Delusions of Dominance
Biden Can’t Restore American Primacy—and Shouldn’t Try
At least one African in four is a Nigerian; there are more Nigerians than Germans or Frenchmen or Britishers. Nigeria is now America's second-largest supplier of crude oil. Yet most Americans know nothing of this vast country, or if anything, only that there was a bloody civil war a few years back.
Oil alone would seem a sufficient reason for knowing more. Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest producer of crude oil, up in the ranking one place a year for the last four years. Only Canada exports more crude oil to the United States. Nigeria's oil revenues may reach ten billion dollars for 1974. Before last year's energy crisis, American imports of Nigerian oil had already risen 84 percent from 1972. U.S. economic stakes in Nigeria are now as great as in South Africa and growing faster.1
Further, Nigeria is powerful in Africa. Its army, mobilized originally against the Biafran secession, still stands at some 250,000. It is the largest by far in black Africa, four times the size of the next, that of Zaire.
In the past 18 months General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria's Head of State, has been enthusiastically received on state visits to Britain, the Soviet Union, and mainland China. What do they know that America does not? That Nigeria is crucial, not only for what happens in Africa, but also as a source of nearly sulphur-free oil, natural gas, and other minerals only now being found. They see, too, its quietly growing leadership in the Third World.
Other developing countries have trumpeted nonalignment, but usually the economic base did not meet the rhetoric, and real independence gave way to compromises with East or West. Nigeria has, as U.S. Ambassador John E. Reinhardt puts it, "an independent political stance unmatched in the developing world. In five years there have been no FMG [Federal Military Government] compromises: nonalignment means just what it connotes; neither West nor East has a preferred position, a special relationship. Good relationships are sought with East and West, but preferences are given exclusively to African concerns and African nations."
The corollary of their nonalignment is that Nigerians do not want anything from anybody. That is not new; during their civil war the FMG insisted on buying the planes and weapons it got from the British and Russians. But it still astonishes those used to open hands from Africa, whether the Russians, Chinese, or most recently, Henry Kissinger.
Nigeria's new development plan for 1975-1980 is budgeted at $45 billion, based on revenues conservatively projected. Of that sum, federal and state governments will spend $30 billion from their revenues; the other $15 billion will come from the private sector, Nigerian and foreign. Nigeria does not need loans from overseas, and aid never enters Nigerians' thinking now-except the aid they give.
The British have long known of Nigeria's economic and diplomatic potential, and so have the French and Portuguese. Other African countries also waited for its continent-wide leadership, though some feared it. Nigeria's conservatism was not what stood in its way. Internal instability blocked its wider role, and left its economic base only the promise of what it might become.
The enduring key to Nigeria's influence in Africa and the world is that very economic base. The nation's economy now rests on oil, which produces 85 percent of its earnings. Nigerians have known about their oil for over a decade, but they could not have predicted the asset recent events would make it.
Any oil-producing developing country faces two central questions: How much will oil companies profit? How much will the producing country profit? For Nigerians the time is right to change traditional answers, not least because of the energy crisis of 1973-74, which made new decisions urgent. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to which Nigeria belongs, quadrupled prices, bringing huge unanticipated revenues. But what about Nigerian participation in the oil companies' activities-how much and how soon? What of the by-products of producing oil, especially natural gas; refining and its by-products; and a crucial new area: distribution?
Nigeria has long had one refinery; two others are soon to be built. The fact of a firm plan for new refineries, long overdue, is less interesting, however, than what the government now intends for them. When they are all operating (which may take five years), Port Harcourt's and Warri's will supply the needs of the country's southern states. Kaduna's will supply the northern ones, and neighbors Niger and Chad. Three others are projected for locations not yet decided, and what they produce will be entirely for export. "Events have overtaken earlier ideas of smaller refineries placed here and there for domestic consumption," commented one Nigerian official this summer. "We will have massive refineries to be used as an arm of policy."
New actions accompany such new thoughts. In May 1974, the government announced an agreement with the major oil companies. (Shell-BP, the largest, accounts for over half of Nigeria's crude oil production. U.S. companies-Gulf, Mobil, Phillips/ AGIP, Texaco/Chevron-produce between 35 and 40 percent.) Through the Nigerian National Oil Company (NNOC) the government would have a 55-percent share in their operations, back-dated to April 1, 1974. To cushion the shock to the companies' operations, the government offered them "buy-back rights" on 50 percent of its oil, and an option on another 25 percent-all, however, at a high $12.50 a barrel average price, and only until 1976.
This is not exactly nationalizing, but it is more like it than what had gone before. The Nigerian government will pay compensation already negotiated, and remain at 55-percent equity for now. The agreement was not startling in principle but in suddenness. The NNOC has existed only since 1971. In 1973, agreements gave it a share of 35 percent, to reach 51 percent in 1982 (though agreements with companies moving in afresh gave the government control from the start). The Guidelines to the Third Development Plan (1975-1980), written before the events of early 1974, do not hint at a shift. Evidence enough that Nigeria, like other countries, can react quickly to changing international conditions, and will make the most of them for itself.
