Will Clinton Push Nigeria on Corruption?

Article excerpt

Attracted by its oil, repelled its corruption, most of the West regards Nigeria with a mix of hope and disappointment. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's challenge, in her 36 hours in this West African country, is to find out just how the US can help Nigeria to rescue itself from its self-destructive habits.

Arriving last night for a lightning visit of the commercial port city of Lagos and the country's capital, Abuja - where she plans to meet President Umaru Yar Adua - Mrs. Clinton is expected to drive home the point that stronger relations with the US - and increased foreign investment in Nigeria - will depend on better, cleaner governance, and reforms of Nigeria's abysmal electoral process.

"The US, at least in rhetorical terms, is unhappy about the direction Nigeria is moving in, in terms of electoral reform, and it is also worried about access to energy supplies in Nigeria," says Antony Goldman, an independent risk analyst in London who specializes in Nigeria.

But what Clinton and Western diplomats in general need to realize is that "everyone in Nigeria knows that there should be more accountability," says Mr. Goldman. "The fact that people have been talking about this for nearly 30 years indicates that this is not a simple problem to crack."

The cost of corruption

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once suggested that corruption costs Nigeria nearly 25 percent of its income, or $148 billion a year. Clearly, Nigeria's vast oil wealth gives criminals (and politicians, and combinations of the two) an incredible incentive to siphon off the nation's wealth and seek bribes, but it is this very practice that keeps Nigeria toward the bottom of the scale when it comes to measures of human development, including access to healthcare, clean drinking water, and decent salaries. (Read Monitor stories about how discontent in the oil-rich Niger Delta region has spurred attacks by militants and the struggles of Nigeria's first anti-corruption czar.)

Nigeria is one of the largest oil-producing nations, but because so few of its own oil refineries actually work, it also one of the largest importers of refined oil products, such as gasoline and diesel. Many Nigerians blame this squarely on corruption of the political class.

Nigeria has plenty of arable land and, until the oil boom of the 1980s, was an agrarian nation, but it only produces 500,000 tons of rice for a nation of 140 million who consume five times that amount each year. …