This paper analyses the structural challenges, root causes and dynamics of conflict, instability and resilience in Nigeria. The first half of the paper explores the overall socio-economic, socio-cultural, political and environmental factors that shape conflict, instability and resilience in Nigeria. The second half of the paper explores the specific regionalised conflicts in greater detail.
The history of the modern Nigerian state has been characterised by turbulent, contentious and often violent politics. The current context is no exception. The Boko Haram conflict in the north-east is now almost a decade old, and continues to destabilise the northeast populations, to be a drain on state security forces and state finances, and to increase food insecurity (see Section 7). The “frozen conflict” in the Niger Delta continues its slow revival, destabilising the lives of the Deltan populations and prompting economic instability (see Section 8). Repeated clashes between nomadic pastoralist (transhumant) and farming communities in the north and middle belt regions have caused increasing casualties and displacements in those areas (see Section 9). The resurgence of Biafran secessionist claims has reinvigorated the ‘National question’ in popular narratives (see Section 10). And in all of these situations, the state security forces have continued to use military responses, often violating human rights, and sometimes counterproductively leading to further escalations in violence (see Sections 7-9).
While each of these conflicts has its own particular logic and context, analysis of the structural challenges, causes and dynamics driving these conflicts leads to the following crosscutting findings:
Socio-economic drivers of conflict, instability and resilience: At the heart of Nigeria’s instability is its oil-dependent political-economy which has cultivated a national and international elite embedded in a rent-seeking system of governance. The high-stakes of this exclusive political settlement have fuelled corruption, which has delegitimised the political system and increased economic inequality. Nigeria’s impressive historic macro-economic trajectory is an important source of economic resilience, and it has led to some improvements in human development. Yet distributional injustices and exclusive growth mean that inequality, poverty and lack of access to basic services continue to drive grievances across the country and continue to hold back development for the majority. Economic disparities between the north and the rest of the country are stark.
In today’s Nigeria, the economy is slowly recovering from the 2016-17 recession, which was precipitated by low oil prices, foreign exchange shortages, disruptions in oil production, power shortages, insecurity and a low capital budget execution rate (Barungi, Odhiambo & Asogwa 2017, p.2). Falling oil prices have radically undermined the financial basis of the state, which cannot recover without a rebound in oil prices. Despite Nigeria facing serious macroeconomic challenges, increased politicking in the lead up to the 2019 elections make policy reforms less likely.
Socio-cultural drivers of conflict, instability and resilience: In Nigeria’s large and heterogeneous population, overlapping ethnic, religious, regional, and sub-ethnic (communal) identities mark the fault-lines along which political claims and violent conflicts are made. The political axis of power flips along the north-south regional divide, and overlaps with ethnic and religious divisions. These fissures are rooted in the colonial system of governance and have strengthened and hardened throughout the postcolonial period. Gender and youth have also emerged as important and active identities, yet they are often superseded by ethnic identities. Gender inequality drives and is exacerbated by Nigeria’s conflicts.
Political drivers of conflict, instability and resilience: Nigeria’s diversity is frequently exploited by politicians who use chauvinistic appeals based on ethnicity, religion, and regionalism to shore up electoral support. Previous elections in 1999, 2003, and 2007 were characterised by sectional tensions and violence. While Nigerian political parties are legally required to have nationally representative memberships and are banned from making direct sectional appeals, in practice it is often assumed that electoral candidates will govern in favour of its co-ethnics and co-religionists. Indigeneity, one of the legal instruments designed to manage Nigeria’s ethnic diversity, has instead become a source of tension and conflict. Yet other innovative governance measures such as “zoning” (when the presidential candidacy alternates between a northerner and a southerner) have been successful in alleviating some of the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule. Political corruption has also been a recurrent motivation for conflict as well as a key reason for the Nigerian government’s frequently inadequate responses to violent outbreaks. Yet recent anticorruption efforts – led by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – have been moderately successful and serve as an example of institutional resilience.
In today’s Nigeria, power politics is now taking centre-stage ahead of the next general elections in February 2019. Key discussions ensue over whether current President Muhammadu Buhari will run in 2019, and whether a ‘Third Force’ is emerging in Nigeria’s two-party political system to contest the 2019 elections.
Environmental drivers of conflict, instability and resilience: Struggles over increasingly scarce land and water threaten peace and stability in many states, particularly in the north-east and north-central zones. These land and water conflicts intersect with ethnicity and indigeneity issues and have the potential to rapidly escalate. The severe food crisis in Nigeria’s northeast continues in 2018, these emergency and famine conditions are largely due to the violent northeast conflict, rather than climate change or resource scarcity. While the middle-belt conflict threatens to increase food insecurity, so far it has proven resilient. Climate change is expected to exacerbate extreme weather in Nigeria, and to negatively impact food security and livelihoods, particularly in the north and southwest. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s growing population is projected to make it the world’s third most populous country in the world by 2050.
This paper is based on a rapid literature review, and is thus illustrative of the key issues and is not comprehensive of every issue. There is a large body of literature – from policy, practitioner and academic sources – that focuses on Nigeria and the many varied issues that can be understood to drive conflict, instability and resilience in the current day. The literature particularly focuses on Boko Haram and the Niger Delta, however the findings are limited by the difficulty in accessing areas with active conflict and high levels of criminality. And data on number of deaths and causes will be subject to certain biases – e.g. deficient official crime and violence statistics.