I am just back from a visit to Nigeria where I spoke at an event in the capital of the Rivers State, Port Harcourt, on democracy. The event was also addressed by the former UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw MP.
Nigeria has had civilian democratic rule for 15 years now, the longest period of democracy since it gained its independence. Nigeria had previously had a number of, often brutal, military regimes, and it is now suffering a major sectarian terrorist problem. 13% of its budget has to go on security.
It has a number of strengths,
+ huge oil revenues,
+ 7% economic growth,+ a current account surplus of 12% of GDP,+ a Debt/GDP ratio of only 21%, and+ a strong, and free, press.
It has 500 living languages, far more than the EU has.
On the other hand, it has high unemployment and visible poverty. Adult literacy is only 61% (as against an African average of 67%).
42% of the population do not have access to clean drinking water, and life expectancy, at 52 years, is below the average for Africa.
Poverty is greatest in the predominantly Muslim north of the country.
Agricultural yields are well below the average for comparable countries, and this is partly because there is a big deficit in transport and electricity infrastructure, which could be used to modernise farming methods.
Democracy is not as strong as it should be. Turnout in elections is as low as 28% and there are widespread suspicions of electoral malpractice
One of the reasons for under investment in Nigeria is corruption.
One impressive aspect of the conference I attended was the open and frank way in which the corruption problem was discussed.
Various measures to stamp out corruption were suggested, such as
- strengthening the independence of the judiciary
- arrangements to ensure that the police always act independently of politicians
- shifting the burden of proof, in cases where any payments are made in particular defined circumstances, to require those who made or received the payment to prove that the motive was not corrupt
- early passage of a Petroleum Industry Bill, to prevent the siphoning off of the country’s huge oil and gas revenues
To eliminate fraud in elections, which is widespread, the Indian practice of staggering elections over a number of weeks to allow greater independent scrutiny of electoral practices might be considered.
Politicians in Nigeria are very well paid, but are expected to deliver gifts to their supporters, a practice which encourages corruption.