New Internationalist


January 1991

new internationalist
issue 215 - January 1991



Where is Nigeria? Five coups, civil war and austerity; Nigerians have experienced all three in their 30 years of independence, but most agree that austerity is worst of all. For half of Africa's most populous nation is under 15 and cannot remember the war which ended in 1970. Their offspring could swell Nigeria's population to half a billion by the year 2030, to become the world's third largest nation after China and India.

The prospect horrifies government planners, who have toned down grandiose development plans born before civilian politicians plundered the nation's treasuries in the early 1980's and oil prices fell to eight dollars a barrel in 1986. After the civil war, unity between Nigeria's over 250 linguistically distinct ethnic groups was cemented with oil money.

In 1986 Nigerians rejected a bail-out loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nevertheless an IMF-approved reform programme was introduced to stimulate agricultural self-sufficiency and non-oil exports. It involved greatly devaluing the currency, the naira, to one tenth of its 1985 value; removing govemment subsidies, and privatising govemment enterprises.

The intemational financial community is full of praise for Nigeria's structural economic reforms and have granted debt rescheduling concessions on a $30 billion debt contracted in the oil-boom days. But reform has failed to attract the desired foreign investment. Sixty percent of Nigeria's food supply is still being grown by peasant women farmers, who despite being recently discovered as the pivot of meaningful rural development are yet to receive significant assistance.

Debt servicing swallows a third of Nigeria's annual export earnings, and income per head has fallen from $860 in 1982 to $290. Inflation is officially running at 51 per cent and in 1989 President Babangida's govemment, which came to power on a human rights platform, resorted to detention without trial to silence critics of its economic policies. Skilled Nigerians, particularly doctors, are leaving the country. Even beggars at Lagos international airport reject the naira and demand dollars.

Hard times lead to unrest and could derail the government's programme to return Nigeria to civilian rule by 1992. Yet President Babangida has managed to survive every economic and political crisis faced so far. He has banned and marginalised old politicians and wet-nursed two new political parties, to take over from the soldiers. If he successfully concludes his reforms he may well go down in history as the country's greatest leader and one worthy of his nickname in the local press: 'Maradonna'.

Elizabeth Obadina

Leader: President General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida

Economy: GNP per capita US$ 290 (US $19,840)
Monetary unit: The naira
Main exports: Oil and cocoa. After 1990 harvest, only processed cocoa will be exported. Other agricultural exports are banned under the Structural Adjustment Programme which seeks food self-sufficiency. Smallholders grow sorghum, maize, cassava, yams, millet, rice and wheat. Mining of coal, columbite, tin, iron ore and gold. Reserves of liquid natural gas could reverse Nigeria's economic decline.

People: 110 million

Health: Infant mortality 103 per 1,000 live births (US l0 per 1,000)

Culture: Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo speaking people dominate the North, the West and the East respectively but Nigeria's minority peoples combined outnumber the main three groups and make it impossible for any one ethnic group to dominate the others.

Religion: Muslim and Christian.

Language: English the official language but all three main languages taught in schools.

Sources: World Bank Report 1990, Population Crisis Committee World Survey 1989.

Last profiled in August 1980


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Poverty for the 80 % in rural areas. Increasing 'yuppies'.
1980: *

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Manufacturing dependent on import; export of grains banned to encourage food self-sufficiency.
1980: ***

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Nigerian women ranked sixth worst off, with only Mali lower, in Africa.
1980: **

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Military government pledged to civilian democracy by 1992.
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42 % despite decade of primary edu-cation; enrol-ment falling.
1980: **

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Easing of detention without trial.
1980: ***

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51 years Among the world's lowest .

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This feature was published in the January 1991 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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