Editorial: Nigeria: how we might help kith and kin
There is still time for things to go awry. The formal transfer of power is not for two months, but there is reason to be optimistic that democracy is really turning the corner in Nigeria.
In last week's presidential vote, the opposition candidate, the one-time military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari, beat the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan. And Mr Jonathan conceded defeat.
It was the first time a sitting Nigerian president will be succeeded by an opposition candidate in a democratically contested election. In fact, in the country's 55 years of independence, Nigeria's military has twice removed elected governments and a third time prevented another from taking office. The country has had six military coups, two aborted ones, a civil war and many other bloody political episodes.
It is against that background that we are encouraged by last week's vote, not only if it could portend good for Nigeria and its people, but the potential it holds for Jamaica and the broader Caribbean. Put simply, the people of Nigeria are kith and kin to the majority of those in the West Indies. Moreover, a politically stable and democratic Nigeria enhances the prospects for accelerated growth in Africa's largest and most populous country, with the potential for benefit for Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
Or, put another way, Nigeria, specifically, and Africa, generally, ought to be natural geopolitical allies of most Caribbean nations. This is not so only in the emotional sense. The reason for this is that like the Caribbean, Africa has, by and large, been an economic laggard. The continent's growth has been constrained by corruption, weak infrastructure and institutional arrangements, and inappropriate economic policies.
Recently, however, Africa has been showing signs that it could break the shackles of underdevelopment. It has been among the fastest-growing regions of the world. Nigeria has been a prominent member of this club. Last year, its economy grew 6.1 per cent, and in the face of the slump in oil prices, it is expected in 2015 to grow around four and a half per cent.
The economic situation is a challenge that the new president will have to confront. But the confidence that could be generated by democratic consensus may well strengthen President Buhari's capacity to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of the country, as well as the corruption and bureaucratic weakness that have restrained economic advances.
Economic liberation will help to rekindle the betrayed geopolitical aspirations that Africa's post-independence leaders harboured for the continent. At the same time, hopefully, the peaceful exercise of Nigerians' democratic franchise will prove a catalyst for similar action in other countries.
For Jamaica and CARICOM, an economically and politically stronger Nigeria strengthens the insulation of small, underdeveloped countries in this region and everywhere against rich, powerful ones. It broadens geopolitical options.
But this region also has something to offer to Nigeria. The Caribbean has maintained a strong tradition of democracy. Its institutions have remained resilient. In that regard, Jamaica, in its role as CARICOM's lead on international relations, should engage President Buhari on how the community can help in shoring up Nigeria's democratic arrangements while seeking to advance economic cooperation.