Nigeria: A Marshall Plan for Nigeria, By Nigeria
All Africa – 29/02/2012 – por Witney Schneidman & Mwangi Kimenyi
Will President Goodluck Jonathan be successful in managing Nigeria’s myriad challenges and achieve his goal of transforming the country into a modern and prosperous nation?
Jonathan made a positive first impression. Plucked from relative obscurity to be vice president to an enigmatic and ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua, Jonathan moved deftly to seize the reins of power.
Once he became president following Yar’Adua’s death, he acted decisively to install his own cabinet. Jonathan was subsequently elected president with a clear mandate in elections that observers described as among the most successful in the country’s 50 years of independence. He has overseen an amnesty program that has significantly diminished the insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta. He appointed some very talented and experienced individuals to office. Economic growth was 7.4 percent in the third quarter of 2011, according to the World Bank.
Over the last several months, however, Jonathan has appeared to falter.
With deadly attacks on the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Christian churches and targets throughout the north attributed to Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect, the Nigerian government initially seemed incapable of responding effectively. The recent shake-up of the army high command was overdue.
However, the perception of Jonathan’s ineptness deepened last month when his government announced the removal of a popular but expensive fuel subsidy that led to violence and work stoppages throughout the country.
While the government and labor unions ultimately struck a deal to reduce the subsidy, Jonathan’s administration was put on the defensive.
Underlying the security threat posed by Boko Haram in the north and the bungled handling of the oil subsidy is a vast deficit of trust between the Nigerian government and people. There is little confidence among average Nigerians that any decisions made by the political elite will be independent of rent-seeking and corruption.
Observers question whether Jonathan can tackle the economic, ethnic, social and religious problems in the north while moving forward on economic reforms.
However, Goodluck Jonathan is not the first leader to face challenges of seemingly overwhelming proportions. One can look at the history of the United States to find similar parallels.
During his first term, President Franklin Roosevelt inherited the Great Depression in which one in four adults were out of work, an equal number were underemployed and nearly 50 percent of America’s children did not have adequate food, shelter or medical care. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal which sought to provide relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy and reform of the financial system to prevent another depression.
More recently, in the late 1980s, as Harvard’s Ezra Vogel writes in Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, the Beijing government nearly collapsed under the pressures of high inflation and the failure of martial law following the Tiananmen Square tragedy. The Chinese government’s sense of desperation was further heightened by the fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the demise there of Communist rule.
Deng responded in early 1992 by setting out on his “Southern Journey” in which he challenged the provinces in the south to catch up with the “four dragons” of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan within 20 years. His commitment to rapid reform and opening up China to the global economy in a time of national uncertainty set China on its path of unprecedented economic growth and modernization.
Nigeria does not face an existential threat from within but like Roosevelt and Deng, Jonathan faces some very difficult choices.
Two years ago, the respected American diplomat and former ambassador to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, warned that Nigeria faced “irrelevance” in Africa and as a strategic partner due to its poor track record on governance, transparency and inclusive economic development.
Since then President Jonathan has raised the possibility that Nigeria’s future can be different. The government, however, needs to respond convincingly in key areas, especially in the north where more than 75 percent of the people live below the poverty line.
Therefore, the Jonathan administration should consider initiating a development program for the north reflective of the Marshall Plan that led to the reconstruction of Europe after World War II.
Officially known as the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan re-imagined governance and reconstruction in war-ravaged Europe. It was designed by the U.S. together with European governments to remove obstacles to create jobs, rebuild industries and return prosperity to the region.
Northern Nigeria needs a transformative development initiative specifically tailored to the region’s circumstances.
A well-crafted program that has the support of Abuja and the northern state governments should be a national priority. The program’s success would be dependent on the participation of all Nigerians, including the public and private sectors, education institutions and civil society, especially religious and cultural leaders. Nigeria’s key partners, the United States, the European Union and China, would also have a stake in the program’s success.
Despite these challenges, Nigeria will continue to move forward. Morgan Stanley projects that the country’s economy will overtake South Africa’s by 2025, making it the largest on the continent second only to Egypt.
The more pressing question is whether the government will be able to create an equality of opportunity for all Nigerians and a deeper sense of national unity and patriotism.
The late President Yar’Adua, a northerner, helped to resolve a security and economic quagmire in the southern Niger Delta. President Jonathan, from the southern state of Bayelsa, has an opportunity to initiate a similar process in the north. For Nigeria, the stakes are high but with Jonathan’s leadership the prospects for genuine progress are encouraging.