NIGERIA AS AN EXEMPLAR OF WHAT WENT WRONG

Notes on Nigeria

When it achieved independence from Britain on October 1, 1960, Nigeria was widely thought of by outsiders as the hope of Africa. It had had a peaceful transition to independence and a sufficiency of agricultural and mineral resources. The human resources included a decently trained and experienced civil service, an educated elite trained in British universities or at the University of Ibadan, and a small professional army. There were several political parties rather than the one often found in newly independent states. The 1952 British conducted census revealed a population of 35 million by far the largest in black Africa, so there was a decent sized internal market for industry. Both Time and Newsweek trumpeted this new giant. Yet the post independence history has been depressing, for Nigerians and their friends.

Theme 1: It is difficult for outsiders to evaluate an area. When success looks inevitable to them, it is time to be cautious.

Theme 2: A political, educational, and economic structure imposed from outside is likely to create problems unless it is a good "fit" to prevailing conditions. A long period of "tutelage" can make such imposed structures seem more natural, but they may still founder.

Theme 3: Multi-ethnic and multi-lingual states need a strong set of countervailing forces to keep them together. In the best of circumstances these should include a decent economy with shares for all, a set of icons like a glorious history of shared struggle, martyrs and wise men among the founding fathers, and recognized but hopefully low level of external threats.

Theme 4: The kinds of people who were the "elite" in colonial times may not be the right ones to run a country after independence. But they usually self select themselves for that purpose.

Theme 5: Countries put together by outsiders are often not a good natural "fit." There are likely to be strong regional conflicts. Regional conflict incidentally is quite common. Our civil war, the separatist movements in Europe and the north-south split in China are 3 examples out of many.

Theme 6: Being a "favored race" of the former colonizing power is often not an enviable status once independence is achieved. Ibos in Nigeria and Sikhs in India are just two of numberous cases that could be cited. The fact that such groups tend to be minorities increases their problems.

Theme 7: Discovery of "wealth" or a quick jump in prices of a commodity may mean disaster rather than development. Iran, Mexico and Nigeria all are still suffering from the oil price rise bonanza of the 1970s.

The atlas provides some basic facts. The Statesman's Yearbook can be consulted for the current situation. And the accompanying maps should also help in gaining an overall geographic perspective.

Geography: The boundaries of present day Nigeria were imposed by the British after negotiations with the neighboring colonial powers France and Germany. Nonetheless, one can see a basic "sense" in a country formed largely around the drainage basins of the Niger-Benue. One might also ask whether these might not also serve to delineate 3 countries rather than 1. The map shows a country with a gentle rise in elevation proceeding from the coast inland and two major upland areas, the Jos and Mambilla plateaus. This looks and is easier to penetrate and provide transport over than many African countries. A closer look would reveal obstacles that have been significant starting with the mangrove swamps and dense coastal forests.

A "belt" -- the so-called Middle Belt -- in central Nigeria puzzled the colonialists, because it had fewer people and settlements than areas to the south or north. Extensions of this belt are found to the east and west of Nigeria. For quite a while it was ascribed to natural conditions. Its cause is actually historical, the incursions of the Islamic Fulani horsemen from the north in jihads in the 1700s and 1800s. In essence, this is a classic political-geographic "shatterbelt."

Resources: gold and slaves were sought early. The gold proved skimpier than hoped and the slave trade ended officially in 1815. The colonial powers always looked for mineral resources. In Nigeria the British exploited the tin of the Jos Plateau and the coal around Enugu. Both have been eclipsed in importance by the petroleum (even bigger natural gas resources not currently significant -- flared off mostly) in the Niger delta and offshore.

Agricultural resources originally were a major attraction. These included the cocoa of the southwest, cotton and groundnuts (peanuts) of the north, and oil palm of the southeast. Firms like Cadbury and Lever Bros. Were important in their early exploitation. There have been fitful attempts to grow and exploit rubber east of Benin.

Multinationals have been prominent in African economies. In Nigeria, major players include the United Africa Company, Lever Brothers and Shell.

History: The history of Nigeria did not start with the British! On the northern borders were impressive empires such as Songhai and Bornu that engaged in trading with the Mediterranean and the Arab world. ["Morocco" leather was based on hides from west Africa's savannah.] In the southwest was the unique Oyo civilization with its classical center at Ile-Ife and a number of vibrant urban centers. And the kingdom of Benin was renowned throughout and outside West Africa. Relatively recently, traces of interesting civilizations have been found in the southeast. But the impact of the British has been critical in forming the modern country of NIgeria.

