How ‘strongman’ Nigeria is creating deepening inequality, widening migration

Written by Staff Writer So much has changed in the United States in just a few short years. Our politics, geography, and culture have transformed. There are hundreds of thousands of new immigrants coming…

How 'strongman' Nigeria is creating deepening inequality, widening migration

Written by Staff Writer

So much has changed in the United States in just a few short years. Our politics, geography, and culture have transformed. There are hundreds of thousands of new immigrants coming to America, filling need and making a powerful contribution to the country. Young people, millions of them, are quitting urban slums and heading to the big cities.

African Americans made a substantial contribution to America as well. In 2017, according to Brookings, African Americans as a percentage of the population reached 18.1% of total US population, up from 12.7% in 2000.

And in May, Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for President Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential election. Nigerians are one of the fastest growing groups in the US.

But Nigeria is facing grave problems on multiple fronts. The country was plunged into violence by Boko Haram, which has long targeted villages and particularly schoolchildren. This summer, 68 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from a boarding school in Dapchi, a town about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Dapchi-Chibok town, near Yobe State. This shows the lack of any regard for education, either by Boko Haram or government. This reality we share with the Nigerian government.

Third, the political divisions between the executive and legislative branches of the government have grown significantly. In recent years, from the Benue State protests in 2017, to the protests in Lagos earlier this year, citizens are showing that they are tired of the political neglect. This takes us to the fourth problem: the increase in corruption and the pervasive view of corruption as the status quo in Nigeria.

The fifth problem is climate change. The world climate is changing, and countries are responding to the challenge differently. These four trends do not all relate directly to each other, but they are integral, and they are caused by the same basic set of dynamics: In societies that are otherwise fair and egalitarian, the accumulation of power, especially social or economic power, becomes a necessary condition to sustained development. As long as the status quo, and especially certain kinds of social power are maintained, the economy and the climate change are not going to change.

In Nigeria, this dynamic has been exacerbated by changes in political culture. In short, for many decades, the country has taken its development cues from its neighbors — mostly in the sub-Saharan Africa region. Nigeria’s most recent leader is a northern Muslim who has promised stability. And there are certainly existential threats, especially to the Christian minority, in the country. The former head of state himself has written that he felt some relief from fighting Boko Haram in the Niger Delta because “the malleable, youthful population born into utter poverty is vulnerable to extremism and terrorism.”

The emergence of the social media also contributes to Nigeria’s and America’s escalating problems. The active role of popular WhatsApp and Instagram as platforms for the dissemination of misinformation — fabricated news that deliberately misleads citizens — has made the abuse of social media especially dangerous. A story about how a cruise ship was attacked in the Niger Delta by some 500 assailants, for example, was disseminated on social media and received tens of thousands of shares. In the Nigerian press, that story set off immediate rumors that various groups were responsible for the attack. And this phenomenon is particularly dangerous when there is a divide between civil society — which is trying to create a fair and democratic process — and the government.

If we don’t change the course of development in Nigeria, we will be faced with certain outcomes. First, corruption and inequality will only multiply, particularly in urban areas. Second, conflicts will increase because we will see a lack of respect for rule of law and due process. And third, there will be an increase in unemployment.

When Nigeria’s new democratic government — which comes into power for the first time at the beginning of August — talks about Nigeria’s potential to be an Africa-class country, we need to listen carefully. Nigeria is already on its way down a frightening path.

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