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Nigeria's Battle for Stability

Author: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies
March-April 2012
National Interest

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Recent events in Nigeria, including its presidential elections last April, have produced two narratives on the current state of that oil-rich West African nation with a history of civic turmoil. The first is that events there have unfolded rather favorably since its elected president, Umaru Yar'Adua, fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional "acting president," then as a constitutional successor after Yar'Adua's death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there. One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic "terrorist group" Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria's security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.

This is the narrative of conventional wisdom embraced by many in President Barack Obama's administration and in Congress, the business community and the media.

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