Gowon's government has long intended, as the Guidelines show, using oil revenues to build infrastructure and diversify the economy throughout the country. There are plans for agriculture and industrial growth; for transport and power and communications; for health and social welfare; and for combating unemployment.
In education the leap in revenue brought a stunning change the Guidelines did not even anticipate. Primary education will become universally available-that in itself is new for Nigeria-but further, it will be compulsory. The target date is 1976. UPE (Universal Primary Education) is a formidable undertaking for any developing country, let alone one so vast and culturally diverse. Just the logistical problems are immense, for the primary school population is expected to rise from 3.6 million to 7.4 million when the scheme starts in less than two years (and to reach 11.5 million by 1980). Thoughtful Nigerians fear such massive ambitiousness, and the rush: "There may be schools, there may be even teachers. But will anyone ask what are we teaching? Nobody will have time to ask."
Increasing trained manpower is central to all this, though UPE could also compound problems of unemployment. Already there are crash programs for teacher training (the need is for some 97,000 additional teachers by 1976). Some of those will be now-jobless secondary school leavers who have themselves been a nagging unemployment problem. Recruiting teachers overseas is necessary too, for the short run, which bothers some Nigerians. By 1980 the government will have built 30 new secondary schools, and added four new universities to the existing six.
Nigeria's planners, many of them graduates of those universities, want to change its broad economic position. They acknowledge the continuing importance of Nigeria's primary produce, looking both to oil and to their traditional export crops, cocoa, groundnuts, and palm oil, and such new ones as soybeans. No longer, however, will Nigeria gear its economy simply to the insatiable Western world's greed for primary produce. Few African countries have the option to do otherwise, but Nigeria does. Basic infrastructure and industrial growth to meet the needs of its own and wider African markets are paramount.
Indeed, the new plan will stress agriculture, as well it might, considering that the last decade has found Nigeria importing food. Reversing that trend has the highest priority. Nigeria faces the universal problems of how to keep people "down on the farm" and give improved technology to millions who make their living off the land (and whose per capita income is under $100).
"It is not enough to increase supplies of traditional food crops like cassava, with their empty calories," comments a Nigerian economist. "The most imaginative proposals are those to expand greatly wheat and cattle production. We aim to make Nigeria self-sufficient in both by 1980."
Agricultural plans, like all others, vary from state to state. In the northern ones special attention has already gone to wide-spread irrigation. Some states are thinking of huge state farms of perhaps 100,000 acres on land hitherto uncultivated (Nigeria uses only one-third of its arable land), but Nigerian planners do not agree about the wisdom of that. "The problem is lack of managerial personnel," one of them explained. "It would be better to make tractors cheaply available to small farmers, and to give them free fertilizer." There are in several states programs to distribute fertilizer, and also equipment banks of tractors and other machines, which are meant to circulate rather like books in a lending library.
Industrialization has a high priority too. Local production of textiles was only five percent of consumption in 1961; ten years later it was 71 percent and rising. Nigerians now drink locally brewed beer and stout and use locally produced radio and television sets, sewing machines, cement, corrugated metal roofing, soap and sugar. The new plan sees expansion of such manufacturing, adding many new products competitive with imports.
Truly innovative-even revolutionary-for Africa is the decision to compete, Japanese-style, with the industrialized countries in the world market. Nigerians are thinking about it, looking to such products as petrochemicals, air-conditioners, agricultural machinery, car and bicycle parts as future exports.2
Nigerian planners know that only heavy industry can make these inroads possible. Government reports show realism and self-criticism, however, about problems here, for example on such matters as the siting (at last, in eastern Kwara State) of the iron and steel complex, noting in official understatement, "nothing has been gained by the delay." To defuse these "heavily politically charged" decisions, as the Guidelines describe them, they will announce locations of several major projects at once.
These efforts are all taking place without ideological pronouncements, and there are those who wonder how to describe Nigeria's economy. Many ask who reaps the whirlwind profits. Some say if the system isn't socialism-and it accurately doesn't claim itself to be-then it must be capitalism, and that, they often say, is bad. The government, however, doesn't categorize itself or its programs. What it is doing with its revenues, though, includes roads and piped water where people didn't dream of them a decade ago, and spending in cities three-quarters of a billion dollars on workers' housing over a three-year period. A drastic change in salary structure is also imminent, giving an increase of 50 percent or more to all wage earners in both public and private sectors, with greatest boosts for the poorest-and inevitably compounding problems of inflation.
