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date: 04 March 2021


Abstract and Keywords

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and arguably its most important. This introduction provides a succinct overview of the volume’s organization into six thematic areas: chapters within Part I, “Locating Nigeria in African History,” explore the historical, spatial, and cultural dimensions of Nigeria’s existence, including its colonial past and its place in the Atlantic trade. In Part II, chapters covering “political institutions” analyze Nigeria’s legislative politics since independence, its experiments with different executives, as well as federalism, electoral politics, and the operational modalities of its military regimes. Several chapters within Part III explore civil society from theoretical, comparative, and historical perspectives. This includes labor, women’s movements, and protest music. Part IV explores and explains the vicissitudes of Nigeria’s economic performance, including the impact of oil and the possibilities for reforming that problematic sector. Within Part V, several chapters study the sources of insecurity, including Boko Haram, Biafra’s secessionist revival, and farmer-pastoralist tensions. Those authors also consider sources of conflict resolution and alternative tools for public safety, such as informal security services. Part VI situates Nigeria within a globalized world, outlining its foreign policies, transnational features of its religious practices, and its leadership role in international organizations.

Keywords: colonialism, nationalism, political institutions, civil society, democratization, elections, authoritarianism, political economy, oil, Boko Haram

The idea of Nigeria sprang from the imperial imagination. The name “is only an English expression which has been made to comprehend a number of natives covering about 500,000 square miles of territory of the world,” wrote the wife of its most famous British administrator (Lugard 1906, p. 7). But construction of the Nigerian nation, its resilience in the face of historical and geographical adversity, and its progress following the unexpected traumas of the post-independent era, are enduring testaments to its people and proof of its promise.

The Oxford Handbook of Nigerian Politics introduces readers to the country’s complex culture, rich history, and ever-changing politics. It highlights the tragedies and triumphs than animate national narratives, from the implications of not calling oneself “Nigerian” at all in the restless eastern states to the soaring economic optimism that punctuated the decade after the last military regime’s exit in 1999. By identifying many of the classic debates in Nigerian politics, the chapters serve as an authoritative introduction to Africa’s most populous country. By placing many of the most established scholars alongside a new generation of voices, the chapters also show the most pressing contemporary research questions in a new light, often demonstrating new techniques and data for addressing them. The purpose of this volume is therefore to offer, in broad strokes and across academic disciplines, a comprehensive analysis of the complexities, diversities, and paradoxes of Nigeria’s sociopolitical evolution to readers who are either intimately familiar with the country or entirely new to it. The introduction that follows outlines the intellectual rationales for the volume’s five sections, situating a succinct summary of each chapter within a shared thematic organization.

Locating Nigeria in African History

The opening section entitled “Locating Nigeria in African History” situates Nigeria temporally, spatially, and thematically in the study of Africa. Authors from history, (p. 2) economics, geography, and literature help place Africa’s most populous country on the continent, in a globalized world at different points of time, and within their respective fields as they relate to African studies broadly construed. In “From Borno to Sokoto: Meaning and Muslim Identities in northern Nigeria,” one of the deans of Nigerian history, Murray Last, reflects on the process of Islamization in northern Nigeria and the resistance to it. We meet the ancient political societies of the region, including the social, economic, and political lives of their peoples. Empires such as Kanem-Bornu meet at the intellectual crossroads of the Igbo who developed “radical” ideas of belonging and acephalous governing. Through Nonso Obikili’s chapter on “State Formation in Precolonial Nigeria,” different perspectives on state building thus emerge: as an indigenous process as well as one subject to ongoing environmental, demographic, and migratory shifts.

Next, readers are introduced to a globalized Nigeria through expansion and migration on the one hand, and through the slave trade, missionary contact, and colonialism on the other. In “Precolonial Christianity and Missionary Legacies,” Shobana Shankar untangles the complexities of religious expansion in a globalizing world, arguing that Christianity expanded in part to challenge authority, and thus not simply in response to proselytization by foreigners. More than merely “handmaidens of colonialism,” Christian Nigerians shaped the way missions approached their very mission. The legacy of these transformational traditions manifests itself in novel ways today through millions of Nigerians in the diaspora. Religion shaped Nigeria, and through religion, Nigeria shapes the world in ways that often go unnoticed.

