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Issue 31, October 1998

A history of capitalist 'underdevelopment'

NIGERIA, WITH ITS oil wealth, is different from many other neo-colonial countries. The majority of the ruling elite do not really care about developing the manufacturing or agricultural sectors of the economy. The only sure source of wealth in Nigeria is the daily inflow of $30m petrodollars into the regime's off-shore bank accounts. This now makes up at least 85% of total government revenue and is the 'pot of gold' over which the elite fight. Corruption and financial swindles are the easy way to make money, certainly better than the unpredictable fluctuations of industrial production or 'normal' trade.

But, apart from a brief period in the 1970s and very early 1980s, oil has not benefited the majority. While income per person grew at 3.3% a year between 1956 to 1966, in the whole period since the 1973 oil price rise the average figure has been below 0.02%. Despite 30 years of oil exports worth over $225bn, the annual average per capita income today of around $280 is no higher than that before the oil boom, although in the early 1980s it reached $1,000.

For a time the oil boom boosted the economy. Between 1975 and 1980 the economy grew by a real 6%-7% per year. But this came to an end in 1981. Between 1981 and 1983 Nigeria's GDP fell by 12.1%. The subsequent years of crisis have revealed how Nigeria, like all neo-colonial countries, was not able to independently develop its economy. Nigeria, with over 100 million people and enormous natural resources, has a greater economic potential than any European country. But competition from already developed nations and the imperialist controlled world market prevents any sustained development of the economy.

  In this situation the Nigerian elite do not see the way to increase their wealth by investing in production etc. The struggle at the top is over who has access to the oil (and increasingly gas) money and how much can be siphoned off. This is a key reason why the military tops are not prepared to hand over power to civilians. Generals become dollar millionaires, despite 'only' receiving military pay. In June the London Times reported one estimate that, since the early 1970s, Nigerian leaders have amassed personal fortunes totalling $217bn in foreign, mainly Swiss and Lebanese, banks. The Times estimated that Abacha himself accumulated $5.8bn during his nearly five years in power.

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