Nigerians have related criticisms of these plans: that shortages of trained manpower loom over all, and that implementation may not reach expectations. The government once estimated achievement by money spent; now the gauge is more realistically by projects completed. The second progress report on the Second Development Plan (1970-74) showed that by March 1973 its budget had risen 52 percent over that projected in 1970, and that 62 percent of those revised goals would be reached by the end of the plan. The Third Plan is, of course, far more ambitious, and reaching into new spheres as it does, will see an even greater need for skilled personnel. The problems here are evident. As one Nigerian editorial writer comments, "If we recall that executive capacity was a major constraint in the current plan, it is plain that optimism is walking on high stilts in the corridors of power."3
Meanwhile, General Gowon calls himself pragmatic, and so do most of those who work with him. The Guidelines say matter-of-factly that Nigeria has a mixed economy with "four major classes of participants: the Federal government and its agents, the State governments and their agents, the foreign private interests, and indigenous private interests: each with its own spheres."4 That is not very illuminating ideologically either. What is clear, though, is the enormous role of government, not only in the public sector but also in stimulating a Nigerian private sector. In 1972 came a policy popularly called "indigenisation," announced in the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree of that year. Under it, 22 kinds of business had to be fully in Nigerian hands by March 31, 1974. It permitted limited participation of aliens for the time being in 33 other spheres.5
These steps mean that some Nigerian businessmen-those with access to enough capital at the right time to buy out foreigners-are becoming very rich. Through all this, chances for corruption are growing; charges of it are too. Unless Nigeria's new wealth reaches deep into the population, Gowon's good intentions will mean frustration, dangerous for Nigeria's stability.
The policy of "indigenisation" has the long-range aim of encouraging foreign investment, but according to what one Nigerian businessman calls a "buddy system." Foreigners will have to invest in partnership with Nigerians, bringing expertise, but understanding that Nigerians will eventually control whatever they start together. They can in the meanwhile repatriate their profits, and rest secure about their capital investment. But there will be no more of the classic "business by remote control."
It is clear, then, that overseas interests will have to do what the Nigerian government wants them to do. The terms may seem reasonable to some and less so to others. But they are Nigeria's terms, not subject to foreigners' pressures. In the summer of 1973 a senior Nigerian official, close to the oil negotiations of the time, said in exasperation, "When will Americans learn to send over people knowledgeable enough to know they should discuss these matters intelligently? We may not have understood all the intricacies once, but we're learning." Oil company personnel and others are finding out that Nigerians have learned a lot.
From postwar stability and economic strength has come an active foreign policy. Starting in 1971 and moving in ever-widening circles, Gowon and his foreign ministry have, however, kept the "very low profile" that African diplomats always mention. With little publicity, Nigeria tackled its neighbors first: Dahomey, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Togo. State visits led to long-term interest-free loans, bilateral agreements on building Nigerian-financed roads across borders, and reviving moribund efforts at economic cooperation through projects dealing with power, communications and transport.
As one Nigerian official put it, "Everyone knows our boundaries, drawn in Europe, don't mean much. Why, when General Gowon was on a state visit to Niger, he found himself formally and ceremonially greeted in one town by a traditional ruler, an Emir-but a Nigerian Emir."
The Sahelian drought has given tragic impetus to kinship across borders, as thousands have moved south into Nigeria from Niger and Chad. Though Nigeria's own northern states have been suffering from the drought, and emergency Federal grants of $75 million have poured into immediate and longer-range crash programs there, the FMG has also given over $15 million to its stricken neighbors further north.
Nigeria's oil revenues have given it another opportunity: to invest in African countries. It has an interest in Guinea-Conakry's iron ore, which Nigeria itself will import for steel production, to begin in 1980. It will aid in financing sugar-growing and processing in Dahomey, and also a cement plant there. Other African projects will come, and Nigeria has also agreed in principle to build an oil refinery in the Caribbean. The government is determined that Nigeria's oil money will all go into strengthening its own economy and those of other black countries: "not like the Arabs," one high official said. The decibels on this policy are low. A flamboyant Nigeria could frighten Africa now that its once-potential strength is so evident, and backed by a quarter-million man army.
Nigeria is reaching, with the same style, beyond its immediate neighbors. Its leaders' vision for Africa parallels internal goals: stability (north of the Zambezi, anyway) and economic growth. When Nigeria works with Togo to set in motion a West African common market, it is more than sound economics. All forms of active cooperation will improve Africa's chances for unity in negotiating for wider African interests.
A key area for asserting those interests is relations with the European Economic Community, whose members include the major colonial powers of an earlier Africa. What economic rules will replace earlier ones of empire has preoccupied Third World countries since independence, and their answers have been very different. Former French colonies found themselves associate members of the Common Market from the start, and have argued in favor of that status. Former British colonies were another matter (since Britain was not in the EEC when they became independent). A few worked on possible terms for associate membership. Nigeria was one of them in the mid-sixties, but becoming an associate was controversial there, and it never materialized.
