Nigeria’s squandered opportunity, By Joel Brinkley

Joel Brinkley... Photo: Courtesy Los Angeles Times

Just outside President Goodluck Jonathan‘s office sat 17 ambulances, just in case he or one of his aides fell ill. They were seldom if ever used.

No actual health-care facility nationwide had as many, and in fact a few still have none at all. But as soon as a Nigerian newspaper took a photo of the ambulances and published a story about them, they suddenly disappeared — probably to an underground garage.

Jonathan is president of Nigeria, which should be among the world’s most prosperous nations. After all, it produces an estimated 2.4 million barrels of oil each and every day. With oil now selling at $93.61 a barrel, that’s $224 million in income daily. And yet many hospitals can’t afford to buy an ambulance. The reason, in my view: Nigeria is the most corrupt nation on earth.

Sure, Transparency International lists almost three dozen states as more corrupt — Chad, Haiti, Laos, Yemen, Cambodia and the like. But are any of those nations as wealthy as Nigeria — taking in $81 billion annually, just from the sale of oil? No, not even one of them. So Nigeria steals and squanders more money than any other nation, making it the world’s most corrupt, by that measure.

Nigerian journalist Musikilu Mojeed finds all this so discouraging.

“With its geopolitical power, economic resources and middle class,” he laments, “no country (with the possible exception of South and Egypt) has the power to change the course of black/African civilization like Nigeria.” After all, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous state — and large, twice the size of California.

So Nigerians are living an opportunity squandered — particularly now. Egypt is in turmoil. In just the last few days, in fact, many Egyptians have been calling for a military coup — anything to rid the state of its widely despised Muslim Brotherhood government. And a new report by the World Economic Forum ranked Egypt the least safe and secure tourist destination among 140 tourist nations evaluated.

Egypt has lost its place as the Arab/African worlds’ leader, and Saudi Arabia never had it. So for Nigeria, the time is ripe. But its leaders seem interested only in stealing the state’s money to make themselves rich beyond imaging. Think about it: $81 billion a year just from the oil, while most every local government official still tells his people the nation just doesn’t have enough money to fix the roads, schools or hospitals. (Roads are in such terrible shape that government officials generally travel any distance by helicopter.)

And Nigeria’s people — well, they are as mistreated as any on earth. In only nine nations — among them Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia — do more mothers die during childbirth. And in only 10 states, including Chad, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, is the average life expectancy lower. Right now the average Nigerian’s average life span ends at 52. That may be why the median age of Nigerians is just 18.

A few months ago, the Economist Intelligence Unit published an evaluation of the best places for babies to born in 2013, given their probable welfare as children and the chance for a safe, comfortable, prosperous life. Switzerland, Australia and Norway were the top three. The United States came in at 16th, largely because “babies will inherit the large debts of the boomer generation.”

Dead last: Nigeria. “It is the worst place for a baby to enter the world in 2013,” the report said.

Even with all that wealth, only just over half the population has access to clean drinking water, and one-third to a toilet, UNICEF says. Two-thirds live below the poverty line. Only one child in four who contracts pneumonia is given antibiotics, and only about half the population is literate.

The CIA also cites endemic “soil degradation; rapid deforestation; urban air and water pollution.” All this in a county whose gross domestic product stands at $236 billion a year, in the same league as Denmark, Chile, Israel and the United Arab Emirates — prosperous, successful states to be envied.

Goodluck Jonathan is certainly aware of all of this. After all, taking the oath of office, he swore to “devote myself to the service and well-being of the people of Nigeria. So help me God.”

Well, just last week he demonstrated who he really is and what he stands for when he pardoned a former state governor who’d been convicted of embezzling state funds and laundering the money. That pardon triggered a broad, angry uproar.

Good luck, Mr. Jonathan. It’s time you were impeached.

(Joel Brinkley is the Hearst professional in residence at Stanford University and a Pulitzer Prize-winning former correspondent for The New York Times.)

