Many people inveigh against the ‘Giant of Africa’ epithet that Nigeria has laid claims to over the years. Citing Nigeria’s continuous stuttering attempts at economic development and nation-building, they have argued that Nigeria today is anything but a giant. They do not dispute that the country may have been a giant before, considering the leading role she assumed in Africa upon her independence and her rising profile then as one of Africa’s frontline states and power brokers, but they argue that all of that is in the long-gone past.
Be that as it may, there are a few things about Nigeria that, considered on their own merits, make it compelling to still leave the ‘giant’ tag on her. These features about Nigeria which support her giant status are of such a nature that they remain undiminished and ‘undiminishable’ by incidents and even elements that have somehow led to Nigeria’s gradual slide to near international irrelevance (largely in the role of an international power broker).
Foremost among these features is Nigeria’s huge population thought to hover around 170 million. It at once makes Nigeria the most populated country in Africa and ranks her among the world’s top 10 most populated countries alongside China, India, the United States of America, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and Pakistan. The sheer magnitude of that number is a huge force. Just imagine the weight of 170 million people putting their signatures on an issue or queuing behind a position in a debate at the United Nations. No one in the world will deny that any country that can pull that kind of weight on a matter is a giant in her own right.
Closely related to Nigeria’s population when viewed from an economic angle, is the large market she offers to the world. Being largely a consumer economy, Nigeria easily attracts multinational corporations (MNCs) and international businesses including franchisees in spite of the well-known and documented challenges of doing business in Nigeria. When you consider the number of MNCs with head or operational office for West Africa or all Africa or even Africa and the Middle East sited in Nigeria, you begin to get a sense of the strategic importance attached to Nigeria’s market.
The fact that some companies have shifted bases to other West African countries, due to the challenging business environment in Nigeria, does not obliterate our market’s strategic importance to them. From their new bases outside Nigeria, these companies continue to target Nigeria as their key market.
Nigeria’s status as an oil-producer is another important feature. As Africa’s largest exporter of crude oil, a commodity of major importance to the world’s largest economies including United States and China, Nigeria is courted by many countries across the globe to guarantee steady supply of the ‘liquid gold’ to power their industries and automobiles. Even world powers that would love to shun or humiliate Nigeria know that they need to tread cautiously and engage her. As a major force in OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries), Nigeria is lobbied by the West to moderate the other members who would like to jack up crude oil prices by cutting supplies.
The relatively high prices of, and growing demand for, crude oil compared to other mineral resources ensure that Nigeria continues to earn enormous foreign exchange from the resource. Juxtaposed with Nigeria’s large population, their ever-growing needs and the many financial obligations of the government, the earnings may be considered paltry, but they, nonetheless, give Nigeria leverage in her dealings with other nations and international financial institutions.
Nigeria’s military might, which is hardly ever displayed even when there is a glaring need to put some smaller belligerent neighbours in their place, is another strong support for her giant status. Military analysts have acknowledged that it could only take a country with military might and financial resources like Nigeria to lead the kind of intervention force that helped to end the bloody civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone through ECOMOG. Even now the country has forces in Darfur, Sudan as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the region. This reinforces a noble objective and role Nigeria has assumed since her independence by participating in UN peace missions across the globe.
Another feature which is by no means the least or the last is what we may call the ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ factor. This term was borrowed from a popular nursery rhyme reproduced below:
Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses
And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
(Author: unknown, but rhyme was made famous through Lewis Caroll’s book, ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’)
This feature has to do with something most Nigerians would rather not discuss or even imagine. It is the cost of collapse of the Nigerian state. Nigeria remains one of the very few countries in Africa (others being Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa and maybe one or two others) whose collapse could spell doom for the rest of Africa, destabilising the whole of the continent. Only the population of Lagos would overrun all of Benin Republic, Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia and Cameroun together. I cannot see how Lagosians would enter those countries as refugees. Given their sheer size, Lagosians would enter more as an ‘invading army’ and take over government in those lands.
The rest of Nigeria would charge northward, eastward and southward as a ‘rampaging army’ seeking to conquer territories after territories across Africa. Civil wars will break out everywhere in Africa between indigenous peoples and incoming Nigerians whose numbers make complete nonsense of any attempt to label or treat them as refugees (how do you regard a group of people who constitute the overwhelming majority in a territory as refugees?). A humanitarian crisis of such magnitude that the modern world has never seen, nor the UN body can handle, will break out in Africa with possible spillovers in Europe and the Middle East. I hate to imagine that I may be providing the initial script for the next Hollywood blockbuster. God help us that it stays only in the realm of epic movies – for pure entertainment – and nothing more.
Nigeria may be a sleeping giant, which ipso facto makes her a giant nonetheless, but even in slumber, she is still extremely important. Her actions or inactions are significant. They tend to affect the fortune and fate of the larger continent. In my well-considered view, Nigeria is the most important gear if Africa is viewed as one whole gear system. Africa would not work for as long as Nigeria is not working. When Nigeria sits up and gets her act together, the rest of Africa, especially neighbouring West African countries, will not only take note but accelerate efforts to put their own house in order out of fear of a disciplined big-brother nation on standby to spank its ill-behaved younger siblings. It is the same trepidation that drives countries around the United States in the American continent to fall into line with some kind of democratic tenets (even if hypocritical).
Nigerian leaders may not realise it, or may simply be pretending about it, but a natural (or if you like, divine) leadership of Africa has been conferred on Nigeria. Nigeria has been given firstborn status in Africa by Mother Nature through circumstances Nigerians did not and could not have engineered – her large, diverse and boisterous population and huge mineral wealth. If Nigeria does not lead, other African countries will simply sit by and wait. In typical African culture, if the firstborn fails to assume his responsibility, his siblings will not usurp his position. They will wait, but while doing so, they will take responsibility for their own lives and ensure that their elder sibling’s irresponsibility and misfortune do not become their own lot too in life. That is why some African countries are making giant developmental strides in spite of Nigeria’s own retrogressive movement. Thanks to Botswana, Ghana, Ethiopia, Senegal, South Africa and a few other countries, Nigeria’s stuttering growth has not left Africa without shining lights that indicate that Africa is not immune to development and progressive governance.
The political elite in Nigeria need to realise that a lot is at stake for Africa in Nigeria. Nigeria holds the key to that great hope that has eluded Africa for so long. Africa as a continent cannot arise to her new dawn unless and until Nigeria wakes up from her slumber and begins to live up to her responsibility of leading Africa to the Promised Land. There is not going to be any African Renaissance without a Nigerian Renaissance happening first.
The challenge to lead Nigeria is actually the challenge to provide leadership for all of Africa. This is the big picture Nigeria’s political elite must see and end all the senseless struggle to ‘capture’ Nigeria’s presidency by people in their class who lack the basic capacity to provide any form of leadership. Indeed, their ability to lead at the community level and even at the family unit is called into question. The bar must be raised so that only those who have unquestionable capacity to provide continental or even global leadership ever get to occupy Nigeria’s Presidential Villa.