John Campbell discusses his new book, Nigeria and the Nation-State. Nigeria is Africa's largest economy and is projected to be the third most populous country in the world by 2050, yet its democratic aspirations are challenged by rising insecurity. Nigeria and the Nation-State is an antidote to the mistakes of the past and a way for the West to pay the necessary attention to Nigeria now.
The CFR Fellows’ Book Launch series highlights new books by CFR fellows.
HAASS: Well, thank you and good afternoon to one and all. Let me get my screen going. Here we are. Ambassador Campbell, good to see you, sir.
CAMPBELL: Good to see you, sir.
HAASS: So Ambassador Campbell, John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Africa policy studies. For over three decades, a Foreign Service officer.
HAASS: I'll let you answer how many of those years or decades you would have been a distinguished Foreign Service officer. At what point one just added the adjective. John served in several cushy posts in Europe, but also served in Pretoria and served in Nigeria twice, once as political counselor, and then in his final tour in the Foreign Service, I believe from 2004 to 2007 during the presidency of George W. Bush, John was the American representative, chief of mission, ambassador in Nigeria.
And we're here not just to celebrate and remark on all that, but he's also most recently an author yet again, in this case, a book titled Nigeria. Let's see if I can get it up here straight. Nigeria and the Nation-State. And the subtitle is Rethinking Diplomacy with the Post-Colonial World.
So what Ambassador Campbell and I are going to do is talk for a few minutes about the book and some of the issues the book raises, and then we'll open it up to you, our members and guests, to throw some other questions at John.
Let me just also say that two other things about John. One is, he really is one of the leading Africa hands in the United States. He's, in that sense, a real national treasure. He's also a wonderful colleague. And I and we have really been fortunate to have him in our midst for as long as we have had him.
And I, for one, have learned a lot in listening to him and in reading, not just this book. One of the things that comes with my job is the opportunity to read books— every book at least once, sometimes twice, on a few occasions more than that, but we won't mention the authors. And John is not one of them. And, but also about South Africa, and other subjects.
So John, I want to unpack the title, because in some ways, I think this is two books. And I mean that as a compliment. Or just as an observation. It's called Nigeria and the Nation-State. And I think in that is— what I mean is two things. One is this is a book about Nigeria, and all that one— and one of the most important countries, not just in Africa, but beyond. And we'll talk about that. It's a country that will become more important as time goes on. But also, when you call the book, Nigeria and the Nation-State, this is also a book about nation-states and nation-states is to some extent a synonym for country, to some extent a synonym for state. But also, it's more than that. So I want to delve into that in a few minutes.
But uh, I want to begin with Nigeria. I want to begin with the specific then I want to move to the larger. And I'm going to quote from the author of this book, Ambassador Campbell; 'Nigeria matters to the United States and to the world. With it's already huge and rapidly growing population, estimated to become the third largest in the world by the end of this century, it is only going to become more not less important.'
So let's talk about Nigeria and its importance. For those of us who are not Africanists, for those of us who are not specialists in Nigeria, why should we care about Nigeria?
CAMPBELL: There are really five reasons.
The first, you've already referred to and that is demography. Nigeria is already two hundred five million people. There are credible estimates that by mid-century, it will be in the four hundred millions and will have displaced the United States as the third largest country in the world by population. I would note that at present, with two hundred five million people, the country cannot feed itself. It has to employ to import food. The question is, how will it be able to feed itself mid-century? So, demography.
HAASS: Can I just interrupt for thirty seconds? The fact that a country of two hundred million people cannot feed itself? My guess is, you can say if I'm right or wrong, is that that is not linked to the— how would I put it? It's physical endowment, the land, the rain, the sun. But that has to do more with policy and what the leaders of Nigeria have done with that physical endowment.
CAMPBELL: That is exactly right. In the late colonial and early post-independence period, Nigeria was a major food exporter and was regarded as the breadbasket of West Africa. So we start with democracy.
CAMPBELL: Demography, I'm sorry.
