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Monday, 14 August, 2000, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
Nigeria: Land of no tomorrow

By author and journalist Karl Maier

More than a year into its current experiment with civilian government, Nigeria is back squarely facing the age-old question of its very existence: Can the centre hold?

After nearly 15 years of military rule, President Olusegun Obasanjo, a firm advocate of a strong, unified Nigeria, has made some progress in battling corruption and drawing global attention to the need for Third World debt relief.

But he has failed to address the economic, ethnic and religious stresses that threaten to tear Nigeria apart.

On the surface, the issues appear clear:

  • the controversy over the spread of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the north
  • the demand by the angry young militants of the Odua People's Congress for a separate Yoruba state in the west
  • the feeling of Ibos in the east that they are still second class citizens 30 years after the Biafra war
  • the campaign by the Niger River delta minorities for a fair share of the oil riches
  • and the general popular anger at corruption and mismanagement in Abuja, the inland capital where power resides.

While researching my book on Nigeria over the past two years, every time I was finding it difficult to sort out the bewilderingly complex nature of the country's crisis, I encountered a Nigerian who put things into a clear perspective.

Instant gratification

Early on, there was Bobo Brown, the former editor of Sunray newspaper in Port Harcourt and currently a public relations officer for Shell.

Nigerians: Suffering from a 'national psychosis'
One humid evening talking over tear-inducing bowls of pepper soup, Bobo explained that Nigeria was suffering from a sort of national psychosis.

Political and military leaders were corrupt, crime was seen by many as a legitimate avenue for advancement, and people turned to ethnic and religious prejudice in search of solutions.

"There is a complete split between power and moral right, and unless you have access to power, you have nothing," he said.

"Everyone is seeking instant gratification. No one is prepared to think of the future."

He laughed regretfully. "Nigeria," he said, "is the land of no tomorrow."


Near the end of my travels, I met Bilikisu Yusuf, a tall, elegant and highly articulate Muslim woman who works with Transparency International with a focus on grassroots Muslim groups.

Nigerian parliament in Abuja
Parliament in Abuja: Corruption is endemic
At her office in the northern city of Kaduna, she was saying that corruption pervaded Nigerian society so deeply that it had reached "the degree of insanity".

Blaming Nigeria's leaders for all their people's troubles, however, simply would not do.

"It's not enough for us to say, 'Ah, the leadership is corrupt, government is corrupt.'

"We have not internalised the message of probity, accountability and transparency.

If we are going to hold people to account and really make meaningful change in Nigeria, we must first begin with ourselves."

This House Has Fallen - Midnight in Nigeria, is Karl Maier's third book on Africa and has been published in the United States by PublicAffairs. It is being released in the UK by Penguin in January 2001

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