‘Nigeria on the Brink’ Outlines Troubled Country’s Biggest Hurdles

BY Larisa Epatko  January 20, 2012 at 10:02 AM EST


A soldier keeps a rifle beside his seat while patrolling a protest in Lagos in southwestern Nigeria on Jan. 16. Photo by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images.

The Nigerian government narrowly averted a lengthy strike that would have cut off oil supplies from one of the United States’ major suppliers, but plenty of other problems abound in Africa’s most populous nation.

Skyrocketing fuel prices sent crowds to the streets in protest. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan responded by partially restoring the country’s oil subsidies, which lowered the prices and ended the protests.

But in addition to the oil-related unrest, Jonathan is grappling with an increasingly violent insurgency and demands to eliminate corruption in the government.

GlobalPost looks at the genesis of all of these problems in a new series called “Nigeria on the Brink.”

“This is one of Africa’s key countries, and it faces not one crisis but two,” said GlobalPost’s Africa editor Andrew Meldrum.

Boko Haram, an extremist movement trying to impose an Islamic state, killed dozens in attacks on Christian churches and other gathering spots on Christmas Day.

Watch a NewsHour interview with Paul Lubeck, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, on Boko Haram’s demands:

In August, a suicide bombing of U.N. headquarters in the capital Abuja killed at least 24 people.

“It threatens to pull the country apart along Christian and Muslim lines,” Meldrum said.

While the fuel price spike and protests rattled Nigeria, some people in the country and activists in the United States were heartened to see the public holding its government accountable, Meldrum continued. “The overall crisis is forcing Nigeria to say, ‘we can no longer carry on with the status quo. We must improve things.’”

Nigeria is at the heart of Africa geographically and is the continent’s most populous country with 155 million people. It supplies the United States with one-fifth of its oil.

“What happens in Nigeria affects all the countries around it and throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. It also affects the world economy,” said Meldrum. “Just these past few weeks of insecurity over the oil prices in Nigeria have caused [global] oil prices to nudge up a little bit.”


A fish vendor in Lagos contends that higher prices at the pump means fewer customers. Photo by Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images.

For a country that produces more crude oil than any other African nation, it’s surprising its citizens aren’t better off — or using their country’s own oil rather than having to import it for their everyday purposes.

Tristan McConnell in Nairobi explains:

There are only four oil refineries in the country, and all are in various states of disrepair.

The result is that for most Nigerians, the diesel that runs their generators, the kerosene that lights their lanterns, and the petrol that moves their cars are all imported.

The irony of this escapes nobody. It is a metaphor for Nigeria’s failings as a state that provides almost nothing to ordinary Nigerians.

Hospitals are ill-equipped, public schools are moribund, power cuts are as endless as the traffic jams that clog the potholed, rubbish-strewn roads. The Nigerian state doesn’t even provide security, as attested by the deadly attacks by Islamists in the north and militants in the south.

“The situation we have in our hands is even worse than the civil war that we fought,” Jonathan told a Christian congregation in the South on Jan. 8, McConnell reported.

“During the civil war we knew and could even predict where the enemy was coming from … but the challenge we have today is even more complicated,” Jonathan said.

And the U.S. government is watching warily. The House Homeland Security Subcommittee issued a report in November calling Boko Haram an “emerging threat” to U.S. interests.

Jonathan has acknowledged there are problems and he must respond in a way that gets all Nigerians involved, said Meldrum, and people will be looking at whether he devises a way to combat terrorism and end corruption that strengthens democracy.

The NewsHour has a partnership with the international news website GlobalPost. View all of our World coverage and follow us on Twitter.