Recent reports of escalating violence and criminal activities throughout Nigeria are beginning to expose previously subtle fault lines in that multi-ethnic, West African nation. For most countries, especially neighbours in Sub-Saharan Africa; rising political tension in Nigeria, poses a grave danger to regional peace. In the era of pronounced post-Covid-19 vulnerabilities and precarious economic outlook; the increasingly significant risks of civil crises and economic disaster in Africa’s most populous country should be mitigated at any cost.
Nigeria flaunts all the attributes of a potentially powerful nation but has struggled to exhibit satisfactory economic and political influence. It seems she is now poised to cast a burden on the region and radiate its growing internal crises to other – already unstable – countries. Therein lies the fears of many countries in West and Central Africa and a valid concern for many international observers. The majority of the states bordering Nigeria to its North are either politically fragile or significantly exposed to terrorist activities and threats.
In Northern Nigeria for instance, Boko Haram terrorists have largely destabilised the state of Borno in the North East, which is contiguous with neighbouring Chad and Cameroon. This previously innocuous group, have transformed into a major regional threat; disrupting farming and trade in the entire Lake Chad region and fanning a wave of migration towards Southern Nigeria, that further escalates insecurity and poverty. Most recently, banditry and kidnapping cases have proliferated in Northern Nigeria, causing farmers to abandon their businesses and exacerbating fears of impending food crises in Nigeria. A rapidly growing population, with a predominantly young demographic, heightens the consequences of the shrinking agricultural and farmer base in Nigeria. To cater for people and livestock and to feed its projected 400 million population by 2050, Nigeria requires a robust and organised agricultural sector, driven by modern farm practices. Rather than plan and prepare for these impending growth challenges, stemming the tide of farm abandonment, security challenges have become the imminent challenge for the country. Nigeria has been battling porous borders for several years, which have enabled the continuous infiltration of terrorist elements, from far less stable countries such as Mali and Niger. This nexus of porous borders, undocumented migrants, multi-ethnic constituents, dwindling agricultural sector, population boom and plummeting country-risk perception is brewing a cocktail of civil crises in Nigeria that may boil over in the region.
For many decades, sustained peace and economic growth have eluded Nigeria. The country’s history is heavily punctuated by cases of civil unrest and prevalent crime, which many believe is stifling economic growth by discouraging the flow of much-needed investments. This spring, there have been several reported cases of criminal attacks on the Nigerian police, which has seen dozens of officers brutally killed, in ambush-style attacks, mostly in the Eastern and Southern regions. The country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has also recorded several criminal attacks on its local offices in the Northern and Southern parts of Nigeria, prompting the commission’s leaders to admit recently, that the over 21 offices already attacked will limit their ability to conduct National elections in 2023, when the tenure of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will expire. No group has formally claimed responsibility for these attacks and investigations are yet to unravel both the identity and motives of the perpetrators.
These are mostly trends that began in 2021, which rather underscores decades of leadership failure in Nigeria, while painting a troubling picture of the future, both for Nigeria and the entire sub-Saharan Africa region. The principal political debate in Nigeria currently revolves around what is considered the optimal governance structure for a hypothetical new Nigeria. The term “restructuring” is passed around in essentially all circles in Nigeria, in rather ambiguous ways, referring to many citizens’ desire for power devolution, from the Federal Government to the 36 states that make up the federal system. A logical division of the entire country, into six zones termed “geopolitical zones” is touted by many as the preferred substitute for the current federal structure, comprising 36 states. This is mostly because; the six zones partially mirror the social and cultural homogeneity of the major tribes in Nigeria.
Political views and opinions in Nigeria are highly fragmented and polarised. Similarly, political inclinations do not follow clear lines in the social strata. Some views are carried by politicians, along with the poor masses. Commoners and experts sometimes lean in the same direction, with perspectives that are mostly biased by tribal affiliations. In spite of this, many Nigerians believe that the current political and economic governance logics are divisive, obsolete and counterproductive.
Ironically, Nigeria’s challenges lie in the same factors that should propel her to become a regional and global power. While neighbouring states are now basking in the fear of potential crises in Nigeria, imagining the possibly gory outcomes of a “failed Nigerian state” could be chilling. Nigeria’s location on the map is geopolitically and economically strategic. It’s a coastal state, sitting at the Eastern border of the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS], a 15-state regional collaboration initiative established in 1975. In this position, Nigeria could serve as the gateway into the Central African region; a position that could really matter, in the wake of the rapidly unravelling African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). Will Nigeria live up to expectations?
Dr. MAMA is the Managing Director of Meiracopp Nigeria Limited (MNL) and a Transaction Advisor with expertise in energy, finance and political economy.