from Africa in Transition

Nigeria: What Time Is It?

June 18, 2014

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This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

Luxury watch sales are rising in Africa. Ulysse Nardin opened a shop in Abuja, as Nigeria is seen as “the force today” in that market. Yet time may be moving faster than horological devices can measure.

Two years ago, Georgetown University professor John Voll told a group at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that changes are occurring that are so profound our vocabulary is failing. Democracy, protest, and gender roles are now very different from what they were in the past. And they are creating new modes of participation in the political sphere.

Recent events in Nigeria make the case. Protests in that country have become global, women play a primary role in them, democracy is more about Nigerians’ aspirations than institutional process, and many ordinary Nigerians sense that the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, is not the future.

Some observers, who still view the country’s politics through the prism of alternating sets of elites, believe that heading into a national election in 2015, elites will fail to resolve their differences and back a single candidate. This will set the stage for political uncertainty.

But it may already be too late for the elites who have run the country since the end of the civil war in 1970. The outrage over the triple-digit kidnapping of innocent school girls has helped ordinary Nigerians to emerge as a potent force for change.

Author Lola Shoneyin told Deutsche Welle last week that “people now know and are getting to understand that they have a voice.” Similarly, ordinary villagers in the northeast are battling Boko Haram themselves, since the military cannot be relied upon, and are gaining confidence as a result.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram remains resilient, manifesting an odd amalgam of twenty-first century and medieval characteristics. It is hard not to think of Uber when considering how deftly the sect moves assets around the northeast, putting together its need for transport with available providers. Nigeria ranks eighty-ninth among countries providing significant immigration to Silicon Valley. One has to wonder if high tech concepts are filtering through to the group. If Hezbollah becomes a model for them, Boko Haram may use an array of digital platforms to develop their brand.

Maybe it is later than we think.