Historically, Nigeria has been a vital partner to the United States. The western African country is 356,000 square miles–about twice the size of California–and is bordered by Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon. It became a British colony in the early 19th century and its protectorates were joined together in 1914.
After declaring independence on October 1, 1960, Nigeria experienced a civil war between 1967 and 1970. The strife resulted from part of the country being excluded from governance and services. Nigeria is currently divided into six geo-political zones: North East, North West, North Central, South East, South West, and South South. Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with the U.S were established after independence in 1960.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, with its 173.6 million people evenly divided between Christianity and Islam. According to the United Nations, its population rank is among the ten largest countries globally. By 2050 it is expected to surpass the population of the United States and become the third most populous country in the world. Nigeria is richly endowed with natural resources but most of its revenue is generated by just one resource: oil.
Nigeria’s conflict dynamics are characterized by widespread regional, ethnic and religious tensions. At times, religious stereotyping and biases have been fueled by competition for religious superiority. Disrespect for each other’s religious principles has sometimes led to desecration of places of worship, creating a pretext for religious restrictions. Instead of celebrating Nigeria’s unique rich diversity, some politicians and religious leaders have instead used it as a tool to foment conflict.
These tensions, along with poor governance and corruption, have led to a lack of trust and low citizen participation in government structures. Add to this the effects of climate change, a struggle over control of resources, economic inequality and high unemployment and Nigeria’s fragile state has frequently experienced violence. This includes violence between ethnic and religious groups and between farmers and herders.
The most well-known militia group is Boko Haram, which took on its current form in 2009 and broke into Western news when it kidnapped hundreds of teenage girls from their schools in northeast Nigeria. In November 2013, the U.S. designated Boko Haram a “foreign terrorist organization.”
Boko Haram’s actions against civilians are terrible, but the Nigerian government’s response has escalated the violence. Thousands have died as a result. Both the military and Boko Haram have been accused of gross human rights abuses including gender-based violence, torture, unlawful detainment and the recruitment of children for suicide bombings.
Fighting between Boko Haram and the military has displaced farming communities, leading to increased malnutrition and potential famine. It has also led to a health crisis in the northeastern part of the country, with restricted access to basic services, and has traumatized the civilian population, with women and children most at risk. These challenges present a considerable test to Nigeria’s century of unity and it is unclear whether elections will be held as scheduled in 2019.