The Gowon regime has always regarded associate membership as unacceptable under the old terms. On the grounds that bargains between unequals are likely to be unequal, it particularly rejects the idea of reverse preferences, which limit the ability of the developing countries to protect their infant industries, and thereby, in their eyes, lock their economies into perpetually producing primary produce for the industrialized world.
Thus in June 1973, Nigeria brought together trade ministers from all over Africa-and the Caribbean and Pacific Islands-to forge a unified position on their relationship to the EEC. Many marvel that unity has persisted through hard continuing negotiations, during which Nigeria has been the leader, forcing substantial rethinking by countries already associated with the EEC. "Nigeria cannot dictate the policy of others, but they will not easily go against her," an American observer comments.
Meanwhile, Nigeria offers to share its own economic opportunities with other Africans, who are encouraged to go into business there. "They are the only non-Nigerians exempt from the 'Indigenisation Decree'; they don't need Nigerian partners, for we are all Africans, aren't we?" a civil servant explains.
Policy now seems to reject categorically territorial gain, though not influence. Nigeria may find itself the center of a larger West African polity one day, but for now the role its leaders want depends on denying such aims. The denial must be real, and must be seen to be real.
Africa must solve Africa's problems, Nigerian leaders believe, and they want to play a role in the solution. African countries look to Nigeria, however, and not only because of size and wealth and pacific style. Oddly, the civil war has strengthened their respect; Nigeria survived as one country, with magnanimity toward the defeated. But as important, Nigeria, knowing what it is to have problems, will not minimize those of others.
Nigerians do not want to take on everyone's problems, of course, nor would others want them to do so alone and unchecked. Gowon's commitment to international effort is through the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Elected its chairman for 1973-74 (its only military chairman to date) in a tribute to Nigeria's recovery in African eyes from its civil war, he has few illusions about the OAU. "No less effective than most other international organizations," Africans often say of it, but that is faint praise. In recent years some solidarity has emerged through it, however, for instance against South Africa's attempt to foist a "dialogue" on black Africa's leaders.
During the Nigerian civil war the OAU had no solution: Nigeria did not want one from it. Nigeria said emphatically that the Biafran conflict was an internal problem, reminding the OAU of its long refusal to interfere in members' internal problems. The vast majority of those members supported Nigerian unity and thus Nigeria. Countries elsewhere saw almost all Africa opposing Biafran secession, and that buttressed their own decisions not to recognize Biafra.
Nigeria's internal reconciliation had its parallel in Africa: in 1972 Gowon took a personal hand in restoring relations with Tanzania, Zambia, the Ivory Coast and Gabon, the four countries that had recognized Biafra. An emotional reconciliation between men was not all: many Africans saw this when Nigeria sent $750,000 to aid Zambia after the closing of its border with Rhodesia. A dispute between Burundi and Tanzania brought, not the Nigerian stand against Tanzania the Burundians had counted on, but rather Gowon's dispatching one of his state governors to mediate.
Indeed, successfully mediating disputes between African countries is central to Gowon's policy. Such mediation, whether by Gowon himself, or his representatives, flying here and there in the General's plane, is a particular Nigerian contribution, says one of Nigeria's senior ambassadors. "It will outlast the OAU chairmanship," he predicted accurately (as for example, in helping now to smooth the tortuous relations between Ethiopia and Somalia). "Nigeria is effective because African countries believe we do not mean to expand," he continued. "If we may borrow one of history's terms, we want to be an 'honest broker' in Africa, believed to be, as now, disinterested; we want to be surrounded by friendly countries with whom we can cooperate." From what a number of other Africans say, they believe it.
Built on African concerns, Nigeria's policy has had many successes, but sometimes it is so low key as to be inaudible. "Being an 'honest broker' is fine," said a diplomat at the United Nations, "but why not be an energetic one? Why wasn't Nigeria the first country to volunteer for the Middle East Peacekeeping Force? Indeed, couldn't Nigeria make herself into Africa's Canada, with soldiers especially trained for such international service?" It troubles observers that Nigeria didn't take up such a role so suited to its policy and resources in the summer of 1974. Perhaps a reason lies in other dramatic events.
The world changed drastically for Nigeria during 1974; first in oil, then with Portugal's coup, finally through Nigeria's own census and its aftermath.
If oil brought unimagined opportunities as the year began, it also undermined another asset: uncomplicated reserves of goodwill in Africa. OPEC's new prices hurt industrialized nations, but cries of greater anguish came from the poorest countries, forced to scrap their budgets, their development plans, and their hopes, however modest. Many of those countries are in Africa. Nigeria is the only black African state in OPEC and, indeed, the only one for whom all this was good.
