Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, October 30, 2014

What next for Nigeria?

When I began learning about Nigeria in the early '60s, there seemed to be great optimism for the new country. That optimism disappeared in civil war and military government. I sensed a lot of hope in the academic and journalistic arenas with the launch of the second republic. The hopes were dashed as Nigeria spiraled down to the Abacha years.

Even the newest republic and the government's survival of the death of a president hasn't brought back the old optimism. Maybe I just don't want to be disappointed again.

However, the current politics, economics, and civil strife in Nigeria makes me fear for the future. The editors at The Economist share my trepidations.

A nation divided: Africa’s lodestar nation has weathered Ebola, but an extremist takeover has exposed the flaw at its heart
In recent months the extreme Islamist group has taken over swathes of north-east Nigeria…

The group routinely slaughters unbelievers as well as Muslims, establishing its writ through fear…

On October 17th senior government officials claimed to have agreed a ceasefire with the group, and to have extracted a promise that more than 200 schoolgirls abducted earlier this year in the town of Chibok would be released. But the girls have not been freed…

Boko Haram, which started out by assassinating provincial officials from the backs of motorbikes, has become an able fighting force. It conducts complex military maneuvers…

The Islamists have looted military garrisons across the region, and now have tanks, armoured personnel carriers, anti-tank weapons and artillery. Boko Haram claims to have downed a Nigerian fighter jet…

Recent recruitment has often been by force, though not much coercion is needed. “What else can the kids do with their lives?” asks a mother in Gombe. Youngsters have few options…

The insurgency has driven about a million people from their homes and may have killed 13,000 in the past five years…

Agriculture has collapsed in parts of the north-east… Public schools have been closed for half a year…

That is one side of a strangely bifurcated country. A very different Nigeria exists a day’s drive away. While the north is imploding, the south is booming…

Though oil is the country’s main export earner, natural resources make up only 14% of GDP. Factories are now running at about 53% of capacity, up from 46% last year…

Much is due to government reforms. Investment in the electricity sector is starting to turn on the lights…

And yet, while much of the economy in the south-west is coming to life, politics in the north-east is dying…

The government has racked up some successes. On October 20th Nigeria was declared free of Ebola… Yet state failure is evident when it comes to security. Kidnappings for ransom are rife: celebrities and clergymen are plucked off the street in daylight. Hundreds of people are killed every year in land disputes. Thieves siphon off as much as a fifth of the country’s oil output in the Niger delta. Piracy is common.

Such rampant criminality continues to infect politics. Gangsters aid politicians by intimidating opponents. In return elected officials share out funds plundered from state coffers…

The president belittled the problem in May when he said corruption was not the same thing as stealing… Nigeria’s federal parliament has for years refused to approve an oil-industry bill that would boost investment in oilfields and hence production. But members prefer to keep things as they are: many of them do well from local cartels’ handouts…

Inequality is also starkly regional (see map). If they were independent countries, some of Nigeria’s northern states would rank bottom globally in terms of development…

Extrajudicial killings account for thousands of deaths in the north. Revenge is a common reason for commando raids. Abuse in detention centres is routine…

In the field the army lacks the equipment and morale to give chase…

Hapless at chasing insurgents, the army is nonetheless skilled at extracting bribes…

The soldiers are only following the example of their generals, many of whom retire as millionaires…

Government officials insist that Nigeria does not face an existential crisis but rather struggles to communicate its successes abroad… [See "Making things look better" and "Rebranding Nigeria"]

Nobody can predict when Nigeria might tip over into chaos. But that day seems to be coming closer.

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