Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dark Days in Nigeria

In the midst of manufactured paranoia, lies and deceit about 'extremism' in West Africa, finally a voice of reason.

"As a result of a failed terrorism attempt on Christmas Day, the main topic
in the media has been Al Qaeda, Yemen, airport security, and one Nigerian
terrorist recruit. When this issue simmers down, will the wider travails and
prospects of Nigeria be confronted....Awaiting liberation, however, are 140
million non-jihadist Nigerians denied democratic and developmental governance
for a half-century. Will the country’s power-brokers now listen, and act?"

Richard Joseph of the Brookings Institute writes a timely reflection on Confronting the Greater Nigerian Challenge, and places the focus on the root of the country's current turmoil---poor governance. Too much of the existing commentary on Nigeria centers on ethnic division, religion, and geography but not enough on politics and power relations. Western liberal democracy has been restored in Nigeria after decades of military rule but its neo-colonial economic design and authoritarian impulses have not empowered traditionally marginalized groups in society.

The Nigerian legislature and executive branches are subject to manipulation by elites and there are very few avenues for popular participation within official institutions of political power. This situation forces workers, peasants, and religious organizations to find ways of participating outside the systems of power where the most important policy decisions are made. Nigeria is a text-book banana republic where personal goals and interests of foreign or national elites eclipse the human development needs of the average person.

In his article Richard Joseph argues that Nigeria has recently become a failed state defined as, "a dysfunctional state which also has multiple competing political factions in conflict within its borders or has no functioning governance above." The bottom-line is that Nigeria, like most other African countries, has always been a failed state since European colonialists carved it into an exploitative depot and instrument of elite interests. Normative political independence did nothing to alter this fundamental colonial structure.

Nigeria's conservative president Umaru Yar'Adua, being accountable to the country's former British colonizer, gave an exclusive interview to the BBC stating his intention to return to power after weeks abroad in a Saudi Arabian hospital. At home, Nigerian social movements and trade unions are mobilizing to have him removed from power. Nigeria is on the edge of political chaos, but perhaps when the dust settles the country will finally move toward participatory democracy. And "as Nigeria goes, so goes the rest of sub-Saharan Africa."

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