Nigeria: Ten Unavoidable Issues
The government of Nigeria during the next four years faces ten unavoidable issues.
Peace and security
Between now and 2015 Nigeria must deal firmly with its long history of political, ethnic/tribal and religious violence. An important first step is for Nigerian President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to unmask the sponsors and enablers of violence in Nigeria and bring them to justice.
Deepening political reforms
Nigeria needs to build upon gains made from the widely commended April 2011 polls to institutionalize free and fair elections at all levels of governance. National commitments to the rule of law and the freedom of the press should be sustained. Efforts to establish genuine multi-party democracy should remain on course, so that in the not-so-distant future Nigeria can have two or more viable national political parties.
Data from the World Bank and United Nations paint a dire picture of the state of infrastructure in the area of transportation networks (road, air and sea), electricity, water supply and basic sanitation. Lack of basic infrastructure continues to be a cog in national development efforts. The Nigerian government needs to complete already-approved infrastructure projects throughout the country as well as renovate crumbling public facilities. The focus on infrastructure projects would also provide gainful employment to thousands of Nigerians.
The national coordinator of Nigeria's poverty eradication agency (NAPEP) recently estimated that up to 80 million Nigerians (about 50 percent of the entire population) may be living in chronic poverty, living on less than $2 a day. This shocking data could even be an underestimate in a country with well-known problems of data collection and analysis.
The government needs to engage the poor in direct works projects throughout the country as an immediate response to debilitating poverty. In addition, the government should offer skills-based training, micro-lending programs and low-interest business loans to encourage self-employment and create investment incentives for individuals and cooperatives to establish and run small- and medium-scale enterprises. Land reforms that encourage the use of individual plots of land as acceptable collateral for business transactions can also spur entrepreneurial activities. Stable macroeconomic policies, with transparent regulatory frameworks, are also important. The government should also ramp up its foreign investment drive, targeting large-scale enterprises with economies of scale to create thousands of jobs. Foreign private investors and successful entrepreneurs in African Diaspora communities can be additional sources of support.
According to U.N. data, Nigeria has a significant youth population bulge, with the predominant segment of the population under 30 years of age. Young men and women with university education have limited opportunities to find gainful employment. Effectively, young men and women are outside mainstream political, economic and social life in the country. The ongoing rumblings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya suggest that it is unwise to neglect the youth.
Development of Niger Delta
The Niger Delta region of Nigeria is responsible for at least 90 percent of Nigeria's export earnings, although it represents less than 19 percent of the country's population. Yet the Niger Delta is one of the poorest regions in the country and has been a hotspot for militancy. Although a fragile peace has continued to hold in the Niger Delta due to a national amnesty program for ex-militants, the region remains a significant nexus of potential violence and civil war. The challenge of Niger Delta in the next four years is to birth genuine sustainable development at family and community levels. Community-based development strategies should link the activities of local and state governments in the Niger Delta with that of the national government, major oil/gas companies and civil society.
Healthcare delivery, education and agriculture
Nigeria today, despite the abundance of land and fertile soil, is unable to feed itself. Health and education indices according to U.N. data are poor. Nigerian farmers need access to mechanized farming systems, adequate storage spaces and transportation network support. The health and education system would benefit from increased funding, better infrastructure support, staff training opportunities and enhanced operational efficiencies.
This is a particularly significant challenge for Nigeria due to poor conditions of service in the public sector, insufficient opportunities for staff training and poor morale. In this era of tight budgets, soaring demands for public services and global economic difficulties, governments around the world are tightening the coordination and delivery of public services across agencies and between tiers of government. Nigeria is no exception.
This is an opportune time for Nigeria to reenergize its foreign policy. The ongoing global financial crisis creates a unique opportunity for the most populous country and the second-richest economy in the continent to assert itself, furthering the process of regional economic integration in Africa. It is important to caution that a vigorous foreign policy must be matched by an aggressive domestic socioeconomic agenda. A revitalized, dynamic and robust foreign policy should be anchored on Nigeria's leadership role in Africa, examining, for one, relations with South Africa, the richest economy in the continent. Other important consideration should include Nigeria's relationship with the West and the South, the future role of multilateral agencies, the role of the organized private sector in state craft, the role of global foundations and emerging public/private/civil society, global technical alliances, and the role of Africa Diaspora communities.
Nigeria's image remains a work in progress. The implications of a less than flattering image at home and abroad may be incalculable in terms of lost business investments; erosion of Nigeria's influence at regional, continental and global institutions; and difficulties encountered by Nigerians living abroad due to poor perceptions in host countries. It is important to note that Nigeria's image will not improve simply by a government image-laundering exercise. Nigeria's image abroad can improve only with evidence of steady progress made internally coupled with a strong foreign policy presence and the highlighting of legitimate, successful government programs. The recent signing into law of a freedom of information bill will strengthen the watchdog role of the press and civil society in Nigeria, ultimately helping to improve image at home and abroad.
During the next four years, President Jonathan and other leaders of Nigeria can make a notable difference by addressing these 10 issues, many of which have festered for years without serious remedial efforts.
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