But then, I think, we also need to think about disease, particularly with the erosion of the environment. Because of population pressure, the likelihood of new diseases jumping from animals to humans increases. And, of course, we have seen two cases of it. HIV/AIDS, which made the jump in the Congo, and Ebola, which made the jump a little bit further west, in West Africa. I think there's no reason to think that that process has ended.
There's the economy. Depending on how you measure the economy, Nigeria's is the first or second largest in Africa. But that is also highly artificial. The size of Nigeria's economy is basically determined by international oil prices. And it's not, in other words, a real economy in the way, say, South Africa is. Nevertheless, with now more than two hundred million people and with the potential for many, many more, clearly, there are investment opportunities, there are business opportunities there. There is room for the economic relationship to grow.
Then there are security questions. Jihadist movements are rooted in northern Nigeria. They have some popular support. At present, I think they are a threat to U.S. interests, but not to U.S. security. That could change in the future.
And then finally, there is democracy. Nigerians hold up the goal, the aspiration to become, someday, somehow a democratic state. And those aspirations are something which successive American administrations have done the best they could to support.
HAASS: Okay, so those are five things. As I hear you, as I read it, and as I hear you, I would say countries can be important for two reasons. One is can they can be important because of their upside potential to contribute. And countries can be important because of their downside potential to cause problems. It seems to me, while there's elements of both, the latter have a slight upper hand here. Is that too negative?
CAMPBELL: No, that's not too negative. That's true now. But it has not always been true. In the first decade of the century, for example, Nigeria was an active contributor of peacekeepers to AU and UN peacekeeping missions. The then-president Olusegun Obasanjo led the effort to make coups a thing of the past in West Africa. And he was strongly supportive of efforts to contain and control HIV/AIDS, even to the point of getting tested for it in public.
But it's amazing what a difference fifteen years can make. Because now, the government, clearly, is unable to provide for the security of its citizens. The most recent episode being over the weekend in which some three hundred boys were kidnapped from a school. Kidnapping for ransom is ubiquitous all over the country. There are insurrections in the northeast spreading to the northwest. There's conflict in the middle belt over land and water use, and there is a small-scale but continuing insurrection in the oil patch. Nigeria has even reduced the number of diplomatic missions that it has abroad. There is a kind of pulling back, which reflects the challenges that Nigeria is facing.
HAASS: China and many countries that have hydrocarbons, there's the cliche or expression of the resource curse.
HAASS: In some ways it— what's the word— retards the development. So it gets in the way of the development of what you might call a more organic, natural, productive economy.
HAASS: Is that fair to— I assume that is fair to say in this case, that hydrocarbons have been, at best, a mixed blessing.
CAMPBELL: Absolutely. And some notable Nigerians, Chinua Achebe, among others, have referred to carbons as essentially a curse. What did it do? It distorted everything. It distorted investment, it distorted the way people make money. You now make money, essentially, by capturing the state because if you capture the state, you get access to the oil revenue. You don't make money by productive economic activity.
HAASS: So John, for those who suggest it's been more curse than blessing, if I look at the trajectory of the twenty-first century, how would I put this? They're going to get their wish in the sense that at some point during the course of this century, I don't know it's in thirty years, by mid-century, or seventy years. But the world's thirst for oil, particularly as a source of energy as opposed to other functions, will be way, way, way, way down.
HAASS: Is that then potential— if oil has been more curse than blessing up to now, at some point, could the fading of oil as a principal world energy source, could that become more blessing?
CAMPBELL: Yes, I think so. Particularly since Nigeria has enormous other resources that are not exploded, exploited. One, for example, that we often lose sight of: there's an estimate that there's more gold in Nigeria than there is in South Africa. There are huge reserves of coal, natural gas. And, if climate change doesn't derail it, there is a great deal of arable land that is not cultivated. However, of that arable land, the estimate is now that some forty percent of it is subject to drop.
HAASS: Just let me follow up on that. Climate change, let's just assume it's going to get worse. If you're lucky, it gets worse before things get better. If you're unlucky, and probably realistic, things get worse before they get even worse. What will that mean for Nigeria? How vulnerable or in jeopardy is Nigeria?
