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Nigeria's economy: headed for the G20?

Africa's economic powerhouse is booming, but serious problems persist.

The north’s militant Islamic sect Boko Haram — “Western Education is Sin” — has attacked schools, police stations and jails in a war to impose fundamentalist law. The militia may not reflect the views of the country’s vast Muslim population — Africa’s largest — but that reputation wasn’t helped when a 23-year-old Detroit-bound Nigerian attempted to detonate a bomb in his underwear last Christmas.

Last month’s car bomb that killed 12 on Nigerian independence day came from a wholly unrelated group of anti-oil industry rebels who have disrupted shipping lanes as far south as Angola.

Meanwhile, 2011 is an election year, possibly Nigeria’s most contentious ever, Kehl said.

“China didn’t have these kinds of obstacles,” she said.

Nor did China and India face as much competition, she added.

“Nigeria has a lot more competition. Beyond oil, what are the competitive advantages that it has compared to South Africa, Bolivia, or even China?”

Youth, might be Ben Fisher’s response to Kehl’s rhetorical question.

The author of a British Council demographic study on the nation of 150 million views the four out of 10 Nigerians who have yet to turn 16 as the country’s secret weapon — or ticking timebomb, “a make-it-or-break-it generation.”

“If we look at similar models such as India or Pakistan, we have seen a huge amount of economic growth if the correct policies are in place to enable those people to enter the workplace,” he said.

And yet, he noted, the country’s education seems poised to fail its future workforce, with too little funding for vocation programs, scant space in crowded university lecture halls and almost no government support for Nigeria’s flourishing fashion and film industries.

“There a huge amount of young people without access to work or to expressing themselves politically,” he said. “Obviously, this could spill over into unrest.”

Jonathan’s roadmap to a thrumming electric grid might not solve such intrinsic dilemmas, Asserkoff said, because electricity would boost worker productivity more than increase jobs.

But if the country is accomplishing 7 percent growth on long odds and diesel generators, he projects it could easily hit 10, even 12 percent growth amid a wind of reform.

“You don’t have to make everything perfect,” he said. “But you have to make progress.”