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Nigeria's Challenge

Authors: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, and Asch Harwood, Research Associate, Africa Studies
June 24, 2011
TheAtlantic.com

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On May 29, 2011, as newly elected Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan took the oath of office, Boko Haram, a shadowy Islamic terrorist group opposed to Nigeria's secular government, detonated three bombs at an army barracks in Bauchi state, killing at least 14 people. Two weeks later, the first suicide bombing in Nigeria's history killed five people just outside the Nigeria Police Headquarters in the national capital, Abuja.

These attacks highlight the challenges that Jonathan's government faces if it is to improve governance, reduce conflict, and promote economic development, all despite Nigeria's extreme inequality, a youth bulge, crumbling infrastructure, and high unemployment. His biggest hurdle will not be the Boko Haram, who in many ways are symptoms of Nigeria's problems, but the entrenched interests that have run Nigeria since the end of the civil war in 1970.

Though Nigeria's elections were largely orderly and peaceful, the violence that came after has left the country polarized between its predominately Christian South, most of which voted for Jonathan, and the 12 mostly Muslim northern states that supported the losing candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, also a Muslim from the North. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 800 people were killed and 65,000 displaced during the days of violence following the elections.

When the presidential results first started to leak, pro-Buhari protestors in most northern cities attacked supporters and officials of Jonathan's ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP). Some protesters even targeted the traditional Muslim leadership -- the Sultan of Sokoto, the Emir of Kano and the Emir of Zaria -- who were widely perceived as being on the PDP payroll.

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