Nigeria was part of the old slave and gold coast and a number of European countries had trading posts and forts there. But the British established dominance in the 1800s. In particular, they focused their power on Lagos, the best site to use as a harbor for their efforts to suppress the slave trade after 1815. In 1853, Lagos was made a Protectorate.

The British did not have much luck persuading the local population to help them administer the area. The climate was not such as to attract Britons. And there was considerable reluctance on the part of the native Yorubas to accept these foreigners as having a superior culture and so emulating them. The British solution, as happened elsewhere was to import a "client group," in this case returned slaves from Sierra Leone, to serve as their agents and civil servants. Many of these people's descendants are still prominent in the Lagos area and at the national level. The regard in which these folk with their adopted British ways were held can be apprehended by the term applied to them by a prominent Nigerian academic -- "deluded hybrids." Other groups filtered in to dominate smaller retail trade, from the eastern Mediterranean (Cyprus, Lebanon) and India.

Other points of penetration were Bonny and Calabar in the east and Warri and Sapele in the center. The push north began as a reaction to the fear of French penetration from Senegal eastward and even up the Niger. It was tough going. But by the first decade of this century, the task of forming Nigeria was done. Originally, the south and north were governed separately. The British, unlike other colonial powers, liked to rule through the native elite unless there were rich resources locally. In many areas of their Empire, they never expected or wanted to stay forever, unlike the French or Portuguese, and indirect rule fitted in well with this philosophy. Especially in the north, they found this an efficient arrangement in Nigeria. Why, then, is Nigeria one country rather than two, or three? Administrative convenience and the sense of "tidiness" of the colonial administrator, Lord Lugard.

Britain after WW II started to seriously plan independence for many of its territories. Places that had given trouble and the parts not favored by British settlers were first on the list. A number of constitutional meetings were held to plan the future nature of the independent countries. Asian possessions (except Hong Kong) went first, later Africa and the Americas. In West Africa, Ghana was felt most ready economically and in terms of its elite to receive indepedence and got it in 1956. Nigeria waited until 1960. Perhaps the major reason for the delay was the reluctance of the northern, Islamic, elite to see the British leave. They had kept a lot of their powers and there were few missionaries and the accompanying western education. They feared independence, too soon, would expose them to a "takeover" by "more advanced" southerners. As it turns out, northerners have dominated national politics because of their population weight; but they have depended heavily on allies from the south -- sometimes eastern Ibos, sometimes western Yorubas along with Christians from the middle belt -- to run the country.

The Political System since independence has had some constancies and some changes. The British, as they did elsewhere but not in their own country, left a federal system embedded in a parliamentary one. Originally there were three states -- north, west, and east. The association of these with the three major ethnic groups and the dominance of the northern state in population led to fears of one dominating. So over the years the number of states has grown to 31 as the original three have been split. The south still fears the north's population,islamic faith and political dominance; the north still distrusts the Christian and better educated south. When the army decided to return to the barracks in the 1970s they called a constitutional committee together. It set up a strong presidential system, rather like that of the United States. That worked no better than the parliamentary one between 1979-1983. But it will be tried again. Emulating the American arrangement, thehead of state between 1983-1994, General Babangida,decreed that there will be two political parties -- one slightly right of center, one just left of center. In light of our own discussions of limited terms for office holders, it may be interested to know that all former office holders including the incumbents were forbidden to run again [this ban was later lifted]. In the event, elections were held but then annulled and the Yoruba (southwesterner) moslem who won the presidency has been in jail since he (maybe foolishly) decided to return to Nigeria to claim fruits of victory after spending a period of exile in Britain. The current head of state, General Sani Abacha, has a long history of involvement in previous coups and, perhaps based on his own experience, has cracked down harshly on dissent. While nominally starting the process for a return to civilian rule (by 1998?), he has hanged or otherwise disposed of dissident elements and critics.

