Nigeria Struggling to Be Free

The June 20th issue of the Economist had a special report on Nigeria. It is very illuminating. In particular, it illustrates what I meant in my July 3d Quartz column “An economist explains why the key to a free world lies with China” when I wrote about how ‘freedom from injustice, corruption, and abuse of power in your nation,’ is the key to ‘people having many options and possibilities in their lives and the freedom to choose among them.’ 

It also illustrates Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s claim in “Why Nations Fail” that injustice, corruption and abuse of power are what keeps most nations poor (in the sense of a low per capita GDP). Here is a nice summary of the Economist’s special report, from a page entitled “Buhari’s chances: Can he do it?”:

Despite these frequent disappointments, Nigeria remains hopeful, and for good reason. It does not require a miracle for its economy to grow at a consistent 7-8% a year. What it does need is better roads, rail connections and power lines. If the poorest states had the infrastructure to allow farmers to get their produce to market, it would open up the prospect of vast numbers of new jobs in farming and agricultural processing, giving young men an alternative to joining the jihadists or ethnic militias and lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty.

Yet the cure is not as simple as it sounds, for at the root of many of Nigeria’s problems are well-entrenched vested interests and pervasive corruption. If the country’s roads are crumbling, it is not for lack of competent engineers or money to repair them: it is because the money has been diverted to someone else’s pocket so that many of the engineers sit idle. If people pay more than they should for food, power and imported manufactures, it is not because Nigeria is inherently a high-cost economy: it is because politicians, officials and their friends in business have found nefarious ways to profit from shortages and waste. If large parts of the country are ruled by armed gangs, it is because so many of the state’s institutions, from local government to the national police and army, have been hollowed out by corruption.