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What everyone needs to know interrogates Nigeria’s challenges

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Art and Culture Editor
12 October 2018   |   4:22 am
Nigeria is important and what happens there directly impacts on the United States. Yet, I get frustrated that Americans do not pay sufficient attention to Africa in general or Nigeria specifically.

Nigeria is important and what happens there directly impacts on the United States. Yet, I get frustrated that Americans do not pay sufficient attention to Africa in general or Nigeria specifically. The visit by the First Lady, Melania Trump, is positive, because many Americans will focus on Africa. I do regret that she is not visiting Nigeria or South Africa, the continent’s countries of greatest strategic importance to the United States,” the statement by former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, best premise the importance of Nigeria in international community and What Everyone Needs To Know about the country, which for outsiders, “is a complicated place.”

But how did Nigeria become so complicated? How did Nigeria become so complacent about its role in Africa and global politics? The answers to these questions are what Campbell and Matthew Page try to provide in the book, which was released to the market in July 2018.

However, to get the most arresting part of the book, listen to what Ambassador Campbell, the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said at the media presentation, which held at the U.S. Consul General’s Residence (CGR), on Modupe Alakija Crescent, Ikoyi.

He insists that the rational mind cannot quite grasps the reality of corruption, the albatross of Nigeria’s development until a closer look is taking on the $14 billion spent on electricity since 1999 – “where are the results?”

“Where has the money gone to? Nigeria generates the same amount of electricity with Edinburgh, which has a population of about 100,000 people. Nigerians should be interested in why infant mortality is high comparable to Somalia,” he remarks.The book illuminates and provokes critical thinking; stressing corruption – private gain at the expense of the public – is widespread.

While addressing the questions about what people should know about Nigeria, especially accountability in governance, Campbell, in fact, urges Nigerians to demand for accountability in the administration of the state and its resources. Campbell says Nigerians should begin to ask questions on how their resources are administered paramount of which is the money expended on energy, which is about 14 billion dollars.

For the former ambassador, who spoke in his capacity as a private person, the promise that Nigeria has, as home to about 20 per cent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa, as Africa’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, comprises Africa’s largest economy, and represents the cultural centre of African literature, film and music, “is infinite.” To him, what should concentrate the mind of its leaders is, “promotion of human rights” so that the country could join the great powers of the world.

Campbell, who was the US ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, reveals that when he was transferred from Germany to Nigeria in 1988, as political counsellor, “I was compelled to find out how the country works.”He recalls: “I first went in 1988 from my post in Geneva. I set out to try to understand how Nigeria works. I have lived there more than seven years. I was Political Counselor at the U.S. embassy, then in Lagos, from January 1988 to July 1990. I was responsible for political reporting during those years of military government. I returned to Nigeria as American ambassador in 2004. My tour ended in 2007. During those two periods, I visited 35 of the 36 states. I was able to talk to everybody – from presidents to cardinals to chiefs to rag pickers. I retired from the U.S. Department of State when my tour in Nigeria ended, in 2007. The Office of the Inspector General briefly recalled me in 2008-09 to inspect our missions in Mexico and Iraq. Since then, I have had no formal ties to the U.S. government.”

He felt differently after ‘encountering’ Nigeria. Thus, began over three decades probes on Nigeria and its people. “I have also been able to look at Nigeria from an academic perspective: I was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University during the 1990-91 academic year and later a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin, 2007-2008. I have been at the Council on Foreign Relations since 2009, working mostly on Nigeria and South Africa.”

The result of his investigation led to Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink (Council on Foreign Relations Books). It was written for the American audience, but the new book looks at Nigeria from academic perspective.The Oxford University Press commissioned him to do the book, which is aimed at providing background information to the international audience.

“I was asked by Oxford to do a book on Nigeria for its ‘What everyone needs to know’ series. The series’ audience is primarily American, British and other educated non-specialists around the world. The book might also be of particular interest to Nigerians, if for no other reason than how two foreign friends see the country. The series avoids jargon and political science language. Academic apparatus – footnotes, etc. – are kept to a minimum,” he says.

The book is divided into seven sections: History, Economics of Oil, Religion, Politics, Security Challenges, Nigeria and the World and Nigeria of the Future.In each section, there are long accounts of struggles and conflicts to improve the Nigeria narrative.