The Urban System in colonial countries is usually influenced by the needs of the outsiders. That is true in Nigeria, as a famous geographer, Akin Mabogunje, has written. Some towns, like Kaduna and Enugu, were created from scratch -- for administrative and mining purposes respectively. Others, like Ibadan, grew under colonialism. Still others, bypassed by the transport system built under colonialism, lost importance relatively or absolutely. Lagos, like other colonial capitals, became the dominant town. In most cases as in this one, a geographer could suggest a better balanced urban system. The key difference between city systems created in colonial and noncolonial systems is that the former reflect (capitalist) economic rationality much less.

The Transport System is likewise skewed by the administrative and economic needs of the external (metropolitan is a term often used) power. Taafe, Morrill and Gould in a classic 1962 paper describe stages in transport development in colonial societies. There is a focus first on coastal points of control and ingress. The routes are then pushed inland to areas needing quick access to put down potential unrest, secondarily perhaps to areas of attractive resources. Finally, some attention is paid to cross-connecting these routes. Over time, but it is often a long time, differential development becomes based on economic returns. In Nigeria, the threads of the colonial system are still very obvious. There are the railway lines from Lagos through Ibadan to Kaduna for administrative control purposes and to bring out cotton and peanuts from the north; off this is a spur to the Jos tin mines. The eastern line to the coal at Enugu also has a spur to Jos. The major road system, denser because roads cost less and are more flexible, has similar colonial antecedents.

Like Alaska and Siberia with their permafrost, roads in tropical areas subject to heavy seasonal downpours need to be ballasted heavily. Otherwise they can wash out in one rainy season. In Nigeria and many other black African countries this is usually not done. Reasons include lack of money and "siphoning" of money from road construction to political pockets. On my first stay in Nigeria in the 1970s, a contractor who should know told me that the kickback to officials varied regionally but was usually 25 percent in the south and up to 50 percent in the north. A thin smooth coat of asphalt is usually enough to get a road approved for payment. [Some roads financed by the World Bank which knows of these problems are shining exceptions to the generally deteriorating streets and highways.] Some recent estimates say that 75 percent of the income from oil exports since 1973 has been illegally diverted in one way or another.

The Economic System in third world countries has been described by many authors. Among the most interesting commentators are W. Arthur Lewis, Joan Robinson, E. Wallerstein, Michael Watts and Gunder Frank. The major and obvious point is that the "modern" economies in these countries were designed for the benefits of outsiders. This has meant focus on commercial rather than food crops, "factory" or plantation agriculture with docile or skilled labor brought from outside if locals were unwilling or unable to serve efficiently, extraction but not much processing of raw materials and generally unbalanced industrial growth. This can take decades to change. Before the civil war in 1967, the major locations of "modern" employment were Lagos, the capital, and in the southeastern palm oil and petroleum centers. This pattern persisted through the 1970s and even by 1990 had been little changed if one excepts growth of government workers in the state capitals.

Firms from the colonizing countries dominated the modern sector. The United Africa Company, Shell and Lever Brothers have been mentioned above. They have parallels in other colonial countries' territories in Africa, in South and Central America, India and Southeast Asia. In Africa in particular, enterprises run by outsiders from the same colonial system took up what opportunities were left by the multinationals. Thus the Indians and Pakistanis and Greek Cypriots in British colonies, the Lebanese and Syrians in the French. In southeast Asia, the Chinese filled those outsider roles more than anyone else. Reaction of Africans after independence was often to try to control or oust (Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria) these "scavengers of colonialism" as some Nigerian friends called them. With the multinationals, the Nigerians went so far as to mandate "Nigerianization" or ownership of half the company via preferential issuance of shares in the local branches. These shares of course ended up in the hands of the Nigerian elite and the army officers more interested in dividends than in running businesses. True indigenous capitalism in the form of major black owned firms has had a hard time getting started in black Africa. The "market mammies" of Ghana and southwest Nigeria are an interesting partial exception.

The Education System was also externally controlled. It was organized to turn out the low level clerks and sometimes the technical assistants needed in all colonial areas. The French and British took the cream of the crop to their own universities to become ministers or priests, middle level administrators and perhaps doctors or lawyers. The lower levels were taught such germane subjects as British literature, history and geography along with English and mathematics. There was usually care taken to make the students tend the school crop gardens to make sure they did not forget how to be farmers. [The French went further than the British in inculcating their culture, emphasizing correct pronunciation and teaching students about "our ancestors the Gauls.]

