Nigerians like to say that not knowing Nigeria is like not knowing Africa. With a population reaching almost 150 million, Nigeria is the most populated country in the continent. Like many other African nations, disease, poverty and corruption burden its ability to develop and prosper. Although proportionally HIV/AIDS affects only 3.1% of its adult population, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria reaches 2.6 million, the second highest in the continent. Malaria affects 75% of its population, and claims 300,000 of its children each year. Its average yearly per capita income stands currently on $2,400, a fact, which puts most of its citizens below the poverty line. While one could go on and on with this grim picture of Nigeria, in the past decade signs of a different Nigeria emerges.

Simultaneously with the peaceful transfer from military to civilian rule in 1999, Nigeria has set its National Space and Research Agency. In 2003 the agency launched its first satellite and after few more launches, it is preparing to launch the first Nigerian astronaut to space by year 2015. Since the first production of a Nigerian film in 1960, Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry, reached in year 2008 top second worldwide in number of productions, slightly trailing Bollywood and way ahead of Hollywood. Today, Nigeria’s education and research system includes 95 universities, 125 polytechnics, and 200 research institutions. Understanding that proactive measures are needed, Nigeria began in 2003 a privatization campaign. After privatizing its national telephone company, which managed in its 30 years of operation to set a total of 4500 telephone lines (in a country of more than 140 million), it reached in 2006, 32 million GSM accounts. Inflation reached by 2006 a single digit and its yearly GDP ranked at 6.5%, while the “recommended” OECD measure stood on 2.5%. Nigeria reduced its foreign debt, and the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) grew from $6 to $18 billion. The Nigerian stock market reported 40% returns on investments in 2006, and Goldman Sachs forecasted in 2003 that by year 2050, Nigeria would be among the most economically successful nations worldwide.

Nigeria’s leaders recognize the value of intellectual property (IP) and its potential in pushing the Nigerian economy forward. Quoted in the Daily Sun, President Yar’Adua said that “commercialization of research products is key to achieving Vision 2020…not commercializing means that we import everything we need.” (4/30/09). Addressing issues such as macro-economy, infrastructure, education, health, agriculture and manufacturing, Nigeria’s leaders hope that by year 2020 the country will be peaceful, harmonious and a stable democracy. Vision 2020 is their plan for reaching this goal. http://www.nv2020.org/.

Further proof for Nigeria’s leaders’ understanding of the importance of intellectual property and technology transfer to its economy was manifested in a recent meeting between WIPO’s Director General, Mr. Francis Gurry, and Nigeria’s President, in early September. President Yar’Adua confirmed that “Nigeria is fully committed to the ideals of WIPO and the protection and enforcement of IPR.” The President also urged WIPO’s DG to establish a training institute in the country in partnership with the Nigeria government. All Africa.com 9/2/09.