High potential: A nation with international political clout but also domestic concerns


With its large and growing population – estimated by IMF to reach around 165m in 2012 – and extensive hydrocarbons resources, Nigeria holds significant political power in the region and on the international stage. However, maintaining stability within this diverse country of around 250 ethnic groups remains an enormous challenge for the country’s leaders.

POLITICS & HISTORY: On May 29, 1999, the country adopted the Fourth Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, marking the third and longest attempt to establish permanent democratic rule in the country – excluding the short-lived civilian governments of 1960-66 and 1979-83. Nigeria is a federal republic with 36 states modelled on the US system. The legislative branch is the bicameral National Assembly, which consists of a House of Representatives made up of 360 seats determined by each state’s population, and a Senate of 109 seats – three from each state and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja – elected for a four-year term. The ruling People’s Democratic Party, which holds a majority in both houses, saw its longstanding lead diminish in the 2011 elections, when the Congress for Progressive Change made significant progress with 32% of votes cast to the winning party’s 58.9%. Macmillan’s Wind of Change came early to Nigeria; the British flag was lowered and the Nigerian banner hoisted on October 1, 1960. The country immediately faced an “era of coups” in a period marked for its ethnic and regional tensions – largely between the predominantly Muslim Hausa in the north who had kept the pre-colonial emirate system, the Yoruba in the south and the Igbo in the west. Government mismanagement and deteriorating relations between the federal government and the Igbos of the eastern region, who proclaimed independence as the Republic of Biafra in 1967, led to a three-year civil war in 1967. A total of 1m people are estimated to have lost their lives. The ensuing period of military rule saw Nigeria continue to suffer from corruption and political upheaval, and the majority of revenues from its newly found oil went to pay off its vast international debt. General Sani Abacha’s sudden death in 1998 saw the removal of the legality of military rule, and is said to have finally paved the way to a long-promised democracy.

STATE REVENUES: Nigeria’s states receive their financing from allocations of oil wealth distributed by the federal government. The federal government claims 52% of public revenues received and allocates 27% to states and 21% to local governments. Population size often plays a key role in the allocation of funding. To supplement central government financing, states have often independently gone to the bond market to raise funds for housing and infrastructure investment, and have begun to cooperate to reduce their dependence on federal money.

FOREIGN RELATIONS: Nigeria has never relied heavily on foreign aid and it is widely agreed its own resources outweigh those of any foreign donors – it is among the Next-11 nations, recognised by Goldman Sachs as having the highest potential, together with the BRIC countries, of becoming global leading economies in coming years.

Notable donor partners include the EU’s 10th EDF programme for Nigeria for the period 2008-13 ( allocation of €677m) and the World Bank, which has 43 active programmes and a further five in the pipeline.

Joining both the UN and Commonwealth in 1960 with a then population of 35m, Nigeria has since played a key part on the African and global stage, pledging both resources and its forces to peacekeeping and peace-making taskforces. Today, Nigeria has more than 6800 men keeping peace in Bosnia Herzegovina, Iraq, Kuwait, Western Sahara, Liberia, Angola and Rwanda. Nigerian troops have also served in Somalia, Mozambique and Cambodia, the Congo, Chad, Lebanon, India and Pakistan. Nigeria is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, the African Union and the World Trade Organisation.

DOMESTIC SECURITY CONCERNS: Since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999, Nigeria has been faced with a number of security challenges in both its southern and northern territories. Militancy in the Niger Delta started to take shape in the early 1990s in protest to what the local population considered to be a negligence in human rights, local economic development and environmental protection by the federal government and the international oil companies (IOCs) operating in the region.

The movement became increasingly violent after Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist for the Ogoni people in Rivers State, and eight others were executed by the Abacha regime in 1995. Practices of oil bunkering, sabotage and kidnappings were to characterise the situation in the Niger Delta for the next 15 years.

Despite some level of fragmentation, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) emerged as the main militant group in the mid-2000s. Heavily armed and able to mobilise a significant number of fighters, the group forced some IOCs to reduce and in some cases shut down operations entirely on onshore and shallow-water assets, reducing oil production from average levels of 2.5m to 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) on some days.

AMNESTY: The government responded by introducing the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme in 2009, which aimed to disarm, rehabilitate and reintegrate former militants. The first phase of the programme, which started in August 2009, targeted more than 20,000 participants. A second phase enrolled 6166.

According to the amnesty office, all former militants who undertook a non-violence transformational training programme at the demobilisation camp in Obubra, Cross River State had been demobilised by June 2011. Of these, a total of 11,525 have thus far been placed in formal education programmes and vocational training centres in country and abroad.

To date, the programme has graduated 6549 of the ex-agitators in skills such as welding and fabrication, entrepreneurship, carpentry, plumbing, oil drilling, and information and communications technology. A select 18 programme recipients are also reported to have received private pilot licences at training schools in South Africa. While the programme has visibly contributed to an improvement of the security situation in the Niger Delta, accusations of abuse and tampering with the second batch of benefactors has raised questions about the allocation of stipends and allowances. As a result, the amnesty office has ordered a verification of all 6166 candidates enrolled in the second phase of the programme, suspending all financial aid in the meantime. Critics also claim that the budget is too easily dispersed to a select few.

PAYING FOR PEACE: The federal government budgeted a whopping $450m for the programme in 2012, more than what has been allocated for the provision of basic education. Much of this money is dispersed in large sums to former leaders assigned to distribute the funds to their former foot soldiers.

