SomaliPress.com

Oil Queen Nigeria

After lurching from one military coup to another, Nigeria now has an elected leadership. But it faces the growing challenge of preventing Africa's most populous country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.


The former British colony is one of the world's largest oil producers, but the industry has produced unwanted side effects. Thousands of people have died over the past few years in communal rivalry. Separatist aspirations have been growing, prompting reminders of the bitter civil war over the breakaway Biafran republic in the late 1960s.

Corruption and notorious governmental inefficiency as well as a harshly repressive military regime characterized Abacha's reign over this oil-rich country, turning it into an international pariah.

During the 1970s, Nigeria had the 33rd highest per-capita income in the world, but by 1997 it had dropped to the 13th poorest. The hanging of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 because he protested against the government was condemned around the world.

A UN fact-finding mission in 1996 reported that Nigeria's “problems of human rights are terrible and the political problems are terrifying.”

The imposition of Islamic law in several states has embedded divisions and caused thousands of Christians to flee. Inter-faith violence is said to be rooted in poverty, unemployment and the competition for land.

Political liberalisation ushered in by the return to civilian rule in 1999 has allowed militants from religious and ethnic groups to express their frustrations more freely, and with increasing violence.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and the eighth most populous country in the world with a population of over 140 million, is listed among the "Next Eleven" economies. It is one of the fastest growing in the world with the IMF projecting growth of 9% in 2008 and 8.3% in 2009.

With a varied range of biodiversity the country located on the western coast of Africa. Nigeria has a diverse geography, with climates ranging from arid to humid equatorial. However, Nigeria's most keen feature is its people. Hundreds of languages are spoken in the country, including Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, Hausa, Edo, Ibibio, Tiv, and English. The country has abundant natural resources, notably large deposits of petroleum and natural gas.

The new national capital is Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory, which was created by decree in 1976. Lagos, the former capital, retains its standing as the country's leading commercial and industrial city.

The government is striving to boost the economy, which experienced an oil boom in the 1970s and is once again benefiting from high prices on the world market. But progress has been undermined by corruption and mismanagement.

Record crude oil prices in 2006 helped Nigeria to become the first African state to pay off its debt to the Paris Club of rich lenders. Although Nigeria still owed about $5 billion to the World Bank and other private-sector lenders, a write-off of $18 billion in October 2005 and a final payment of $12 billion by Nigeria in April 2006 cleared the way for greater government spending on infrastructure, education, and health. Previous windfall profits had disappeared during military rule without benefiting national development or alleviating poverty. Debt repayment formed the basis of Pres.

Olusegun Obasanjo's economic-reform plan, backed by tax reform and greater accountability. Nigeria was removed from an international credit blacklist and achieved credit ratings similar to emerging-market economies such as Turkey and Ukraine, which made the country more attractive to foreign investors.

The trade in stolen oil has fuelled violence and corruption in the Niger delta - the home of the industry. Few Nigerians, including those in oil-producing areas, have benefited from the oil wealth.

Nigeria is keen to attract foreign investment but is hindered in this quest by security concerns as well as by a shaky infrastructure troubled by power cuts.

Modern Nigeria dates from 1914, when the British Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria were joined. The country became independent on Oct. 1, 1960, and in 1963 adopted a republican constitution but elected to stay a member of the Commonwealth.

The First Republic was replaced by the military, which ruled for 13 years. The Second Republic lasted from 1979 to 1983, followed by another 15 years of military rule.

British influence and control over what would become Nigeria grew through the 19th century. A series of constitutions after World War II granted Nigeria greater autonomy; independence came in 1960. Following nearly 16 years of military rule, a new constitution was adopted in 1999, and a peaceful transition to civilian government was completed.

The government continues to face the daunting task of reforming a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption and mismanagement, and institutionalizing democracy.

In addition, Nigeria continues to experience longstanding ethnic and religious tensions. Although both the 2003 and 2007 presidential elections were marred by significant irregularities and violence, Nigeria is currently experiencing its longest period of civilian rule since independence. The general elections of April 2007 marked the first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power in the country's history.

Last Updated on Sunday 3rd August 2008