Looking back over 2012, this year has been one of the worst in Nigeria’s history, since the Biafra war, in terms of violence against civilians and noncombatants. The news is full of bombings, shootings, kidnappings, air and road accidents, billions and trillions of naira gone missing. However, this week, I’d like to highlight a few of this year’s positive stories that have been buried under the mountain of bad news. Development is often vulnerable to insecurity, but it is only when we know it is happening that we can most usefully support it.
Occupy Nigeria: In January 2012, workers went on strike to protest the fuel subsidy removal and demonstrated in the streets, closing down cities from Lagos to Kano. It was one of the largest national challenges to government corruption in the history of Nigeria. Memories of the protests are bittersweet. After several weeks, they ended abruptly, and it seems now as though they accomplished very little. However, this mass demand for justice did lead to probes into fuel subsidy corruption. The Freedom of Information Act passed in 2011 also encouraged further transparency.
Peace Building: While thousands of innocent people continue to suffer the effects of terrorism and sectarian crisis, there have also been notable efforts by ordinary people to build peace. During the fuel subsidy protests in January 2012, Christians and Muslims protested side by side. During that time, a group of Muslims visited churches around Kano to show their solidarity with Christians. Poet Gimba Kakanda helped organize a group of Muslim youth to protect a Minna church. During Ramadan, Christian and Muslim youth in Kaduna, Jos, Abuja and elsewhere met to break fast together. Christian writer and lawyer Ahmed Maiwada recently announced that he was handing out monetary awards in recognition of these efforts. He gave two Muslims awards for their peace building efforts: journalist Abdulaziz A. Abdulaziz received the Red Badge of Courage award for his participation in the protest against church bombings in Kano and Gimba Kakanda recieved the Beacon of Hope award for helping organize the protection of the church. Maiwada’s contribution is a good example of the initiative individuals can take to encourage and recognize peace builders.
Beyond social movements, there were also infrastructural developments:
Transportation and the Rehabilitation of the Railroad: On 21 December 2012, the passenger train from Lagos to Kano began running again. The Guardian reports that the first train took over thirty tankers of petroleum from Lagos to Kaduna. By reducing the number of dangerous tankers on overcrowded roads and providing an alternative source of public transportation, the railroad has the potential to save hundreds of lives a year. There are other regional rail projects in development, including local light rail projects in Lagos and Abuja, which should not only help provide more affordable transportation but also help reduce traffic gridlock in those cities.
Electricity and Renewable Resources: On 21 December 2012, the Transmission Company of Nigeria stated that they had reached over 4,500 Megawatts of power generation. Although this is far lower than other African nations with smaller populations, like South Africa and Egypt, it is an improvement. Katsina State has made promising strides in renewable resource power generation. The National Mirror reports that Katsina State is nearing the completion of Nigeria’s first major wind farm, which is expected to provide 10 MW of electricity. The state has further begun work on two solar plants, expected to produce a total of 50 MW of energy. These wind and solar plants are expected to provide the energy Katsina needs and enable them to sell excess energy to the national grid. Unfortunately, one of the French engineers working on the wind project was kidnapped last week.
Medical developments: This year, the University of Benin Teaching Hospital performed the first Nigerian bone marrow stem cell transplant on a seven-year old sickle cell patient. With the replacement, he no longer lives with the disease. Daily Times points out that “Nigeria is the third in Africa, after Egypt and South Africa, to perform such a transplant.” Other hospitals around the country continue to successfully transplant kidneys.
Economic and Banking Developments: According to analysis done by economist Charles Robertson of Renaissance Capital, featured on the “How We Made it in Africa” blog, Nigeria’s GDP growth is the 6th largest in the world. Developments in the banking sector have made it easier to make online transactions. The ability to transfer and make payments online reduces the inconvenience of having to wait in long lines to pay bills and the risks of walking around with cash. While this might largely be seen as a benefit for the well-off, such developments also make transactions more transparent. It becomes more difficult for corrupt people to hide large amounts of money when their transactions go through bank databases. A recent removal of the fee for using bank cards in ATM machines is also a boon for low-income bank users who make small withdrawals.
Recognition in Sports: Although Nigerians were embarrassed by the poor showing at the London Olympics, the paralympians did Nigeria proud. Punch reports that Nigeria came 22nd out of 74 countries represented at the Paralympics, winning six gold, five silver, and two bronze medals.
Developments in Literature and Entertainment: Rotimi Babatunde won the 13th Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story “Bombay’s Republic,” the fourth Nigerian to do so, once again casting the international spotlight on Nigerian writing. His win is evidence of a flourishing literary culture in Nigeria. Hausa literature has also begun to gain more international visibility. With the publication of Sin is a Puppy (Blaft 2012), Balaraba Ramat Yakubu became the first female Hausa novelist to have a novel published internationally in translation. While formal publishers still face many challenges in Nigeria, Nigerian-based Parresia Publishers has made waves, releasing six titles in their first year of operation. Social media continues to connect writers all over the country. Nigeria’s film industry continues to be recognized as among the largest in the world and is rapidly improving in quality. Nigerian music is also popular in Africa and beyond. After signing with Kanye West’s record label in 2011, Dbanj is becoming popular in the West as well.
There are many other smaller quieter projects carried out by ordinary citizens and local grassroots organizations that help improve lives. I think here of youth corpers who go beyond the work they have been given to become involved with their host communities, churches and mosques that help feed the hungry and give disaster relief, teachers who on very small salaries selflessly devote themselves to their students.
In the midst of so much hardship, it may seem frivolous to focus on good news. Many of the development projects I’ve mentioned here are prospects for the future and have not yet been completed. What does it matter, we may ask, if a Nigerian wins a writing prize when over 60% of Nigeria’s secondary leavers failed JAM? If there has been an increase in electricity, there are still many who have gone for months or even years without seeing full current in their homes. And what good is development if greedy contractors loot funds meant to develop and maintain infrastructure or terrorists deliberately sabotage it—such as the recent attacks on mobile phone companies and kidnap of the engineer in Katsina? If there are a few groups who have made gestures towards peace and are celebrated on social media, there are hundreds who have lost their lives to terrorist violence. Others have died in floods, road accidents, and poor access to health care. These tragedies need to be addressed. Yet, the good that is being done also needs to be more visible, in part so that we know better how to support these projects. I welcome you to send me more stories about positive developments in your communities. May 2013 be better than 2012.