On August 22, the Wall Street Journal reported that one former leader was paid a total of $9m in 2011 to be distributed to 4000 former foot soldiers. Little verification exists on the way these lump-sum stipends are eventually distributed and many former militants claim to have been paid less than agreed or, in some cases, not at all. These claims are supported by signs that oil-bunkering continues in large quantities. Shell, owner of the most on-shore and shallow-water assets in the country, estimates the daily loss of oil to the practice at around 150,000 bpd.

Despite criticism of the amnesty, the Nigerian government may consider it a reasonable price to pay. Oil production hit a record 2.7m bpd in August 2012, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, generating much-needed revenues for the country’s many development needs. IOCs’ primary concerns now include challenges of the Nigerian business environment, rather than security threats. Reacting to the effectiveness of the amnesty programme, Mutiu Sunmonu, the country chair for Shell Nigeria, recently told the international media, “For you to address the whole issue of poverty and development you need some kind of peace; that is what I think the amnesty programme has offered.”

CHALLENGE UP NORTH: While stability in the country’s south is on the rise, security threats from northern-based terrorist group Boko Haram have flared up since the start of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2010. Officially called The People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad, the group was established in 2002 by Muhammed Yusuf, an Islamic cleric. Dissatisfied with the implementation of sharia law across northern Nigeria – which Yusuf claimed was mostly applied to the poor – Boko Haram seeks a restoration of a caliphate across the country.

While its modus operandi was initially limited to gun attacks on security personnel and clergy, the group’s campaign of violence took more radical forms after the killing of Yusuf in police custody in 2009.

Shortly after the incident, the group launched five days of brutal attacks on churches and political leaders in the northern town of Maiduguri that left 700 people dead. More attacks, with increasing levels of sophistication, were to follow. A bomb blast at the UN headquarters in the capital that killed 24 people in August 2011, marked the group’s shift to well-orchestrated suicide bombings. This led to speculations about links with foreign Islamist terrorist cells. Statements from the government in the wake of the UN bombing in August 2011 claimed that the attack was masterminded by Mamman Nur, a known Al Qaeda member who was believed to have returned to Nigeria from Somalia earlier that year.

The violence reached its peak on Christmas Day 2011, when over 200 people were killed in separate, coinciding events in Kano. Shortly afterwards, on December 31, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in 15 local government areas in the states of Borno, Niger, Plateau and Yobe which is still in effect today, although with modification in some areas. Due to the high fragmentation of the group, Jonathan’s administration has been grappling to define an effective strategy to address the threat. After attacks on Kaduna in July 2012, he replaced his national security adviser and his defence minister and stated that Nigeria needed “new tactics”, yet did not disclose what these were going to be.

But with issues elsewhere in the Sahel region, including turmoil in Mali and an influx of weapons from Libya, the pressure on the Nigerian government to curb the violence and prevent influence from foreign terrorist cells is mounting, both from within the country and from outside. In June 2012 US General Carter Ham, commander of the US military operations in Africa, told the Associated Press that there was evidence of established links between Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

Shortly afterwards, on June 20, the US listed three of the alleged leaders – Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid Al Barnawi – on its terrorist watch list, presuming the authority to conduct targeted actions against the individuals on Nigerian soil with the tacit approval of the federal government.

INTERNATIONAL SECURITY COOPERATION: Boko Haram’s threat to Nigeria’s political stability is of evident concern to the US. As Nigeria is its fifth-largest supplier of crude oil and economic and diplomatic heavyweight on the African continent, the US is keen to help bring Nigeria back to stability. On a visit to the country in August 2012, Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, declared that the US was “ready to help Nigeria with forensics, tracking of suspects and ‘fusing’ disparate strands of police and military intelligence”.

In a similar vein, security collaborations between the British and Nigerian governments have also been developing of late. As Giles Lever, the deputy high commissioner of the British High Commission, said at a conference in Kaduna earlier in 2012, “We have been fighting the challenges of terrorism ourselves for a number of years. We are willing to share and offer our information, our experience and our capabilities whether in large scale of national emergency crisis management or whether it could be in some capabilities such as forensic investigation to gather clues after terrorist attacks.”

DIALOGUE: While opinions on the nature of Boko Haram range from a group driven by fundamentalist Islamic ideology, ethnic tensions or socio-economic disgruntlement, the Nigerian government is increasingly in agreement that dialogue, as well as efforts to arrest and prosecute terrorists, is the way to deal with Boko Haram. In August 2012 Labaran Maku, Nigeria’s information minister, confirmed that Nigeria’s vice-president Namadi Sambo, security adviser Sambo Dasuki and other top government official had engaged in talks through “backroom channels” with the group’s deputy leader Abu Mohammed, although Boko Haram’s main faction was quick to announce that no peace talks were on the table. Reuben Abati, presidential spokesman, told international media that, “backroom channels are being used to reach across with the sole objective of understanding what exactly the grievances of these persons are, what exactly can be done to resolve the crisis.” Maku further stated that, “the government is willing to negotiate and welcomes any initiative that will usher in peace, security and tranquillity in the country, especially in the light of the security challenges that we have faced in the last two years.”

While details of the talks remain unclear at the time of press, addressing the threat through dialogue rather than armed crackdown is an option much welcomed by many, most notably by those affected in the north. In an interview with the Financial Times in June 2012 Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and spiritual leader of the country’s 80m Muslims, summed up the sentiment: “The problem cannot be solved by force, what we need is dialogue.” In the months ahead, Nigerians as well as diplomats and security officials from around the world will be keeping a keen and watchful eye on how that dialogue is progressing.

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Cover of The Report: Nigeria 2012

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This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Nigeria 2012. Explore other chapters from this report.

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