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Africa is a continent rich
in natural resources, and yet most of its people live in poverty. Nigeria is no
exception. Nigeria produces two million barrels of oil a day, has the
seventh-largest natural gas reserves of any country in the world, but according
the United Nations, the poverty rate in Nigeria has gone up from forty-six
percent to seventy-six percent over the last thirteen years. On her recent trip
through Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed that the most
immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria's wealth and its poverty is
a failure of governance at the local, state, and federal level.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria has lost well over three-hundred billion
dollars during the last three decades as a result of corruption and
mismanagement. That means roads, schools, and hospitals could not be built. The
lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the
Nigerian government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence
and reject the authority of the state. Part of the answer, said Secretary
Clinton, is to fix Nigeria's flawed electoral system, establishing a truly
independent electoral council.
In order to create a peaceful, stable environment that fosters development,
citizens have to have confidence that their votes count, that their government
cares about them, that democracy can deliver basic services. They need to know,
said Secretary Clinton, that officials will be replaced if they break the law
or fail to deliver what they have promised. And they need to know that
Nigeria's natural resources, particularly Nigeria's oil and gas, will be used
to invest in social development programs that benefit all Nigerians.
Nigeria also needs watchdog groups to push for transparency. There need to be
journalists to shine light on any abuses of the public trust or those who would
enrich themselves at the expense of Nigeria's citizens. An independent
judiciary is necessary to punish wrongdoers and deter future wrongdoing.
The United States believes there is much it can do working in partnership with
Nigeria, beginning with a bi-national commission to look at how the U.S. could
provide technical assistance with the electoral process. "The capacity for
good governance," said Secretary of State Clinton, "exists in Africa
and it exists right here in Nigeria."