This article was first published in the Los Angeles Times. We have the author’s permission to republish.


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  • I totally agree with you Joel. I even wish he would drop dead. Plus the senators, ministers, honourables(my ass). They sit there doing nothing. Just stealing.

  • Afolabi Akinlotan

    I am a Nigerian. I live in the US. On many occasions fellow Africans have cursed Nigeria for failing Africa. I agreed with them then, I agree with them now. Joel you are right. If there is any African country that can change the course of Africa, that country is Nigeria. With age on the side of President Jonathan, we thought he could do it. President Jonathan’s administration has shown that he is not thinking in that noble direction. President Jonathan does not think Nigeria. He does not think Africa. This man does not have a sense of history, or his sense of history is self-just self, that is all. He does not think the world-he does not think global. Our President ONLY thinks self. But we are Nigerian citizens are the problem. We allow the elites to use ethnicity and religion to shoot down resistance against this low grade thinking from Nigerian rulers. If Nigerian citizens want to help themselves and help Africa, they must not allow Nigerian rulers to divide them along ethnic and religious lines. This is the only way they can use their electoral votes and power to impeach the legislators and the president now and in 2015. Just to say thanks Joel for doing this.

  • yusuf

    Our leaders from Royal Fathers, Emirs, Ezes, and Kabiyesis, are those that failed us, as they claim to be representatives of the ordinary from any communty one find him sellf.
    They are the bed rock of all the corrupt elite. Because from historical ground since the begining of second republic, every public office holder loot public fund then share it with his benefactor who is his King, then he is called to be celebrated by honouring them with title of whatever they are called.
    It then became a tradition for any public office holder politicians, to be able to finance his kingdom with public fund to be able to get the best titile in the land.
    So the question now is!
    Who are the initiators of corruption?
    Who are the suppoters and sponsorers of corruption?
    Who are the real God fathers of corruption?
    Who gave all the looters confidence and arrogant and work with pride in the land without shame and dignity to protect.
    Who….. On an on we will continue to ask, until every protocol is defined and every body is treated as equal under the rule of law, if not we will continue deceiving our selves as people..
    God save us from the enemies of the ordinary Nigerian masses.

    Thanks Mr Joel

    • femi

      You are right Yusuf, but what about the one -President Jonathan-who we are dealing with NOW in 2013. So the genealogy of corruption and failure has peaked with President Jonathan. It has reached a pinnacle with President Jonathan. But it is worse with him because he came in as a young president, and he campaigned on the information that he was raised a poor child. That resonated with Nigerians then. We did not know that he was coming to fill his “poor” pocket with tax payers money and public treasury. So you are right my dear Yusuf, but that genealogy which you correctly traced PEAKED with President Jonathan, and that is disgraceful.

    • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

      well said ,Yusuf. So many are pretending as if Jonathan didn’t inherit all the troubles currently facing Nigeria.

      • Bosede Adegbemile

        He inherited. But what is he doing to end it.? he is granting immoral pardon to an internationally wanted criminal in the person of Alamieyeseigha. So in your thinking granting a pardon to an internationally wanted criminal is the best way to begin to end corruption? This is why Nigerian citizens say Jonathan is perpetuating corruption. This is why evidences show that corruption has GONE UP more under Jonathan. Let me ask you a straight question: With the monumental corruption uncovered under Mrs Diezani Madueke-the minister of petroleum what is the woman still doing there? PresidentJonathan is retaining her for purely corrupt and personal and private reasons. So he did not start it, he met it, and the rate OF CORRUPTION HAD GONE UP BEYOND WHAT HE MET. TODAY ALL NIGERIANS ARE SEEN AS CROOKS. THAT IS THE PAIN JONATHAN HAS INFLICTED ON US.