CAMPBELL: Extremely vulnerable. The sea levels in the Gulf of Guinea are rising, by some measures, faster than anyplace else in the world. Lagos, with its twenty-two million people, is at sea level. There is also widespread flooding from rivers in the southern part of the country. In the northern part of the country, the Sahara is moving south. Drought is displacing herders who are moving south, where they collide with farmers. And that is part of the root of the ongoing conflict in the middle belt over land and water use. Exacerbated by the huge increase in population, both of human beings but also of cattle. Because, of course, the more human beings you have, the larger the market there is for beef.
HAASS: To what extent are Nigeria's contemporary challenges or problems also a result of, if you will, it's pre-contemporary history. What went on?
CAMPBELL: A great deal.
HAASS: Pardon me?
CAMPBELL: A great deal. Yes.
HAASS: Because that's often, when one discusses countries in Africa, the Middle East, that is a topic that regularly is raised about the past being in some ways prologue to the present, and people and a lot of these what became independent countries were dealt a terrible hand, one way or another. To what extent does that apply here?
CAMPBELL: Very much applies. I would say that history has not been kind to Nigeria. What did the British do? The British lumped together three hundred fifty different ethnic groups, which spoke three hundred fifty different languages and that had never been part of a political entity before, a common political entity, before. And they did this, essentially for administrative convenience. They felt it would make the budgetary process easier. And that if you combined the relatively well-off south with the very poor north, then what you could do was you could prevent Nigeria from becoming a charge on the British exchequer. And that worked. British rule in Nigeria was entirely funded by the Nigerians. But it also means that a sense of national identity is extremely weak.
Polling data, always a bit dubious in an African context. But—
HAASS: Unlike the United States. [Laughs.]
CAMPBELL: Unlike the United States.
HAASS: Where it's always accurate.
CAMPBELL: Where it's always accurate, as we have just seen. Both polling data would indicate that maybe seventeen percent of Nigerians will identify as Nigerian. That, in terms of identity, first is family, second is religion, third is ethnic group, fourth is region, and oh, yes, by the way, I guess maybe we're Nigerian.
HAASS: That, to me, by the way— sorry, go ahead.
CAMPBELL: It also means that the state is seen as, essentially, in many respects, a British creation, something which does not emerge organically from a Nigerian people, because the Nigerian people don't exist in the classical sense of the word.
HAASS: Okay, so that is the natural segue to the second half of your title, which is the nation-state idea. And just develop it a little bit more about we think of nation-state as synonym for country. But what I found fascinating about your book is the tension between nation and state. So why don't you just develop that a little bit more, just so people understand? It's a big idea.
CAMPBELL: It is a big idea. Basically, nation normally refers to people who feel themselves to have something in common with the other people that are in a specific area with boundaries, for example, that they recognize. We Americans live in a particular geographical area, the Canadians live in a different geographical area. We're American, they are Canadian. Now, what this bond is can vary tremendously from circumstance to circumstance. It can be belief in a common ancestor. Alternatively, it could mean adhering to a series of principles and views of governance. In that case, France and the United States both come to mind. But the point is Americans are Americans, in part, because they know they're Americans. And they see themselves as Americans.
HAASS: Hopefully. [Laughs.] Hopefully, may that continue to always be so where we have a collective, where there's no gap or space between the American concept of nation and the American concept of state.
CAMPBELL: Indeed, indeed. [Laughs.] Well, that brings us to the state. And what the state is is the sort of physical manifestation of national identity and national unity. Well, in a lot of the post-colonial world, the state is essentially an entity that was invented by the colonial power and was then imposed on the people that it ruled. And as part of the decolonization process, that state was inherited by, in Nigeria's case, a rather tiny elite that have exploited it for their own purposes, which means that the mass of the population have no identification with the state and, in fact, try to avoid it as much as possible.
HAASS: Okay, so when you have that situation, and alas, it is not unique to Nigeria.
CAMPBELL: No, it's not.
HAASS: I can think of quite a few other countries in some other parts of the world that suffer from this, in Africa, in the Middle East in particular. There's a couple of ways history can go. One is, the state can assert itself through just, force, a tyranny from the top, if you will.