Africans came to Nigeria for help, partly because of the very successes of Nigeria's earlier overtures. Nigeria had, however, no easy solutions. "We are not yet a rich country," Gowon was saying; that truth must sound harsh to countries far poorer, and without Nigeria's promise. A member of OPEC, Nigeria participates in setting its prices, but as one voice in 12. In August it announced a plan to sell crude oil to African countries with refineries at a "minimum" price, unspecified but not below OPEC's agreed lower level: "You can't belong to an organization and take your own direction after you have all agreed," says Shettima Ali Monguno, Nigeria's Federal Commissioner for Mines and Power. "What you can do is offer long-term loans or grants to make the buying easier for other African countries." Nigeria is doing that, but with, as yet, few takers.
Nigeria's prominence as an oil producer affects its position outside Africa too. Its production has increased from 1.5 million barrels a day in 1971 to approximately 2.3 million a day in 1974. Though a member of OPEC, it does not belong to the Arab subgroup, OAPEC, and therefore did not join the 1974 boycott nor cut its planned increase in production. Aware of the need not to deplete oil reserves, and unwilling to accumulate unabsorbable revenue, the government plans now to stabilize production at its present level. That does not preclude, however, stepping up production if it accords with Nigerian aims-either of internal development or of foreign policy.
The British understand Nigeria's economic importance, and that has affected their own policy. Africans believe, an East African diplomat pointed out, "The only thing that prevented the British from selling out completely to the Smith regime in Rhodesia was that it would incur African wrath-that is, Nigeria's wrath-with some bad economic consequences."
Now Nigeria has replaced Venezuela as the second-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States,6 and though Americans do not seem to realize it, how Nigeria will handle its growing oil output may be directly connected with how Western countries, notably the United States, treat southern African matters.
For, of course, the changes of government in Portugal since April have drastically altered prospects and issues in southern Africa. The preoccupation that unites African governments is white minority rule and oppression south of the Zambezi. Nigeria measures Western countries' goodwill by their stand on that issue. For years "the white redoubt" seemed impermeable. True, the liberation movements were at work. Aid to them was increasing, through the OAU Liberation Committee (to which Nigeria contributed most, as well as giving money directly to individual movements). But progress was slow; Africa was prepared for a long struggle, in Mozambique and Angola, in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and longest of all, in South Africa. For the white governments in those countries Nigeria was to be reckoned with, perhaps the only African country that really worried them.
After the civil war their worry increased. Nigeria was again stable and its postwar army was well equipped, disciplined, some of it combat-seasoned, and still (if largely because of fear of higher unemployment) at wartime strength. Not that General Gowon was yet making plans to deploy his troops in southern Africa. He and the other OAU leaders kept hoping for peaceful steps to majority rule, but in 1973, Gowon was talking of money and materiel and of needing to face the question of men.
The Portuguese coup shook southern Africa, and all Africa saw new opportunities in its fluid aftermath. Within six months a new Portuguese government had abandoned any attempt at a Portuguese "community," pulled completely out of Guinea-Bissau, and was hurtling through negotiations to hand over control to Africans in Mozambique and Angola.
In all this General Gowon's only public role was as OAU chairman just at the end of his term. He argued at the Mogadishu meeting in June for moderation: African states should support Portugal's efforts to negotiate, should wait and see what happened-there and subsequently in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Only then would a strong outsider know what pressures to exert and where.
Why was Nigeria not more prominent in the negotiations themselves? Gowon had predicted Guinea-Bissau's independence, committing Nigeria's strength behind it. Why should not the PAIGC and the Portuguese have been talking in Lagos instead of London and Algiers? Nigerians had, in fact, quietly been part of the London negotiations. The important thing to them was that majority African rule come from the talking; who got credit for the arrangements didn't matter. Indeed, Nigeria did not want to preempt the efforts of other African states; its wish was just the opposite, in accord with the low-key, unfrightening style.
But Nigeria's internal problems were also demanding urgent attention. In 1970, at the end of the civil war, General Gowon had told his countrymen that by 1976 the army could hand over the government to civilians. Nigerians expected him to announce renewed, unfettered political activity on October 1, 1974, the fourteenth anniversary of Nigerian independence. But he did not; he put off civilian rule indefinitely.
In 1970 he had set forth nine goals, including postwar reconstruction and reconciliation, reorganizing the army, holding a national census, forming national political parties and constituent bodies to design a new government, reexamining the numbers and borders of the recently created states, and finally the thorniest of all (as Americans know): "eradication of corruption in our national life." Once all that had been done, he said, the army could confidently leave Nigeria in civilian hands.7
People were speculating continuously about '76. In 1973 one state governor announced that half of the nine points were out of the way. Some wondered at his arithmetic, and the more thoughtful knew that tackling the census and the other hard political issues was still ahead. Earlier politics, especially in 1964-65, had been partisan, violent, and frightening, but Nigerians are outspoken, and irrepressibly political. They want to have a civilian government one day, but when and at what cost?
Until 1974 all was going roughly on schedule. The remarkable reconciliation continued, with only a few nagging bits unattended. (On October 1, 1974, Gowon at last released the army officers in detention, "to complete the process of reconciliation," he said.) The war-affected states said they had finished reconstructing. The army was reorganized and retrained, and remarkably inconspicuous.