In his chapter on “The Atlantic Trade and its Lasting Impact,” Wasiq Khan reviews research on the causes, effects, and character of the transatlantic slave trade. At least 15 percent of all transatlantic slave exports originated in what is today southern Nigeria. This had a “profound, though imperfectly understood, impact on Nigeria’s political and economic evolution.” Despite decades of research and new materials unearthed after the Second World War, many basic questions about the transatlantic trade and its long-term effects on Africa’s development remain subject to debate. For example, recent research offers evidence that the slave trade undermined long-term economic development (Nunn 2008). But at a subnational level, this quickly breaks down in Nigeria, where the regions that suffered from slave extraction today include many of the better off ethnic groups. Other questions similarly continue to animate economic historical analysis. How large was the transatlantic trade? How efficient and productive was slave labor relative to free labor? What impact did the trade have on the Industrial Revolution in England? Why did Africa, as opposed to many other potential source regions, become the New World’s primary provider of slave labor?

One type of crime against humanity was soon replaced by another with colonialism’s onset. The operational modalities of colonialism are explained and bluntly critiqued in a chapter by Toyin Falola and Matthew Heaton. They situate the strategy of “indirect rule,” whereby British colonial officers ruled clumsily and—more often than is typically acknowledged—violently. Nigeria has a central place in the broader project of European imperialism, and in the gruesome transatlantic trade that preceded the era (p. 3) of “high colonialism.” Three chapters then explore different but complementary aspects of European imperialism’s great undoing: (1) nationalists from Nnamadi Azikiwe in the east, Ahmadu Bello in the north, and Obafemi Awolowo in the west, articulated an alternative political and social vision of the future; (2) these great men of the era, often stood on the shoulders of women’s mass mobilization but then marginalized women once this future was realized with independence; and (3) an emergent literary tradition decolonized the canon and provided the ingredients for the cultural consciousness of nation building while grappling with the pain of memory and the hardships of transition. Rotimi Ajayi takes on the first task, describing how anticolonialists not only had to push Britain out, they had to generate new attachments to a nation divided by religion, language, and difficult geography. His chapter also analyzes the continental influences of pan-Africanism from Kwame Nkrumah and other great voices of the postcolonial project. Chichi Nwankwor in her chapter argues that women’s voices were drowned out in the transition to independence. This contributed to a historical neglect of the role of women’s associations and social movements in anticolonial resistance. Such rebellions went beyond well-known outbursts such as the Aba Tax Revolt, and provided a broader mobilizational basis for advancing the nationalist agenda. After achieving political independence from Britain, women were confronted with a difficult new struggle, involving a new ruling class that instrumentalized their oppression in order to maintain power. Women’s frustrations as well as the new-found possibilities for the postcolonial generation’s future, found expression through fictional constructions. Chinua Achebe and a new generation of creative forces reshaped how the world understood the meaning and legacies of colonialism, and their imaginaries left indelible imprints on the national construction of Nigeria’s self-image in the post-independence era. Cajetan Iheka in “The Nigerian Novel in the Anti-Colonial Imagination” argues that Achebe’s Arrow of God “foregrounds the epistemic violence of the colonial edifice and the patriarchy of the indigenous communities.” But it was Flora Nwapa’s Efuru that rewrote the anticolonial text by linking women’s condition to the infrastructure and the scripts of the colonial enterprise.

Finally, Michael Watts, the leading scholar on the political geography of Nigeria, explores the country as a physical place where the environment has shaped its past and is challenging its future. In “Environmental Change in Nigeria: Ecological Stress and Political Structure,” he explores the relations among ecology, environmental governance, and political economy. Deforestation offers one compelling example of the political economy of Nigeria’s ecological challenges. The chapter then historicizes such environmental problems, showing how an appreciation of the intersectionalities of nature, culture, and politics can help identify critical junctures in a “narrative of secular environmental decline.” Setting the stage for the two chapters later in the volume that focus on oil, Watts also explores the heterogeneity of state capability in Nigeria; the rise of the petro-state has impacted governance disastrously but also unevenly. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the oil-producing Niger Delta and Boko Haram in the drought-prone northeast dramatize the complex and calamitous political ecology of contemporary Nigeria. These insurgencies highlight how (p. 4) access to resources and control over the environment are at the crux of violent politics and governance failures.

Political Institutions

The second section of the book, on political institutions, begins with the First Republic, the government inaugurated at independence. The chapters situate modern Nigeria’s political regimes within a broader understanding of postcolonial Africa, explaining the rationales for popular democratic disappointments, causes of the country’s numerous coups, the political economy of authoritarianism, and the promise of lasting institutional reform. The successful 1998/9 transition ended a long string of dictators who grappled with structural adjustment, clamped down on political freedom, and seemed to destroy hope for accountable governance and sustainable development. With the historic defeat of an incumbent political party in 2015, has Nigeria finally buried its authoritarian atavisms? Why have the institutions of the Fourth Republic proved resilient, and what have been the popular and elite levers for promoting reforms? How have social transformation and structural shifts in the economy shaped institutional performance?

