Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Nigeria’s Economic Woes

Nigeria’s Economy in Distress

Naira notes, worth less today than a year ago, because of Nigeria's economic woes.

Naira notes, worth less today than a year ago, because of Nigeria’s economic woes.

The Financial Times in an article on February 28 says that Nigeria saw the first year in a quarter century with a decline in economic growth. It’s a sad end to a difficult year, a year of Nigeria’s economic woes.

“The National Statistics Bureau said on Tuesday that the economy contracted by 1.5 per cent in 2016, which compares to growth of 2.8 per cent the previous year, and underlines the depth of the economic crisis,” the article said.

Two factors have led to the decline. The low price of oil is the most important cause. Vandalism in the Niger Delta has added to the difficulties. Less oil is being produced and exported.

One hundred Naira used to mean something.

One hundred Naira used to be worth something.

Nigeria’s central bank said in June 2016 that it would let Nigeria’s currency, the Naira, float. That way it would trade at its true market value. Yet the Naira is still controlled. The official rate as of Wednesday was 315 Naira to a dollar. On the black market the rate was 450 Naira to one dollar.

Manufacturers are having difficulty getting foreign currency to pay for the materials they need to make their products. They are laying off workers.

The government says the economy will improve in the next few months with higher oil prices. It also forecasts stability in the Delta. “The International Monetary Fund forecasts growth of 0.8 per cent in 2017,” the Financial Times says.

Nigeria’s Economic Woes – A Look of Optimism 

Meanwhile, reports that the Nigerian government seems to be energized with President Buhari on sick leave in London. He turned over power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo when he departed.

Nigeria's Vice President Osinbajo, in charge while Buhari is on medical leave

Nigeria’s Vice President Osinbajo, in charge while Buhari is on medical leave.

And Osinbajo is, according to Reuters, “getting work done. He has relaxed visa rules to lure foreign investors — a plan drawn up by Buhari but which like others got stuck in his chief of staff’s office, according to diplomats.”

Unlike Buhari, he extends his working hours to 7 pm. So staff at the official residence have to work longer hours. He has visited the Niger Delta and the commercial capital Lagos which Buhari had not done. It appears that militant attacks on pipelines in the Delta have fallen since Osinbajo “promised to drag the region out of poverty in a flurry of speeches.”

Buhari has opposed devaluing the currency, but last week, “policymakers effectively devalued the currency for private individuals . . . With the president absent, last week’s move was seen as testing the waters for a broader weakening.”

Osinbajo, according to the article, is acting with the full knowledge and consent of Buhari. In fact, some of the areas being addressed were already in the works when Buhari left.

Harvard Law Review

Harvard Law Review has elected its first African-American female president. When I read the headline, I thought, it has to be a Nigerian or daughter of Nigerians. And I was right! Call me a Nigerian nationalist if you want!

Imeime Umana, new head of Harvard Law Review

Imeime Umana, new head of Harvard Law Review

“ImeIme (pronounced “Ah-MAY-may”) Umana, 24, the third-oldest of four daughters of Nigerian immigrants, was elected on Jan. 29 by the review’s 92 student editors as the president of its 131st volume,” the NY Times said.

The NY Times article concluded with this. “Ms. Umana said she was keenly aware of the divide between the elite ecosystem in which she was immersed and the lives of the marginalized women she hopes to represent. ‘I can’t help but think of the multitude of young black women who will never be anywhere near such an amount of privilege,’ she said.”

Debate about her ethnicity is raging in one online Nigerian media. Igbo? That’s my guess!. Efik? Akwa-Ibom? I just sent her a Tweet and asked! Will she answer?

Africa’s Great Civilizations

A Nok sculpture now in the Louvre

A Nok sculpture now in the Louvre

PBS has been airing a series on Africa’s Great Civilizations this week. I’ve watched bits and pieces. What I’ve seen is impressive. I look forward to watching the whole series.

Henry Louis Gates, host, talked about the Nok people. I first learned about the Nok culture in Nigeria during Peace Corps training. The anthropologists Simon and Phoebe Ottenberg showed us pictures of the terracotta sculptures, first discovered in 1928.

The Wikipedia article says, “The Nok Culture appeared in northern Nigeria around 1000 BCE and vanished under unknown circumstances around 500 CE, thus having lasted for approximately 1,500 years.”

The area where Nok items have been found

The area where Nok items have been found

The article has fascinating details of not just the heads, but tools, pottery, and “charred plant remains.”

I especially love this description of the presumed farming method used by the Nok people. [They] probably used an agroforestry system which is a plot of land of cultivated crops with useful trees in the same plot of land. These plots are ecologically sustainable.”

What happens today in West Africa? Wikipedia says, “Most West African trees are not domesticated but are part of the wild vegetation which is left after farmers clear their fields of their crops. Because they are left to grow they multiply naturally without needing to be planted.”

In Clem’s town of Nanka, I’ve seen trees in the middle of farming plots. And we have a coconut palm tree growing in our compound. Next door there’s a mango tree. Both have been there forever, it seems, bearing fruit.

Bylaws and Constitutions

When we formed Nigerwives in 1979, I took on the task of drafting bylaws. Today, 38 years later, I’m chair of the bylaws and rules committee of the US National Committee for UN Women. I’ve promised to send the draft of recommended changes to my committee tonight.

I’m also convener of the Constitution Revision Task Force for my Unitarian Church. We’re almost finished with our work. We’ll present recommendations to the board on March 21.

Do you like to work on bylaws and rules?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Thanks for bringing back the Nok culture that we learned about from the Ottenbergs. On another subject, glad you are engaged in constitutional revision. It’s necessary but not my cup of tea!

  2. Hope the economy does turn around.