Illiteracy in Nigeria: the Facebook solution

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has hit upon an innovative idea for tackling illiteracy in Africa: publish a book of Facebook chats. His Facebook chats. With the thousands of people who read and comment on his surprisingly frequent Facebook updates (recent posts tell us what a great job he is doing on attracting foreign investment, reopening textile mills, strengthening the aviation sector, containing the crisis in the Ivory Coast (one of his less robust claims), easing tensions in the North (another premature boast) and, perhaps his most astonishing feat if it’s true, eradicating fuel scarcity).

Such a book, Mr Jonathan believes, will ‘revive a reading culture in Nigeria.’ With over a quarter of adult Nigerians unable to read and write, and with the country’s education system recently described by the IMF as ‘dysfunctional,’ efforts to promote literacy are sorely needed. Many of the president’s Facebook friends are in raptures over this visionary move (you will no doubt find some of their comments in the book). ‘Thank you sir for this new development may God bless you and multiply you wisdom to lead 9ger,’ wrote one. ‘Reading maketh a man,’ mused another. ‘In reviving the reading culture, you will make a nation. Keep it up my President.’ Another fan, seemingly oblivious to the misdeeds of Mr Jonathan’s predecessors, wrote, ‘My President this is a wonderful innovation cos without it it means our leaders are going extinct.’ Continue reading

Are West Africa’s Islamic extremists beginning to coalesce?

In a talk I gave at Demos early last year, I wondered whether Islamic extremists in different parts of West Africa, who had hitherto acted in isolation, might one day join up to become a cohesive pan-regional force.

Now it seems that Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, whose activities have centered on Mauritania, Algeria and Mali, is making efforts to link up with Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, now imaginatively renamed the Taliban, to create a broad-based West African terror group.

AFP reports that AQIM’s leader has told his Nigerian brothers that, “We are ready to train your sons on how to handle weapons, and will give them all the help they need – men, weapons, ammunition and equipment – to enable them to defend our people and push back the Crusaders.” So far, negotiations remain at a fledgling stage, but the intent is there and, given the region’s notoriously porous borders, so too are the means.

UKTI admits to pimping out British embassies

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UK Trade and Investment’s Mike Gavin has been caught on camera by Heydon Prowse dishing out the following advice to a company offering ‘security’ services:

“You can also use that embassy to present your company. So you can invite people to a reception or a presentation. Again, you pay for the room but it’s all arranged for you,” he said.

“There is a perception that you’re endorsed by the government because it’s a government building. Of course it’s crap, we don’t.

“All we do is due diligence to check that you’re not going to appear in theTelegraph on Sunday embarrassing the hell out of the British Government.”

He explained that in countries such as Nigeria using the embassy was the “easiest way to get everybody together”.

Prowse asked: “Because of the security situation?”

Mr Gavin replied: “No, because in places like Nigeria they love to show off that they have got this card from the British Embassy, it’s got Ambassador invites, British Government logo and they say ‘Look I’m going to a garden party’.

“It’s all bollocks, but everybody in Nigeria wants one because they want to be seen getting out of the car, going into the High Commissioner’s office. It’s all perception and that’s part of what you don’t have at the moment.”

Nigeria: do donors know what they’re spending? (update x2)

You see plenty of reports from development agencies castigating development countries for one reason or another, but the boot is much less often on the other foot.

Interesting then to see this 2008 review (huge pdf download) from Nigeria’s National Planning Commission, which sets out to analyse ‘the volume and quality of Official Development Assistance to Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.’

During this time, $6bn of aid has been spent in Nigeria, almost all of it spent by donors themselves, rather than being rooted through the government’s budget. The Planning Commission’s first job, therefore, was to try and work out who had spent what.

So it sent a template to donors asking for information on what they’d spent and where:

Of all the agencies, USAID was the only agency able to provide almost all the requested information with a little delay. EU was also able to meet most of our requirement, only after about three months delay…

CIDA’s [Canada] claimed disbursement did not tally with what they had actually spent…[It] refused to supply more information when asked [to]…

DFID is another donor that could not account for all its activities. When asked to provide information on the sectors and states DFID is operating in, it simply wrote saying ‘we do not require our programme managers to collect expenditure on a state-by-state basis.’…

JICA [Japan]…did not cooperate at all despite our many efforts to get JICA to collaborate with us.

