BBC journalist and former Asia editor for the AFP news agency, Peter Cunliffe Jones draws some startling comparisons between Nigeria and Indonesia (here). They were on similar growth trajectories at the time of independence. They were both formed as one nation by Europeans around 1900 and governed by the colonial system of “indirect rule”. After independence, they lived through similar political experiences. For example, Peter observes that “their first coups were launched within months of each other – in September 1965 in Indonesia and in January 1966 in Nigeria – and their military regimes died within 12 months, in May 1998 and 1999. Both were palm oil producers and discovered oil. However, while Indonesia managed to diversify its economy away from oil, Nigeria’s economy has effectively developed into a one trick pony and a pretty unimaginative one. Oil contributes to 95% of foreign exchange earnings and 80% of budgetary revenue.

So what went wrong? “Struggle is the reason”, according to Indonesian journalist, Bambang Harymurti. Indonesia’s history of mass popular (often violent) revolt has been broad based with Islamist, communist and nationalist taking turns to put political elites to account. Even brutal dictator, Suharto who was estimated to have looted $35 billion from the nation’s coffers towed the line, putting economic reform at the heart of his reign of terror. His ability to hold the reins of power very much depended on his ability to deliver strong economic growth. Nigeria has had popular revolts of sorts but it has mostly been in arts – literally and performance through icons such as Fela Kuti and Wole Sonyinka. While this movement has been aesthetically pleasing, as a political weapon, it has been spectacularly blunt. Moral of the story – Nigeria needs a Jasmine revolution of its own. 50 years of persuasion has failed. Force must be applied. Channel your rage and log onto your social network accounts. Let the powers that be know that enough …you guess rightly, is enough. This revolution will be twittered.

Copyright 2011 (March) Neo-African Consensus

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  1. Milly Roy says:

    Interesting. Great discussion to raise at the end. Could you provide some insight into the uprisings that Indonesian civilians engaged in?

  2. Ollie Ogunmokun says:

    A most timely and much needed discussion Nigerians should be having with their leaders. Especially now that an election is looming, it is about time that we start having serious discussions about the things we used to dominate, and now have been relegated to a place of irrelevance. Everything is backwards in Nigeria – we import petroleum that we export more than all but 6 countries, and even though there is some ray of hope at the state level, our national leaders have proven themselves inept at setting priorities, and bringing to bare government or foreign investment where needed, so we can do things like building new refineries to enhance our capacity to generate more revenue, while saving ourselves the trouble of having to import from countries who don’t really have our interests at heart. We can only hope things will change with a fresh start this election year…

    • Bala Liman says:

      I disagree with your comment that there seems to be hope at the state level. Sadly I think this is where the abuse is worse. The structure of the of the country ensures that Nigerian governors are powerful. They determine who our ambassadors, board members, party representatives from the state to the national are, ministers, in essence all appointments must go through the governors. This is because the Federal Character principle as enshrined in the constitution says that all appointments must reflect your state of origin, ensuring that the states must have a say in who is appointed to represent the state at the federal level.
      This leaves the governors with powers to determine who gets what and means those seeking positions, must kowtow to these governors if they want to have any chance of getting the jobs and in many instances compromising themselves. This process further corrupts the nation.
      If the present government continues in office, things will not get better because it does not have the capacity to move the nation forward. The security and power situations (even not their own making, was created by OBJ) will worsen, refineries will not work (because working refineries are not good for those benefitting from importing fuel) and generally the country will keep regressing.
      I do hope that the elections at all levels will bring in changes that are required to move the country forward. Our destiny is in our own hands…

  3. Bala Liman says:

    A very simple approach to a country known as Nigeria, which sadly is much more complex than that. Nigeria’s lack of any kind of sustained mass movement dates back to the pre independence days when movements were sectionally based. This created bifurcated allegiances and ensured that the could never be a united fight to ensure the political elites were put in their place. So what we saw were elites from different parts of the country fighting for their interests not the interest of the country.
    Post independence divisons have been based on ethnicity and religion, clouding the Nigerian peoples perception of the wrongs of their leaders, seeing these wrongs through a rather concealed lens.
    Fortunately, Nigerians seem to be shedding some of these divisions as being seen by the storm being generated as we head towards the April elections, a storm which many Nigerians hope will sweep away the crop of leaders that have so far failed to provide the needed development.

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