Quo Vadis Nigeria?
By Onyemaechi F.E. Ogbunwezeh, PhD, November 2020
The question “Where is Nigeria heading?” is one that has nagged analysts, policymakers, and politicians all over the world for decades. Nigeria’s strategic importance in African geopolitics makes it a pertinent question.
Some believe that Nigeria could become a country of half a billion people, with a trillion-dollar economy, jostling shoulders with other nations of the world for a place in the sun. The potentials are there, and they are huge. With over 200 million people, Nigeria is a sleeping colossus, waiting to wake that human resource, just as China and India have done. As the sixth largest exporter of crude oil in the world, and as a nation richly endowed with a host of other mineral deposits, as well as arable land, the raw materials for her rise are already there.
Others fear that she could decline into a colossal ruin, wracked by intractable wars, genocide and implosion. The conditions for that also abound in Nigeria. Fossilized ethnic, tribal and religious fault-lines have scuttled the emergence of a united Nigeria. Mutual suspicion has become a national ethos. As a country, she only exists as an embrace of federated grievances, bound together by crude oil. Plagued for decades by leadership lacking the vision to forge a strong unity, low density conflicts (LDC) and insecurity of life and property have been mainstays of life in Nigeria, alongside the poverty and hopelessness of over 70 percent of her population.
Insurgency and genocidal attacks
In the late 90s, a forecast attributed to the CIA coursed through the media landscape. It contended that Nigeria was set to break up in 2015. As if this CIA forecast was coming to pass, in 2009, Boko Haram, hitherto an unarmed sect gathered around a charismatic preacher named Yusuf Mohammed, became a full-blown insurgency.
As Nigeria struggled to come to terms with the possibility that this forecast could be true, the Fulani herdsmen joined the fray, adopting a strategy of sacking Christian villages and pillaging minority communities in a manner that can only be described as genocidal. These major hotspots were joined by secessionist agitations from the Southeast, the Southwest and the Middle Belt, making Nigeria a boiling cauldron of dissension. These conflicts filled the Nigerian political atmosphere with the kind of toxic rhetoric that has preceded many a genocide.
This question “Where is Nigeria heading?” gained more prominence recently, as millions of Nigerian youths, angry at the cemetery of dreams and the abattoir of lives which their country has become, rose up to protest against systemic abuses carried out by the Nigerian Police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
The protests quickly degenerated into a looting festival, as thugs purportedly hired by the government started attacking the protesters and engineering looting and destruction of property in order to delegitimize the protests. The military, as it has done several times in the recent past, opened fire on peaceful protesters, killing 12 at the Lekki toll gate in Lagos.
These protests did not lead to the suspension of other conflicts going on in Nigeria. The Fulani herdsmen never went on holiday, continuing their genocidal campaign of slaughter against Christians and minorities in the Middle Belt while young Nigerians protested. The protests only pushed it out of the media limelight.
Role of government
Some analysts accuse the Nigerian government of either being willfully blind to the forces trying to tear the country apart, or actively and complicitly fanning and financing those flames of division and disunity.
They find support for their claims in certain nepotistic policies, as well as the divisive rhetoric of the central government. President Buhari’s statement at a Chatham House event in London after his election in 2015, where he claimed that the 5% of the voters who did not vote for him should not expect to be treated like the 97% (sic) who did, is an example of this.
The government has also become more overt in its attempts to muzzle the freedom of speech of Nigerians. Both secessionists and reformists are targeted by this criminalization of dissent. The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has been seeking the ability to shut down the internet at will. The government’s broadcasting regulator has also fined some media houses for giving wide coverage to the protests, while the Central Bank of Nigeria has blocked the bank accounts of the protest leaders. These anti-democratic moves by the government have left many Nigerians on edge.
In the face of all this turmoil, one hopes that Nigerians will pull their country back from the brink, and get themselves to a dialogue table to peacefully iron these issues out. The government would do well to facilitate this process. Fundamental freedoms should not be violated. Voices should not be muzzled or pushed underground, a time-honoured and reliable means to brew terror and revolution. The peace and progress of Nigeria are of paramount importance. The geopolitical, demographic, and socio-economic implications of a failed Nigeria are too frightening a possibility to allow.
Nigeria has all the potential to become the great African hope. But she is also staring down disintegration, which would be a disaster for Africa and the rest of the world. A country of more than 200 million people collapsing is not just Humpty Dumpty having a great fall, which all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men can’t put back together again; it is a tragedy, bringing untold human suffering it its wake.
Nigeria and her international partners must collaborate in efforts at just peace in order to forestall this dangerous possibility.
Onyemaechi F.E. Ogbunwezeh, PhD, is Senior Research Fellow at Christian Solidarity International (CSI)