The UN system was also only ‘partially cooperative’. UNICEF did not provide a breakdown of its health spending, for example (nor did DFID or CIDA). “We do not know exactly what [this] money was spent on,” the report notes. The Chinese government was also asked for data – but the review does not tell us what its response was (read into that what you will).

Donors should be much more transparent accountable for their activities, the Planning Commission concludes, while the Nigerian government “needs to offer clearer and more effective leadership to her development partners both in terms of how and where to operate.”

It lauds the example of Kano and Ondo states. They are robust in their response to ‘intruder donors’ who operate outside a framework established by the state government. That allows leaders to set, and be accountable for, their own development priorities.

Update: Of course, Nigeria’s own statistics are often woefully inadequate, whether at national or at state level. Recently, for example, Kano state has just been counting its schools:

An additional 88 senior secondary schools and 174 private  schools had been ‘discovered’, while in some areas schools had disappeared: the Kano municipality had 10 less junior secondary schools than first thought.

Update II: Worth pointing out, too, that the World Bank, DFID, USAID and African Development Bank recently agreed a joint strategy for Nigeria – bringing 80% of Nigeria’s development assistance under a single strategic umbrella. Somewhat oddly though, it cannot easily be found on any of the donors’ websites. There’s a copy here though.

I wonder if the donors will now move towards a single online platform to show what they’re spending, where, and what results it’s achieving… and, also, how effectively their joint approach is proving (the Bank and DFID have had a joint strategy for some years now) at reducing overhead for Nigerian government and non-government partners.

UN to develop Nigerian Lego car

Wrong on so many levels:

The National Automotive Council (NAC) is collaborating with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) to fine-tune the concept for a made-in-Nigeria car…

“Once the bill is passed and the budget proposal before the National Assembly is passed, we will come up with the concept of the made-in-Nigeria car with a road show,” [Aminu Jalal, the Director General of the Council] said.

The automobile needs of Nigeria can only be met when all the stakeholders in the industry work towards meeting international standard, Mr. Jalal said, adding that the agency’s main focus is to encourage local manufacture of auto components. The council is equally wooing Nigerians in the Diaspora, who have indicated interest in investing in the manufacturing of auto components and ancillaries.

Unlike other emerging economies, Nigeria is yet to witness a revolution in its automobile industrial sector. As at today, the dream to have a made-in-Nigeria car has remained exactly that – a dream.

Apparently, “the absence of local source of raw materials” has delayed progress to date. From the look of early designs, this obstacle has been solved through judicious use of Lego. Presumably, the full power of the UN system will now be thrown behind the project.

United Nations Nigeria Lego Car

Wake up Nigeria: lessons from Sierra Leone

While researching my upcoming book on the world’s poorest countries last week, I came across David Keen’s ‘Conflict and Collusion in Sierra Leone,’ an analysis of the causes of the world’s poorest country’s vicious 1990s civil war. What struck me most was the similarity between what I read of the conditions in Sierra Leone before war erupted and what I heard on a recent trip to Nigeria of the conditions prevailing there.

The parallels are remarkable. Burgeoning youth population? Check. Intense competition for services and economic opportunities? Check. Collapsed education system that fails the young? Check. Dependence on a single valuable natural resource? Check (diamonds in Sierra Leone, oil in Nigeria). Neglect of other economic activities like agriculture? Check. Catastrophic lack of jobs? Check.

The result of all these fundamental problems in Nigeria, as in Sierra Leone, is a youth population that cannot establish itself. Denied employment, young people cannot leave their parents’ homes, marry, or start families. Their reliance on the older generation deprives them of the latter’s respect. Their resentment of their elders, who benefited from a better education, faced weaker competition for jobs, and have control over the country’s economy, is acute. The corruption and decadence of those in power and their lack of interest in young people’s demands further fan the flames (both David Keen writing on Sierra Leone and several Nigerians I spoke to said that wealth, no matter how dishonestly acquired, had become society’s’ overriding goal – as a young woman in Lagos lamented, “nobody asks how you got rich”).

In Sierra Leone, young people eventually took out their frustrations with extreme violence. Among their main targets were village chiefs and other figures of authority. When the Revolutionary United Front invaded Freetown in January 1999, its young rebel soldiers sought out and dealt out horrific punishments to journalists and writers who had criticised them and shown them disrespect. Many young Nigerians also bemoan the lack of respect they receive from the older generation, who dominate the country’s institutions.

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