      • Temilade

        I have a simple question for you mpitikwelu. Mr. Joel Brinkley writes from Los Angeles, California. The criminal Alamieyeseigha was the former Governor of Bayelsa state. This fellow dressed like a woman to jump a British when he was under arrest for corruption. Mr. Jonathan pardoned him even when he is still wanted criminal internationally. Now this is my question: Can you imagine the California state governor dressed as woman in order to jump bail? can you imagine California state governor being detained outside the US in a non-American prison? can you imagine this happening elsewhere in the world except Nigeria? This is the criminal President Jonathan gave pardon to. I think it is a disgrace to Nigeria, Africa and the black race. If you and President Jonathan are representative of what Africans stand for, you would have proven right the falsely held view that Africans are genetically inferior to other races. It is better for you to keep shut rather than defend the indefensible. Stop embarrassing us please.

    • James

      I think you should stop dodging the issue. Who granted the thief Alamieyeseigha pardon? Did the previous govts grand him pardon? I think the Jonathan story is “You see I did not start corruption” So? Stop it. I think paid govt apologists believe the more they sing the song “oh it did not start in Jonathan’s time the more people will believe Jonathan. But how does that justify the pardon to a criminal? How does that justify the fact that Mrs Diezani Alison madueke as petroleum minister holds meetings of NNPC board of directors in her private home. Can you imagine such primitivity. I am sure you people in Abuja know this. I think you should tell your story that corruption did not start under Jonathan to the marines. My question is: Is the fact that Mrs Diezani Madueke holds meetings in her house caused by previous govts? Did previous givts ask Jonathan to pardon his mentor-the criminal Alamieyeseigha?

  • President Jonathan is doing his best. He is succeeding!

    • Enemona

      May you be as successful as Jonathan’s success in moving Nigeria forward. Amen!

    • NigeriaIsAHell

      In your shallow mind!

  • BelloIbrahim

    This is not the first time Professor Brinkley has written so lame fully about a country other than his own country.

  • joseph

    do you think a governor in Joel’s country a governor will dress like a woman like Alamieyeseigha did-to escape being arrested? I think you should engage the seriousness of the disgrace President Jonathan caused us .

  • Junaid Jubirila Abdullah

    …..And where on earth is the so-called “Democracy”.
    Clearly defined by one of Nigerian greatest heroes; Femi Anikulapo Kuti…..democracy is a demonstration of craze.
    For me it’s full of deceit & mischievous ideas.
    O God…Guide us to the right path.

  • Frederick

    Who ɪ̣̝̇ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ dis Joel, wat dos he knw bout Crude oil? Crude oil money ɪ̣̝̇ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ nt calculated like dt,  somtims lik at Nigerians wen D̶̲̥̅̊ε̲̣̣̣̥γ̲̣̣̥ just giv a figure of  windfall from oil just lik dis gentleman called Joel. For every oil sold dia ɪ̣̝̇ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ alwys a discount givn †Φ the buyer †Φ the tune of 10 †Φ 20 dollars depending on d type of transaction Ɣ☺ǚ want with  corporation, there ɪ̣̝̇ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ stil cost of chartering of Tankers and inspection wich we don’t always put into consideration cos most of us don’t really understand dia mode of operation, am nt saying  government are nt eating too much bt nt †Φ wat we percieve and we also ad †Φ consider  population dt dis so called oil money ad †Φ feed compare †Φ other oil producing countries. Let us nt stop I̶̲̥̅̊n̶̲̥̅̊ our agitation fO̶̷̩̥̊͡Я a better Nigeria cos our destiny lies I̶̲̥̅̊n̶̲̥̅̊ us.

    • JT

      You are part of the rot spoiling the country… Giving excuses. I am sure you profit from the malfeasance. Ole buruku!!!

    • Jstringles

      @c93ed927d4dc614e559b39ef550adf08:disqus : so,your explanation justifies the highly irresponsible and criminal acts by our govt? Let’s all forget about our selfishly personal, tribal and religious tendencies and focus on a Nigeria worthy of her name and status.

  • lol how about PDP should come out and say this man, Joel, is being sponsored by opposition parties.. Morons