The FMG was even doing some things civilians could never have done. Creating the 12 states in 1967 had been the first. But after the war they turned to the most volatile economic issue: revenue in general, and oil revenue especially. Under the first republic, the federal government disbursed funds to the four regions according to a formula of 50 percent by derivation to the region of origin, 50 percent by population. The rich regions liked it and the poor did not. "Rich" changed over time from cocoa producers to oil producers, and so did views of those in each region or-after 1967-state.
The first step was to make offshore oil federal. Then the FMG quietly revised the formula for allocating revenue: population became more important, derivation less, and something new, called "need," appeared. With the 1975-80 plan, derivation virtually vanishes, and the far-greater revenue going from the center to the states will meet some two-thirds of their capital development budgets. Removing derivation as a criterion had been so inflammatory it was scarcely discussable in the "political days." Now it was done. But accurate population figures became even more crucial thereby.
This is not a theoretical point for Nigerians. These are issues people go to war over. This may surprise Americans; for us a census is a very ordinary thing. But Nigerians must know how many they are and where they are: future political power and allocation of the ever-growing revenues depend on the answers.
Already in the past, the taking of a census had been critical, indeed a root cause of war. Nigeria's 1962 census, flagrantly inaccurate, had to be set aside, and in 1963 the government tried again. Those results were dubiously large and worse, most Nigerians believe them to have been falsified for political reasons. Chaos followed, and violence, leading finally to the military coups in 1966 and, the next year, civil war.
And so, when the FMG held the census in December 1973, everyone agreed that this must not happen again. Problems of counting people in a country like Nigeria are myriad; accessibility and trust are the hardest to solve. Local preparations were extensive and careful. Nationally a census board, with equal representation from the 12 states, met regularly to plan, and it was to approve unanimously the computer-processed results. The military government took full responsibility; soldiers accompanied, one for one, some 180,000 enumerators and countersigned the results. The government's advance publicity stressed economic planning: the purpose was not, it insisted, political.
The preliminary results of the census, which were expected shortly after the enumeration, were not announced until May 1974. Those results and the ferment that followed them abruptly changed Gowon's plans. He is well aware of the political importance of the figures, and announcing them in May he said, "The public should appreciate their provisional nature." The words "preliminary" and "provisional" appeared in his brief speech nine times. His reversal in saying the figures "should not be used for planning purposes," showed the government's nervousness. For the provisional total was, he said, 79.76 million; the 1963 figure, believed inflated, had been 55.65 million. The total shocked Nigerians less, however, than the distribution among their 12 states. The six northern states were said to have more than twice the numbers of the smaller but more densely populated six southern states.
"North" and "South" were not supposed to matter in Nigeria any more; that was one thing creating the 12 states had been about. But the North-South split mattered critically in the 1960s, whose turmoils go back to the claim that the then Northern Region was merely equal in population to the three in the south. The preliminary figures revived thinking about that split, especially in the southern states. "No one thinks there was a national plot," commented several Nigerians, from different parts of the country. "But everyone thinks figures were inflated in some states." Not surprising, with some states said, however provisionally, to have nearly doubled while others shrank. The released data were raw, and all awaited "post-enumeration checks" to produce final results-results which, Gowon stressed, "may be even less than the preliminary figures." Predictions are that the total may decrease but the distribution will not change.
Everyone knew the census was the first big postwar test: could Nigerians have faith that they would treat each other fairly? Or would they still assume that a zero-sum game was being played all around, each group stacking the figures to win, whoever loses? If the second, all could lose; the implications for stability were ominous.
Nothing is more important, Gowon believes, than Nigeria's stability, for if Nigeria is not stable, what chance is there to attack the pitiful per capita income (plummeting with the new census figures), or the distribution of wealth, or educational growth, or the rest of what Nigerians need and want-including an unbridled political democracy? Nor, he insists, would corruption be likely to vanish in chaos.
"Those who are clamoring for civilian rule right now," commented a Nigerian civilian close to the General in June 1974, "had better watch what their clamor brings. I am not against their speaking out, but I do know that if the census figures bring unrest, of if some political proposals spark uproar, he may think again. Only the threat of chaos could make him break his word about 1976."
He was right. People with political ambitions-some of them politicians from pre-coup days-held forth in the press without restraint. They challenged census figures, forecasting revived north-south fears and so fueling them. The lively newspapers did their own investigative reporting, searching out high-level corruption. Sometimes they found it, but they were more selective-Gowon thought vindictively so-than systematic in their attacks. All over the country one sensed excitement but also mounting nervousness as rumors piled on rumors, of political battle reminiscent of the sixties, and of imminent coups. The government did little to silence the critics through August, while the press brought down one Federal Commissioner over charges of corruption, and a Military Governor was similarly accused. Gowon's strong words on his return from Peking in September showed new firmness, even anger.
