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Nigeria: Called to Hegemony

With its privileged position in the sub-region, Nigeria is
poised to play a pivotal role in ECOWAS. But Nigeria’s
elites and its public policies must show that they are up to this
challenge.

A Decisive Economic Influence in the Sub-Region.
Both within and outside of the country, Nigeria’s vocation
to dominate and structure the sub-regional
environment is no longer contested, and Nigeria is
expected to play a key role in African and international
organizations. The time is long past when, in
the late 1960s, the country’s internal problems and the
prospect of a rise in power due to its petroleum riches
and geographical size led some to hope that Nigeria
would be split into a number of micro-States. Since the
1970s, the development of trade between Nigeria and
its neighbours, rooted in the history of pre-colonial
societies and in the networks of brotherhoods found
in northern Nigeria, has lost none of its vitality, now
stimulated by the large diaspora of Nigerians across
West Africa. Nigeria has become a central locus, given
its abundant resources, demographic weight, and its
attractiveness to neighbouring economies. Tightly
linked to fluctuations in Nigeria’s economy, economies
throughout the sub-region are de facto increasingly
tied to the Nigerian economy.

A Strategic Security and Energy Position.Since
the 1990s, the government of Nigeria has contributed
decisively to expanding the scope of ECOWAS’
mandate beyond its economic objectives to include
the issues of people’s security and governance. This
evolution was formalised under the 1999 protocol
and largely reiterated in the act constituting the African
Union, drawing lessons from the ECOWAS/
ECOMOG [1] intervention spearheaded by Nigeria in
Liberia and Sierra Leone. Lastly, the decade that has
just ended has, above all, seen Nigeria’s net worth
rise even more, undoubtedly due in part to the end
of military rule, but also and above all due to the
quality of oil resources and the proliferation of promising
discoveries in a region of western Africa that
has become of strategic interest since the events of
September 11, 2001.

The Weakness of Public Policies. Today, however,
encouragement for Nigeria’s role as a State power
comes hand in hand with growing doubts about the
unwanted effects of a political system that is known
for its poor capacity to produce public policies. The
end of military dictatorships has not helped calm
the internal tensions intrinsic to the operation of a
federal system explicitly based on highlighting and
codifying geo-ethnic identities and divisions under
what is called the “federal character” doctrine. Because
access to resources and positions is determined
by blood right alone (jus sanguinis), the “non-indigenous”
population groups in any given state are the
victims of discrimination that fuels recurrent tension.
Fraught with massive electoral fraud in 2003 and
2007, the Nigerian political system is still awaiting
broad constitutional reform. A prime issue at stake
is a thorough review of the system of balances on
which the country successfully rebuild itself after the
civil war of 1967-1970. Until this issue is resolved, the
underlying problems will continue to aggravate the
crisis in the political system, the symptoms of which
regularly make the headlines, such as the protests in
the Niger Delta against the grabbing of oil revenues
by just a few people, the instrumentalisation of religion
(the adoption of Sharia law in twelve northern
states, attacks by the Boko Haram movement in the
North), and above all violence between “indigenous”
and “non-indigenous” populations in Plateau state.

Corruption and the Informal Economy. While Nigeria
has shown a remarkable capacity for self-analysis
(as attested by the work of various constitutional
bodies over the last thirty years), the capacity for
reform continues to be hindered by the mediocrity
of the elites holding positions of power. Some point
to Nigeria as a prototypical example of private interests
taking over the public domain, creating a neopatrimonial
and anti-developmental State, and Nigeria
has indeed shown very little capacity to elaborate
and implement public policies. If truly competitive
elections are held in 2011, it is to be hoped that this
will renew the political personnel and support the
efforts of organizations in charge of combating corruption.
Thee appointment of Attahiru Jega as chairman
of the election oversight commission, and the
presence of Nuhul Ribadu, former chairman of the
Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as a
candidate in the presidential primary election, are
two developments that have the considerable merit
of focusing the spotlight of the debate on the issue of
people’s and politicians’ integrity. Without progress
in this area, Nigeria’s implication in the sub-region
will continue to rely heavily on what could be called
integration “by default”, more dependent on the development
of unofficial trade than on the proactive
implementation of policies and strategies.

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