Monday, June 16, 2014

Modern Nigeria: The African Paradox

NIGERIA: A "News" Story Made of Loose Ends
Only the "talking points" seem somewhat familiar

Even more severely than in the usual case, the picture of Nigeria painted by the tattered remains of US domestic media is essentially incomprehensible to any viewer with a high school diploma. While the gnawing emotional abrasion of the abducted school girls is enough to unsettle even the most jaded observer, the larger questions about the country and its people remain, predictably, yet suspiciously, un-addressed.  

Given this purposefully incomplete, confusing "information void," MeanMesa thought the topic quite qualified for selection as one for Short Current Essays.  Now, don't tax yourself with reading further if, for some reason or other, you are expecting shocking revelations unavailable from all the millions of news sources still foolishly competing with MeanMesa for your kind and much appreciated attention.

Instead, we can use this opportunity to do just a little honest research to "fill in those gaps" in the hope of, at the end, providing a more complete, more robust understanding -- one which will, perhaps, present a more factual model of modern Nigeria to aid those watching this puzzling story unfold so far away. Nothing in the world is inherently murky, and when the reporting we rely upon leaves us with such puzzling inconsistencies, we begin at once to speculate about motives.

The "paradox" idea is appropriate.  The "moving parts" in the Nigeria story really are inconsistent with each other. It is as if the network editors had failed to take even so much as a brief moment to overview the coherency of their product before passing it along to us. We have seen a confused series of glimpses of this and that but no congealing structure usable to create a comprehensive -- or particularly comprehensible -- model.

The human mind cannot countenance paradoxes passively or by default. While "servicing" them amounts to expending the energy necessary to keep the contradictory propositions they contain from colliding, the constant effort to sustain such a separation is, frankly, exhausting and painful. So, let's just make a decision to leave the mayhem behind us, take a welcome breath of clear high desert air and settle in for the post.

Setting the Scene: Welcome to Nigeria

The nation of Nigeria has around 170 million citizens.  Nigeria's Southern coast opens to the Gulf of Guinea. With the startling abduction of the school girls by Boko Haram still freshly in mind, let's have a look at a a few sample maps showing different aspects of Nigeria which seem to be of special interest for this post.

1. Nigeria compared to US [image source]
The maps presented in this "get acquainted" section of the post will provide a glimpse of a few of the fascinating -- and seemingly contradictory -- statistics of modern Nigeria. MeanMesa provides a link in the caption of each map which will refer visitors to the source, so if one of these maps sparks an interest for more information, just jump over to the source site.

The first map [1] superimposes the physical size of Nigeria on a few states in the central US at the same scale.  Interestingly, although the states in this region of the US are areas with comparably low concentrations of population, the point here is that Nigeria is, generally, far more populated. Looking at the population figures demonstrates just how "crowded" Nigeria is in the comparison.

2. Nigeria: map of poverty areas [map source]
The second map [2] is of interest because it begins to portray the fundamentals of Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency problem. In the larger sense the distribution of poverty -- or, as we call it in the US, the distribution of wealth -- throughout a developing country with a significant national income from petroleum sales is also notable.  Boko Haram was not formulated solely as a theoretical religious mandate in a Northern Nigerian mosque.

3. 2025 Plan to extend Nigerian Rail [image source]
While there were many choices for the map [3] following, this one illuminates the prospect for "wealth sharing" in very real terms. The primary complaint accompanying the admittedly rather fickle popular support of Boko Haram in the Borno and neighboring regions in the northeast is that Nigeria's substantial revenue from oil exports remains locked in the populated South of the country.

Although there is no tangible evidence suggesting exactly how serious the Nigerian government is about "wealth sharing," the design plan showing new construction of high speed rail service throughout the country would be -- if it turned out to be serious -- good evidence of a commitment to the idea in principle. Note that the map provides the date "2025" for the project to be operational. 

Although the idea may be somewhat alien to US citizens choking amid the inevitable deterioration of domestic civil structures, infrastructure improvements are a traditional avenue for job creation, economic growth and, in the longer term, wealth equalization.

4. Nigeria vaccination map [map source]
Just as the case in the previous map, the vaccination map [4] was only one of several choices. Nonetheless, in a country with the health status of Nigeria the distribution of vaccinations reveals the same message which would be seen if other maps had been chosen. Government resources, as reflected int he reported vaccination rates by region, have been concentrated in the southeastern part of the country and central areas around the capital at Abuja to the exclusion of other areas -- not surprisingly, areas where Boko Haram is most active.