The contributors offer probing answers to these questions from historical, constitutional, and comparative perspectives, placing Nigeria at the center of a new narrative of African political institutions. Nigeria was a paradigmatic case of military rule that was a defining element of politics in the developing countries between the 1960s and early 1990s, and Eghosa Osaghae’s chapter opening the section on political institutions explains how the long arm of dictatorship soon replaced (or exposed) the long shadow of colonialism. Institutional questions were at the heart of these setbacks. “Politically,” wrote one of the planners of the 1966 coup that toppled the First Republic, “we believed that our immediate step would be to correct the worst anomaly of the 1957 constitution, by breaking down the country into smaller units or states” (Ademoyega 1981, p. 33). Yet rather than deepening federalism and enhancing state capacity, military rule centralized power and increased state fragility, which provided ostensible grounds for more coups and self-appointed corrective agendas of successive military governments. The partisan character of coups and governments, as well as the narrow political ambitions of military rulers, inhibited any potential developmental or nation-building benefits of dictatorship. As detailed by Olufunbi Elemo’s chapter, lasting effects of Nigeria’s two long stretches of authoritarianism—from 1966 to 1979 and from 1983 to 1999—include an impulse to create new subnational units in response to demands for representation, and an infrastructure for patronage facilitated by the fiscal federalism of oil rents.

Olufemi Vaughn’s chapter analyzes the stubborn question of Islam in Nigeria’s numerous constitutional reform exercises since independence. The Fourth Republic has faced an especially stark challenge to constitutional compromises for secular political authority after twelve northern state legislatures passed sharia law only months after the 1999 transition. “Northern Muslim political leaders effectively mobilized the masses of (p. 5) local people under the political-religious platform of expanded sharia that defined the essence of the Northern Ummah,” referring to the community of believers. In effect, support for sharia helped fill the vacuum left by neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s. “A new generation of Northern Muslim elite thus provided an alternative vision for the governance of emirate society.”

Joseph Olayinka Fashagba’s chapter dissects legislative politics in the First (1960–6) and Second (1979–83) Republics, the two attempts at democracy that preceded each of these long stretches of dictatorship. The “euphoria” that accompanied independence gave way to elite rivalry and interethnic tensions that a weak party system was unable to manage or moderate. A constitutional reform process from 1976 and 1979 placed hopes in a switch from a parliamentary system with a figurehead president to a model emulating American presidentialism and federalism. “The main argument of the Constitution Drafting Committee against ceremonial presidency and in favour of executive presidency was that the former involved division between real authority and formal authority,” writes Ojo, “while the latter concentrated all the powers in one person thereby making for effective government” (Ojo 1987, p. 153). Barely four years later, that institutional experiment also collapsed. Since both models of executive selection failed, Fashagba hints at the limits of institutional analysis for understanding the contentious politics that led to Nigeria’s deep democratic failures. Rotimi Suberu’s chapter also focuses on legislative politics, and in shifting our attention to the National Assembly since the 1999 transition, he highlights an ongoing paradox of institutional performance: in contrast to the assemblies analyzed by Fashagba, the National Assembly in the Fourth Republic has amended the constitution, passed significant electoral reforms, reined in the executive, and mediated interethnic tensions. However, the Assembly has also been a hothouse for corruption and waste, with its members neglecting oversight, representation, and constituency engagement. Drawing upon the “prebendal” model of politics popularized by Richard Joseph (1987), Suberu concludes that “the pervasive and entrenched nature of prebendal structures are likely to make legislative ambivalence a long-term feature of Nigerian governance and politics.”

In “Executive Dominance and Hyper-Presidentialism,” Yahaya Baba considers the nature of executive power across Nigeria’s three democratic regimes, pinpointing the roots of modern presidential excesses in the “command system” of military governments. Such models seemed helpful for promoting national integration and economic development, but the “subordination” of the legislature and the judiciary, often through informal mechanisms, has profoundly undermined democracy. Next, Max Siollun specifies how civil–military relations continue to suffer in post-transition Nigeria, with grave consequences for human rights, rule of law, and effective military action in the face of threats such as Boko Haram and corruption prosecutions.

