Ending the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) will not solve Nigerians problems. People across the world have joined the rallying cry of young people in Nigeria to ban SARS—decrying its heavy-handed policing and brutality. This cry is reminiscent of the protests that spread across the world this summer in response to the killing of George Floyd. Similarly, many protestors also demanded abolishing police forces. Although the killing of George Floyd and the violence inflicted by the SARS are worlds apart, they stem from the same causes—social and economic crises that plague both Nigerians and Black Americans alike.
Nigeria is a country rich in natural and human resources but where 40% of Nigerians live in poverty. Drastic inequality characterizes Nigerian society. There is no middle class. A small class of politicians and businessmen concentrate wealth and power in their hands. Corruption exacerbates and promotes this gross inequality. Corruption manifests itself in nearly every facet of Nigerian life from politicians buying votes, to bribes paid to government officials of all capacities, to officials abusing their power (like SARS officers shaking down young citizens). Every-day Nigerians are left to fend for themselves however they can. Some Nigerians support themselves through labor, some entrepreneurship, and some choose crime. Crime in Nigeria manifests itself through many ways, including armed robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and cybercrimes (known as 419). The violent crime sometimes makes traveling at night risky.
SARS was a “solution” to the crime problem in Nigeria. But the crimes committed by SARS officers themselves highlights the dire economic state of Nigeria. Nigeria can disband SARS, but SARS is only a symptom of the disease the plagues the country.
Jihadist Forces are Spreading Across Western Africa
Nigeria’s prospects are grim if structural change does not occur soon. Nigeria faces two existential crises: the rise of Jihadist forces like Boko Haram in Western Africa and restructuring its economy, which is primarily centered on oil, as the world shifts to greener energy.
Nigeria and other Western African nations face a rising security threat as Jihadist forces continue to mobilize across the western coast of the continent. Boko Haram continues to wage war against the Nigerian government as it seeks to “establish an Islamic caliphate to replace the Nigerian government.” Political instability in Mali—which may create a power vacuum—may incite Jihadist groups to increase their operations. These groups may decide to ban together and wage war against the “western influenced” nations of Western Africa.
The dire economic conditions in Nigeria present not only a recruitment message for groups like Boko Haram to youth in dire in conditions, angry at their government; it may also breed the type of instability that these organizations may use to their advantage to incite terror and unrest. In all, if nations like Nigeria are not careful, Western Africa could see the same levels of conflict seen through the Levant and across the Middle East. The Nigerian government should take care of its people if not, they may drive them into the hands of Jihadist forces or create the perfect conditions for those forces to thrive.
When Oil Becomes a Liability
The oil curse or “Dutch Disease” plagues Nigeria. This ailment arises when oil or a comparable natural resource drives a country’s economy, which often begets corruption and mismanagement to the detriment of other industries and the country itself. Venezuela is cautionary tale for Nigeria. Venezuela was a thriving petrostate and one of Latin America’s most wealthy countries. But Dutch Disease cursed the country as well. Oil thrived in Venezuela. But then so did corruption and mismanagement. Venezuela now shows the signs of a failed state riddled with poverty and political instability.
This year, oil prices dropped dramatically as supply outpaced demand. Also, Tesla (a producer of electric cars and solar panels) saw their shares skyrocket—despite the roaring pandemic and their low volume of produced vehicles. This is an indicator of the growing shift towards electric vehicles. Carmakers like GM, Volkswagen, and Ford witnessed Tesla’s dominance in market share and changed their tune—increasing their production of electronic vehicles. In fact, GM is producing electric powered Hummers—a once notorious gas-guzzler. In short, the days of gas-powered vehicles are numbered.
Moreover, nations and states across the world are committing to reduce carbon emissions and become carbon neutral in the coming decades; including one of the most notorious emitters of pollution—China. The future is green. And Nigeria’s economy is black, dependent on a resource of decreasing dominance—oil.
The present and the future of Nigeria may be bleak, but it is not hopeless. Every nation owns a comparative advantage, which they can use to their benefit. Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a large young population. Nigeria should pivot away from oil and natural resources but instead promote the manufacturing sector in the short run and the services sector in the long run, relying on their youthful population to fill these jobs.
Nigeria Must Increase Manufacturing in the Short Run
In the short run, Nigeria will need to build its manufacturing sector. But for this to happen and for Nigeria to attract foreign companies to move their manufacturing to the country—it must reform its institutions. First, Nigeria must eliminate the scourge of corruption from its institutions. I wrote an article about how Nigeria can do just this by using blockchain technology in procurement to curb corruption, spur economic development, and stabilize democracy. Second, Nigeria must establish a firm protection for the rule of law. The protection of property rights is a key component of economic growth; as to is a safe and civil society. This means all actors of the justice system from police officers, to prosecutors, to judges must carry out their duties impartially—free from bribes and without abusing their power. Lastly, Nigeria must invest heavily in its infrastructure. Infrastructure spending creates jobs and stimulates growth. But it also enables manufacturers to operate better; utilizing functioning roads and railways to move goods and promote commerce. Renewed infrastructure also will require an improved electric grid, which may be an area where Nigeria should pivot towards green energy. Electricity in many areas of the country is unreliable.
A robust manufacturing sector creates jobs and helps promote a middle class. The pandemic alerted companies across the world of the perils of concentrating their entire manufacturing base in one country—China. In addition, the concerns of human rights abuses inflicted upon the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang may also lead companies to rethink where they house their factories.
Major economies started through manufacturing and industry, most notably beginning with the British during the industrial revolution. Then, these economies shift to a post-industrial period where the economy changes to one dominated by services (banking, fund management, software development, legal, etc.). The U.S. most notably saw this transfer in the past decade, sparked in part by the creative destruction fueled by globalization. China in the coming decade may pivot to a service economy as well, particularly as it seeks to establish technological dominance through national champions—most recently Ant Group.
Once Nigeria has a stable and industrious manufacturing sector, in the long run it should work to promote and develop a strong service sector. But this will not happen if Nigeria does not improve its education system, beginning with primary education. According to UNICEF: “One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria.”
The Nigerian government must understand that the protests are not about police brutality alone, but the dire state of economic conditions for young and old people alike throughout the country. If the government does not use this moment to create structural change, the future of the country is grim.