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Africa is a continent rich in natural resources, and yet most of its people live in poverty. Nigeria is no exception. Nigeria produces 2 million barrels of oil a day, has the seventh-largest natural gas reserves of any country in the world, but according the United Nations, the poverty rate in Nigeria has gone up from 46 percent to 76 percent over the last 13 years.
On her recent trip through Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed that the most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria's wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance at the local, state, and federal level.
According to the World Bank, Nigeria has lost well over 300 billion dollars during the last 3 decades as a result of corruption and mismanagement. That means roads, schools, and hospitals could not be built. The lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the Nigerian government and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the state. Part of the answer, said Secretary Clinton, is to fix Nigeria's flawed electoral system, establishing a truly independent electoral council.
In order to create a peaceful, stable environment that fosters development, citizens have to have confidence that their votes count, that their government cares about them, that democracy can deliver basic services. They need to know, said Secretary Clinton, that officials will be replaced if they break the law or fail to deliver what they have promised. And they need to know that Nigeria's natural resources, particularly Nigeria's oil and gas, will be used to invest in social development programs that benefit all Nigerians.
Nigeria also needs watchdog groups to push for transparency. There need to be journalists to shine light on any abuses of the public trust or those who would enrich themselves at the expense of Nigeria's citizens. An independent judiciary is necessary to punish wrongdoers and deter future wrongdoing.
The United States believes there is much it can do working in partnership with Nigeria, beginning with a bi-national commission to look at how the U.S. could provide technical assistance with the electoral process. "The capacity for good governance," said Secretary of State Clinton, "exists in Africa and it exists right here in Nigeria."