Daniel Jordan Smith, author of the classic work, A Culture of Corruption (Smith 2007), assesses the record of such prosecutions. In particular, he analyzes the causes of “progress and setbacks in anticorruption efforts,” focusing on the period since 1999. President Olusegun Obasanjo, who served two terms until 2007, seemed to break from historical patterns of ineffective or even “disingenuous” efforts by the government to fight (p. 6) corruption. Nuhu Ribadu, the chairman of the newly formed Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) came to symbolize these renewed hopes, but a detailed analysis of institutional performance then exposes the deep disappointments. Patrick Ukata’s chapter entitled “The Judiciary in Nigeria Since 1999” similarly examines how the Nigerian judiciary has increasingly been called upon to play a more critical role in interpreting the constitution, ensuring the enforcement of the rule of law, and the protection of civil liberties since 1999. Ukata contends that, even while confronting “serious problems of its own, including corruption amongst some of its judges,” the judiciary has remarkably been able to play an important role in resolving a number of significant disputes having to do with federalism in Nigeria’s unfolding democratic experience.

Three remaining chapters in the section explore the origins and assess the performance of elections and parties as core democratic institutions. Many British colonies had less experience with elections compared to French colonies (Widner 1994), and Nwachukwu Orji traces Nigeria’s flawed electoral record to its colonial history. His analysis of elections leads him to the conclusion that most electoral processes in Nigeria have been unstable, a problem he attributes as being largely due to “the nature of the issues involved, the amount of power at stake, links between electoral struggle and communal tensions, lack of trust in election management bodies, and failure of law enforcement and impunity for electoral offences.” He also outlines various electoral reform efforts over time. Carl LeVan and Abiodun Ajijola also examine electoral reform, but concentrate their attention on the Electoral Act passed in 2010. If the 2011 presidential contest set a new standard for electoral integrity (relative to previous experiences and certainly in comparison to the disaster of 2007), it also set the stage for the 2015 defeat of the ruling party. LeVan and Ajijola ask why important reforms pertaining to party primaries, transparency of results, and autonomy of electoral administration passed. They point to a coalition for democratic reform that emerged during presidential leadership crises in 2006 and 2010, which linked liberals in the National Assembly with emergent civil society voices for electoral accountability. These reforms set the stage for the defeat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015. Furthermore, a chapter on the history of the PDP concludes the section on political institutions. Adigun Agbaje, Adeolu Akande, and Jide Ojo trace the PDP from its origins at the dawn of the transition in 1998 to its unprecedented status as opposition party in 2015. They argue that when the decline in the party’s vision, structure, coherence, performance, and reputation aligned with the consolidation of opposition parties under the banner of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the PDP met its match. Rigging democratic institutions for undemocratic rule means planting the seeds of your own electoral destruction.

Civil Society

The third set of chapters in the volume on civil society are premised on empirical particularities and theoretical richness. For example, Nigerians exercise some of the (p. 7) highest rates of religious participation on the continent, alongside intense attachment to ethnicities. What is the best way to understand these varied sources of community? Nigeria’s voluntary associations have alternately driven democratic reform or collaborated in authoritarian penetrations of civic life. Civil society organizations have slipped into militancy, just as “hometown associations” have militantly avoided political life and devoted themselves to local development (LeVan 2011). Market associations generate powerful repertoires of belonging and, according to a classic study of the First Republic, contributed to social mobilization ever since at least the decades of decolonization. And just as the volume’s early chapters include literature in Nigeria’s historical and intellectual place, music as a cultural force for politicization, passion, and protest cannot be denied.

Darren Kew, the author of a massive new study of civil society (Kew 2016), and Chris Kwaja, provide us with a framework for grappling with this expansive view of civil society by organizing a modern history around several themes. First, grassroots associations experienced an awakening, politicization, and the expansion of transnational linkages during the years of dictatorship and structural adjustment. Many pro-democracy groups had to “retool” after the transition to democracy, and some of the leading human rights organizations disappeared entirely even though state violence continued unabated. A second theme considers new forms of participation, such as social media, and revitalized interest in issues such as women’s rights and electoral reform. Cultural bonds transcending urban/rural, formal/informal, and state/society constitute a third theme. “These varieties of associational life generate intricate practices of belonging and participation that often defy conventional conceptual understandings of a civil society autonomous from the state,” conclude Kew and Kwaja. More importantly, civil society remains susceptible to “predatory political elites” without improvements on internal democracy and more independent funding.

