Nigeria's Quandaries

Article excerpt

Byline: F. Andy Messing Jr. and David Ratliff, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Nigeria is among the richest African nations in natural resources, yet remains plagued by AIDS, drugs, oil industry attacks and religious conflict.

Leaving no sector untouched, these problems affect the political, social, economic, and security aspects throughout the nation. However, despite the current chaos, Nigeria remains one of the few African nations with the potential to bring peace and stability to the region.

During the Age of Imperialism, Britain forcibly joined more than 250 tribes into one political entity. Since the end of British rule, Nigeria has struggled to achieve a national identity. A fragile federalist system and series of military dictatorships has resulted in a delicate social balance that might cause a Yugoslavian-style implosion during the next decade.

In the political realm, President Olusegun Obasanjo's 1999 election marked the first democratically elected leader in 16 years. Afterward, there was hope Mr. Obasanjo would tackle the many problems facing the country. This optimism soon withered as endemic corruption continued permeating every sector of the government and society.

Ironically, even the rapid spread of AIDS is, in part, due to corruption. Citizens in many areas have no available health care because funds earmarked for hospitals and clinics have "disappeared," and in the cities health care is inadequate since much medical equipment is sold on the black market. Often, latex gloves are hastily washed and reused, spreading instead of preventing diseases.

The AIDS population is just under 4 million, affecting 5.4 percent of the population. Life expectancy has dropped to 45 years, infant mortality rates have increased, and entire families have been decimated by this disease. Accordingly, without massive aid, the infected population will continue increasing.

Piggybacking that social problem is Nigerian control of the sub-Saharan narcotics market. It is a major hub for Asian heroin, sells locally growth marijuana and has recently become a trafficker of South American cocaine.

A "mule" system of many individuals carrying small quantities of narcotics targets Western nations. The Nigerian equivalent of our Drug Enforcement Administration, the NDLEA, though receiving training and aid from U.S. law enforcement agencies, remains underfunded and underpaid, exacerbating the already high corruption and rocking a deteriorating justice system. …