RECOVERY IN THE post-COVID 19 years will require more than mere wishes. It will require more actions than words as there are more issues will require attention and urgent interventions. Africa’s path forward will be impacted significantly by Nigeria’s progress. From within and outside Africa, therefore, issues affecting Nigeria cannot afford to be treated with levity. Demographically, Nigeria represents all that Africa is, at present. With a bulging youthful population desperate to fill the void in the areas of leadership, employment, business, technology, politics and social transformation, Nigeria is clearly a force to reckon with in the unfolding African story. Out of the African population that is estimated at about 1.3 billion, Nigeria has a share of nearly 16 per cent, which means that one in every six Africans is a Nigerian. By population, Nigeria is bigger than the entire Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), one of Africa’s regional economic communities, estimated at about 144 million people. By the size of economy, Nigeria compares well with this region.
A politically and economically stable Nigeria will be a beacon of hope to the entire Africa as the world’s next economic frontier. Internal rumpus from within Nigeria in the past couple of years has been sending negative signals on various fronts within the West African sub-region, the African continent and the entire global community. To underscore the centrality of Nigeria in the unfolding prospects of African prosperity, the initial refusal of Nigeria to sign up to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement, which was then a cause for worry, would have been inconsequential if it was a small country like Lesotho, Gambia, Benin, Eswatini, Djibouti or Eritrea. The unilateral closure of Nigeria’s border with some neighbouring countries created an economic upset that would not have been noticeable if that measure was instituted by a struggling Zimbabwe, Zambia, Niger, Burundi or war-torn Somali. Nigeria’s stability is therefore in Africa’s best interest as events in political, social and economic circles have proved, particularly in recent times.
The unrest in Tigray region that recently metamorphosed into a full-blown civil war, initially dismissed and trivialised by Ethiopian leader Abiy Ahmed, has become a humanitarian fiasco. The wrong judgment of Abiy Ahmed has led Ethiopia into avoidable skirmishes and loss of lives. Economy of the warring region is at a standstill and humanitarian service providers are looking for ways to provide succour for those victims of war. Ethiopia hosts the headquarters of the African Union (AU). It would be ridiculous to imagine that the AU headquarters is safe only because Tigray is far from Addis Ababa. Going by the multidimensional issues involved in war, the AU headquarters may be vulnerable, one way or another – directly or indirectly. The economic development of the entire Ethiopia is going to be significantly retarded as local and foreign investors are likely to put their investments on hold, pending the resolution of the conflicts. Ethiopian neighbours will be affected in negative ways. An example is the western neighbouring Sudan that now plays host to hundreds of fleeing refugees who, by all counts, would be a burden in so many different ways.
Africa’s relevance in the emerging global affairs could be gauged through an assessment of the continent’s prominence in some global gatherings. To what extent was Ethiopia’s emergency or Nigeria’s brewing crisis discussed in the recently concluded Munich Security Conference (MSC), for instance? Is the UN Security Council proactively looking at Nigeria’s socio-economic crisis with a view to preventing an intractable violence? The place of the United States in the world affairs is still regarded as preeminent and the disposition of US political leadership to any country is still reckoned with as indicative of how important the country is, particularly in US reckoning, with respect to strategic interest. In Africa, Nigeria – regarded as the biggest in population and economy – does not seem to carry that much weight at present, going by diplomatic activities emanating from the US. Since Joe Biden’s ascendancy as the US president, calls made to African leaders have been to Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Felix Tshisekedi of DR Congo, and – shortly after the November 2020 election – to Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa. The US might still have a fresh memory of the embarrassing PR fiasco and diplomatic blunders of the July 22, 2015 at the Institute of Peace in Washington DC, where Nigeria’s leadership flaw was laid bare, and still be trying to get over it.
World leaders should be worried about the unfolding events in Nigeria and the activities of local politicians handling security issues with levity. In the unlikely event of an implosion, many countries in the West and Central Africa will bear direct impacts and will be inundated with refugees as people are likely to flee in search of safety. The invasion of Nigeria by armed bandits, belligerent foreign and local herdsmen, kidnappers and the spread of Boko Haram terrorist cells into the countryside from the northeast are enough a security concern for the regional and global bodies, particularly the ECOWAS, European Union and the United Nations. Farming is already becoming riskier as the countryside is in danger in the hands of kidnappers, rampaging and armed herdsmen, in addition to the overarching problem of climate change that is causing poorer farm yields. With growing prospects of food insecurity and food price inflation, the tendencies to armed violence and self-help by hungry people might become pronounced.
A ruptured Nigeria would mean a disintegrating Africa, with ominous portent. On food security, an unstable Nigeria would mean a food insecure West and Central Africa, and – by extension – Africa. A study sponsored by West Africa Seed Project (WASP) revealed that 70 per cent of improved seed varieties cultivated in West Africa are supplied by Nigerian seed entrepreneurs, made possible by peaceful and free movement across the sub-region under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS). This is a bedrock of regional food security and a very important foundation of regional food trade. And since commodities constitute a bulk of West African trade, particularly in food, this will feature most prominently within the context of an evolving AfCFTA. Hitherto, a bulk of grains produced in Nigeria ends up in Gabon, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and probably Sudan. This cross-border food commodity trade is expected to rise in volume with the removal of cross-regional barriers under AfCFTA. In case of any turmoil in Nigeria, trans-border or cross-regional trade in food will be threatened. The nascent AfCFTA will suffer a severe setback as Nigeria – a country pivotal to its success – will be constrained in many ways. In particular, the volume of trade expected to be contributed by Nigeria will be significantly down. Movement of people for trade in goods and services will be severely restricted.
The outlook of Africa in the years ahead will be determined by Nigeria: in ICT, aviation, knowledge economy, food security and innovations. A distressed Nigeria will become a cause of setback for the whole of Africa. MTN, a mobile telecom company, headquartered in South Africa, makes a greater part of its revenue from Nigeria because of population of users, far more than that of South Africa. Nigeria is leading as a major source of content in Africa’s entertainment industry. That could suffer a terrible blow in case of an unstable Nigeria. Other emerging sectors that need Nigeria’s market to grow might experience a stunting if there is trouble in Nigeria. It is therefore in the enlightened self-interest of the humanitarian, development, business and diplomatic communities to ensure that Nigeria’s current crisis is resolved and normalcy returns. The illicit flow of small arms into Nigeria, made easier by the porous and inadequately manned borders is particularly disturbing. The international community, working with the state authorities, will do Nigeria and Africa a great deal of good by working together to curtail this surreptitious arms proliferation. Existing and identified terrorist hideouts and cells would need to be cleared. The October 2020 sting operation conducted by the US to rescue an abducted American citizen in the North East of Nigeria is a pointer to the fact that international collaboration can help bring the lingering terrorism and banditry in Nigeria to an end. Multiple intelligence cooperation and international support will help expose the immediate and remote links as well as defeat the terrorists in all the places that serve as their sanctuaries.
Africa does not need a disintegrated Nigeria, nor can it survive a crisis-ridden leading country within the continent. The internal leadership crisis that plunged Syria into needless and endless war since 2011 has created ghost cities in Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and some other lesser communities. While the war lasts, Syria has suffered serious humanitarian crisis involving no fewer than 10 million internally displaced people, four million refugees in other countries, particularly in Turkey. The hope of returning to post-war days in Syria still looks dim despite the rebuilding efforts going on simultaneously with sustained assaults in some areas. Nigeria therefore needs all external support to prevent a re-enactment of Syria and all the negative consequences that have followed. Africa will be a better place with a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.
Frontpage December 2, 2019