Toxin in the System

Michael Peel reports from Nigeria

Nigeria’s general election, which takes place on 14 February, is expected to be the most closely contested for 35 years or more. President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are riding on the back of a decade of decent economic growth and there is evidence of better governance in some areas. Jonathan’s supporters claim that if he wins a second term he may be able finally to tackle the long-standing corruption and political sclerosis that has damaged the country – the legacy of imperialism, dictatorship and the fight for the spoils of oil. But for all the talk of a booming middle class, and a surge in consumer goods and banking, Africa’s largest economy is still overwhelmingly dependent on income from oil and gas: it accounts for more than two-thirds of treasury revenue and 95 per cent of export earnings. The shale oil revolution in the US and the tumbling international oil price have left Nigeria badly exposed. Inequality continues to rise and internal conflicts – Boko Haram’s grim insurgency is by far the worst – undermine the foundations of this confected state. The British forced the north and south together in 1914, but Nigeria has remained in many senses divided. Memories of the Biafran war, which led to the death of half a million – or perhaps many more – and nearly to the country’s permanent partition at the end of the 1960s, still discourage Nigerians from turning a regional grievance, as the Igbo of Biafra did, into a bid for secession. Even so, some of Boko Haram’s victims in the north no longer have much confidence in the benefits to be had from the federal government in Abuja.

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