Does this imply that the insurgency is active because of a lack of vaccinations? No. The point here is that those areas are active because of a lack of lots of things, one of which is the vaccination program. This pattern is the fundamental cause of the mistrust of the central government and sympathies for outlaw groups such as Boko Haram in these more remote regions.

5. Nigeria's "trouble map" [map source]
While the "overlay" is not a perfect match, the map showing regions of Boko Haram -- and other insurgent -- activity [5] generally substantiates this pattern of neglect and exclusion. Here, we need to remember that Boko Haram violence has extended far beyond the kidnapping of the school girls which captured the domestic media's attention.

The darkest blue areas have reported major, violent killing sprees at the hands of the insurgents.  These same areas reflect significant local support for Boko Haram and others among the civilian residents -- all largely because of bad treatment by the Abuja government.

The recent increases in government revenues from the oil export has aggravated this even further. Nigerian residents in the blue shaded areas know that revenues have increased substantially nationally, and the paucity of available government services, compared to other regions, has incited even more active support for the insurgency.

Historically, the economic status of countries with really terrible standards of living has not proved a reliable predictor of social unrest.  It is when those terrible conditions improve -- even a little -- that social and political unrest really "breaks out." It is not an evaluation of bad conditions which incites such activity, but the comparison of "bad" conditions here to even "slightly better" conditions elsewhere which typically spurs this result into action.

This is the case with Nigeria and remote field insurgencies such as Boko Haram.

We can assign the maps provided in the following excerpted GeoCurrents article to numbers "5" and "6." The cited content pretty much speaks for itself. [The links in the quoted content lead to the original articles.]

Electoral Politics and Religious Strife in Nigeria

Submitted by  on May 5, 2011
6. Nigeria's conflict - religion [map source]

Most sources claim that the country has slightly more Muslims than Christians. Wikipedia puts the breakdown at 50.4 percent Muslim, 48.2 percent Christian, and 1.4 percent “other”; the CIA World Factbook states that 50 percent of Nigerians are Muslim, 40 percent Christian, and ten percent “indigenous.”


The northern focus of Islam in Nigeria is clearly visible on the map of Sharia in the country. Since 1999, Nigeria’s constituent states have been permitted to institute Islamic Law as the basis of local civil and criminal court procedures. All twelve northern states have done so—nine over their entire expanse, and three over large areas with Muslim majorities. Today, the geography of Sharia cleanly cleaves Nigeria’s north from its south.

So too does the electoral map. On April 16, 2011, Nigeria’s incumbent president—Christian southerner Goodluck Jonathan—trounced his main Muslim opponent, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, by fifty-nine to thirty-two percent. Every state in the Sharia belt gave a majority of its votes to Buhari; almost every other state massively rejected him. In partially Islamic southwestern Osun, the majority of votes went to another Muslim candidate, the anti-corruption stalwart Nuhu Ribadu. Ribadu polled well across Yorubaland and in parts of the country’s midsection, but he received only 5.4 percent of the votes nationally, and did even worse in the solidly Muslim north. (For returns by state, see Electoral Politics 2.0.)

Goodluck Jonathan crushed all other candidates across the southeast, receiving more than ninety-five percent of the vote in nine states, and more than ninety-eight percent in six. Jonathan also did surprising well over much the north, winning not just Christian votes. In the solidly Muslim state of Jigawa, he was favored by 36.7 percent of the voters.

But if many Muslim northerners were willing to vote for the Christian candidate, others were not willing to accept his victory. By all reports, the Nigerian election was relatively clean and calm, but the aftermath across much of the north was stormy. Post-election violence, directed mainly against Christians, may have taken 500 lives. In the north-central state of Kaduna, one estimate claims that 14,000 Christian fled their homes; in Katsina state, Buhari’s homeland, sixty-five churches have been burned or otherwise damaged, according to Christian sources.

The post-election carnage in northern Nigeria has been ascribed to several factors. Some sources emphasize high youth unemployment and the economic marginalization of the north. Christian sources point to radical Muslim leaders, arguing that the spasm of violence was not a case of “spontaneous combustion” but part of a planned campaign. Some Muslim activists stress anger over possible electoral fraud, dumbfounded that a supposedly Muslim-majority country would cast fifty-nine percent of its votes for a Christian candidate. Another source of anger was the supposed violation of the unwritten rules of Nigerian politics, which hold that Christians and Muslims must alternate in the presidency. This policy had been upended when the previous incumbent, Muslim leader Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, died in office before serving his full term. Yar’Adua was succeeded by vice-president Goodluck Jonathan, whose subsequent incumbency, some say, gave him an unfair advantage in the 2011 election.

Assuming that the election results were accurate, several issues call for further investigation. Why did Jonathan poll as well as he did in the north, winning a substantial minority of Muslim votes? Why did southern Muslims decisively reject the main Muslim candidate, Buhari, and why did northern Muslims equally rebuff the Muslim reformer, Ribadu?


7. Nigerian Ethnic Regions [map source]

Finally, in our "tour" of modern Nigeria, we should look at the county's economic growth and its political consequences. In a manner consistent with other unequal dimensions of "wealth distribution," not even the oil money was able to penetrate the traditional barriers surrounding the "haves" and the "have not's" of Nigeria's fractured population. The following excerpt includes a little about Nigeria's current economic growth, the country's likely problems and a bit of regional history.

APRIL 16, 2014

[This article is excerpted below.  Read the entire article on this site: suffragio]

Not surprisingly, the recalibration caused Nigeria’s official GDP to leap by nearly 75% to around $510 billion, making it Africa’s largest economy. That shouldn’t come a surprise to anyone, in light of predictions that Nigeria would overtake South Africa sometime by the end of the decade. Nigeria is the epitome of the newly emerging Africa. Lagos, its sprawling port, is now Africa’s largest city, recently surpassing Cairo. Its population, already Africa’s largest at 173.6 million, could surpass the US population within the next three decades or so.

But Nigeria’s newfound status is more the beginning of a journey than its terminus, a journey that will become especially pertinent to global affairs throughout the 21st century as Nigeria’s impact begins to rival that of China’s or India’s.

But today, Nigeria’s GDP per capita, even after the rebasing, is just around $3,000. That’s less than one-half the level of GDP per capita in South Africa, which is around $6,600. Though the stakes of Nigeria’s relative success or failure will become increasingly important to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and to global emerging markets in the years ahead, there’s no guarantee that Nigeria, 54 years after its independence, won’t succumb to state failure.

Nigeria spent its first decade stuck in a tripartite ethnic struggle that ended in a devastating civil war, followed by bouts of military rule from which it emerged imperfectly in 1999. Lingering security challenges, like those posed by Boko Haram, a Muslim insurgency from Nigeria’s northeast, continue to expose the country’s ethnic tensions and the religious and socioeconomic gap between the relatively prosperous Christian south and the relatively underdeveloped Muslim north. Incipient political institutions plagued by a culture of corruption for decades, with less than fully formed democratic norms, could easily erase the stability gains made since the 1999 return to democracy. Although oil wealth has since the 1960s given Nigeria a financial means to solve its lengthy list of developmental, educational, and environmental problems, the mismanagement of oil revenues have so far transformed the wealth into a classic resources curse.

[The concept of "recalibration" or "rebasing" -- recently conducted in Nigeria as mentioned above -- is interesting. Here are two links to read more: 

Finally we need to look at an excerpt from the popular Nigerian newspaper, LEADERSHIP, reviewing the understandable questions about security for the Abuja World Economic Forum meeting in May of this year -- a scheduled date suspiciously sequenced with the Boko Haram abduction in the north.

Nigerian News from Leadership Newspapers

Nigeria Safe For World Economic Forum – Jonathan

Friday Atufe— May 5, 2014
[Read the entire LEADERSHIP article  here.]

As Nigeria hosts the World Economic Forum (WEF), Friday Atufe, writes that the country should endeavour to implement the conclusions reached so that it would not be another talk shop devoid of action.

Nigeria will this week play host to the 24th World Economic Forum (WEF) in Abuja, the Federal capital Territory (FCT) from May 7-9.


Already, President Goodluck Jonathan has assured the international community and all participants in the forum that the host city, Abuja, is safe for the meeting. The President, speaking when he received in audience the new Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Gu Xiaojie, who presented his letter of credence to him at the Presidential Villa recently, assured that the security challenges being faced in parts of the country would have no adverse effect on the safety of participants in the forum.

The president welcomed the confirmation by China that its delegation to the forum would be led by its premier, Mr Li Keqiang.

He said, “I am quite pleased that the premier of the People’s Republic of China has confirmed that he is coming. We would be addressing the World Economic Forum on Africa together. We would also sit down together to discuss shared national interests.

Boko Haram

Just today MeanMesa posted about events in Iraq -- events which were very visibly and directly precipitated from the recently formed Iraqi Shi'ite government's strident unwillingness to include the minority Sunni in the distribution of government resources, let alone the directing of the country. Roughly the same story unfolds in most of the countries of the Arab Spring. Whichever among the rebellious factions succeeds in clawing its way to the top almost instantly adopts an minority infuriating, exclusionary model almost identical to policies of the despot just removed.

Nigeria's "replay" of this dangerous game is slightly more civil than some of the more egregious examples, but the slow, painful realization of cultural, governmental and resource exclusion in the country's northwest states is having the predictable outcome. In Nigeria's case, the affiliation between the insurgency and al Qaeda is somewhat more substantial than the suspicious alliances "revealed" on domestic "news" concerning the other cases.

[These days in the US the already "not credible" media, no doubt obedient to those interests most invested in starting more wars, has a veritable penchant for attaching the terrifying al Qaeda label to even the most inconspicuous little bit of "trouble" anywhere. With respect to ties between al Qaeda and Boko Haram, the evidence is more material -- although the full extent of the help remains conveniently ambiguous.]

However, while these explanations might be adapted to the creation and existence of such a violent, terrorist organization, the tactics employed by Boko Haram are just as incomprehensible as with other groups employing them elsewhere. There is no "logical journey" by which the impulsive murder of significant numbers of more or less random civilians leads to political control of the country, political representation in the country's government or even a particularly "eager ear" to hear the complaints of the minority.

However the amplified voices of Boko Haram might characterize their gruesome effort in Nigeria, that tactical explanation would not include "taking over the country" or even regional "ethnic cleansing." Neither the list of the dead nor the public opinion being generated support an interest in either of those goals. So far as MeanMesa can speculate, Boko Haram's helter skelter blood bath seems to be driven by nothing more ideological than a perpetually bad -- really bad -- attitude.

The school girl abduction reads like the pointless script to a grade B horror movie. There is no actual message. The case for this conclusion was cemented even further with the incendiary -- but tastelessly flamboyant -- threat to convert the girls to Islam and sell them as sex slaves across Nigeria's borders.

There is, on one hand, "making a point," but in this case that became the equivalent of a pathetic and poorly choreographed alcoholic tantrum on a hangover morning. The whole mismanaged affair amounted to "insurgency suicide." If Boko Haram ever actually paid attention to its "approval ratings," someone would have been fired for even considering this crazy scheme.

And, "being fired" by Boko Haram would be a "permanent" career problem.

Read more reporting about Boko Haram in Nigeria at this BBC link.

A Visit to the African Version of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party

The embarrassed President reassures attendees that the World Economic Forum being held in the capital, Abuja, is safe and secure. Meanwhile, Boko Haram terrorist bombs are slaughtering the residents in transit bus explosions less than a mile away. And, not just one explosion, an agonizing repetition executed in hope of credibly establishing that Boko Haram can attack at will anywhere in the country.

The abduction of the school girls, further embellished with even more grotesque threats certain to incite mistrust of the Nigerian government, coupled with the darkly hilarious "black humor" fumbling and bungling of any serious attempt to rescue them simply can't be "sold" as the actions of responsible, competent national authority. MeanMesa would have loved to have been a "fly on the wall" over hearing the WEF representatives asking about this.

There isn't enough lipstick on the continent to make this fiasco look like anything similar to the Neapolitan image dreamed of by the Nigerians.

The question of Nigerian sovereignty is even more puzzling. 

With the public support of democratic elections, impressive income levels from oil exports, the largest GDP in the African Continent and  a strong, well equipped military [200,000 active duty, 300,000 reserve guard - WIKI - Read more here.], why does the Abuja government fail to project its legitimate autonomy within its borders? Boko Haram is not merely a small, irritating political off shoot conveniently isolated "out of harm's way," it is a wildly violent cancer, ready to permanently disrupt Nigeria's future and that of adjacent countries, too.

Although Boko Haram has been demonstrating a predictable affinity for asymmetrical disruption to mitigate the strength of the Nigerian military, there is not enough "asymmetry" anywhere in the mix to disguise the bizarre unwillingness of President Goodluck Jonathan to engage more than such a paralytic response.

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