Nigeria is in trouble. National elections scheduled for 2011 have the potential to undermine the country's current precarious stability by exacerbating its serious internal ethnic, regional and religious divisions. Since 1999, national presidential elections have adhered to an informal power sharing arrangement between the Muslim North and the Christian South, thereby avoiding regional and religious conflict. But, in 2011, there is the risk that power sharing will be abandoned, with the presidential incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Southern Christian, contesting against a Northern Muslim candidate. The fact that credible elections are unlikely may tilt the balance of power in favor of the incumbent president and open the door to protests— perhaps violent—from the losing candidates and ethnic groups. This potential crisis is germinating within the context of ongoing ethnic and religious violence in the Middle Belt and a simmering insurrection in the Delta.
Even in the best of times, governance faces challenges in Nigeria. The country is home to approximately 250 different ethnic groups, each with its own language. The three largest, the Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba and Igbo, together are less than two-thirds of all Nigerians. Estimated at 150 million, about the size of the Russian Federation's, the population is growing and urbanizing rapidly. Lagos, with a population of perhaps 17 million, is already one of the largest cities in the world. In terms of income, most Nigerians are very poor, with wealth from oil concentrated among a small number of elites. With the exception of civil aviation and cellular communication, the country's physical infrastructure is decaying.