Russia is not alone in seeing oil as a means to transform its global standing. Nowadays, the mantra of President Umar Yar’Adua, who took power in June 2007, following controversial elections, is to transform the country into one of the world’s 20 largest economies by 2020. Yar’Adua and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are struggling to stamp their authority on an unwieldy and restive country of 140 million people, and the government views rapid growth as a means to achieving that aim.
Nigerians can use a dose of hope. Olusegun Obasanjo, who became Nigeria’s first elected president in 1999 after nearly two decades of military dictatorship, left vast swathes of the country trapped in poverty when he handed power to Yar’Adua last year. With oil reaching $100 dollars per barrel, and energy-hungry giants like the United States and China beating a path to Nigeria’s door, Africa’s leading oil producer wants to use petrodollars to cure the country’s economic ills and flex its muscles in the international arena.
While riding the crest of the last oil boom in the late 1970’s, Nigeria’s military leaders nationalized the assets of British Petroleum and became champions of pan-African co-operation, financing several African liberation movements. The interests of the West and Nigeria repeatedly clashed, but Nigeria always stood its ground.
Inept government and economic decline in the 1980’s and 1990’s obliged Nigeria’s leaders to focus on problems closer to home, like the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. But old habits die hard. Nigeria has always sought a leadership role in Africa and its diaspora. Even in the turbulent 1990’s, when Nigeria was temporarily suspended from the British Commonwealth following the execution of minority rights campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa by General Sani Abacha’s regime, the governing elite sought to achieve Nigeria’s “rightful” place in global affairs.