HAASS: Second of all, the state can gradually build loyalties through democracy, reform, economic performance, and so forth. The state, to some extent, understand its limits and have— basically promote autonomy, decentralization.
HAASS: Within the borders. Or four, things break down and you have civil wars, and you have efforts, you basically have various efforts at secession, which obviously— Nigeria is— you know, and so forth. So, what is your sense? I guess one would be what's— I could ask the question— what's the most likely, what's the most desirable, what's the most— where do you see things heading? What your take on that kind of a description of Nigeria's futures?
CAMPBELL: The optimistic view would be that Nigeria moves towards a genuine federalism. It, in theory, is the Federal Republic. But it isn't really, because the funding of government services is based on oil, which means it's centralized. But, if the country were to move towards a genuine federalism, if, in fact, the state were to provide meaningful services to people, start with security, but then you can move on to education and health. If there are institutions that are developed, which can commend buy-in, then, given a bit of luck and some time, Nigeria could evolve into a conventional nation-state.
All of that is a great deal to hope for in a country wracked by insurrection, in which the chief source of government revenue is declining, that is oil, and one in which the elites, while probably no more rapacious than other elites, are still remarkably distant from the mass of the population.
The mother of one of the boys kidnapped over the weekend was railing that the people who run Nigeria send their children to England and the United States to school, and they go to London, Johannesburg, and New York for medical care. And that's very largely true. So it's a case where I hope the optimistic scenario is the one that unfolds. If you're coldly realistic, it looks like the more pessimistic one is the more likely. But the good news is—
HAASS: And the pessimistic one, just to be clear, the pessimistic scenario is one of break-up or would it be something else?
CAMPBELL: No, it would not be break-up. The pessimistic one would be things continuing more or less as they are. Break-up, I think, is highly unlikely because, for the elites to control the state, the state is the means by which they access the oil revenue and divvy it up amongst themselves. So if you were to break up Nigeria, and you are part of the northeastern Nigerian elite, you're cutting yourself off from the oil revenue.
HAASS: Got it. Though there is a little bit of attention there, if there's such a weak national identity, it seems to me some of the raw material of, ideally, federalism or local autonomy is less than ideally break-up— is to some extent— it's at least a potential future.
CAMPBELL: There's been an interesting development over the past several months, and that is, in Nigeria, the police service is a gendarmerie. It's controlled by the central government. They don't have local police. Only now, increasingly, they do, where governors are banding together and establishing what they call militias or auxiliaries that are supposed to assist the police. But in many cases, particularly in the southwest, they're better equipped than the police.
HAASS: I want to ask two more questions before I open up. You alluded to or mentioned Boko Haram and the incident with this boys' school. And then I think you wrote about it. And you, I think you said just yesterday, it was more of a criminal than a, if you will, political—
HAASS: Activity. But I'm less interested in focusing on this thing in particular. It's more, how serious is the threat posed by groups like Boko Haram? And does the government— does the state, shall we say, have the capacity? Is the best they can do draw and this goes on like Taliban versus the Afghan government? Could this be decided one way or the other? What's your sense of how this plays out?
CAMPBELL: No, my sense is that there are similarities to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Nigerian Army in the northeast is following a strategy of fortified hamlets. Remember those in Vietnam?
CAMPBELL: And this is one reason why jihadi groups are able to operate so freely in the countryside. We don't really know how much support jihadi groups have from the mass of the population. But if you figure there are a hundred million people in northern Nigeria, and if five percent support jihadi violence, that's five million people. And that means you have an almost inexhaustible source of recruits. And the Nigerian Army has been unable to defeat Boko Haram and other jihadi groups. Yet there is no political process underway. None on the government side, and the various jihadi groups all reject it, which is why I think look to Afghanistan.
HAASS: Not a very auspicious parallel. I want to turn last to some of your prescriptive ideas. And it's so interesting, because you were the ambassador, and we send ambassadors to be envoys, the representative to a central government and so forth. Yet a big part of your argument, as I read it, was we need to stop fighting the nature of Nigeria. And the way you would put it— if it's, to some extent, a decentralized reality, where national loyalties are not necessarily paramount and you have a lot of local or other loyalties, that therefore we need to not have so much as a policy towards Nigeria, so much as policies toward Nigeria.
