Thursday, September 23, 2010

Nigeria Heads to the Polls

As election excitement mounts in the U.S., voters worldwide are experiencing the same fervor. Citizens of Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, will get to cast their ballots in January of 2011. Ever since the country was released from the grip of military rule in 1999, there has been an informal arrangement: the President would switch from the Muslim North to the Christian South every 2 terms (8 years). However, an interesting development occurred this year that will make this election quite intriguing.

Umaru Yar'Adua, a Northern Muslim, was elected in December of 2006. He fell ill in the latter part of his first term. In 2009, he left the country for Saudi Arabia to undergo medical treatment. On May 5th of this year, during his first term, he passed away at age 58. Vice President Jonathan Goodluck, a Christian Southener, filled the vacated presidency. Under the power sharing agreement between the two regions, a Northener should assume the President's role for the second term. President Goodluck put that notion to sleep when on September 15th he announced his run. On his Facebook page.

Prognosticators predict sectarian violence, government corruption and non-credible elections while the country of Nigeria is expected to show a 7% growth in GDP. Close to 75% of government revenues come from the oil and natural gas sector. Yet the area that showers the country with its wealth - the Niger Delta - is home to most of the country's internal conflicts. Many stand on pins and needles, hoping that the elections go smoothly and set off the smallest amount of chaotic disorder possible in the states comprising the Delta. But what is at stake for us here at home? Most people fail to realize that Nigeria is our third or fourth largest importer of oil lagging only behind Canada, Mexico and sometimes Saudi Arabia. Nigerian oil itself is of the highest quality in the world. The light, sweet crude appeals to developed nations because of its ease in refining (China signed a $23 billion agreement with Nigeria). Total, a French company, recently entered into a $20 billion investment. Exxon Mobil, Chevron and Shell have major interests as well. It's unfortunate that a region brimming with such potential for its vast resource could be plagued by political turmoil.

As Canadian tar sands are chastised, Mexico suffers from drug-related violence and inferior infrastructure. Saudi Arabia, a superficial ally at best, faces major terrorism and as we know Nigeria has other unique problems of its own. Our top four oil suppliers are riddled with issues. Meanwhile, here at home we have more oil and natural gas underground than we know what to do with. And we have the best technology to extract these resources, but our own government is trying to block drilling while imposing stiff tax hikes that discourage domestic exploration. This is an opportunity to create sorely needed jobs while reducing our dependence upon foreign oil. When will the American public stand up and voice their concern? In November, I hope...

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