Notice the lack of emphasis on business and skills like engineering. Partly this was due to the proclivities of the colonial administrators, partly to a feeling Africans were not suited to these areas, partly a desire not to create competition. There were some universities before independence. In West Africa, the British set up Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone associated with (as was common) the University of London. The first Nigerian University, founded in 1948 at Ibadan, was also originally an external college of London. After independence, there was an attempt, strongly resisted by the British and by Nigerians educated by them to university level, to introduce technical education and the American land grant philosophy. Thus Ahmadu Bello University at Zaria in the north focused on technology with help from the University of Manchester and the University of Nigeria at Nsukka aided by Michigan State devoted a lot of attention to the social sciences and agriculture.

The Military have been a dominant factor in running Nigeria. This was not intended. The British left a force of about 8,000 on independence. Its Nigerian officers were largely from the Ibos from the southeast with an increasing number inducted from the north and to a lesser extent the southwest in the post independence years. The last British officers left a few years after independence. Northerners always made up the bulk of the troopers. There has always been controversy over the ethnic "balance" of the officer corps. This army ballooned to about 250,000 during the height of the civil war 1967-1970. It has been reduced as expeditiously as possible since to about 100,000 now. [Letting out men with military training into a society with few economic opportunities for them is considered a dangerous business in Africa.] At least up to the present regime, to its credit and perhaps with some thanks to British military tradition, the Nigerian armed forces have generally been reluctant rulers. They did freely turn over power once and say they are committed to doing so again in 1998. But whether they will stay out is an interesting question.

Armies have a peculiar status in many post-colonial societies. They are often made up of many of the ethnic groups in the country (although the proportions may be different) and perhaps apart from some universities there is opportunity for individuals from different groups to interact. By their nature, they deal with machinery, sometimes quite technically advanced. Officers and technicians too are exposed to world class standards, whether these are eastern or western. The services must be organized and disciplined to a much greater extent than civilian society. They are supposed to be national institutions. And training and education are a necessity not a luxury. The armed services in many ways seem better suited to running a country than the civilian elite. They have often acted on the belief that that is true, aided by the failures of the civilian political system.

Foreign policy of African countries has varied from pro-Western (Kenya) to very pro-Soviet (Guinea and Mozambique until the breakup of the Soviet empire). Its constant factor has been opposition to the white dominated regimes that remained in southern Africa. Now that South Africa has become a "normal" rather than a pariah state it will be interesting to see whether a single theme will emerge other than a general identification with "third world" issues. Possible new focusesare the New World Information Order (licensing journalists) and preferential treatment of trade and debt for poor countries are among these.

Nigeria's foreign policy outside Africa has been pro-Western and it has been a mainstay of many of the United Nations trucekeeping forces. It had a large contingent in the former Belgian Congo in the early 1960s for instance and Nigerians have served in the UN forces in Lebanon, Somalia and other areas. It was a vociferous supporter of liberation movements in southern Africa. The MPLA government of Angola, in particular, owes its legitimacy as much to Nigerian diplomacy as Soviet arms aid. A major theme has been to try to keep out foreign involvement in African political affairs, especially from the former Colonial powers. There has traditionally been great suspicion of French motives because of the numerous French interventions in the post-independence affairs of its former colonies. In trying to carry out this policy, Nigeria has not only joined but initiated pan-African attempts at resolving internal problems of other states. Notable among these interventions was its role in the Chadian African Intervention forces in the early 1980s (unsuccessful), its attempted mediation in border disputes between Mali and Bourkina Fasso (unsuccessful) and its current role as leader of the military forces of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) in Liberia. But because of its disproportionate population and, for Africa, wealth Nigeria has often been looked at suspiciously by its neighbors afraid it may use its muscle against their interests.

A final question, and not just for Nigeria is what sorts of people, with what sorts of training are needed to run a successful state. Most Nigerians hope, but do not necessarily expect, that part of the qualification should be that the rulers be civilians.

NIGERIA. "Nigeria's Rulers, ignoring court, decide to hold presidential vote," Kenneth B. Noble, NYT 12Jn93,p.4 talks of reaction to Justice Bassey Ikpeme's order to postpone the vote. Michael O'Brien, director of the USIA, being expelled for "blatant interference" in saying postponement would be unacceptable. Also credentials being withdrawn from 8 Americans here as election observers. Polls showed Moshood Abiola, Social Democratic Party, a Yoruba ahead with 47.3% of Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Party and a Kano man. Both are muslims and friends of current military president Ibrahim Babangida.

