By Ezra Odogu
The Economist has expressed concerns about how kidnappers, zealots and rebels are making Nigeria ungovernable, highlighting the rising incidence of insecurity across the country.
The London-based newspaper, noted in a report that in the north-east, a jihadist insurgency was spreading; rebellion was brewing in the south-east, pointing out that across most of the country, the rich and poor alike live in fear of kidnappers, warlords or cattle rustlers.
Even the sea provides no haven: the Gulf of Guinea is the world’s hotspot for piracy, it stated.
According to the report, the country was growing ever harder to live or work in.
The report disclosed that the share of adults in Nigeria that told Gallup that they wanted to emigrate permanently had risen from 41 per cent in 2012 to 48 per cent in 2018.
“Among the young, a clear majority wish to leave. Shell, an oil giant that was long Nigeria’s biggest foreign investor, and which stuck around during the grimmest years of military rule, recently said it would pull out, citing the threat of violence. The army has now been deployed to every one of Nigeria’s 36 states.
“Security [in Nigeria] is at its worst since the civil war,” it quoted Cheta Nwanze of SBM Intelligence, a consultancy in Lagos, to have said.
This, the report described as a startling claim, stating that the Biafran war of 1967-70, when the Igbos of the south-east tried but failed to secede from Nigeria, claimed an estimated one million lives.
“Since then, Nigeria has held together. The country of 200 million people has had mountains of problems, from corruption and ethnic strife to a series of military dictators. But it has been democratic since 1999. And parts of it are thriving, especially in the south-west. Lagos, the commercial capital, is home to vigorous banks, a hip technology scene and a flourishing film industry, Nollywood,” The Economist stated.
“Nigeria is not yet a failed state, but large parts of it are failing. This matters not only because one sub-Saharan African in six is Nigerian. The country also has Africa’s largest economy, whose dire performance holds the continent back. And its conflicts are spilling across borders, destabilising fragile neighbours such as Niger and Chad and amplifying the jihadist threat across the Sahel.
“Nigeria’s instability is largely born of poor governance. Britain, the colonial power, lumped together many groups in one country: Muslims in the north, Christians in the south, numerous and overlapping ethnic groups in different regions.
“Politics has long been a tussle to grab petrodollars, the source of nearly all government revenues. All groups gripe that they are short-changed. Most are right—a corrupt elite grabs a huge portion, leaving only scraps for ordinary Nigerians of any group.
“Since politics is the swiftest route to wealth, it is a violent business, cursed by candidates who drum up ethnic or religious strife to win support. What has changed in recent years is that the government has grown so rotten that it struggles to control wide swathes of territory.
“To understand how, start in the north-east. In 2009 a jihadist insurgency erupted there. The jihadists called themselves Boko Haram (“western education is sinful”). They were fed up with predatory government, eager to establish a theocracy, and not averse to seizing loot and women. Their insurgency has directly cost some 35,000 lives, plus another 314,000 from war-induced disease and hunger, estimates the UNDP.
“In 2015 they nearly captured Maiduguri, the biggest city in the north-east. A force of mercenaries, reinforced by Nigeria’s army, pushed them back into isolated swamps and forests,” it explained.
It alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari, has failed to address the situation, stating that over the past six years the jihadists have regrouped in the countryside, hoisting their black flags over village after village.
“Now they are once more threatening Maiduguri, this time under the banner of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an offshoot of Boko Haram that now outguns it,” it added.
ISWAP is “much more dangerous” to the Nigerian state, Vincent Foucher of International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based think-tank stated.
“Nigeria’s unofficial strategy now seems to be to contain the jihadists, rather than to try to defeat them. The government has deployed enough force to control the biggest towns and to escort convoys along the main roads, but not enough to hold, much less govern, the smaller towns and villages. The army is thinly stretched. Trying to pacify the north-east is only one of its problems,” it added.
It stressed that kidnappers have made life perilous in much of Nigeria.
“In July gunmen shot up a hospital in Kaduna and kidnapped ten people, including two babies. In August, audacious bandits attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy, the equivalent of West Point, killing two soldiers and grabbing a major.
“A startling 1,400 schoolchildren and students have been kidnapped this year. After one such incident in September, schools and markets were closed across Zamfara. The government also shut telephone networks and imposed a curfew. All told, about 1m Nigerian students are out of school because of insecurity.
“Most of the rest are nervous. A security guard at a university in south-west Nigeria checked the boot of your correspondent’s taxi. It is “in case we kidnapped students”, explained the driver.
“The army is trying to fight back, especially in Zamfara. But it often does so indiscriminately; for example, by calling in air strikes,” it added.
Furthermore, it pointed out that Nigeria’s third big security threat was in the south-east, where separatists had been trying to revive Biafra.
“Many Igbos feel marginalised and ill-treated by the central government. (As do most people in Nigeria.) The main separatist group, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), is demanding a Biafra that includes all of Nigeria’s main oil-producing states, even the ones where Igbos are a minority,” it added.
According to the report, even in the south-west, the most prosperous part of Nigeria (bar the capital), separatist feelings were starting to spread, citing the agitation by Sunday Igboho.
“A dire economy makes taking up arms more tempting. In 2019 some 80 million Nigerians lived on less than $2 a day. More than half of Nigerians are unemployed or underemployed. Food inflation is 21 per cent.
“Bad policies, such as closing land borders to goods entirely in 2019 in the hope of spurring local production, have deepened the pain. The government has made little effort to wean itself off oil, or to prepare for a future when cleaner forms of energy ultimately replace it.
“Another cause for optimism is that millions of Nigerians still manage to thrive, despite the chaos. Some start businesses to get around government failures. Security firms are booming, unsurprisingly. So are start-ups. Lagos boasts three fintech firms worth over $1bn each. Most Nigerians would rather earn a living peacefully than fight,” it added.