Nigeria and the Nation-State

Rethinking Diplomacy with the Postcolonial World

Former Ambassador John Campbell illustrates the history and importance of Nigeria, a country too often overlooked by the West.

Book
Foreign policy analyses written by CFR fellows and published by the trade presses, academic presses, or the Council on Foreign Relations Press.

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Nigeria matters. It is Africa’s largest economy, and it is projected to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050, but its democratic aspirations are challenged by rising insecurity. John Campbell traces the fractured colonial history and contemporary ethnic conflicts and political corruption that define Nigeria today. It was not—and never had been—a conventional nation-state. It is still not quite a nation because Nigerians are not yet united by language, religion, culture, or a common national story. It is not quite a state because the government is weak and getting weaker, beset by Islamist terrorism, insurrection, intercommunal violence, and a countrywide crime wave.

This deeply knowledgeable book is an antidote to those who would make the mistakes of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq—mistakes based on misunderstanding—in Nigeria. Up to now, such mistakes have largely been avoided, but Nigeria will soon—and Campbell argues already does—require much greater attention by the West.

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Reviews and Endorsements

Campbell (Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink), a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former ambassador to Nigeria, documents the prospects and pitfalls facing Africa’s most populous country in this well-informed and highly specialized account. Chronicling the precolonial, colonial, and postindependence periods, Campbell cogently argues that Nigeria, divided by multiple languages, ethnicities, and religions, lacks a strong national identity. . . . Packed with insider details of foreign policy–making and deep dives into Nigeria’s demographics and political history, this expert treatise will resonate with readers well versed in the subject.

Publishers Weekly

Ambassador Campbell is an experienced U.S. diplomat and longtime friend of Nigeria. This book provides candid insights into the dynamics, challenges, and pitfalls of Nigeria’s struggle to become a cohesive twenty-first-century polity and how our bilateral relations can be strengthened. I strongly recommend it to all who wish to understand one of the most consequential countries in the world.

John N. Paden, George Mason University

Nigeria, according to John Campbell, is ‘big, important, and troubled.’ Islands of authority are surrounded by seas of ungoverned spaces. At the heart of the Nigerian paradox is the persistence of a state that generates enormous benefits for elites while the population grows ever poorer. Campbell argues the need to ‘rethink Nigeria’ and calls for decentralized approaches to its multiplying travails. This timely book will be keenly read by scholars, diplomats, and the general public. They will be intrigued by an analysis applicable to many postcolonial entities in which elite predation and popular insecurity are interwoven.

Richard Joseph, Northwestern University

Nigeria is a pivotal state in Africa by virtue of its population, economic possibilities, fledgling democracy, and regional position. Yet the country has perennially struggled with political instability, economic stagnation, corruption, and internal conflict. John Campbell is among the most astute observers of Nigeria and a thoughtful voice on U.S. relations with the continent. His prescriptions in this book draw upon realistic assessments of the Nigeria prospect and the potential of American policy.

Peter Lewis, Johns Hopkins University

Drawing on his long experience, deep knowledge, and remarkable career as a diplomat, together with the rich sources of information he has gathered from scholars, public intellectuals, and activists, John Campbell provides rich insights into the social, political, and economic life of Nigeria. His perceptive analysis of the difficult terrain and multiple challenges the country has faced over its sixty years of independence make his timely book an essential resource for understanding Nigeria’s place—past and present—in the world today.

Jacob Olupona, Harvard University

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