In his chapter analyzing Nigeria’s “labor regimes,” Jon Kraus captures how unions faced this dilemma between political autonomy and economic self-sufficiency. The government and the private sector alike faced nearly continuous challenges from trade unions starting in the late 1970s, as he documents with new data on general strikes and strike threats. Meanwhile, the military regimes faced their own set of dilemmas. For example the labor regime implemented by the Obasanjo government in 1978 unintentionally expanded union membership and capabilities. Union agitation typically enjoys popular support, as evidenced by widespread participation in strikes against the removal of fuel subsidies during the Fourth Republic. Kraus concludes that despite market liberalization and the repeal of statist laws supporting labor, “unions retain significant leverage.” Music has generated powerful and uncompromising cultural tropes for workers, students, and human rights activists in Nigeria’s civil society struggles. Fela Anikulapo Kuti referred to soldiers as “zombies,” sang about foreign corporate corruption in “I.T.T.,” and refused the cease and desist even after the military raided his home and threw his mother out a window. But Garhe Osiebe in his chapter shows how Fela’s legend obscures equally important musical outlets for protest between independence and the inauguration of the Fourth Republic. In addition to Fela’s well-known (p. 8) Afrobeat, reggae and Highlife should be included on Nigeria’s playlist of political resistance. Musicians took dilemmas of political participation by the horns, disregarding any expectations of compromise or concession to state power.

Rita Kiki Edozie pivots from her earlier work on the role of civil society agitation in Nigeria’s democratization (Edozie 2002) to challenge and provoke Western notions of democracy in the comparative politics of democratization. In particular, she identifies three distinct “non-Western” democratic features which she argues have helped Nigeria to deal with some of its sociopolitical and sociocultural challenges. These mechanisms are, namely, the rotation of eligibility for the presidency, quotas implemented through the “federal character” principle, and electoral law requiring the winner of the presidential election to obtain a geographical distribution of support. She concedes that even these democratic mechanisms have not prevented Nigeria from having to deal with “sustained conflict, violence, and division.” We also would probe her on the extent to which Nigeria’s democratic model (or any other country’s) is truly non-Western, given the robust experimentation around the world in the institutional features she studies.

Cheryl O’Brien, in her chapter entitled “Women’s Contemporary Struggles for Rights and Representation,” suggests that, contrary to the popular expectation “that democratic transitions lead to improvements in women’s rights based on citizens’ access to democratic policy processes, meaningful policy changes to improve Nigerian women’s daily lives and representation have not been forthcoming or adequate.” She attributes this lack of significant improvement in women’s rights to an unfavorable interpretation of Nigeria’s “federal principle” which has enabled ethno-religious claims to trump gender and women’s rights claims “despite a new constitution that prohibits discrimination based on sex.”

After several decades of excessive human rights abuses by successive military regimes, the transition to democracy in 1999 brought with it a renewed optimism and expectation that Nigerians were going to witness a restoration and protection of human rights. However, in “Human Rights in Nigeria since Obasanjo’s Second Coming,” Idayat Hassan argues that, regrettably, human rights violations remain very prevalent, particularly among the security agencies. According to Hassan, what is even more worrisome is the fact that “the justice sector has not effectively addressed the issue largely due to disregard of lawful processes and orders by the Nigerian state and its machinery.”

Economic and Social Sectors: Policies and Peoples

Few countries characterize the pitfalls of plenty as well as Nigeria. From the oil boom in the 1970s that ushered in a currency collapse and exploded its infrastructure of corruption, to the mountains of debt accumulated in the 1980s and again in the 2010s, Nigeria (p. 9) seems to exemplify economic challenges such as “Dutch disease” and the “resource curse.” Its attempts to avoid the hazards of a monocultural economy through planning commissions, currency controls, and import substitution are also typical of postcolonial models of state-led development. At a conference in 2017, former President Obasanjo commented that independence-era leaders often prioritized development over the politics of unity (Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation 2017). This had grave consequences for political stability and inclusive, sustainable development. The chapters in this section introduce readers to broad economic and social trends, with a view of the policymaking process as well as grassroots efforts that compensate for governance failures or, increasingly, attempt to shape government strategies. This includes an integrated study of oil’s role in macroeconomic and fiscal performance alongside its complex relationship with human capital investment.

Oliver Owen’s closing chapter on “Revenue and Representation,” argues that taxes and revenue are important not only for identifying incentives for predation or opportunities for economic development, they also inform the way ordinary people understand governance. He traces revenue and representation from colonialism, through agricultural boom and bust, and to the modern petrostate that prefaced the emergence of the Fourth Republic. As federal, state, and local governments search for new sources of revenue to insure against oil price shocks, they end up “provoking new negotiations of the social contracts between government and citizens.” The chapter offers an implicit transition from the previous section, because he effectively provides an analysis of the structural conditions influencing the call to collective organizing.

