I have a long connection to Nigeria. Not only was I ambassador there, I have travelled to and from Nigeria for a number of years and have a deep and abiding emotional attachment to the Nigerian people, their magnificence, courage, artistic brilliance, irony, sense of humour in the face of challenges etc.
I hope that we keep that in mind when I say some things that I think are counter to what we normally say about Nigeria. And I say that with all due respect to Eric Silla, who is doing a magnificent work at State Department and to our good friend from the legislature, because I have a feeling that we – both Nigerians and Americans – may be doing Nigeria and Nigerians no favour by stressing its strategic importance. I know all the arguments: it is a major oil producer, it is the most populous country in Africa, it has made major contributions to Africa in peacekeeping, and of course negatively, if Nigeria were to fall apart the ripple effects would be tremendous, etc.. But I wonder if all this emphasis on Nigeria’s importance creates a tendency of inflating Nigeria’s opinion of its own invulnerability.
Among much of the elite today, I have the feeling that there is a belief that Nigeria is too big to fail, too important to be ignored, and that Nigerians can go on ignoring some of the most fundamental challenges they have, many of which we have talked about: disgraceful lack of infrastructure, the growing problems of unemployment, failure to deal with the underlying problems in the Niger-Delta, failure to consolidate democracy and somehow feeling it will remain important to everybody because of all those reasons that are strategically important. ??And I am not sure that that is helpful. Let me sort of deconstruct those elements of Nigeria’s importance, and ask whether they are as relevant as they have been.
We often hear that one in five Africans is a Nigerian. What does it mean? Do we ever say one in five Asians is a Chinese? Chinese power comes not just for the fact that she has a lot of people, but she has harnessed her entrepreneurial talent and economic capacity, and all the other talents that make her a major economic force and political force. What does it mean that one in five Africans is Nigeria? It does not mean anything to a Namibian or a South African. It is a kind of conceit. What makes it important is what is happening to the people of Nigeria. Are their talents being tapped? Are they becoming an economic force? Is all that potential being used And the answer is “Not really.” And oil, yes, Nigeria is a major oil producer, but Brazil is now launching a 10-year programme that is going to make it one of the major oil producers in the world. And every other country in Africa is now beginning to produce oil.
Angola is rivalling Nigeria in oil production, and the United States has just discovered a huge gas reserve which is going to replace some of our dependence on imported energy. Continue reading.
Former American ambassador to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, writing on today’s (ir)relevance of Nigeria.