May 3, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, discusses Nigeria’s reprieve—at least for the moment—from the crisis precipitated by the recent elections, which were widely denounced by local and international observers as “seriously flawed” and “far short of basic international and regional standards.”

According to Dr. Pham, “for now at least, it appears that Nigeria has once again teetered back from the brink. While part of this might be attributable to resignation on the part of voters, the lack of a regional edge to the contest—all three major candidates hailed from northern Nigeria, Yar’Adua and Buhari from the very same state, Katsina—might have been serendipitous. However, there is no guarantee that this will always be the case—and therein lurks the danger for Nigeria’s tomorrow.” In fact, he warns:

Ethnically, the country’s 140 million people, split roughly evenly between the north and the south, are subdivided into at least 250 ethnic groups, with the largest being the Hausa and Fulani in the north (29 percent), the Yoruba in the southwest (21 percent), and the Igbo and the Ijaw in the southeast (respectively, 18 and 10 percent). Religiously, the country is divided, roughly, between a predominantly Muslim north and a predominantly Christian south. Economically, the south’s hydrocarbon sector account for 95 percent of the Nigeria’s exports and 70 percent of the total national economy. At some point—whether it is this year, next year, or a decade from now—southern Nigerians of Yoruba, Igbo, and Ijaw extraction will be asking themselves what they gain from being in a united country with their relatively unproductive northern Hausa and Fulani neighbors with whom they share few bonds of kinship, religion, or culture, but whose demographic heft will guarantee them a certain predominance in the country’s politics. If anything, given these multiple fault lines, the identity and interests of one Nigerian are more likely to be opposed to those of another Nigerian from a different part of the country as they are to be bound together—hardly an auspicious constellation under which to build a future together. Absent the requisite conditions for fostering a deeply-rooted sense of national identity and the consequent legitimization of the political order, it may be just a matter of time before the Nigerian political establishment’s legitimacy deficit metastasizes into a mortal challenge to the very existence of that nation-state itself. And that will be one African crisis that America—and the world—will be unable to ignore.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Nigeria Teeters Back from the Brink—For Now,” click here.