Writers Matthew Green and Tom Burgis develop the two countries story further.
From the hawkers dodging traffic in the choked streets of Lagos to the billionaire oligarchs in penthouses above, Nigeria seethes with restless ambition and an awareness of potential unfulfilled.
Yet 10 years after the country’s transition from military to civilian rule, progress towards reversing decades of declining living standards and restoring the social contract between the government and the people is still agonisingly slow.
In the 26 months since President Umaru Yar’Adua took office, frustration has intensified.
On paper, his promised reforms in energy, power and infrastructure could lay the foundation for an economic lift-off that would transform the prospects of Nigerians.
Faith in his government’s ability to deliver, however, is evaporating. With the political class gearing up for general elections in 2011 – that risk degenerating into a repeat of the mayhem sponsored by rival politicians in 2007 – even the most ebullient of Mr Yar’Adua’s ministers acknowledge time is running out.
That Nigeria has survived repeated bouts of political and economic crisis since independence in 1960 is a tribute to its people’s resilience: yet there is a sense today that the country is teetering between two very different futures.
The optimistic one is that a burst of private-sector led growth, unleashed by government action to solve the chronic power crisis diversifies the economy and spurs a rapid re-emergence of the middle class.
Companies such as HiTV, a satellite television station profiled in this report, show that dynamic businesses can offer jobs to the country’s army of unemployed graduates. The sheer scale of the Nigerian market continues to act as a magnet for investors and an inspiration for entrepreneurs.
The second vision is bleaker, informed by images of communal violence that killed several hundred people in the city of Jos in November that underscore the growing social pressures.
Nigeria’s population – 40 per cent of which is under 15 – will grow from 140m in 2005 to more than 200m by 2025, according to the United Nations. Even today, only a fraction has access to clean water, adequate housing or healthcare.
For a teenage generation warehoused in a failing state education system the consumer lifestyles championed by hip-hop stars and on homegrown TV channels remain a seductive yet remote aspiration – nowhere more so than in the rapidly de-industrialising north.
“The collapse of the architecture of governance means the government has lost its moral authority to hold things together,” says Matthew Hassan-Kukah, vicar-general of the archdiocese of Kaduna and a respected commentator. “People are falling back on vigilante groups.”