Doomed Nigeria?

If you think about it, Nigeria is an artificial state. European statesmen drew the boundaries between British territory and French territory in the late 19th Century. In the mid-20th Century those colonial-era territories became independent within the boundaries drawn by later European statesmen. In Nigeria, there is oil in the south; there are dessicated grasslands in the north. The northern part of the country is poorer, the southern part of the country is richer (well, less poor). The north is predominantly Muslim, the south is predominantly Christian.[1] How could one forge a single “nation” out of such disparate materials?

Broadly speaking, they did not succeed at this task. Most post-colonial countries in West Africa are plagued by economic stagnation, bad government, and corruption. Citizens are disaffected, to put it mildly.

In 2010, Goodluckwiththat Jonathan, drawing the bulk of his votes from the south of the country, won election as president of Nigeria. Since then, per-capita income among Nigeria’s 170 million people has risen from $4,740 a year to $5,360 a year. That’s about a 12 percent rise. So, people should be dancing in the street. However, that rise in national income did not flow on anything approaching an equal basis. For one thing, the money tended to stick in the southern regions that produced oil. Hence, northern Nigeria profited but little. Incomes in the south are now twice those of the north.

This disparity may have helped fuel the Boko Haram insurgency. Boko Haram recruits around the tattered edges of Nigerian society, among poor people, among young people, and among poor young people with no prospect of landing a job. In 2009 and 2010, Boko Haram attacked a dozen places; in 2011, twice that; in 2012, more than 60 attacks; in 2013, more than 50 attacks; and in the first quarter of 2014, about forty attacks. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 200 school girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

The Nigerian government is riddled with corruption. Graft and the abuse of authority are endemic. It runs up and down through every level of society. In 2014 the head of Nigeria’s central bank announced the $21 billion in oil revenues had disappeared from the bank. President Jonathan fired him. Every interaction between a government official and a citizen involves a pay-off. It’s impossible to get through the airport without paying-off some official.[2]

What to do to encourage prosperity in the north? Northern Nigerians believe that President Jonathan’s government has starved them of their share of the national income. Spokesmen for people there urge infrastructure spending. The north lacks reliable electrical power and has a deficient road network. So, over the years the bonds between northern and southern Nigeria have frayed.

The insurgency threatens to spill over into neighboring countries like Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Benin. All of the neighboring countries are what amount to French protectorates. Hence, the French are insistent that Boko Haram be crushed. Radical Islamism has already troubled the French at home and abroad. The “Charlie Hebdo” massacre demonstrates the danger from home-grown Islamists, while the insurgency in Mali can be construed to constitute and Islamist threat in the territories of the old French empire.

Is Nigeria doomed to disintegrate, like the post-colonial states of the Middle East?

[1] Maia de la Baume and Alissa J. Rubin, “West African Nations Set Aside Their Old Suspicions to Combat Boko Haram,” NYT, 18 May 2014; Heidi Vogt and Patrick McGroarty, “Nigeria’s Divisions to Test Nation’s New Leader,” WSJ, 6 April 2015.

[2] See: “Dogs of War” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZbg5AdlO70

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