Since its return to civilian rule in 1999, Nigeria’s political and economic development has been mixed. On the plus side, the country is making some strides in the direction of democracy, corruption is down a bit, the government has paid off its public debt, and telecommunications have improved for many Nigerians. Negative developments include: persistent lack of economic diversification, ongoing turmoil in the oil-producing Niger Delta, overwhelming dominance of one political party over all others, the emergence of the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram, and intense communal violence. Despite this mixed record, some portray Nigeria at a dangerous political precipice, not least because of recent flare-ups of communal violence. For now, this assessment seems to be too pessimistic.
The rise of Boko Haram is a serious problem for the Nigerian state, though externally influenced Islamic radicalism is not unprecedented in the country. In particular, the early 1980s included the rise of militant Islamism that led to brief but deadly confrontations. The tactics of Boko Haram – including the use of suicide bombers – are more sophisticated, though. Yet, for all of the division that Boko Haram is provoking between Christians and Muslims, Nigeria does have a rich well of religious tolerance to draw upon. It is likely just a matter of time before this Islamist group will fade from public attention.
What about more localized communal violence, driven by ethnic differences and citizenship claims? The problems related to the claims of “indigenes” (those tracing patri-local ancestry to a place) and “settlers” (Nigerians or others without patri-local ancestry in their place of residence) remain deep and widespread. Non-indigenes – even though they are Nigerians – face both formal and informal discrimination on a variety of fronts. John Campbell, for example, warns of an uptick in weapons stockpiling and mobilization among local militias eager to exploit indigene-settler divisions. Is this cause for great concern? Yes, absolutely. But it is instructive to recall the initial years of Olusegun Obasanjo’s second tenure as Nigerian head of state (1999-2003). During that period more than 10,000 Nigerians died in communal clashes of various kinds (e.g. over farmland, urban spaces, religious issues, and government patronage). Though most Nigerians regret their present state of disunity, they have been here before. And they will likely weather this storm, too. Nigeria is still a “crippled giant” (Eghosa Osaghae’s phrase), but it is not on the brink of chaos.
*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.