May 25, 2003 - Petroleum World: The "Obnoxious" threat to Nigeria and its oil By Nigeria RPCV Ron Singer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Nigeria: Peace Corps Nigeria : The Peace Corps in Nigeria: May 25, 2003 - Petroleum World: The "Obnoxious" threat to Nigeria and its oil By Nigeria RPCV Ron Singer

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, May 25, 2003 - 3:59 pm: Edit Post

The "Obnoxious" threat to Nigeria and its oil By Nigeria RPCV Ron Singer

The "Obnoxious" threat to Nigeria and its oil By Nigeria RPCV Ron Singer

The "Obnoxious" threat to Nigeria and its oil

By Ron Singer
The Wall Street Journal
NEW YORK 04 15 03

Given the Iraq conflict, Nigeria -- the country that ranks fifth among America's oil suppliers -- seems poised to move up the scale of importance. Fortunately, Nigeria is a nation that might still be rebuilt without war. Presidential and gubernatorial elections are scheduled for Saturday, and voting for Nigerian federal legislators was held over the last weekend. If the election process is completed, it will be the first time in the 43 years since independence that the country has enjoyed a relatively peaceful, relatively democratic civilian succession.

This will be an achievement whether or not ex-military ruler (1976-79) and incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian and member of the Yoruba nationality, wins a second term against his principal opponent, General Muhammadu Buhari. Gen. Buhari is a Muslim from the Hausa tribe who ruled the nation -- in particularly autocratic fashion -- from 1984-85 and is now desperately playing the ethnic card.

To the extent that the U.S. government is paying attention to the Nigerian elections, the policy is, "Keep the present government in power so the oil keeps flowing." This is a reflection of the same "anti-Balkanization" policy pursued in 1967-70, when Biafra seceded and was bludgeoned back into the Nigerian federation.

This policy is shortsighted. The struggles of the twin colossi of African democracy, Nigeria and South Africa, represent the future for a continent. For the 120 million people living in Nigeria the very survival of family and nation may hinge upon these elections. If the flow of oil is what matters most to consuming countries, then the U.S. should understand that the elections, coupled with a movement to dilute Nigeria's federal power, may represent the country's best chance to become a stable, reliable producer.

What ordinary Nigerians do have in common with the aloof U.S. government is a fear of the strong centrifugal forces that tear at the country. It is a commonplace that the colonial powers carved Africa into unviable units. In the case of Nigeria, the melding into one nation of the conservative Islamic north with the largely Christian and animist south created problems that dog the federation today.

Other vestiges of colonial history also wreak damage. For instance, the "Four Obnoxious Bills," as the leaders of Nigeria's independence struggle in the 1950s called them, were laws ensuring that revenues from natural resources were collected at the center, which retains about 60% and then doles out the rest to Nigeria's 36 states -- and not in proportion to their role in the generation of wealth.

Today's reformers argue that if revenues were distributed directly to elected local authorities (who would then pay 87% back to the center in taxes) Nigeria might finally find peace. Since its discovery in the '70s, oil has added tremendous volatility to Nigerian politics. The initial boom turned the government into a den of thieves, exacerbating ethnic divisions.

Having now generated a total of more than $250 billion in oil revenues, Nigeria remains among the world's 20 poorest countries, and consistently ranks among the top three in various annual corruption surveys. Oil generates 80-90% of the country's revenues. It is produced almost entirely in the six states of the southern region known as the Niger delta. This means that the northern states, which produce about 2% of revenues, get about twice as much in oil revenues as the delta states.

Corruption and pork-barreling make the situation even more inequitable. Some of their share never reaches the oil-producing localities because they have little power in the federal government. The powerful Nigerian nationalities -- tribes -- don't live in the delta. There are no Yorubas, no Hausas and only a small number of Igbos, who have been marginalized since the Biafran war.


The promise of these elections is the possibility of reform coupled with more accountability. The strong front-runner in the presidential race is President Obasanjo. An uncertain democrat, he has tried several times to override the constitution for political advantage. Terrible things have happened on his watch: spiraling poverty, despair and violence (10,000 killed, by some estimates). On the other hand, the president has tried, at least, to reform the economy and fight corruption, and he has reorganized and purged the military in ways that make the country less vulnerable to coups.

But there is also a movement afoot that would take the country in a very different direction: a growing call for a constitutional conference of many leading groups in Nigeria. The agenda would be twofold: turning the federation into a confederation, and reapportioning the flow of oil revenues.

In the forefront of the constitutional conference movement is Chief Anthony Enahoro, the leader of the pro-democracy Movement for National Reformation. A member of one of the smaller nationalities, the Edo, he has always been seen as being above partisan, ethnic politics. He is said to have the president's attention. Also on board are two respected former rulers, Second Republic President Shehu Shagari (1979-83) and General Yakubu Gowon (1966-75). Together, these three non-partisan elder statesmen represent Nigeria's three major regions.The idea of replacing the federal structure with a confederation has also won the support of the former Biafra leader Emeka Ojukwu, quite a few newspaper editors, and some sitting governors and leaders of ethnic associations.

Some feel that only anarchy can prompt such a conference. But there is a better scenario. What if after relatively satisfactory elections, constitutional changes were then enacted? Reapportioning the revenue flow would end the legacy of the "four obnoxious bills," making local authorities responsible (and accountable) for local services and development.

Paradoxically, weakening the union might reduce some of its stresses. Nigeria could gain sufficient stability to survive as a relatively peaceful nation, which would bring hope and, eventually, material benefit to Africa. For the rich world, these changes could keep Nigerian oil pumping into the indefinite future.

By Ron Singer
From The Wall Street Journal

(Editor's Note: Mr. Singer's interest in Nigeria began with Peace Corps service there in 1969. He teaches at the Friends Seminary in New York City.)

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Petroleum World

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Nigeria; Petroleum



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.