Nigeria the Precarious
Nigeria is a young nation rife with inequality and contradictions. Rapidly modernizing cities like Lagos in the primarily Christian south, propelled for the last 60 years by the oil industry, have made Nigeria one of the largest two economies in Africa, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, large parts of the agrarian, majority-Muslim north exist under Sharia law. Competing interests among ethnic groups and social classes find their way into national politics, which has operated under a cloud of corruption and instability since Nigerian independence. These factors combine to give Nigeria the world’s 13th worst Fragile States Index.
Nigeria’s reliance on petroleum exports has brought it both incredible wealth and crippling economic vulnerability. As a result of oil’s precipitous price drop through 2014 and 2015, Nigeria went into recession. The prosperity of the oil industry is so inextricably tied to the stability of the state, that Daily Trust reports president Muhammadu Buhari told oil executives on January 26th of this year that it is a “disgraceful thing” that no oil refineries in the nation are back to operating at over 50% capacity. The Big Oil representatives reassured Buhari that even at current levels of production, the rising price of oil would bring bountiful tax money to the government for investment in infrastructure. More good news for Buhari came on January 24th with the long-awaited arrival of the Egina Floating Production, Storage, and Off-loading unit (FPSO), a single, enormous all-in-one ship that could increase Nigerian oil production by up to 10%, according to Daily Trust.
Another profound change to the oil industry in Nigeria could be right around the corner. Petroleum Economist reports that the Nigerian House of Representatives and Senate have passed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB), which proponents claim will reduce corruption, break up the government-affiliated Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and encourage a return of foreign investment. This privatization plan is gamble on the part of the government in hopes of increasing revenue at the expense of diminished state control. Multinationals are thrilled for this opportunity to economically recolonize Nigeria, and the lessening of state influence will make it even harder for Nigeria to transition towards a post-oil economic system. Though this move might provide temporary economic growth, it is unlikely to trickle down to average Nigerians in any other sense than oil spills.
While bringing power and influence to Nigeria’s government and business elites, the oil industry has been built on the backs of the poor, particularly ethnic groups like the Ogoni that live in the oil-rich Niger delta. Daily Post (Nigeria) reports that on Wednesday, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) announced the discovery of an assassination plot targeting their president, the scheme having been devised by powerful oil interests. According to the Daily Post, disputes between MOSOP and Shell Oil have been ongoing for decades, a result of the international corporation’s numerous spills, murders of activists, and general marginalization of native interests. The only way oil’s stranglehold on Nigerian politics and society will be loosened is through widespread economic diversification, a change not likely while government remains an instrument of Big Oil. It will take total depletion or drastically decreased global demand to keep Nigerian oil in the ground. In the mean time, industry will go about business as usual while average Nigerians and the environment pick up the tab.
A world away from the industrial hustle-bustle of Nigeria’s southern coast, violence has broken out in the nation’s highly agricultural states, such as Benue, over newly enacted anti-grazing laws. Killings have been perpetrated primarily by outraged herdsmen. According to The Guardian (Nigeria), President Buhari attributes the violence to the fact that Nigeria’s population boom has led to “urban sprawl and development” that have “reduced land area for both peasant farming and cattle grazing”. The new law restricting grazing rights has pitted pastoral herdsmen against peasant farmers and landowners. Some observers further attribute the violence to ethnic and religious differences, as the herdsmen in the majority-Christian state of Benue are of the Muslim Fulani ethnic group. The official national government position is to blame the violence on states for enacting such biased laws, not the backlash from herdsmen, according to the Daily Post (Nigeria). President Buhari is notably a Muslim and a Fulani. Buhari’s response was delayed, likely due to careful calculations about optics of the relationship between the conflict and his heritage. This perfectly captures the everyday influence of ethnicity in Nigerian political life, a source of division inherent to such a large, diverse, and young country with history of separatism and civil war.
Even further from the wealth and power of Lagos and the Niger delta is the conservative, Muslim state of Borno in northeastern Nigeria, home to Boko Haram. The radical Islamist group, most famous for kidnapping hundreds of school girls in 2014, killed over 900 people in 2017, according to the BBC. However, Nigerian air power has been beating the terrorists back in early 2018. In January, a Nigerian Air Force drone destroyed a vehicle workshop used by the group in Sambisa, killing all the insurgents within, Vanguard reports. The BBC also reports that the US has agreed to increase arms sales to the Nigerian military, which may tip the scales in Nigeria’s war on terror. Though the globalization of terror presents an existential threat to the US, the recent American military buildup in Africa raises concerns similar to those regarding Big Oil. Direct US involvement is pseudo-colonial, and any sort of weapons sales benefit the immensely powerful international arms industry. While a decisive defeat of Boko Haram through US intervention may feel like a victory for the rule of law and stability, it could involve a drastic loss of Nigerian government autonomy.