ABUJA — Lagos native Falz, raps in This is Nigeria, a remix of Childish Gambino’s latest hit, some powerful lyrics: “We operate a predatory, neocolonial capitalist system which is founded on fraud and exploitation, and therefore, you are bound to have corruption.” He should know — the Nigerian National Broadcasting Board targeted it for “indecent and vulgar lyrics.” This sort of political censorship is common in Nigeria, a country of poverty and potential.
Development in Nigeria
Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has struggled with several development challenges. Amongst the issues Falz addressed in his song were poor infrastructure, government corruption, police brutality and terrorism. Despite global progress, extreme poverty is actually increasing in Nigeria. By certain measures (specifically the World Poverty Clock), Nigeria has a population of 186 million with more people living in extreme poverty than India, a country with 1.3 billion inhabitants. There is hope, though,despite these challenges.
Like the majority of African nations, Nigeria has struggled with its colonial history. After becoming independent in the 1960s, its government oscillated between civilian and military rule. Its latest stretch of democracy has lasted for less than two decades.
This is complicated by Nigeria’s large oil reserves, which can be more of a liability for development than a benefit. Countries with large stores of natural resources like oil and natural gas are more susceptible to authoritarianism. With such ties, Nigeria’s history and geography put it in constant danger of widespread corruption.
Combatting Corruption to Fight Poverty
This corruption is one of the biggest factors in Nigeria’s cycle of poverty. Nigerian public servants regularly embezzle and accept bribes and even compared to other developing countries, Nigeria’s problem is outsized. PricewaterhouseCoopers, a U.K.-based professional network, performed an analysis. According to The Economist, a British publication, “PwC concluded that Nigeria’s economy, which was worth $513 billion in 2014, might have been 22 percent bigger if its level of corruption were closer to Ghana’s, a nearby west African country.”
This chronic abuse of power harms the everyday lives of Nigerian citizens. Money that officials steal is money that could have gone into desperately-needed infrastructure. Nepotism is a regular practice, so unqualified people often fill important government posts. Nigerians are even reluctant to pay their taxes because it is assumed that the money will be misused anyway. The lack of trust in government expressed in This is Nigeria is largely representative of most Nigerians’ feelings.
A Vision and a Mission
Some Nigerians are fighting back against the chronic abuse that keeps the country in poverty. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua declared transparency to be a major focus of his administration. His anti-corruption efforts even led him to regularly declare his assets. More recently, a U.N. official commended Nigeria for its commitment to these efforts, specifically its efforts to return stolen funds.
Private citizens are speaking out as well. Besides musicians like Falz, Nigerian visual artists have created pieces addressing the country’s political situation. Johnson Uwadinma creates pieces out of recycled material to address past atrocities. Other activists like Zina Saro-Wiwa refurbish unused spaces so their peers can have galleries to display their art.
Despite the challenges facing Nigeria, progress is possible. With its rich resources and young labor pool, limited only by corruption, poverty and potential do not have to be the nation’s reputation. Nigeria can grow but only if it’s supported in its anti corruption efforts.
As the rapper Falz explains, “There is a lot going on that needs to be talked about, even though a lot of people may not want to hear the truth.”
– Lydia Cardwell