For each section, the authors developed questions. That meant trying to decide what “everyone needs to know.”The book consists of 72 questions and answers. The authors are guided by questions they were asked – and by questions they wished would have been asked. Some examples of the questions they came up with are: How did the slave trade impact on Nigeria’s Development? What will Nigeria’s economy look like in fifteen years? What makes Nigerian Christianity unique? What is a day in the life of a politician like? Why has communal conflict killed so many Nigerians? Where is the Nigerian diaspora, and why is it so influential? Will Nigeria’s oil runs out, and if it does, what happens?

The authors drafted the answer to 36 questions – and then they swapped drafts, questioning and editing each other’s work. Then selected questions and answers were sent to experts for feedback. Thereafter, the book was put together.The various shades of questions come together chronologically – the book opens with questions related to Nigeria’s history – like the slave trade – and closes with questions related to Nigeria’s future.

Campbell and Page argue, “but our hope is that readers will use the table of contents to find the questions they are interested in at any particular moment. For example, under the question, how does Nigeria contribute to world culture, there is discussion of the domestic film industry – Nollywood –and also music.”

Delving into Nigeria’s recent history, politics, and culture, the book tackles essential questions related to widening inequality, the historic 2015 presidential election, the persistent security threat of Boko Haram, rampant government corruption, human rights concerns, and the continual conflicts that arise in a country that is roughly half Christian and half Muslim.

It also looks at issues such as, What was Nigeria’s colonial experience and how did it win independence? 
What caused the Nigerian Civil War and why is it still important? 
What lessons can we learn from the fall of the Second Republic? 
Why did military rule Nigeria for so long and what was its legacy? 
The Economics of Oil. How big is the Nigerian economy and what does it look like? How does Nigeria’s oil and gas sector work? Have Nigerians benefited from the country’s enormous oil wealth?
and many other questions.

What is the bottom line of the book? What does everyone need to know about Nigeria?The challenges, the book stresses. Butt it satrts with the famous quote of Chinua Achebe: “Whenever two Nigerians meet, their conversation will sooner or later slide into a litany of our national deficiencies. The trouble with Nigeria has become the subject of our small talk in much the way the weather is for the English.”

From the book’s perspective, the general socio-economic challenges include:
• there is over-reliance on subsistence agriculture and petty trading;
• the percentage of those living in poverty is increasing;
• climate change is having a serious impact on Nigeria: the Sahara is moving south, sea levels in the Gulf of Guinea are rising;
• there is a population explosion: Zamfara: the statistically average woman has 8.1 births; in Rivers State, 3.8.
• Nigeria’s is a flawed democracy bedeviled by multiple insurgencies: Boko Haram, in the Delta. Conflict in the Middle Belt over land and water use, often in an ethnic and religious context, and with criminal elements, i.e., cattle rustling.
• Nigerians widely criticize their government for mismanagement.
• Corruption is structural.
• Bottom line: most Nigerians must fend for themselves.

Specific challenges are:
• lack of infrastructure;
• Basic social services are inadequate. Examples are in the fields of health/medicine, generation of electricity (the country generates about the same amount of electricity as Edinburgh). Education, especially primary, does not prepare adequately a modern workforce. Lack of clean water promotes disease. Infant mortality rates are slightly better than Somalia (a war zone), worse than South Sudan.

Having considered the responses to questions posed in the book, the authors conclude that Nigerians are survivors:
• survived boom and bust cycles mostly associated with international oil prices;
• survived three decades of military rule;
• survived catastrophic civil war that left more than two million dead.

It also points out Nigeria’s promise. Campbell says, “Nigerians show resolve, industriousness, and optimism about the future, there is great capacity for peaceful co-existence and informal conflict resolution, a sense of national identity may have started to develop, there is a popular commitment to democracy. This clearly seen in the efforts Nigerians make to vote, press and media are largely free and there is an entrepreneurial culture.

“Throughout our book, Matthew and I emphasise the optimism we have about Nigeria’s future by highlighting ways in which the country can unlock its great potential, whether by focusing on infrastructure development, combating corruption, reforming its military and opening up more opportunities for women to participate in politics, or in a host of other ways.”

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