Nigeria is a major country and it is headed for a train wreck unless it changes course rapidly.
Government in the former British colony, population 170 million, has presented serious problems ever since independence in 1960. The basic problems are size and the proliferation of different tribes and religions within its borders. A fundamental issue is that its northern half is predominantly Muslim and its south, Christian for the most part. How serious the cracks were showed themselves first in a military coup d’etat in 1966, followed by the attempted secession of the southeast as Biafra in 1967.
The country recovered from those two high-risk cataclysms relatively well but then had to deal with the blessing — or curse — of very substantial oil wealth. At that point competition in Nigeria between the north and the south, its military and its civilians, came to become over access to the country’s oil wealth. Enormous, all-pervasive corruption also became the order of the day.
The political and access-to-oil competition between north and south was more or less resolved by agreement to alternate the presidency between a northern Muslim and a southern Christian. The current president, Goodluck Jonathan, is a Christian from the southeast. Against all wisdom he has declared his intention to seek another term as president next year, upsetting the agreement on Christian-Muslim alternation. That is one problem.
A second is the current depradations of Boko Haram, an extremist Islamist group based in the north, but now claiming credit for attacks against the population and the government further and further south. Its most outrageous and best known act was the attack on a girls’ school in Chibok in which more than 200 students were kidnapped. The Nigerian national government maintains a large army, but so far it has shown itself unable to recover the students, or to confront Boko Haram successfully.
All of this could be put in the category of a local Nigerian problem for its people to solve except for four reasons. The first is the size of Nigeria. The second is that it is now Africa’s largest economy. The third is that the United States buys oil from Nigeria. The fourth is that Boko Haram’s attack on female education is a human rights violation. The United States cannot fix this problem. Nigeria must, on an urgent basis, or face grave consequences.