Then on October 1, Gowon announced that the 1976 date no longer held. Why?
Regrettably . . . from the general attitude, utterances and manoeuvres of some individuals and groups during the past few months, it is clear that those who aspire to lead the nation on the return to civilian rule have not learnt any lesson from our past experience.
There is no doubt that it would not take them long to return to the old cut-throat politics that once led this nation into serious crises. We are convinced that this is not what the honest people of the country want. What the country and the ordinary citizens want is peace and stability, the only condition under which progress and development are possible.
He pledged to continue work on the nine points, and reaffirmed his commitment to return to civilian rule, but on no timetable.
It will happen, he said, when his government has laid "the foundation of a self-sustaining political system which can stand the test of time in such a manner that each national political crisis does not become a threat to the nation's continued existence as a single entity and which will ensure a smooth and orderly transition from one Government to another." He and his government will decide when that time has come. It will be a more military government, with civilian commissioners, who headed ministries, replaced largely by army and police officers. Gowon proposes a different civilian role, through councils of "persons drawn from a cross-section of the country" to advise Federal and state governments. No one knows yet what that means, but one vital civilian sphere is left undisturbed: the powerful civil service.
The FMG has a rationale for moving toward civilian control by first making the government more military: civilians who are not in the government will then be freer to be politically active, and, somewhat in contradiction, these same men will not have their earlier political advantage over other civilians of speaking from a podium of power. This, they say, will also remove the anomaly of having in the military government civilians whose political futures must depend on its imperfect success.
But that is, of course, not the whole story. Gowon knows he must stay on the razor's edge, which he has thus far walked with such skill, maintaining not only civilian political stability, but also stability within the army. The summer's rumors, after all, were of coups as well as political unrest; a large army has many majors, and Nigeria's first coup, in January 1966, was a majors' coup. The changes in government will give new officers new outlets.
Nigerians have reacted in their characteristic way: they are watching and waiting. Some say that if those with political ambitions are distressed, "ordinary" Nigerians, who want a better life, are relieved. An editorial in a moderate Nigerian newspaper made a point many who share Gowon's concern for stability worry about, however:
All this means that internal changes will absorb much of
. . . the kind of peace and stability which the Commander-in-Chief seemed to want . . . is impossible in a huge and diverse country with fairly well developed political culture and with the political power prize being the privilege to dispense vast resources. Turbulence and controversy are second nature to this society. The aim is to control and set a limit to the degree of turbulence, which is the stuff of politics and the stuff of life.
. . . the longer the military regime lasts the longer the process of adjustment is put off because by freezing the natural interaction of society's forces you are also freezing the process of political evolution and integration.8
Nigeria's energy. "I think General Gowon's goal is to create a truly Nigerian identity," commented a senior civil servant. Nigerian unity was, after all, what the war was about; the feeling of "One Nigeria." The census results have tested the feeling and found it still wanting. Most agree that the sense of being Nigerian does go deeper now than ever before. But how deep? Those who share Gowon's premium on stability believe not yet deep enough.
The government has moved to weld the Nigerian identity: by creating the states (whose number Gowon has pledged to increase), building extensive roads, and forming the National Youth Service Corps,9 for example. Universal primary education is to play a part, as are the new universities. Nigeria's role in Africa and beyond can contribute too. Nigerians' sense of their country grows as they see that role grow, though as long as Gowon is Head of State, he will expand it only as Nigeria's internal strengths justify doing so.
Many Nigerians believe that however complex the internal challenges, they will meet them with no more mistakes than other countries make, and that Nigeria will accordingly have a growing impact in Africa and the world. The British expect it, and so do the Russians and Chinese, as all made clear during General Gowon's state visits.
Americans have not bothered to think of it. Neglect and ignorance are blatant. A Nigerian journalist asked Henry Kissinger in October 1973 about U.S. relations with his country. Kissinger hoped, he said, to see Nigeria's "President," who was about to visit the United Nations; Nigeria, of course, has not had a President since 1966. Further, when General Gowon arrived to address the General Assembly as Chairman of the OAU, the White House arranged and cancelled appointments again and again, until the Nigerians had had enough. Gowon and Nixon never did meet, despite the mounting oil crisis.
Nigerians have long memories-of that snub, and of what Washington may think so minor a matter as failing to send 50 helicopters, urgently needed to transport food from Maiduguri to people starving from the drought in Chad and Niger. Nor do they want Americans rushing to concern themselves with Nigerian affairs. They are proud of doing what needs to be done for themselves, and they join many other countries in insisting that Americans not interfere.