Next, in “Fiscal Policy during Boom and Bust,” Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and his co-author Nonso Obikili, examine fiscal policy since independence. They document the rise of oil as a revenue source, the consequences of price fluctuations, and the limited success of fiscal strategies designed to mitigate the risks of such shocks. To avoid future fiscal crises, they recommend a price rule that limits the effects of volatility, and more systematic efforts to diversify the sources of government revenue in order to increase resilience against economic downturns. Oil helped grow the Nigerian economy to the largest in Africa in 2014. The Economist magazine noted that a statistical recalibration added 89 percent to its GDP, exceeding South Africa’s net worth. The editorial added that “the GDP revision is not mere trickery” though since key economic growth sectors had been undervalued (“Africa’s New Number One” 2014). To be sure, a new generation of entrepreneurs now command indigenous capital and market to a large middle class. But reinforcing the hazards of cyclical growth that Moghalu and Obikili caution against, Nigeria had already lost its standing as the biggest economy by 2016.

Two chapters focus on oil specifically. Turning from fiscal policy to political economy, Peter Lewis explains how oil has distorted policy, reinforcing faith in elaborate government planning commissions, and amplifying unreasonable popular expectations. Top-down investment often enables spectacular corruption in a country rife with poverty. For example, a widely circulated government study found that poverty actually increased during the peak years of the oil boom under Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and (p. 10) Goodluck Jonathan (National Bureau of Statistics 2012). Other obstacles include high business start-up costs due to irregular power supply, poor infrastructure, and stiff competition from foreign imports. Recent government bans on imports have stimulated a flourishing black market for certain popular commodities; textile industries once thriving in the north’s commercial hub of Kano lie dormant today. Zainab Usman’s chapter then examines the “resource curse” thesis with a critical eye, suggesting that it leads to “commodity determinism.” The task for the oil sector since 1999, she claims, is viewing it with a holistic political economy approach that identifies underlying bottlenecks to sectoral reform. According to her, a “political settlements” framework shows how horizontal-elite, vertical-societal, and external constraints on ruling elites generate suboptimal policy choices for the oil industry in Nigeria.

The intersection of domestic innovation and constructive donor engagement has helped make possible progress in key sectors, including health, education, and telecommunications. Olusoji Adeyi, Ayodeji Odutolu, and Phyllis Kanki show how donors, policymakers, civil society, and health professionals worked together to arrest the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Nigeria and to intercept Ebola before it spread. According to them, further “progress in Nigeria’s response to HIV/AIDS requires improvements in the effective coverage of services along the spectrum of prevention, treatment, care, and support for those infected.”

Identity and Insecurity

The next series of chapters, focusing on “identity and insecurity,” explore the polity’s major fault lines as well as the institutional and social sources of conflict resolution. These are issues of pressing importance and likely to challenge Nigeria well in to the future. The southeast gave rise to one of Africa’s bloodiest wars of secession in 1967, and today the northeast is home to one of the most violent terrorist groups in the world: Boko Haram. The nationalist Obafemi Awolowo famously described Nigeria as a “mere geographical expression” (Awolowo 1966). So what makes such a fragile colonial construction continue to cohere, especially in the face of such violent and persistent agitation? The authors historicize this question, placing contemporary unrest and extremism in its historical, social, and global contexts. Chapters examine the origins of armed rebellion in the oil-producing Niger Delta, the violent extremism of Boko Haram, recurring tensions in the “Middle Belt” states linked to migration and discriminatory land laws, and farmer–pastoralist tensions, which are traced to environmental stress and struggling agrarian lifestyles. Migration today includes both ongoing urban–rural shifts alongside significant displacement from communal conflict, natural disasters, and terrorism. By mid-2017, the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe had at least 1.6 million Internally Displaced Persons, according to the International Organization for Migration while 8.5 million people there urgently required humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations (U.S. Agency for International Development 2017). The (p. 11) analyses highlight the complex causes of conflict alongside avenues to potentially enduring resolutions.

