What's next for Nigeria

Widespread discontent in Africa’s most populous nation may lead to region-wide revolution.

Nigerians walk by after fire razes market 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nigerians walk by after fire razes market 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan presides from the Presidential Complex, situated in the provincial capital Abuja, purposely affixed in the country’s center so as not to not show deference towards either the Christian south or the Muslim north. But, in this locale, the federal government has the best vantage point to see the various conflicts erupting in all directions.
From the Muslim north’s Borno State, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has resurged in recent weeks, showing its newfound ability to launch sophisticated attacks with a reach that spans the entire country. This reappearance has shaken the Christian population who subsequently criticize the government for not doing enough to protect them, while taking up arms in self-defense.
South of Abuja, towards the Niger Delta – the hub of Nigeria’s vast oil and mineral resources, the local population has become further enraged by Jonathan’s policies. This rise, it must be mentioned, did not appear with Jonathan’s election, but has been a persistent problem since the 1970s, when Nigeria allowed international energy companies to exploit the land and the people of the Niger Delta, which, unchecked, has resulted in catastrophic circumstances for the native people. These impoverished locals respond by attacking oil infrastructure and kidnapping foreign oil workers. The situation in the Niger Delta is another primary reason that Nigeria cannot realize its full potential and it does not appear that the government plans to remedy this issue in the short term.
Nigerian government officials firmly believe in the idea of “prebendalism,” in which they are entitled to profit directly from the nation’s resources, and thus have accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars of personal wealth. Such direct control over the revenues of the oil industry, which accounts for approximately 95 percent of Nigeria’s export business, has not created sufficient desire amongst bureaucrats for overhauling the system, which in turn has come at the expense of the entire population.
Therefore, when the government attempted to slash the fuel subsidy earlier this month, the one benefit Nigerians attain from their oil wealth, it incited tens of thousands of people to take to the street.
It is widely known that Nigeria cannot afford to maintain its fuel subsidy as it costs the country 8 billion dollars per year to maintain. However, when you have a populace that is bearing the brunt of government corruption and mismanagement over the one viable resource that could bring the country out of a situation where poverty and unemployment is rampant, there is sure to be outcry from the public and in turn, diminished support for President Jonathan.
Despite Nigeria’s existence as a democracy, the people are now seeing what a collective voice can accomplish. In the wake of the fuel subsidy debate, Jonathan’s government waivered against his people and partially conceded to their demands. Nevertheless, the fuel subsidy was only the catalyst that brought people out into the streets. Once assembled en masse, the people began to voice the other aforementioned grievances of poverty and unemployment.
Even though Nigeria is technically a democracy, these calls for reform are not unlike the calls heard throughout North Africa just one year ago. Should the Nigerian people, who have long been fed up with government corruption, take a note from their North African brethren and begin a prolonged movement, reverberations could potentially be felt throughout all of Africa.
The corruption and injustice that exists in African nations is apparent and widespread. A shift in the status quo from the most populous and resource wealthy nation on the continent may in fact inspire the movement of others to follow in its footsteps, as Nigeria has long been perceived as a leader in the sub-Sahara.
The writer is an intelligence manager at Max Security Solutions, a geo-political risk consulting firm based in the Middle East.