While Americans celebrated the new year on January 1, the date was a major milestone in the history of Nigeria. It marked 100 years to the day since the separate protectorates of Southern and Northern Nigeria were united.
There are many signs that Nigeria is increasingly catching the attention of the world and cementing its position as a leading force in Africa. It possesses one of the strongest militaries on the continent, which it has been forced to rely upon as it combats the radical Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram.
The group, which may be receiving help from al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda inspired fighters, has attempted to thwart Nigeria’s modern-day progress with sickening suicide attacks and the vicious targeting of Christians. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated an iron-clad resolve to safeguard his citizens and to take far-reaching steps to ensure that the jihadists do not succeed.
But when it comes to Nigeria and assessing its future, the focus should be on economic indicators that reveal enormous opportunity for Jonathan’s countrymen as well as outside investors and the nation’s allies. For the second year in a row, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development has named Nigeria as the top destination for foreign direct investments in Africa with inflows of nearly $9 billion in foreign direct investment.
The influx of that degree of capital should help spur further economic growth and kickstart a new era of prosperity for Nigeria. Further evidence of that positive momentum was the opening by GE of a $1 billion service and manufacturing facility in 2013. The American titan of industry has been active in Nigeria for decades, but this marks the largest-ever investment in sub-Saharan Africa to date. Other blue-chip American companies ranging from Coca Cola to Intel to Apple, Google and Microsoft have a presence in Nigeria and Procter and Gamble runs a factory there.
Nigeria is also blessed with natural resources and is the largest oil producer in Africa and one of the top producers globally. Increasingly, it is also ramping up production of natural gas.
But despite these remarkable achievements, Nigeria should not be satisfied. There is much that it must do if it has ambitions of one day being mentioned not just as a leading economic frontier, but an established superpower on par with the United States and the G7 countries.
It must halt the brain drain of its best, brightest and most educated young people, many of whom depart from the country in search of greater opportunities. An estimated 3 million-plus Nigerians are in the U.S. and Canada with many others residing in the United Kingdom. The departure of human capital should be halted and then ultimately reversed to welcome back the human capital that will propel the nation forward.
Nigeria must also find ways to relentlessly battle corruption and improve its global image as a hotbed for lawlessness and scams. These hurt the image of the country, and too often overshadow the positive attributes for which Nigeria should be receiving attention.
The security situation must also be further stabilized, and investments in infrastructure and education must proceed apace.
Perhaps more than any other country on the continent, Nigeria possesses the resources and resolve to grow and develop into a major global player. It will take time and lots of hard work.
But as it enters its second century, Nigeria’s future appears to be one of limitless promise and potential.