Abimbola Adesoji kicks off three chapters focusing on northern Nigeria with his analysis of the origin, ideas, and impacts of different Islamic movements. Drawing upon the social movements literature, he contrasts those with local roots and those with deep global connections. Doctrinal teachings, cross-border movement, and desire for external religious affiliations have all influenced the growth and impact of these Islamic movements. He argues that the social and political space available to earlier movements shapes the likelihood of latter movements drifting toward extremism. The legacies of unrest and fundamentalism are inescapable. Boko Haram could easily fit this description, but Kyari Mohammed cautions against oversimplifying its origins and its path to terrorism. In his chapter, he states there is no question that it has “metamorphosed from a local insurgency to a highly sophisticated fighting force capable of challenging the Nigerian military.” Boko Haram was responsible for at least 16,488 lives lost between May 2011 and September 2017 (at least another 7,151 deaths during the same period can be attributed to government security forces) attracting the world’s attention (Council on Foreign Relations 2017). Despite this attention though, Mohammed explains how Boko Haram’s local dynamics, unorthodox beliefs, and resilience are not well understood. Starting from its beginnings in 2002, he shows how Boko Haram has adapted its tactics and strategies in the face of a hostile local community, a brutal Nigerian military, and regional allies determined to defeat terrorism. Virginia Comolli, author of one of the first book-length studies of Boko Haram (Comolli 2015), elaborates on this intersection of indigeneity and internationalism. As the insurgency escalated under the Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations, the government often sought to portray Boko Haram as the product of global jihadism or driven by unholy alliance with al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). However, Comolli shows that “opportunism and the pursuit of its domestic agenda had been at the core of Boko Haram’s interaction with AQIM first and the pledge of allegiance to ISIS later.”

In “The Nigerian Civil War and the Biafran Secessionist Revival,” Obi Nwakanma writes that the way in which the civil war was fought, and the “manner by which it was concluded merely papered over the profound fissures of the nation, and left unresolved the issues that led to war in the first place, which continue to haunt Nigeria as a postcolonial nation.” He further argues that the origins of the new Biafran revivalist movement can be traced back to many of these unresolved issues. Whereas Zainab Usman’s earlier chapter describes the political economy of oil, the next chapter by Omolade Adunbi gives us a highly original ethnography of rebellion in the Niger Delta, the oil-producing region that generates up to 95 percent of the country’s export earnings. Adunbi argues that multinational corporations collaborate with the state to centralize control over oil resources, generating claims that clash with local community histories and mythologies. In response to marginalization and environmental devastation in the oil-producing communities, Niger Deltans adapt and assert communal control of land and resources. The first defining moment of political claim-making came with an uprising led by Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro in the 1960s, shortly after oil exports took off. The political organizing (p. 12) by Ken Saro-Wiwa on behalf of the Ogoni people, whose hanging by Sani Abacha’s junta in 1995 horrified the world, marked a second moment. The third moment is under way, with armed insurgency and community invocation of an iconic past. These political moments arose in practices that privilege the state and multinational corporations over local communities. Building on his earlier research on insurgency (Adunbi 2015), Adunbi says this privileging aids a form of political claim-making that is embedded in notions of ownership centered on communal landholding and ancestral promise of wealth. The rise of newer rebel groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers highlights the weaknesses of a government amnesty program and various other top-down efforts that ignore these deeply embedded communal narratives.

‘Kemi Okenyodo’s chapter looks at the evolution of informal security actors, their scope of operations, and how they are changing the face of security architecture. With the rise of Boko Haram, criminal organizations hybridizing with some Niger Delta rebels, and other security challenges, she points to an expanding space of operations, largely in response to the ineffectiveness of—and deep mistrust in—the police and the military. Donors and state actors often underestimate the subtle cultural roots that legitimate “vigilantes” and collective community responses to insecurity. Yet the formal and informal security actors often develop a syncretic relationship. Security sector reform, the creation of state police, and several other possibilities are explored as potential avenues for reform and harmonization.

Victor Adefemi Isumonah’s chapter, “Land, Citizenship, and the Laws of Disenfranchisement,” explores how the concept of indigeneity amplifies the status of culture in citizenship determination. As a result, cultural nationalism retains independence and supremacy over political economy in determining citizenship. Citizenship is, on the one hand, cast as ethnic justice based on the equation of individual rights with group rights, and as a social justice claim in a distributive system in which the individual is the principal unit. The power of culture in citizenship determination finds expression in partial and inclusive concepts of indigeneity: the partial concept disenfranchises on a small scale in local and smaller constituencies, while the inclusive concept disenfranchises on a bigger scale by denying several groups access to presidential office, effectively watering down Nigeria’s constitutional status as a republic.

Perhaps in no region of the country has indigeneity caused as many problems as in the Middle Belt, the subject of Laura Thaut Vinson’s chapter. She explores how clashes between pastoralists and farmers, ethnic violence that sometimes overlaps with religious affiliations, and communal tensions create a complex cocktail of intergroup relations in these pluralistic states bordering the north. As explained in her groundbreaking book on local power-sharing in the region (Vinson 2017), the federal government, states, and local governments and communities have experimented with innovative conflict resolution strategies. However, each tier of government faces barriers to addressing the root causes of conflict. In practice, this means that numerous actors politically benefit from the conflict, or face few incentives for constructive conflict resolution and peace-building. She concludes that creating a more peaceful Middle Belt requires careful (p. 13) attention to patterns of inclusion and exclusion as well as the allocation of rights and resources at both the state and local government levels.

