March 2, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In an article published as the “Reporter-at-Large” feature in the current (March/April 2007) issue, pages 97-100, of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, discusses the strategic importance of the upcoming elections in Nigeria.

According to Dr. Pham, “Considering America’s strategic reliance upon Nigeria, the African country gets short shrift in Washington. The goings-on in Abuja certainly get nowhere near the attention as what happens in a number of capitals of countries much more peripheral to U.S. interests, to say nothing of what goes on Riyadh. This may change very quickly, however, if any of several forces in Nigeria succeed in destabilizing the West African giant.” The article goes on to discuss several of these threats, including ethnic and religious divisions (the latter driven by the adoption of legal codes based on Islamic law by twelve northern states), interference from non-indigenous Islamist radicals (including some with al-Qaeda links), insurgency movements targeting the hydrocarbon sector, and, not least of all, Nigeria’s politicians.

The report concludes: “This year is a critical one for both Nigeria and the United States. If President [Olusegun] Obasanjo peacefully and constitutionally hands over power to an elected successor, he will not only achieve a feat no Nigerian leader has ever managed, he will make a significant contribution to regional stability and international security, including the strategic interests of the United States. This would secure America’s access to the West African country’s important petroleum resources and show that a large Muslim country other than Turkey can make progress along Samuel Huntington’s definition of democratic consolidation (two consecutive peaceful changes of government via free elections). If, on the other hand, Nigeria falters or simply becomes unglued, it will not be long before the economic, political, and military ripples in the River Niger wash ashore on the banks of the Hudson and Potomac.”

The full text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “The Battle for Nigeria,” can be accessed online by clicking here.