Africa's Re-Development Needs: Nigerian Perspective


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Africa’s Re-development Needs: A Nigerian Perspective




John Adeleke






July 8, 2005



Nigeria is a west African giant of huge human and economic potential. What must happen to make it real? John Adeleke on seven principles for a brighter future.


Africa’s hoped-for renaissance has been the centre of attention at the G8 summit in Scotland and the mass mobilisations of protestors and campaigning groups who organised around it. In the media, negative reporting of Africa often omits the wider context and the many African success stories that exist at all levels, but no one would deny that an overflowing basket of woes blights the continent. In addressing these problems, it is vital that African voices themselves are at the centre of debate.

In this article, I highlight the problems of Africa - which in a vast continent are always particular as well as general - through the predicament of my own country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I do not claim to provide “the” answer to the issues I identify, but I trust that my observations might help chart the route to the “promised land” of justice, peace, security, and good governance.

There are seven areas where Nigerians need radical improvement in their lives.

The shackles of debt

I welcome the recent decision by the G8 states to cancel the debts of eighteen poor countries, but such “forgiveness” should be tied to good governance. Why should taxpayers’ money subsidise the profligacy of government officials and the political (or power-broking) classes of Africa?

The Nigerian political class is acquiring foreign property at a great rate, and many investigations expose cross-border money-laundering by senior government officials. This shows that Nigeria’s political class cannot be trusted to put the interests of its compatriots before its own avarice. At the same time, some state governors and federal institutions – too few, alas – show a true commitment to better governance.

Much Nigerian debt was accumulated by overbearing, corrupt governments, with the connivance of the international banking community and multilateral financial institutions, and spent on self-serving, white-elephant projects. Why should millions of citizens suffer the consequences today? In normal banking, a bad debt is written off. Where negligence, lack of professionalism or imprudent judgments are assessed to be contributory factors, heads are likely to roll within the lending institution.

Not in Nigeria. On the contrary, with the culpable leaders long gone or in blissful retirement, and the western financial institutions still buoyant, with their former officials awarded golden handshakes, it is the ordinary person on the African street who is left to pay the bill.

I believe that the Nigerian debt may be a special case. With oil revenues and external reserves at their highest ever, Nigeria could repay it. Yet the evidence is not completely clear: with poor levels of transparency and record-keeping, the true situation regarding our debt, and the bona fides of much of the lending, remains obscure. Some of the debt is held in the overseas investment portfolios of past leaders who created the problems in the first place.

Nigerians are aware that, despite repaying more than double the original debt (given accumulating interest charges), the debt overhang is worse than ever. Debt rescheduling would be unfair on future governments, but a significant review of interest payments and the format for its calculation is essential. Nigeria’s “debts” may be significantly reduced through such a legitimate review.

The trade conundrum

Trade promotion is more desirable than dependence on aid, but we must also be practical. Nigeria has to start producing. You can’t participate much in bilateral trade if you have nothing to offer (except oil). Nigerian governments constantly talk of the need to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). I often wonder if the emphasis should be on installing an economic regime which promotes a savings culture and local investment.

Perhaps Nigerians would have been better off if we had emphasised strategic outward investment in for example, the oil and gas sectors, and in end-user investments that import some of Nigeria’s agro-commodity exports. Nigerian equity holdings might then have been found in Hersheys or Cadbury’s, Pirelli and Michelin instead of Knightsbridge homes and Zurich banks.

Local investment may yet be the best form of import substitution, and if Nigerian output can absorb its 150 million people then it will surely gather a similar momentum beyond its shores. The present government bans imports wholesale as a means of promoting local production and saving foreign exchange. This is a flawed policy that will create more hardship than long-term good. The plight of the manufacturing sector owes more to the high cost of borrowing, taxation, undue harassment from revenue collectors and the poor state of infrastructure than to any lack of non-tariff barriers. If you stimulate investment and promote production in a competitive environment, my guess is that trade fundamentals will come right.

The aid trap

I can’t say no to foreign aid, but the donor syndrome is less altruistic than it seems. In many countries it’s a growth sector of the economy spawning rampant and insincere “NGO-ism”. In Nigeria, the donor economy is alongside Pentecostal churches (or “Born Again-ism”) as a major growth sector.

