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Heavy traffic is seen on a bridge in Ikoyi neighbourhood in Lagos March 27, 2012. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)
Heavy traffic is seen on a bridge in Ikoyi neighbourhood in Lagos March 27, 2012. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

Boko Haram insurgency exposes Nigeria's extreme economic inequality Add to ...

On Victoria Island, one of the city’s most exclusive districts, you can buy a Porsche sports car for $220,000 at a newly opened luxury-car dealership, or a bottle of Bollinger champagne for $115 at a supermarket for the rich. Thanks to the lifestyles of its elite, Nigeria’s consumption of French bubbly is soaring at the second-fastest rate in the world, a research company recently found.

The main beach of Victoria Island, once a popular haunt for ordinary Nigerians, is now virtually inaccessible. It has been swallowed up by a 10-square-kilometre city, called Eko Atlantic, currently being constructed on land reclaimed from the ocean. Its luxury apartments and skyscrapers will house 250,000 residents and 150,000 workers, and its wide boulevards and marinas will become a playground for luxury sedans and yachts.

Most significantly, it will all be privately controlled: Everything from its electricity and drinking water to its transit systems and telecommunications will be privatized and operated independently from the decrepit public infrastructure. It will allow the rich to abandon Lagos, retreat from the poor and segregate themselves in their own self-contained enclave.

At its glitzy sales office, a showroom features a huge scale map of the planned city, which the developer calls “a new lifestyle concept” and “a masterpiece of urban planning.” Its brochures promise “beautiful tree-lined streets and stunning ocean views” for those who can afford it.

Construction cranes and bulldozers are already visible across the reclaimed land, and the first residential tower is due to open in 2016. “This is the new face of Africa,” says Okon David Major, a former merchant-marine seafarer who makes a living as a guide to the handful of visitors in the remaining fragments of the beach.

Asked who can afford to live in Eko Atlantic, he laughs. “The government functionaries who stole our money,” he replies. “The tourists used to come here, but now the government has confiscated everything and they use it to make money. Every head of state will have their own building, and they’ll chase away the poor people.”

Living in places like Victoria Island and shopping at the boutiques of the Palms mall, Nigeria’s rich and powerful can ignore the Boko Haram bombs and the kidnapped schoolgirls. State governors, who hold much of the power in Nigeria’s federal system, fly to their regions in private jets.

“The political class, with a few distinguished exceptions, has long been in a state of smugness, complacency and collusion,” Nigerian novelist and poet Ben Okri wrote in a recent commentary.

“In a country rich with oil revenues, where billions of pounds disappear from the national coffers with no one held to account, where going into politics is synonymous with acquiring vast and sudden wealth, where slums breed in larger numbers every day … it is not surprising that violent sects grow from such a festering condition.”

Cost of corruption

While the “Bring Back Our Girls” hashtag campaign has thrust Boko Haram into the global spotlight, too many Nigerian officials have been apathetic or resentful of the attention.

Despite a national security budget of about $6.5-billion annually, the insurgency has actually increased in its scope and deadliness in recent months. Boko Haram has continued to kidnap and kill villagers within a few kilometres of the Chibok site, while the army does little to protect them.

In response to the global controversy over the kidnapped girls, pro-government loyalists and security forces have blamed the local campaigners: breaking up their daily rallies in Abuja, trying to ban their protests and confiscating truckloads of the newspapers that have embarrassed the government with their coverage of the issue.

Some influential leaders, including the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, have even claimed that the kidnapping was a fabricated ruse to discredit the government.

Nigeria’s attempts to tackle the Boko Haram crisis has been hampered by its corrupt military, weakened by internal feuding, mutinies, defections and a lack of basic weaponry. Nigeria spent millions of dollars to buy Israeli surveillance drones for its army in 2006, but it didn’t bother to maintain them, so they could not be used to search for the kidnapped schoolgirls. Even the money for basic military salaries is often stolen by commanders and politicians.

“The soldiers have exceedingly low morale,” said Clement Nwankwo, a political analyst who directs the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre in Abuja.

“The military budget rises, but a lot of it is creamed off by political leaders. Soldiers are forced to go to war without adequate preparation and a lot of them are killed. The leaders and their own officers are not providing the military hardware they need. These soldiers are afraid of engaging with the insurgents. When you know your opponent has far more sophisticated equipment, you don’t want to simply line yourself up to be shot and killed.”

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