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Sensemaker: Nigerian crossroads

Sensemaker: Nigerian crossroads

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Greece’s transport minister resigned after at least 43 people died in a train crash.
  • Matt Hancock described his leaked WhatsApp messages as a “massive betrayal” as he apologised to colleagues. 
  • A British woman completed a decade-long project to try a scone at all 244 National Trust sites.

Nigerian crossroads

Bola Tinubu, the ruling party’s candidate and former governor of the megapolis Lagos, has been declared the winner of Nigeria’s presidential election as opposition candidates cry out that the poll was a violent “sham”.

So what? The 70 year-old president-elect now faces an unenviable task. He needs to stop the largest economy and democracy in Africa from toppling over the edge.

The country of 210 million people is at a turning point. It could harness its young, enterprising population to become an engine for African growth. Or it could slide further along the painful road to upheaval and disintegration as climate change hits the continent hard. 

By the numbers:

400 million – Nigeria’s estimated population by 2050, by which time it’s likely to have overtaken Brazil, Pakistan and Indonesia to become the fourth most populous country. 

73 – per cent of Nigerians who want to leave their country with their families. The obvious destination for many is across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe. 

52 – the number of years President-elect Tinubu is older than the average Nigerian (18). 

$136 billion – Lagos’s GDP. It dwarfs even Kenya, East Africa’s powerhouse. 

Resource curse. In the 1960s Nigeria was one of the most promising postcolonial economies. It had thriving textile and agricultural sectors; GDP per capita was higher than in South Korea. But the discovery of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest oil reserves changed all that. Corruption festered and the population boomed past the withered state’s ability to provide any meaningful social services. 

Today, it is home to more people living in extreme poverty (earning less than $2.15 a day) than India. Its economy is heavily dependent on exporting unprocessed crude, but it struggles to refine any oil at all in-country. 

Failing state? Some experts argue the country is already a failed state. To the northeast, Islamic State militants strap bombs on little girls and drop them off in crowded markets. In the northwest, bandits kidnap hundreds of boarding school children in a booming cottage ransom industry. Across the centre, there are vicious bloodletting matches between herders and farmers fighting over ever more degraded land. And in the south, separatist movements are rearing their heads again. 

Faulty election. Last week’s vote was hardly squeaky clean. One opposition Senate candidate in the southeast was burned to death after unknown attackers hit him with a petrol bomb. Many polling stations seemed to have no ballot papers, and in at least one case in Lagos, unknown gunmen shot into the air and stole the voting materials. 

More conclusive details will emerge about allegations of election fraud. But officials in the capital Abuja take their hardwon democracy seriously. The country only emerged from decades of successive military dictatorships in 1999 and people are growing increasingly alarmed at the sight of West Africa’s presidential palaces filling up with men in camouflage. 

  • There have been nine successful or attempted coups in West Africa since 2020. 
  • Mali’s military junta has probably exchanged gold mining rights for hundreds of Wagner group mercenaries to prop up its regime. 
  • Burkina Faso’s putschist government is thinking of doing the same.  

Nigeria is trying to use its sheer economic weight and diplomatic heft to push would-be regional strongmen to stick to the basic democratic rules.

Hold the line. After Russia invaded Ukraine last year, President Biden said there was a battle raging “between democracy and autocracy”. Since then, many African nations have sat carefully on the fence, refusing to condemn the horrors inflicted on Ukraine. 

But some positions are clearer than others. Last week, while South Africa was performing naval training exercises with Russia on the invasion’s anniversary, Nigeria voted to condemn Moscow at the United Nations. 

Observers might be tempted to discount the country as too big, messy and corrupt to play a role in the global fight for democracy. They would be wrong. But Tinubu has his work cut out. 


Putin’s wallet
Swiss prosecutors have charged four bankers with helping a man known as “Putin’s wallet” deposit millions of Swiss francs in Switzerland. The four senior executives at Gazprombank’s Swiss unit opened two accounts in 2014 for Sergei Roldugin, a cellist and close confidant of Putin, without checking that he was the actual beneficiary of the assets, according to court documents. Swiss media reported that the deposits totalled some 50 million Swiss francs ($53 million). The men, who cannot be named under Swiss law, will stand trial next week in Zurich with prosecutors seeking a seven-month suspended sentence. 


Cheap Teslas
Tesla has announced plans to cut its car assembly costs in half, putting the company on track to launch a far cheaper electric vehicle. At Tesla’s investor day on Wednesday, held at a factory in Texas, Lars Moravy, head of vehicle engineering, said a new “large volume” vehicle would be produced at a number of Tesla plants, including at a new site in Mexico announced this week. But the company offered little detail on when a cheaper model would be launched or what it would cost. The four-hour presentation failed to inspire investors; Tesla’s shares dropped by 5 per cent in after-market trading. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Insulin price drop
Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced yesterday it would drop its insulin list price in the US by 70 per cent and automatically cap patient out-of-pocket costs at $35 a month. It’s a move that could turn the US market for the life-saving drug on its head. Biden, who criticised the pharmaceutical industry for unfair insulin charges in his State of the Union address, said Lilly’s announcement was a “big deal” and that other major manufacturers “should follow”. They likely will. But behind Lilly’s self-congratulatory pat on the back, the truth is many insulin users will see little change to their regular payments. As the NYT notes, Lilly already heavily discounts prices for insurers below the list price, the $35 cap was technically already in place and prices are still inflated way beyond what it actually costs to manufacture the drug. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Havana syndrome
Mysterious pressure in the head, nausea, ringing in the ears – these are all reported symptoms of what’s become known as “Havana syndrome”. Its victims: US diplomats and intelligence officers around the world, with some leaving their jobs as they struggled with its mental and physical effects. The theory: a foreign government, possibly Russia, was using some sort of energy-based weapon to target them. A new report from the CIA and other intelligence agencies now confidently debunks that a foreign power was involved. What is not disputed is US citizens are suffering from symptoms which can’t all be explained by existing medical conditions. An independent panel of experts convened last year by US intelligence did find an external energy source could have led to the illnesses. Much mystery remains. 


Doomsday games
On Tuesday, a US E-6B Mercury aircraft landed in Iceland. The plane serves as an airborne command point for the US Navy, specifically to communicate with its fleet of strategic nuclear submarines (its nickname is the “doomsday plane”). The crew met with Carrin Patman, the US ambassador to Iceland, and other diplomatic and military leaders, according to a tweet published by the US European Command – a public notice of the plane’s presence in Europe a week after Putin formally suspended Russia’s participation in a nuclear arms reduction treaty. Looking further east, it was reported yesterday that Russia delivered almost 6.5 tonnes of uranium to China’s Changbiao Island, located 124 miles from Taiwan, at the end of last year. China’s CFR-600 nuclear reactor is located on the island, which analysts expect to play a critical role in increasing China’s stockpile of nuclear warheads.

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Will Brown

Additional reporting by Jess Winch, Nina Kuryata and Phoebe Davis. 

Photographs Getty Images, US European Command/Twitter

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