HAASS: Can you elaborate on that?
CAMPBELL: Oh, that's exactly right.
HAASS: Why don't you explain that a little bit?
CAMPBELL: Yeah, that's exactly right. In other words, the focus of our diplomatic activity should not be, as it is now, very largely exclusively the executive, to a lesser extent the legislature, but it should be much broader. It should involve outreach to other power centers, particularly clergy, governors, some media people, academics, people who shape opinion, media people, some business people. That if we are going to manage our relationship with Nigeria in a productive way, we have to have a more granular understanding of how the country works. And that means dialogue with a broader range than simply the Foreign Ministry and the presidency.
HAASS: And do you have some or any reason to believe that those who, in just over a month or five weeks, will be working for the forty-sixth president of the United States, that this is a view that they share with you?
CAMPBELL: Some do.
CAMPBELL: Back to the— back to Benghazi, one of the great blights because— a tragedy that was thoroughly politicized, but it has also engendered a culture of extreme risk aversion.
HAASS: A report came out or is coming out just on that, about the Foreign Service.
HAASS: Almost the Benghazi Effect or you might call it.
CAMPBELL: Absolutely, absolutely. And so that— if the Nigerian Army is in fortified hamlets, American diplomats are very often now in four to five diplomatic establishments, as opposed to moving around. Now, the argument can always be made, well how are you going to provide for the security of these people? My response to that is you can. The Israelis have done it. We have done it in places like Pakistan, and to a certain extent in Afghanistan. It does cost money. But it costs a lot less money than making a really fundamental mistake about where Nigeria is going and getting sort of bogged down there in some ill-considered military or other engagement.
HAASS: Okay, another big idea. That's a big prescriptive idea for almost decentralized diplomacy.
CAMPBELL: Decentralized diplomacy and you’re dethroning the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department.
HAASS: [Laughs.] Now, that is a revolutionary idea. Okay, I can't do better than that. I may chime in as we go along. But why don't we open it up for you? We've got twenty-five minutes left so the timing's good. Let's open it up to our members and to our guests to ask John questions again about this. Well, I think it's a truly important, original piece of work. So let me, Morgan or Sam, let me throw it back to you.
STAFF: Thank you so much. [Gives queueing instructions.] Our first question will be from Patricia Rosenfield. As a reminder, please state your affiliation.
Q: Oh, thank you very much. And John and Richard, thank you for a really fascinating discussion, and John for a very important book. Patricia Rosenfield. I'm both with the Rockefeller Archives Center and the Rosenfield Fund, but have a long philanthropic relationship with Nigeria.
And John, I wanted to ask about a point that you mentioned toward the end. It's related to decentralized diplomacy, but also diplomats reaching out to other power centers and broader outreach. And as almost a throwaway line, you mentioned the academic community. Nigeria has had very strong and distinguished universities, has made important— Nigerians have made important contributions to science and technology, the humanities. Despite some of the unfortunate reputation, it's also got a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit, thinking of the market, women as well, and a vibrant NGO sector.
So I'm just wondering, in terms of the future, sort of, kind of bleak future that you present for Nigeria, how you see both the strength of the internal and the diaspora Nigerians as well as the academics and knowledge elite, and NGOs and entrepreneurial entrepreneurs contributing to a more, a brighter future for the country.
CAMPBELL: I think, as with so much in Nigeria, it depends on where you are talking about.
You made reference to the vibrancy of NGOs. In the south, in Lagos-Ibadan corridor, absolutely. In the north, civil society is much weaker. NGOs have much less influence. And in many places, they're even viewed with suspicion.
Universities, you're absolutely right about the contributions made by Nigerian academics. Very often, those academics are, in fact, living abroad. There is now a network of privately-funded universities, which are the venue for some really innovative approaches to education. But they're like private universities almost everywhere, they're expensive. And it's largely the children of elite who go there. And, very often, as an alternative to going abroad. The big public universities continue to be underfunded, riddled with strikes, overcrowded, and are still suffering from the disinvestment that they suffered during the long years of military rule.
