"Governance, let alone democracy, faces grievous, structural challenges in Nigeria," says Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Senior Fellow and Former Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell in his new book Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink. "Popular alienation and a fragmented establishment have contributed to Nigeria becoming one of the most religious and, at the same time, one of the most violent countries in the world."
The book offers a history of Nigeria from colonialism through independence to the flawed elections in 2007, which undermined the credibility of the current government and left Nigeria's conflicts unresolved. "Ubiquitous patronage and corrupt behavior fueled by oil money is a root cause of Nigeria's political and economic sclerosis," explains Campbell. "The federal government has failed to provide basic security for its citizens and has lost its monopoly on violence, two basic attributes of a sovereign state."
Despite the challenges, Campbell argues that Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is important to the United States and the international community. He points to a history of shared interests, including efforts to promote African regional stability and conflict resolution, economic cooperation in the region's petroleum resources, and tackling public health challenges, especially HIV/AIDS and malaria.
"Though the international community would pay a steep price for Nigerian state failure and the likely humanitarian calamity," Campbell acknowledges that "it can do little except at the margins to prevent it." He argues that state failure is not inevitable, but change must come from inside Nigeria. He encourages the Obama administration to "assist those in Nigeria working to establish a democratic culture," in hope that a complete collapse of the state can be forestalled.
He calls on the United States to employ a strategy of "soft diplomacy," which includes "facilitating more exchanges and providing more grants to those actively working to create a democratic culture." He encourages U.S. support of the National Assembly, the court system, and carefully vetted state governments that are practicing good governance through targeted assistance programs.
Campbell urges the Obama administration to seek greater ties with Nigerian civil society, while warning of the possible negative political consequences if the United States is viewed as too supportive of the Abuja government. "The people of Nigeria distance themselves from government as much as they can. There is the risk that many of them will distance themselves from the United States if they perceive Washington to be an uncritical supporter of the Abuja status quo." He maintains that "the Obama administration should take into greater account what the Nigerian government is doing domestically before embracing Abuja too warmly."
A Council on Foreign Relations Book
Educators: Access Teaching Notes for Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink.