Intrastate conflict is a severe, complex and longstanding element of Nigerian political life. When the British combined two separate territories, a diverse swathe of West Africa suddenly became a political unit. Northern Nigeria is largely Muslim, while the South is largely Christian and contains many different ethnicities. The two regions and the groups within them have different political influences (e.g. Islamist vs. Western vs. traditional African). Divisions within Nigeria have fueled conflicts throughout the 20th century and into the present.
Mismanagement of Nigeria’s natural resources and other factors have contributed to sustained underdevelopment in the country. Scapegoating of other religious and ethnic groups is more likely to be successful under conditions of economic stress. This is similar to the situation in the DRC in intergroup conflict can find support among those for whom survival is a primary concern, as well as in communities and where national borders and state identity are less meaningful than other identifiers such as religion or ethnicity (Reyntjens).
The most recent conflict within Nigeria originated with the establishment of sharia law in parts of the North in the late 1990s. Riots between Christians and Muslims caused many civilian deaths in the years following the creation of the laws. In 2009 a group called Boko Haram initiated a violent campaign against the Nigerian government, which some have designated “terrorism.” The Nigerian government does not have the capacity to combat terrorist activity. Although there has been international condemnation of Boko Haram, this response has been described as “slow,” as major players (especially the US) have been reluctant to become directly involved in the region.
In his article for this week, Autesserre questions the critique on the emphasis on state-building the DRC, held by both powerful and marginalized survey respondents despite the “predatory” nature of the state. The question of political and economic disenfranchisement is important in the context of Nigerian conflict, considering that the poverty rate has increased rather than decreased in the last several decades (concurrent with the discovery of oil and limited globalization of culture and trade). Nigerian scholar Chris Kwaja asserts that poverty and desperation are the root causes of Nigeria’s ongoing ethnic and racial conflicts, noting particularly that certain members of communities can be prevented from traditional rights of citizens (read: denied limited public and private resources) based on ethnicity or religion. In Nigeria, and in the DRC and many other developing countries where corruption is a problem, simply increasing state capacity is not a silver bullet vis a vis intrastate conflict because the state apparatus can itself be used tool used to sustain social power imbalances and pursue personal gain.
“The roots of Nigeria’s religious and ethnic conflict”
“Islamist insurgency in Nigeria”
“Experts: Slow International Response Contributed to Rise of Boko Haram”
Reyntjens, Filip. 2005. The privatisation and criminalisation of public space in the geopolitics of the Great Lakes region. Journal of Modern African Studies. 43 (4). 587 – 607.
Autesserre, Séverine. 2012. Dangerous tales: Dominant narratives on the Congo and their unintended consequences. African Affairs, 111(443), 202-222.