citizens have improved significantly since the return of civilian rule. Arbitrary arrests and torture are not common. We also have a constitution that safeguards the rights of all citizens,” Onyekpere added.

Press freedom

Under the military, press freedom was severely restricted. Whistleblowers faced detention and possibly torture in custody.

Twenty years later, Nigeria has a vibrant media with the country also hosting bureaus for some of the world’s major media groups.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Nigeria 120 out of 180 in its 2019 press freedom index.

“Nigeria has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. We could have been far ahead of where are currently,” Onyekpere said.

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