Privatizing Nigeria's Government

Nigeria can be bold at diplomacy, as its offer of asylum to President Charles Taylor of Liberia demonstrates. It will require similar audacity if it is to turn its moribund economy around.

Nigeria is a paradigm of failed development. Average incomes are amongst the lowest in the world. Poverty is endemic, with more than three-quarters of Nigerians living on less than US$2 per day and distribution of income more skewed in favor of the rich than anywhere else in the world. The top 2% of Nigerians earn the same as the bottom 55%.

With Nigeria on the verge of burying the ghosts of its past dictatorships the time is ripe for daring reforms. Its leaders should focus on one key issue: managing Nigeria's oil revenues.

Paradoxically, the boldest course would be for the government to stop managing these revenues and turn over a large fraction of these funds directly to the people, as is done in the US state of Alaska and the Canadian province of Alberta. At the earliest opportunity, Nigeria's government should convene a conference of all national and regional leaders and secure agreement on a constitutional provision whereby each household would be guaranteed a share of oil revenues, with the amount determined by prevailing prices and quotas.