Security to the fore as Nigeria hosts ‘Africa’s Davos

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LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria hosts the World Economic Forum on Africa summit this week under tight security after two deadly car bomb attacks raised fears about a possible spread of Islamist militant violence.

Thousands of police and army personnel will be on the streets of the capital, Abuja, as delegates arrive for the Wednesday to Friday summit known as “Africa’s Davos”.

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan heads the list of more than 1,000 participants and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is also set to attend, as part of his first tour of Africa since taking office last year.

Restrictions are already in place at airports in Abuja and the financial capital, Lagos, after a warning that two top city hotels were under threat.

Schools and government offices in the capital will also be closed.

- Car bombs, abductions -

Security issues have dominated the run-up to the conference, which Nigeria’s government hopes will demonstrate its potential to overseas investors as a place to do business.

Two separate car bomb attacks over three weeks in the same Abuja suburb killed more than 90 and left scores more injured.

The first on April 14 was claimed by Boko Haram, which has been waging an increasingly deadly insurgency in the country’s north since 2009.

The group is suspected for the copy-cat blast last Thursday.

The extremists, who want to create a hardline Islamic state in northern Nigeria, are also suspected of abducting nearly 300 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in Borno state, which has borne the brunt of the violence.

Their disappearance three weeks ago has triggered protests across Nigeria, while a social media campaign — #bringbackourgirls — has piled pressure on Jonathan’s government and won growing international support.

Nigeria’s finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Davos summit regular, and Nwanze Okidegbe, the chief economic adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, have assured delegates that their safety will be paramount.

“Our security planning… will be the largest security operation ever mounted in this country for an international summit,” they said in a statement after the April 14 attack.

“In total, over 6,000 security personnel, consisting of police and army, will be deployed, covering a secure area the size of 250 square kilometres (96.5 square miles).”

- Social, economic inequality -

Security issues dominate daily life in Nigeria. Central states are riven by sectarian strife while simmering tensions in the oil-producing south frequently boil over.

Social and economic inequalities in the Muslim-majority north are viewed as a key factor in the Boko Haram insurgency, with mass unemployment and lack of investment seen as a rallying call to militancy.

The situation stands at odds with Nigeria’s new-found status as Africa’s biggest economy and leading oil producer, whose sustained rates of high economic growth have caught international attention.

Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote is Africa’s richest man with an estimated net worth of $24.3 billion, while some 23,000 Nigerians are expected to be dollar millionaires by 2017.

Yet the majority of Nigeria’s 170 million people still live on less than $2 a day, corruption is endemic, governance poor, infrastructure inadequate and access to health and education lacking.

Nigeria’s government has pledged to increase investment in the north as part of its recent “soft power” plan to tackle Boko Haram and is seeking to diversify its economy from a reliance on oil towards agriculture and services.

As such, the conference hosts’ problems reflect those facing many African countries struggling with long-standing issues such as poverty and instability.

The conference theme is “Forging Inclusive Growth, Creating Jobs”, with hopes that greater co-operation between countries in terms of trade, innovation, investment and strengthened institutions can unlock the continent’s potential.

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