Nigeria should be Africa's greatest success story. The West African nation produces 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. That makes it the biggest oil exporter in all of Africa and the 14th largest oil producer in the world. With the cost of oil what it is today, Nigeria brings in close to $20 billion a year from that source alone. The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria's economy could overtake that of South Africa as the largest on the continent within 15 years.
Nigeria is not a success. It is a failed state. And, it is in danger of becoming the next Somalia, a nation in name only.
Almost sixty percent of Nigerians live on less than $1 per day. Much of the nation's oil revenue is siphoned off by corrupt public officials and businessmen. According to the United Nations, Nigeria has brought in somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 trillion since independence in 1960. Approximately $400 billion of that money was stolen. The former President of Nigeria, Sani Abacha, was personally responsible for stealing 2-3 percent of that money every year over his five-year term of office. Each year $8 billion dollars in oil revenue is lost to corruption in Nigeria.
Nigeria is divided into a largely Muslim north and a Christian south. As bad as conditions are everywhere in Nigeria, they are worst in the north where the loss of revenue to corruption is felt worst. In this impoverished area of the country a violent Islamic terrorist organization, Boko Haram, has taken hold and increasingly challenges government control of the region.
Boko Haram, means "Western education is sinful" in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria. Its ideology is based on that of the Afghan Taliban. Its goal is the introduction of Sharia law, a strict interpretation of the tenets of the Koran, throughout all of Nigeria including the Christian south. Boko Haram has connections with al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), which kidnaps and kills foreigners to the north in Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Algeria. It also has ties to al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia.
The sect has focused most of its attention on the police, military and Nigerian government, but it has attacked a wide range of Christian targets, including churches, as well. Its attacks, which began as drive-by shootings and petrol bombs, have increased dramatically in both scope and sophistication. Suicide attacks using large, complex explosive devices are now common. In August of 2011 Boko Haram drove a 150kg car bomb into the U.N. headquarters in the capital city of Abuja killing 24 people and injuring 115.
Boko Haram has killed at least 935 people since it launched its uprising in 2009 according to Human Rights Watch. Of those, 550 people were killed in 115 separate attacks last year alone. The level of violence is continuing to escalate.
On January 20th of this year, Boko Haram staged coordinated attacks on eight separate targets throughout Kano, the second largest city in Nigeria. Twenty explosive devices were detonated and 186 people were killed. At least five separate suicide bombers participated in the attacks, which were directed primarily at police stations and other government offices.
Three days later, in several separate incidents, police in Kano seized 10 additional fully assembled car bombs.
Boko Haram is not the only violent group in Nigeria fighting against the government. In the delta region of Nigeria, where its oil production is centered, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has been battling government forces for many years over systemic problems in the Delta such as extreme poverty, environmental degradation and exploitation by oil companies.
After years of violence, MEND signed an amnesty agreement with the government of Nigeria in 2009 and agreed to put down its arms. Now, angered by continued problems in the Delta and the perception that the government is more focused on the Muslim north than the largely Christian south, MEND is making noises about returning to violence to achieve its aims. This is an alarming prospect for oil companies doing business in Nigeria. Before the 2009 amnesty, the increasing scale and sophistication of MEND's attacks had begun to have a serious impact on oil production and world oil prices.
Nigeria overall is a tinderbox of discontent. There are 33 million unemployed out of a population slightly in excess of 160 million. Population growth is so out of control that Nigeria is projected to be the third most populous nation on Earth, behind only India and China, by the end of the century. Life expectancy is 48.1 years compared to 78.1 in the United States.
Recently, in an attempt to bring government spending under control, President Goodluck Jonathan decided to end fuel subsidies, effectively doubling the cost of fuel for the population as a whole. The reaction was immediate and explosive. Strikes erupted across the nation and huge protests were held in all major cities. All economic activity in the country was effectively brought to a halt. President Jonathan, after unsuccessful efforts at negotiation, was forced to reinstate subsidies in order to bring the demonstrations and labor actions to an end.
All of this is probably enough to seal Nigeria's fate, but there is at least one other major factor as yet unmentioned. The Sahara desert is moving south and swallowing Nigeria as it goes.
Every year the Sahara Desert moves another 0.6 km, about a third of a mile, south. In Yobe State, one of the eight Nigerian states directly affected, 50,000 farmers in about 100 villages scattered along the desert fringes of the state, were recently forced to abandon their fields to the desert. Sand dunes had literally covered a large expanse of agricultural farmland and buried ponds and oases.
The population of the northern Nigerian states directly impacted by the growth of the Sahara is 35 million persons. As many as a third of them are farmers and completely dependent on the land for their survival. Already desperately poor and living in a region torn by the actions of Boko Haram, these people seem destined to be driven from their homes in the coming years, adding yet more instability to an already chaotic nation.
There is a great deal of talk in certain academic circles about the bright future of the world's economy. The forces of globalization and free trade mixed with the rise of social media and the Internet are supposed to be ushering in some sort of golden age in which a new worldwide middle class will live better, demand more of government and find solutions to all the world's thorniest problems. There will be a hundred "Arab Springs", and they will all produce effective, liberal democratic regimes, which will respect their citizens and improve their lives.
The truth is a lot less attractive. For every world citizen living in a new Bangalore, buying his first car and designing software for Microsoft there are thousands if not tens of thousands of people in desperately poor Third World nations teetering on the edge of the abyss. The Chinese may have solved their population problem, but world population growth as a whole is exploding. Extremism is rising. Corruption is out of control. The future is not some shiny, glittering thing. It is hellish.
Nigeria may well be the next Somalia. It will not be the last.