Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Mint Condition

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio Mint Condition

Article excerpt

New year new ideas as we woke up on Monday morning to find ourselves in Lagos with Evan Davies trying to convince us that Nigeria really is undergoing an economic earthquake. It's part of a week-long campaign by Radio 4 to make us believe that the next economic leaders among world nations will be Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey.

These new Mint countries are destined, we are told, to take over from the Bric countries, now deemed passe after just a decade in the limelight generated by the economist fashionistas. It's stimulating stuff for this hibernating time of year. Bulletins and programmes high on optimism and imbued with the belief that in certain parts of the world at least poverty is being overtaken by progress while corruption is being suppressed by a mixture of creative enterprise and demographic reality.

Evan was joined by Nkem Ifejika from the World Service in his pop-up reports for the Today programme as they toured factories, the nascent Nollywood film industry, the markets of Lagos and the Eko Atlantic project, which is creating a huge new city out of reclaimed land from the ocean. They were looking for hard evidence that the Nigerian economy is really beginning to boom.

Evan was not his usual enthusiastic self.

There were hints of doubt, of him not finding it easy to be full-hearted about his brief.

This was especially evident when he talked with Jim O'Neill, the former asset manager at Goldman Sachs who takes the credit for naming the Bric countries and who now says that it's the Mint countries we should be looking towards as the new beacons of progress. Evan remarked that on his travels he had met with both optimism and an ambivalence about these assertions of growth. He had seen too many Bentleys and bottlenecks on his way into Lagos; too many shacks and poverty-struck children.

How far will this new money trickle down into the lower reaches of Nigerian society?

Mr O'Neill retaliated by saying that he had spent rather longer than Evan in the country and so was better placed to judge what was happening there. 'I saw a lot more people, ' he told us. 'I spent eight days there.'

Eight days seems remarkably little time to gather enough data for such huge assertions - that by 2050 Nigeria will be outperforming the USA. At the moment life expectancy there is reckoned at 52 years and more than 60 per cent of the population exist on less than $1 a day. But Mr O'Neill's enthusiasm is catching. …

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