That does not keep them from admiring much that is American, but the neglect of Africa under Nixon was not benign on the critical issue of white minority rule in southern Africa. The United States violated sanctions against Rhodesia, treated with pre-coup Portuguese rulers as important allies, hedged on its arms embargo against South Africa, and on American firms' behavior there. If the Kissinger-endorsed "tilt" toward the white regimes was news to Jack Anderson, National Security Study Memorandum 39 only confirmed what African governments knew they had seen America doing.10
Apparently the Secretary of State has seen the recent oil figures, for last October he showed a new interest in the Nigerian Foreign Minister, come to address the General Assembly. Kissinger's only interest was oil, however; he said "on background" that since the Nigerians did not seem willing to talk concretely about that, all became generalities and courtesy.
It could be that Nigerians do not see oil as an isolated matter. They have no plans just now to play politics with oil by increasing production and choosing customers, but they know they can. They are, however, committed to majority rule south of the Zambezi, and they have long judged non-African governments' goodwill on that issue. For Nigerians it is not an issue of polite conversation, to be set aside when a Western foreign minister has another concern.
The Ford Administration is still new enough to rethink its policies and actions in Africa (though one Nigerian comments skeptically, "The trouble with the new Ford Administration is that it's still the old Kissinger Administration."). Nigeria's quietness should not deceive us; it is in our own interest to look beyond it.
1 The best available comparison on trade is between the first two quarters of 1973 and 1974:
Nigeria South Africa
to U.S. $ 150.9 million $184.8 million
from U.S. 90.1 343.3
U.S. minus balance: U.S. plus balance:
$ 60.8 million $158.5 million
to U.S. $ 1,265.7 million $249.0 million
from U.S. 120.9 530.0
U.S. minus balance: U.S. plus balance:
$ 1,144.8 million $281.0 million
The dramatic change has come, of course, from oil.
Investment figures are hard to ascertain. The best estimates for U.S. capital in 1974 are $1.2 billion in South Africa and over $900 million in Nigeria. Further, much of the investment in Nigeria is new, whereas in South Africa, increases come from reinvestment; the rate of increase in investment since 1971 is approximately four times as high for Nigeria as South Africa.
2 Their full list of projected exports is instructive: "Petrochemicals (including plastics), cooling systems including air conditioners, fans, refrigeration equipment, and their components, especially compressors; simple machinery and equipment, especially small agricultural machinery, tools, pumps, automobile parts, motors, bicycles and components, motorcycle parts, etc." Guidelines, p. 20.
3 Editorial, "1967 and All That," New Nigerian [Kaduna], Oct. 4, 1974, p. 1.
4 The Federal government's are: "(a) Strategic Industries; (b) Industries of national importance and (c) projects that cut across state interests and boundaries. The Indigenisation Decree has delimited some areas of foreign and indigenous participation. . . . [It] is proposed to restrict to indigenous private interests Schedule I activities in the Indigenisation Decree except those activities like Radio and Television Broadcasting, Municipal Bus Service and Newspaper publishing where exclusive private participation may hinder progress. States should however be free to promote indigenous private interests' participation in all classes of activities. As far as State Governments are concerned, their industrial programmes should give prominence to agro-based industries."
5 Schedule I, reserved for Nigerians exclusively, lists among its 22 kinds of business all retail trade (except by department stores and supermarkets); newspaper printing and publishing; radio and television broadcasting; garment manufacturing; hairdressing; advertising; assembly of radios, televisions, tape recorders; running cinemas; blending and bottling alcoholic drinks; running municipal bus services and taxis; rice milling.
Schedule II lists 33 businesses whose paid-up share capital is under $500,000 and whose Nigerian participation must be at least 40 percent. It includes beer brewing; manufacture of cement and matches and bicycles; production of plywood; wholesale distribution; shipping; interstate bus services.
In the two most prominent cases above the $500,000 capital cut-off, Nigerian government participation is already 55 percent in oil and 40 percent in banking.
6 According to the State Department, "Traditional sources of U.S. petroleum [crude oil] imports shifted markedly during the first seven months of 1974. The most dramatic change was Nigeria's leap to second place behind Canada. . . . Nigeria exchanged places with Venezuela which fell to fourth position."
The Federal Energy Administration gives the following figures:
Sources of U. S. Petroleum [Crude Oil] Imports
January-August 1974 (thousands of barrels per day)
Country Av. per day % of Total
Canada 896.4 24.7
Nigeria 663.8 17.5
Iran 561.9 15.5
Venezuela 405.1 11.2
Saudi Arabia 301.0 8.3
Indonesia 283.7 7.8
7 See Jean Herskovits, "One Nigeria," Foreign Affairs, January 1973.
8 "1976 and All That," see footnote 3 above.
9 Under the NYSC's regulations, every Nigerian university graduate is required to do a year's service in the government employ. A kind of internal Peace Corps, the NYSC's most important requirement is that no Nigerian serve in his state of origin; the hope is that many will take up permanent jobs where they have served.
10 Jack Anderson, "Henry Kissinger's First Big 'Tilt'," The Washington Post, Oct. 11, 1974.