Nigeria in the World

The volume’s concluding chapters argue across disciplines for Nigeria’s indispensable influence in Africa and its expanding interactions with the wider world. Religious linkages, foreign policy leadership, diasporic nationalism, economic growth, and philosophical adaptation all constitute its global character. Authors examine the complexities of its status in global traditions of Islam and Christianity, as well as its developmental partnership of convenience with Chinese capital. The opening chapter, by Oliver Coates, analyzes the decades following the amalgamation of the north and south in 1914, which entailed the rapid expansion of contacts between Nigerians and a globalizing world. This includes the impact of the global depression of the 1930s on Nigeria, the domestic slump during the two World Wars, and drivers of anticolonial nationalism after 1945. This chapter demonstrates the broader social and political effects of the connections that Nigerians established through overseas travel in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and elsewhere in Africa. These international links provided a vital conduit for new ideas, languages, and relationships that shaped nationalism, economic entrepreneurship, and religious scholarship. Coates shows how a new generation was influenced by African-American intellectuals in the United States, politicized diaspora communities in the United Kingdom, the experience of the hajj, and new-found labor power. Nationalist elites, for example, carefully cultivated alliances with a growing trade union movement, galvanized by a general strike in 1945.

A focus on international organizations highlights Nigeria’s critical leadership in peacekeeping and with the African Union, historical leadership against apartheid, as well as its ongoing significance in the British Commonwealth. In their chapter on the subject, Elizabeth Donnelly and Daragh Neville examine the trajectory of Nigeria’s engagement with the Commonwealth since independence. They trace how domestic politics, foreign policy priorities, and shifting international politics have shaped Nigeria’s influence through the Commonwealth, and how the Commonwealth in turn has influenced Nigeria. Some of the domestic trials had little-noticed, unintentional effects. For example, the Civil War deepened Nigeria’s Commonwealth ties. “The huge increase in the size and capabilities of its armed forces, its newly battle-hardened troops and the country’s new-found oil wealth meant that the emboldened federal government was well placed to cement its status as agitator-in-chief at the Commonwealth for the political emancipation in southern Africa.” Subsequent dictatorships and other challenges at home have prevented it from playing a consistently influential role in the Commonwealth, and it faces increasing competition from other African regional powers. Nevertheless, Nigeria is unquestionably important in the Commonwealth, (p. 14) especially since its return to civilian rule in 1999, which aligned it with Commonwealth principles.

In his chapter entitled “Faith, Fame, and Fortune: Varieties of Nigerian Worship in Global Christianity,” Asonzeh Ukah chronicles the journey of Christianity in Nigeria, including the variety of worship styles and communities, and he concludes that the most socially visible of all the Christian faiths in Nigeria are unarguably the Pentecostal–Charismatic formations. According to Ukah, some of the distinguishing characteristics of the Pentecostal–Charismatic movements include an emphasis “on the power of the Holy Spirit to produce a new, empowered person mandated to live victoriously, vibrant and emotionally charged worship style, new desire to dominate, and the appropriation of scriptural texts to produce miracles and material well-being.” He goes on to say that some of these unique features have enabled the Pentecostal churches to “preach prosperity doctrines, exhibit wealth, and also engage in commercial practices that blur the boundary between worship organizations and commercial corporations.”

Next, in “The Pathology of Dependency: Sino–Nigeria Relations as a Case Study,” Ian Taylor explains Nigeria’s relationship with China, arguing that the relationship has been progressively accelerating since 2000, and that this coincides with China’s emergence as a global power. According to Taylor, the “structural nature of Nigeria’s dependent relations with China is becoming ever more apparent; Nigeria’s trade profile with China is characterized by a lopsided dependence on the export of raw materials, and the import of manufactured goods.”

In conclusion, the attempt to foster a much deeper understanding of Nigeria’s sociopolitical evolution and experience is at the heart of this undertaking. And in this regard, we hope that readers will find the chapters that follow illuminating, stimulating, and provocative in ways that deepen the reader’s understanding of Africa’s most important country. While we were unable to cover the evolution of donor engagement over the last two decades, industrial innovation in the north, and the transformation of Nigerian media with the explosion of social media, we hope the reader will forgive us for our sins of omission. That said, we do sincerely hope that readers will enjoy the entire gamut of issues that we have covered in this volume.


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