The West Should Pay Attention to Nigeria

Josh Thomas explains why Nigeria's political situation has moral and geopolitical relevance for the West

There is a silent crisis unfolding in Nigeria. Nigeria has one of the fastest growing populations in the world, the globe’s sixth largest population,  and is by far and away the most populous nation in Africa. Like many other West African nations,  Nigeria was subject to colonial rule for over one hundred years. Its borders were drawn up by the British administration and it has only been an independent country since 1961. The impact of colonialism has been clearly established as having been devastating to West Africa, but imperialism continues to pervade. The Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s, which saw a secession attempt and the establishment of Biafra, a nation for the Igbo people, rather than a union between the Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba peoples as drawn up by the British, saw France funding Biafra and Britain funding Nigeria, in order to further each nation’s own interests at the time.

The Igbo people are predominantly Christian residing in the South and East, the Hausa are predominantly Muslim residing in the North, and the Yoruba live in Central and Western Nigeria and practise a variety of religions including Islam, Christianity and the Yoruba religion. In its current state, the very nation of Nigeria as it currently exists is a product of imperialism. Whilst aiming to achieve unity and coexistence between different ethnic groups is an admirable goal, the lack of democratic process and self-determination in which this was conducted is unsustainable in the long term. As demonstrated by the Igbo attempt to form a break away nation, there has always been a desire from a significant proportion of Nigerian society for the state to be deconstructed and resolved.  Up until 30 years ago, there was not even a chance for democratic participation, as the instability of the nation led to various coups, faux-democracies and military dictatorships through the 1970s into the 1990s.

Whilst Nigeria has stabilised somewhat politically in recent years, and democracy has been reinstated, a more insidious threat has been developing. In the wake of the waves of liberalisation and accelerated globalisation throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a culture of corruption and sleaze has dominated Nigerian politics, as businessmen capitalised on the loosening of economic restrictions, and backroom deals were rife. These allegations have extended up to the presidential level: the three major candidates in the 2023 presidential elections from the APC, PDP and LP have faced allegations of corruption (although the allegations facing the Labour Party’s candidate, Peter Obi, have been deemed to be politically motivated by some).

As well as this, the global threat of Islamist terrorism has not spared Nigeria.Boko Haram have been working for years in conjunction with various local Fulani militia cells throughout Northern Nigeria to instigate terrorist attacks in the form of banditry, kidnapping (most notably that of the Chibok school girls) and car bombings. It is important to note that the Fulani militia cells are separate to the Fulani ethnic group as a whole. The Fulani are semi-nomadic herding people with populations dispersed across West Africa and the Sahara, with significant populations residing in Nigeria, Niger, Senegal and Chad. They are nearly exclusively Muslim and are generally more fundamentalist in their outlook. 

Few Nigerians are actively opposed to their migration and settlement in the north of the country, but significant social, political and cultural problems have arisen as a result. There is a widespread perception that there has been a program of  Fulanisation of the Hausa being instigated in various northern regions, resulting in reduced cultural awareness amongst the Hausa people, as well as an increase in extremist religious terrorism and perpetuation of corruption. This is largely prevented or turned a blind eye to by politicians in these areas either because they themselves are Fulani, or are compromised by corruption.

Nigeria was built on the foundations of being a union of the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo people, and such cultural erosion should not be tolerated. These terror cells have reportedly been operating within a week’s distance of Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and there have been multiple instances of Fulani militia banditry and violence as near as Zuma Rock, widely considered to denote the entrance to Abuja. The constitution of Nigeria, written up in 1999 was largely defined by the threat of further military dictatorship from Abdulsalami Abubakar. Seyi Adesifan, a Nigerian expat living in Bromley, South East London says he believes that “no one consented to the Abdulsalami Constitution, which completely eradicated our identity and affirmed Shariah, fundamentalist Islam in the North. It is one of the biggest scams ever perpetuated by mankind.”

When you account for the fact that, as well being a former British protectorate, the size of Nigeria’s population and the proximity of internal terrorist cells to the capital, the Boko Haram are armed, aided and provided with financial assistance by the Wagner Group, a Russian-proxy paramilitary organisation, the severity of the current situation is clear. There are over 215,000 British Nigerians, and Britain bears a significant degree of the blame for the issues it faces. But not only do we bear a moral responsibility to safeguard Nigeria and provide them with support, the threat of Putinist Russia and his influence extends globally. Supporting efforts to repel Boko Haram would be damaging to the prestige, reputation and impact that the Wagner Group has in Nigeria, scuppering Putin’s geopolitical aim to destabilise countries in the West’s sphere of influence.

Many local CLPs and Labour groups such as the Bromley Young Labour group and Orpington CLP in South-East London have taken on the mantle of pressuring the British Government and raising awareness around the unfolding crisis in Nigeria but more national action and attention to the issue is necessary, as the security and the electoral rights of hundreds of millions of lives in one of the top 25 fastest growing nations in the world has to be prioritised.

The scope of this crisis affects people in this nation on a personal, local and national level, as well as threatening to destabilise the international order and global peace. The attention of the West has been firmly set on the geopolitical threat of Russia, China and Middle-Eastern stability. Such flagrant disregard for over 3% of the world’s population is immeasurably foolish. The coming months and the imminent presidential election will be crucial in determining the fate of Nigeria, Africa and the long-term future of the world as a whole.

Josh Thomas is a political activist and freelance journalist, whose interests include geopolitical affairs, environmental issues and social reform. He has been involved with organisations including Greenpeace and the Labour Party. He tweets at @joshhthomass_
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