"Nigerian army sets aside election intended to restore democracy," Kenneth B. Noble, NYT 17Jn93, p.1 reports on legal challenge to suppress reporting results. Growing indications were that Moshood Abiola was having a decisive win. "Nigeria rights group cites opposition's gains," Kenneth B. Noble, NYT 19Jn93, p.2 reports on the release by the Campaign for Democracy of final results. Moshood Abiola was said to have won 19 of the 30 states. The story notes this is a setback for the Hausa-Fulani group of the north; both candidates are muslims but

"Nigeria reveals census' total, 88.5 million, and little more" NYT, 25 Mr 92, p.12. There is still considerable doubt about how many Nigerians there are. The 1952 British census was an undercount, the 1962 and the 1963 recounts were inflated and the 1973 census was annulled after it was taken -- possibly because it revealed facts about the country the rulers did not want to acknowledge. The December, 1991 census counted some 30 million less Nigerians than most thought existed. It seems to have been an honest attempt at a count, at least according to most official observers.

"Nigeria had to act against coup plotters," NYT, 2 Se 95, 18 is a letter from the Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Zubair M. Kazaure, justifying detention and death sentences for those suspected in a recent coup plot. He also justifies other aspects of domestic policies including Abacha's 1993 takeover and the regime's economic and political actions. Interesting alternate views are presented in Bob Herbert's column in the Times of August 14 titled "The Fantasy Coup," which generated this letter from Ambassador Kazaure. Letters from Nigerian exiles in the US have often had uncomplimentary things to say about his character and veracity.

"Repression in Nigeria," Howard W. French reporting from Abidjan, Ivory Coast in the NYT, 12 No 95, 18 says that going ahead with execution of eight ethnic activists, the country's leader, General Sani Abacha, was betting that international isolation was "less terrifying than the perils of Nigeria's internal politics."

"Commonwealth suspends Nigeria over executions," Reuters to NYT, 12 No 95, 18 reports on the action of the 52 member Commonwealth. It is unprecedented. Only Gambia, currently under military rule, dissented. President Nelson Mandela of South Africa has been a driving force behind strong actions against the Nigerian regime.

"Nigerian government hangs 9 activists," CDT(AP), Frank Aigbogun, 13 No 95, 10 reports that the eight final words of Ken Saro-Wiwa before his body went limp were "Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues." It also reports that because of faulty equipment it took five attempts to hang the anti-government activist. Eight countries, including the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Nigeria in protest. Ken was perhaps the most prominent Ogboni activist -- the group inhabits the main oil-producing area of the country and has been complaining of not receiving enough compensation for the environmental damage done to their environment and livelihood by the oil industry. The major company involved, Shell has come under attack for not pressing the government to commute the sentences and for appearing to support it by going ahead with a $4 billion natural gas liquefaction program. Shell says it has no influence on the government and says if it didn't cooperate with the government some other oil or gas firm would.

"Nigeria Foaming," The Economist, 18 No 95, 15-16 raises the question of whether the execution of 9 political activists protesting injustices to the Ogoni people will be forgotten soon by outsiders -- eager to make money from Nigerian oil and gas. Oil revenues are systematically stolen and squandered says the article and even though Nigeria is not the most brutal country in the world, it is the most misruled.

"After the hangings," The Economist, 18 No 95, 18 notes the executions were announced while Nigerians were glued to the Nigeria-Uzbekistan soccer match. National news at 9pm ignored them as did state-controlled radio.

"Nigeria sees its sinking fortune in a soccer group's snub", Howard W. French, NYT, 6 Ap 95, A5 talks about the recent cancellation of the FIFA world junior championship to have been held here. Given the soccer madness that infects Nigeria, this snub may have hurt more than most. The argument was that security was not sufficient. "But perhaps more than security, soccer officials were also concerned about what has made life intolerable for many Nigerians: a level of corruption so high and an absence of basic public services so complete that many have concluded that the only service the military Government provides is to rob its own people...As with other tax money that frequently finds its way into the pockets of officials here, little of the budget allocated to get ready for the soccer tournament seemed to have been spent for its intended purpose....said one professor who spoke in his shabby offices where he rarely ventures [] because his salary arrives months behind schedule. 'The sad fact is that without organizations like FIFA to bear down on us in all facets of life, this country, the way it is going, will never work."