The aim of the donor community, it often seems, is to give with the left hand and claw back with the right. Millions of dollars are spent on consultants from the donor nations (often armed with nothing more than a briefcase and a copy of the Lonely Planet) on missionary journeys to diagnose the problems and prescribe remedies for a continent they know nothing about. What better (and more honest) way to bolster Africa’s development than by empowering its own beleaguered professionals?

There is also a problem of acquisitions. An expensive United States-branded computer from a New York supplier takes priority over a perfectly capable, locally assembled clone at a third of the price. A Maruti Jeep from India is cheaper than a Land Rover, a Mercedes or a Toyota Land Cruiser, but what self-respecting donor agency employee wants to be seen in a Maruti?

Some governments – and certainly some state governments in Nigeria – now refuse grants, mindful of the trumpeting that will follow from the “generous donor”, only for an empty project to be the end result.

The corrosion of corruption

I want to see sincere cooperation on corruption. We all know that foreign funds end up in western banks and a handful of offshore, free-banking zones. Yet Switzerland has the audacity to continue to set conditions for Nigeria to attempt to recover funds stolen by former Nigerian state leaders which the Swiss supreme court has ruled should be returned. I thought that “receiving stolen goods” was an offence, not an opportunity to preach probity to the victim?

The foreign acquisitions of Nigeria’s political class in the last six years in South Africa, Britain, the US, Spain and elsewhere show how porous the system is and how ineffective the anti-corruption crusade. But these “foreign investors” are welcomed in the estate-agencies and banking halls of Europe. This is hypocrisy. They are given visas to travel, their children enjoy the best that money can buy – and yet the G8 governments say that they want to help Africa. Or is it to help African leaders spend their way through Africa’s money?

The role of taxes

Let western taxation systems accommodate tax-deductable funds for Africa, in which Africans in the diaspora can invest overseas earnings. Let Nigerians abroad be seen to be backing Nigeria first, before we start asking strangers to keep faith with us.

Let G8 countries create, support and nurture centres of excellence within Africa and especially Nigeria, to prove to us that it is possible, even on these shores. The Lagos Business School (LBS), thanks to collaboration with Navarra University in Spain, has set a high standard as an institute of higher learning.

The need for excellence

Let’s see schools and universities being adopted by their G8 counterparts through special cooperation programmes, so that Nigerians will begin to feel proud again about being educated in Nigeria. Let’s not forget that University College Ibadan, was once an outpost of the University of London. The same cooperation could apply to hospitals. I’ve even suggested that the ministry of health in Britain (and perhaps its counterpart in France for Francophone west Africa) could establish three or four hospitals in the region to service British citizens abroad, as part of the National Health Service, and to act as benchmarks for the local health-care system.

The paths of justice

Nigeria (and I say this as a barrister) lacks a justice delivery system that can police good governance and protect the citizenry. It is painfully slow, at times corrupt, manipulated by a legal profession that has forgotten that it was once regarded as a vocation, and by a poorly paid and under-par police force, ill-equipped to investigate or protect. Presently there is no justice.

We Africans often ask ourselves: what is the litmus test to decide whether Africa is turning the corner or not? The continent has a rich culture, beautiful scenery, luxurious weather for the most part, virgin territories, great returns on investment, full, open and clear vistas of opportunity - so why are hundreds of thousands of Africans queuing up at the visa sections of the United States and European embassies across the continent every morning, struggling to get out? Why does Africa have the world’s worst refugee problem, as its citizens flee from one blighted country to the next?

Perhaps the best test of whether an African government is succeeding or not is the rate of voluntary and involuntary emigration. Nigeria’s Eleke Crescent Victoria Island (Lagos) is a clear indication that our government is failing. The army of roadsweepers, railway ticket collectors, traffic wardens and McDonalds’ bus-boys of Nigerian origin (many of whom hold academic degrees) in a city like London, is testimony to the failure of governance at home. When we see all this changing, then we know that Africa is turning a corner; then we know that a government like that of Nigeria has finally got it right, with its people voting with their feet by staying where they are.



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