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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 06:34 GMT 07:34 UK

World: Africa

Nigeria seeks World Bank aid

Nigeria is ranked 25th poorest country in the world

By Barnaby Phillips in Lagos

The president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, is starting a three-day tour of Nigeria to discuss ways of reviving the country's depressed economy.

Mr Wolfensohn will meet Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, in the capital Abuja and he's also due to travel to the commercial capital, Lagos, and the northern city of Kanu.

Nigeria has successfully completed the transition from military to civilian rule. Now President Obasanjo is looking to the rest of the world for support in turning around the Nigerian economy.

Poverty despite natural resources

Nigeria, with a population of more than 100 million and vast reserves of oil and gas, ought to be an economic giant. Instead, the latest UN human poverty index ranks Nigeria as the 25th poorest country in the world.

[ image: President Obasanjo wants the debt burden eased]
President Obasanjo wants the debt burden eased
The World Bank is prepared to discuss President Obasanjo's most pressing concern -- the burden imposed by an external debt estimated to be $30bn. The Nigerians would like some of this debt written off, or at least its payments to be rescheduled.

But the bank, like the International Monetary Fund, is sceptical of President Obasanjo's desire to push through a number of reforms, which it sees as a prerequisite for any debt relief.

These include the privatisation of inefficient state-linked industries, the floating of the national currency and the lifting of subsidies on fuel prices.

Mr Wolfensohn's visit comes at a time when there is plenty of international goodwill towards Nigeria and a desire to see democracy consolidated. But there is also concern about the amount of time it's taking President Obasanjo's government to draw up a coherent economic programme, a delay which reflects the many competing political and regional groups within the government.

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