In a few days, Nigeria, Africa’s most populated country and sub Saharan Africa’s second largest economy, will go to the polls in elections that are hoped will mark the country’s first successful civilian to civilian transfer of power. Many pundits and scholars have already begun to look at the implications of the elections on the sub region as well as on the continent.
With over 140 million people living in her boundaries, Nigeria has many qualities which have endeared her to investors all through her existence as a nation. Her huge population is an asset in marketing and trade circles which made Bola Ige, a former Justice minister state that anything, even shit, if properly packaged can be sold in that country. Coupled with her natural resources, Nigeria is a dream destination for any investor.
America’s search for much safer sources of oil has seen it look more towards Africa because of its stability in comparison to the stormy waters of the Middle East. And Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer is fast becoming the US focus for future supplies. The US government has therefore set out to protect its interests by proposing to set up a military command centre off the Gulf of Guinea, passageway for Nigeria’s crude to the West.
Apart from oil, West Africa needs Nigeria to get the April elections right for so many other obvious reasons. Over the years, Nigeria like a giant has thrown her weight around by spearheading diplomacy in the sub region. She has, as leader of the ECOMOG, helped bring peace to war torn Sierra Leone and Liberia. And it was her efforts in Liberia that finally got Charles Taylor behind bars at The Hague.
Economically, Nigeria’s huge market has long provided a source of revenue for producers in neighbouring Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, etc. Some time ago when Nigeria closed her borders to certain products which she felt ought to be produced locally, producers from Ghana and the other countries cried foul and lobbied the ECOWAS governments to pressure Nigeria. Such are the enormous powers of Nigeria in the well being of West Africa.
Nigeria has also been quick to extend a hand of help to her neighbours. The present administration of President Kufuor enjoyed and still continues to enjoy enormous goodwill from Nigeria. Nigeria has provided a home for many Ghanaian citizens who have settled down to work and raise their families. Nigeria has also provided Ghana with a highly skilled professional class that is fast making huge impacts on the Ghanaian economy.
61.6million people have been registered to vote in general elections coming up in April. The presidential elections will be the focus of the international community. Vice President Atiku Abubakar has been barred from running for president in what many see as a vendetta move by President Obasanjo. There is tension in the land as pressures persist on the courts to compel the electoral body INEC to include VP Atiku’s name on the presidential ballot list. That issue has now to come rest as the Appeals court has upheld INEC’s decision.
For the discerning, the prayer is that Nigeria must succeed in this election process because she is the fulcrum on which West Africa rests. We have all seen the effect that civil wars in Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Liberia have had on the sub region. Refugees have been thrown up for the neighbouring countries to manage.
Now imagine a refugee situation on a scale five times what we’ve ever seen, utterly mind boggling one must say. It will destabilize the economy of West and Central Africa while also creating a huge burden on international organizations.
Hence, the prayer on the lips of every Ghanaian (which is ever present on the lips of Nigerians) is that Nigeria must succeed in her election programme. After all, what are good neighbours for? Only successful elections in Nigeria and a peaceful hand over on May 29 will guarantee that the progress made in West Africa over the last decade will continue at a steady pace.