Leading article: A voice of sense in Nigeria

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The Independent Online

Nigeria is now a failed state, says the country's Nobel Prize-winning playwright, Wole Soyinka. It is easy to see why he now believes that. Hundreds of people were slaughtered last week in the latest sectarian violence along the faultline between the Muslim North and the Christian and animist South of Nigeria. Two bombs went off yesterday in the oil city of Warri, during talks over an amnesty with militants who are fighting for a greater share of their region's oil wealth. And the protracted struggle for the nation's presidency in the capital, Abuja, descended into farce with the wife of President Umaru Yar'Adua refusing to allow the acting president in to see her husband – who is so ill he has not been seen in public for four months. She will not even allow the president's own mother to see him.

The much-vaunted resilience of Nigeria is a myth, Mr Soyinka says, and the country could now break apart. If that happened it would be a grave matter. Nigeria is the eighth largest exporter of oil in the world with the world's 10th largest oil reserves. But Nigeria is run by an elite of millionaires so corrupt and ineffective they do not deliver even basic services like running water and electricity to their 140 million people. Politics is a perpetual struggle within the wealthy elite, with the running being made at present by a cabal around the First Lady.

Mr Soyinka's Save Nigeria Group has brought thousands of people onto the streets to demand the impeachment of the President along with a package of urgent electoral reforms and a new constitution to devolve power from the centre. They are provisions which make eminent sense.

Britain has a role to play in the transformation of Nigeria, whose economy has been dominated by British oil interests. The UK government should prosecute British firms which pay big bribes in Nigeria. It should press for internationally agreed codes. It should exert pressure for greater transparency in the procurement of government contracts. But none of that can happen without strong political leadership in Nigeria. That cannot come under the current corrupt system. Nigerians should get out on the streets in huge numbers and back Mr Soyinka's proposed reforms.

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