mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Nigeria’s Dilemma Exposed

The conflict that threatens to rip Nigeria apart is about a lot of things.  There is ethnicity: the Hausa and their allies dominate much of the the north, the Yoruba are strong in the south west, and the Igbo are strong in the south east. They speak different languages, have different histories, and want different things.

And of course there is religion.  The north is mostly Muslim and the Muslims are if anything becoming more radical.  The south is mostly Christian and there, too, religion is getting hot.

And last but not least, there is money, as a useful piece in the (subscription required) FT explains.  The oil is in the south; the ports are in the south; increasingly, that is where the money is also found.  In recent years, to quiet unrest in the oil producing areas, the national government has rejiggered the formula that divides oil wealth among Nigerian states.  More of the oil money now stays in the oil states; less is available to develop the north.

The north has made some other bad bets.  In recent decades, the north controlled the country through a series of military regimes, and in an attempt to build up the northern economy, the government invested in state owned companies based in the northern states.

Like many other governments only more so, the Nigerian government was an extremely incompetent and corrupt investor.  The north has little to show for years of subsidy except for failing enterprises and empty buildings. Now the country has less money for loser subsidies, the oil money is staying in the south, and the north feels power and wealth slipping beyond reach.

There is no easy way to fix this.  The north notes that on a per capita basis, southerners get several times as much money as the poorer northerners do from the country’s oil wealth.  This, they say, is unjust — and one can see their point.

Southerners retort that in the first place, the oil is in the south and it is the south that must deal with the environmental and social impact of a large oil industry.  And in the second place, for years, they say, the north looted the south and took more than its fair share.

Now the government is torn.  Boko Haram springs out of the frustration and fear widespread in the north, and it is believed that powerful northern figures who think nothing of Boko Haram’s eccentric religious views value the group and the havoc it can wreak as a way to put pressure on the government to buy off the north with more money.

But in the south, the criminal gangs and others who have periodically disrupted the oil production and held it for ransom, are also restive.  They want more money or they may well return Nigeria’s oil region to the chaos of the bad old days.

The government doesn’t really have enough money to pay off either group, much less both.

And there Nigeria sits and stews.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Anthony

    WRM, The Nigerian Question…appears to also bedevil presently Senegal and Sudan – countries in Africa are experiencing perhaps dynamics of 21st century zeitgeist.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Thanks for keeping us informed of Nigeria WRM. Your articles about Pakistan have stuck with me because they analyze more deeply than the MSM usually does, My GP is a Nigerian, I presume from the South, because he is a devout Christian.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service