Notes on Nigeria

Lagos Bits and pieces begin to come together on the ground in Lagos, so let me share some more about this big, burly, and confusing country, as we sort it out together.

* The USA is important here. Elected officials from both parties request the USA to monitor the elections believing we still stand for democratic process and fair play. News moves slowly here. We seem not to have responded to the request except in the most general, “good luck, guys” kind of way.
* So is China. Everywhere there seem to be Chinese representatives and business people attracted by their urgent need for oil no doubt.
* The country has $40 Billion USD in reserves and only $5 Billion USD in debt, but such relative wealth does not explain the continued desperate poverty everywhere which shows up in all statistics, including infant mortality and maternal mortality (ranking with Haiti and worse than neighboring Niger).
* Andrew Young, the former civil rights leader, Atlanta Mayor, UN Ambassador, and Wal-Mart spokesperson, and his company, Good Works International, has been the key (and only from what it seems) agent representing the Nigeria government around trade and business development. The payment rate since 2001 when hired seems to be about $500,000 USD every 6 months. In Nigeria they only know this because of filings that Young and GWI are required to make from time to time to Congress and the US government because they are a registered agent of a foreign government. Young’s company has collected millions. Interesting, eh?
* Power outages continue to be a huge problem and barrier to development. Talk to anyone, pick up a paper (English spoken here — among other languages), or simply be here and find the lights flickering on and off several dozen times a day, and one gets the message. President Obasanjo concedes publicly that he underestimated how intractable it would be to impact on this issue.
* Though Nigeria is an oil exporting country, there are domestic shortages everywhere. New laws are trying to crackdown on individual (non-state) sales. Hawkers move fuel through water coolers.
* There are signs everywhere around the airport warning that using touts for currency exchange is illegal. I noticed them after the third time I turned down a tout.
* Thankfully given the power and infrastructure problems, Lagos is largely a “short” city with its tallest towers less than 10 floors. Considerably less in fact, since I never saw one over 6 floors, but this is a big city, so an allowance is easily made.
* Foreign oil companies have huge impact in this country, but their footprint in Lagos is virtually invisible. Wade’s Rule on Global Companies: if they are not advertising their good works to buy public support, count on them having bought and paid for private favors.
* Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson is not in the news here, contrary to what one might have thought from the USA.

So, what should ACORN do about all of this?

Clearly, there are lots of people here who would like to see us open an office and staff and train an organizing program, and certainly there are huge issues and, everything being equal, a lot that could be won in moving money to solve real issues. The local sponsoring committee wants to sell a piece of land that would finance building ACORN Nigeria for the first two years. That sounds very encouraging, because resources are the issue, not need or capacity.

Will it happen? This is a wild situation, so experience is little guide. We will have to see what happens next is exploding city of Lagos which is currently be pulled in every direction towards massive social changes.

Passengers waiting to retrieve luggage at Lagos International Airport
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