“To roar again, Nigeria must unleash an industrial revolution.“
Report from Africa’s biggest economy
Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the country has been struggling with building public trust or strengthening the very fragile social contract which would support and promote stability and security. Multiple coups, corruption, oil dependency and mismanagement, enormous inequalities within the country are some of a few characteristics which make it very difficult to build trust either between the public and the government, or among various groups inside the country. It is not surprising, therefore, that words such as “corrupt oligarchy” appear in media outlets quite often when referring to Nigeria’s politics.
Nigerians like to refer to their country as Africa's largest economy. Indeed, it is Africa's most important oil power and one of the top ten oil producers in the world. Lagos alone, once the country's capital, would be Africa's sixth-largest economy with its roughly 25 million people if it were an independent state. Nigeria is also Africa's most populous country with over 200 million people living in the 36 states of the federation. And one could go on like this with a list of various “bests”. Nigeria’s economy experienced a slow decline in productivity in last two years primarily due to its oil dependency which affects other sectors of economy as well. On the other hand, there are also prospects which say that Nigeria, with newly discovered lithium deposits and with its gas deposits can become a leader in green development and industrialization centred around renewable resources.
However, Nigeria is also a country that has been plagued by problems of ethnic and religious tensions for the last two decades, led by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram, the Islamic State in West Africa and various militias in the Niger Delta region. “I haven't been to my home state, Imo, for 20 years because I just want to sleep with both eyes closed,” a successful Nigerian businessman tells me, as the risk of kidnapping is still very high in many parts of Nigeria. It also says a lot about the country's economic situation. Despite the aforementioned “bests”, most Nigerians live on below average earnings of around $100 a month. On the other hand, there is a section of the society that benefits from its contacts with the government and local government officials, especially the state governors.
Added to this is the banditry that many blame on the previous president, Muhammadu Buhari, who recently retired after eight years in office, has been rampant in the last decade. “Buhari was the worst president in the history of this country,” my academic friend says fervently, adding that “he just gave a free hand to Fulani herdsmen to do what they want and killing has become a normal part of Nigeria, it will end now.” He is alluding to the fact that Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu, the 16th president of the country that gained independence from Britain in 1960, assumed office as president on May 29, 2023. When Tinubu was elected, it seemed to be a Yoruba victory due to the presidents’ origin, but surprisingly enough, but Tinubu got more votes in the north-west than in the south-west which is his home area. It is even more surprising because he has chosen Kashim Shettima, a Kanuri from north-east, as his vice-president and still defeated a Fulani candidate in the north-west. Several people with whom I spoke in Nigeria explain this by saying that during Tinubu's time as governor of Lagos State from 1999-2007, Lagos became a veritable metropolis and an economically successful city in which security situation got much better.
Independent Nigeria was founded on the basis of the unification of these entities into one state, and the following decades were marked by the maintenance of internal integrity, which was not always successful. For one thing, military regimes have tended to predominate - only in the last quarter century has Nigeria had civilian governments - and for another, there has been experimentation between different forms of federal arrangement. So it has been difficult to find an ideal solution. In addition, there was the 1967-1970 Biafra War, which unilaterally declared independence. The scars of that period are still evident on the soul of Nigeria. “The spirit of Biafra is still alive, that's why we Igbos will never have a president in Nigeria either, because others would not allow it,” a taxi driver tells me while listening to a current Igbo hit song that can be heard in all corners of the country. On the other hand, the 2023 elections have been celebrated as the least violent ever since the democratic process began in Nigeria.
In October, I had the privilege to participate in series of debates organized by the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Abuja in cooperation with local institutions such as the University of Lagos, University of Abuja and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. It was an excellent experience in terms of having a closer look at what Nigerian colleagues and particularly the young people think of democracy, development and related issues in their country. Besides occasional lamenting on legacies of colonialism I was surprised by a great amount of criticism towards the government and generally the state of affairs in Nigeria. One of the words that kept coming up was definitely “accountability”, or better to say the lack of it which gives space to corruption, mismanagement, and all kinds of inappropriate behaviour against the interests of Nigerian people. As a Nigerian colleague of mine summarized it, “in order to transform Nigeria, we need to transform Nigerians.”
Nigeria is still divided, and although it doesn't seem so at first glance, there is considerable rivalry between the major ethnic groups. “Nigeria is such a no nation country”, says my friend and colleague from a major Lagos institute. What he means is that there is a state in Nigeria, but there is no Nigerian nation, because the country is still divided along ethnic lines. But he points to Nigeria's biggest problem, which is corruption, which is so massive that it is beyond the ordinary imagination of a Central European. “Corruption is so entrenched and the country is so divided along ethnic and religious lines, plus there are so many different actors involved in conflicts and different types of violence like Boko Haram that it is almost impossible to just eradicate it,” he concludes.
In a taxi in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, on my way home from a working dinner, I had to go through four checkpoints. At each one there is at least one policeman, some of whom you can see at a glance are intoxicated, one of whom is looking into my backpack where my laptop is and wants to inspect it. At each check-point, one is supposed to give a policeman a small cash so that the car can move on. This is just one of many things that made me wonder why so many young Nigerians want to leave the country, a country with an enormous potential. In order to boost the economic growth and stabilize the situation, the country desperately needs to initiate the process of industrialization. In the words of the African Development Bank head: “To roar again, Nigeria must unleash an industrial revolution.“ That is also one of the main conclusions of the abovementioned debates in Lagos and Abuja which stressed the necessity of industrialization, inclusive development and stabilization of security situation. Without this, ordinary Nigerians will hardly see any major difference.
 See e.g. Chris Kwaja (2023): After Nigeria’s Elections: Nurturing the Seeds of Better Democracy, in: https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/04/after-nigerias-elections-nurturing-seeds-better-democracy (accessed on 14/11/2023).
 See e.g. African Development Bank (2023): Nigeria Economic Outlook, in: https://www.afdb.org/en/countries-west-africa-nigeria/nigeria-economic-outlook (accessed on 14/11/2023).
 See e.g. https://www.thecable.ng/nigeriadecides2023-tinubu-got-more-votes-from-north-west-than-south-west-and-other-fun-facts (accessed on 14/11/2023).