Thursday, December 14, 2006

Five key facts

We've been getting briefings from the newswires at work in preparation for the Nigerian elections next year. Here's what I got today:

FACTBOX-Five facts about Nigeria
ABUJA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Nigeria's ruling People's
Democratic Party is to pick a successor to President Olusegun
Obasanjo at primaries starting this weekend.
The following are five key facts about Nigeria.

Nigeria is Africa's biggest producer of crude oil and the eighth-biggest exporter in the world. The Niger Delta, a vast, impenetrable wetlands in the south accounts for all of the OPEC member country's 2.4 million barrels per day production. The region is plagued by frequent attacks on the oil industry, kidnappings of oil workers, theft and smuggling of crude and politically motivated violence.

Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to independent watchdog Transparency International. Graft flourished under decades of military rule, including Sani Abacha who is believed to have stashed away more than $3 billion in personal offshore accounts during his five years in office.

Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999 after three decades of almost continuous army dictatorship when Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military head of state, was elected president as a civilian. He won a second term in elections in 2003 but the U.S. state department said the polls were marred by widespread rigging and political violence.

Obasanjo's second term, since 2003, has been marked by a series of free market reforms including privatisations, restructuring of the banking sector and tighter controls on public spending. Better fiscal discipline has allowed Nigeria to accumulate more than $43 billion in foreign reserves thanks to high oil prices and gain debt relief from rich creditor nations. There is uncertainty over whether the reforms will continue under the new president who should replace Obasanjo next May.

Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is home to more than 300 distinct ethnic groups with their own languages. The three biggest are the Hausa in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Ibo in the southeast. The northern half of the country is predominantly Muslim while the southern half is mostly Christian or Animist. Nigeria has been plagued by outbreaks of inter-ethnic or inter-religious fighting, often fomented by politicians seeking to bolster their own power bases or undermine rivals. Human rights groups estimate that more than 15,000 people have died in such violence since 1999.

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