Nigeria is the most populous country on the African continent. Its economy has been dominated by oil. Most of the government revenues come from the export of crude oil. One might think that the population benefits from the resource wealth of their country. But the opposite seems the case: 44% of the population live in extreme poverty (World Poverty Clock). The extent of environmental destruction in the Niger Delta is gigantic. In addition, the fight for the coveted raw material has brought with it corruption and violence.
Globalization could open up new opportunities for Nigeria and bring the country out of the impasse. But it also carries risks.
Crude Oil: The “Black Gold”
With more than 190 million inhabitants today, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, a regional superpower and one of the world’s major oil exporters. The mineral wealth, whose first deposits were discovered in the fifties, occurs mainly in the area of the Niger delta. Most of the government revenues come from the export of crude oil. Crude oil extraction and its exploitation by foreign companies caused pollution, corruption, emigration.
People in the Niger Delta, where the oil has been extracted, felt deceived by the government. For decades, the mangrove forests, waters and land areas have been contaminated. Even drinking water is oily in some areas. The United Nations nations speak of one of “the most polluted places in the world.” Since the beginning of the oil drilling in the 1950s, there were tens of thousands of oil spills. Hundred thousands barrels of oil flew into the waters of the river delta each year. Some of the poor were trying to get a share of the big oil cake with illegal oil refineries, hidden deep in the mangrove swamps of the Niger Delta.
Resistance of the local population
Ken Saro-Wiwa (10 October 1941 – 10 November 1995) was a Nigerian writer, television producer, environmental activist, and winner of the Right Livelihood Award and the Goldman Environmental Prize. He was a member of the Ogoni people, an ethnic minority in Nigeria whose homeland, Ogoniland in the Niger Delta, had been targeted for crude oil extraction since the 1950s. It had suffered extreme environmental damage from decades of indiscriminate petroleum waste dumping. Initially as a spokesperson and then as president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental degradation of the land and waters of Ogoniland. He was also an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, which he viewed as reluctant to enforce environmental regulations on the foreign petroleum companies operating in the area.
At the peak of his non-violent campaign, he was tried by a special military tribunal for allegedly masterminding the gruesome murder of Ogoni chiefs at a pro-government meeting, and hanged in 1995 by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha. His execution provoked international outrage and resulted in Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth of Nations for over three years.
Eko Atlantic City
Eko Atlantic City is a coastal city in the heart of Lagos. It cost billions of dollars. The sandy wasteland was to become a “mini-Manhattan”, as the company’s website promised. About ten years ago, huge dredgers started to pile up sand off Victoria Island, the business district of Lagos. Eko Atlantic City was to relieve Lagos by creating housing for about 300,000 people of both the upper and the upper middle class. Everything – from electricity to water supply – was to be clean and eco-friendly. The Great Wall of Lagos is the backbone of Eko Atlantic. This mighty sea revetment protects the emerging new city as well as Victoria Island from the threat of flooding caused by the surf. It was estimated that more than 150,000 more people would commute daily to work here.
Middleclass Nigerians are fleeing Nigeria
Ezekiel was such a communter. By most standards, he was living the middle-class Nigerian dream.
At 41, he worked as a senior manager at a Lagos-based media company where he earned a healthy salary. He also ran a successful side business importing and selling American used cars and had enough money to fund his wife and two children on annual holidays in the United States. He also owned his home—the ultimate upper middle-class status symbol in Nigeria.
But, although Nigeria had been independent for over 58 years, it still not had developed a solid infrastructure and basic social facilities. Kazeem commented: “Despite Nigeria’s vast oil wealth, electricity supply is far from regular and makes life miserable and expensive. Middle class Nigerians can end up spending up to three times more running petrol or diesel power generators than they do on electricity bills.
While most headlines about migration from Nigeria over the past two years have focused on the thousands who take the treacherous route across the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea to try and reach Europe, the preferred route for wealthier, well-educated Nigerians is through a more formal path to economic immigration. While in the recent past that move has often been to the UK and the United States, today it is mainly to Canada.
The financial requirements of either route—economic migration or asylum—puts it out of the reach of many. Walking through the US-Canadian border into Quebec requires first financing a trip to the United States while the basic application fee for Canada’s Express Entry program costs up to $800. Applicants will also need to prove they can fend for themselves after making the move: that requires showing proof of funds ranging from $9,600 to $25,000 depending on the size of the family. IELTS, an English language proficiency test essential to the application, now costs approximately 75,000 naira ($208) per sitting.
Globalization: An opportunity for Nigeria?
Crude oil export will no longer be sufficient as the country’s major revenue earner. There are Nigerian voices that focus on globalization, one of the most controversial topics of our time. It has benefits and detriments, and it has a different impact on industrialized, emerging and developing economies. Can it bring people in Nigeria out of poverty?
Globalization has “drivers and passengers”, Kingsley Mogahlu said. Nigerians are more likely to be on the side of the passengers. “We have to change the status quo”. Kingsley Moghalu is a Nigerian political scientist, lawyer, former UN official and professor of international economics and politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Somerville, Massachusetts.
Nigeria needs to invest in innovation: in knowledge and technology (Moghalu as a guest speaker at the Annual Public of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 2018). This will, so the globalisation advocates, drastically reduce the brain drain of highly skilled workers since Nigerians will now obtain globally prestigious educational qualifications without having to sojourn abroad. Hence, Nigeria will no longer be consumers of globalisation but contributors.
In February 2018, Moghalu expressed his interest in running for presidency.
In “Western” media Nigeria has many faces. On the one hand there is the “black gold”, the oil production in the Niger Delta, with its devastating consequences: pollution, corruption, poverty. On the other side Eko-City, Nigeria’s model megacity in Lagos. And in the northeast, the Islamist militia Boko Haram has been trying for years to forcibly establish a theocracy. However, crude oil is no longer Nigeria’s ‘black gold’. The “new oil,” “the new gold” is knowledge and innovation. The hope of globalization advocates to create a new center for Nigeria through achievements in knowledge and technology will largely depend on the extent to which it will be possible to build up an infrastructure (electricity supply) and basic social services (education, health care system etc.) ro make these achievements happen.
Kazeem, Yomi. “Nigeria’s stressed-out middle-class is trying to leave in droves and the destination is Canada” Quartz Africa (May 11, 2018)