So I suppose the rather brighter picture that you have posited, I would agree with it with respect to the Lagos-Ibadan corridor, the areas around Port Harcourt, Abuja, some provincial capitals. But for very, very large stretches of the country, I'm afraid they are undeveloped and lacking the kind of influence that we would all wish that they could have.
HAASS: So John, let me just follow up. Let me just follow up on that. Are you then suggesting, if you'll pardon the expression, a version of nation-building in Nigeria that we should take— think about the next generation twenty-five, twenty, thirty years? Two generations really. And basically, that we ought to help this society, economy develop in ways that we believe are viable, stable, whatever the word is, and essentially make that a goal?
CAMPBELL: Yes, and, in fact, as a goal, it has existed in the past. There is the Young African Leaders Initiative, for example, that President Obama established, and that continues right up to the to the present time. There are various exchange programs that do that as well. What I would really like to do, if I could wave a magic wand, is put those kinds of programs on steroids. Greatly increased the funding, greatly increased the number of exchanges, the sort of thing that, twenty years ago, we did do, and I think with considerable success.
HAASS: I think I hear an op-ed in the making. Let's get another question.
STAFF: Our next question will be from Jay Peter.
Q: Good evening, John, and congratulations on another fine volume. I want to tease out something that Ambassador Haass raised with you on the question of decentralizing diplomacy and I'd like to ask you to address the outburst side of that, which is a lot of Nigeria's issues, as you document, are really transregional issues or transborder issues. The kidnapping got seen over the weekend coming close to the borders with Niger, the attacks in— the same with the attacks in Diffa from Boko Haram in Niger. So what of the other side of it, the fact that we draw borders and use them in our diplomacy?
CAMPBELL: The whole question of borders, I think is fraught because, for a great many Africans, they don't really exist. They are simply lines that Europeans drew on a map. I remember some years ago, seeing that there were X number of border crossings between Borno and northern Cameroon's. By X, it was like five, six, or seven. But there were some three hundred informal paths to cross the border. And that was how most people move from one country to another. I think you're absolutely right, that many of the issues, security, underdevelopment, poor governance, are West Africa regional issues, not just Nigerian issues. The question becomes, how do you tackle that? And it seems to me that you tackle that by finding some another, smaller unit than an artificial state to operate in.
And in Nigeria, you've got thirty-six states, which, as the process of state creation proceeded, became more and more monoethnic. So you have a tool there that you can use in a way that probably wouldn't work as well in some of the Francophone countries.
HAASS: John, I can't resist the temptation to ask so I'll ask it. How is this book going to be or how has it been received in Nigeria? And how has it been received or will it be received by Americans, your colleagues, the American Africa hands, Nigeria experts. I'd be curious both perspectives on this.
CAMPBELL: In the case of Nigerians, I expect it will be much better received than my first book was, Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink, which outraged the Goodluck Jonathan administration. In fact, in terms of what is in the book, much of it is commonly discussed amongst Nigerians, and there is more outspokenness now than there was, say, fifteen years ago.
Among other Africanists in the U.S., the UK, Canada, India, it remains to be seen. I argue in the book, for example, that we put much too much store on elections, which are essentially a Western import. And I've said that in a number of different fora, and the response I have gotten in this country is 'Oh, yes, you're absolutely right. We somehow or another have to get out from under this huge focus on elections that too often are meaningless.' So it remains to be seen. I don't really know. You know, maybe I'll have to put another set of locks on the door.
HAASS: [Laughs.] We'll offer you asylum. Okay. Let's get another question.
STAFF: Our next question is from Felicia Appenteng.
Q: Hello, thank you so much. So Felicia Appenteng from the IE Africa Center.
So my question for Ambassador Campbell is really about opportunities that you might see when it comes to soft power coming out of Nigeria. So when you look at things like the new deal that was announced with Disney this week, things like Lagos Fashion Week, things like Afro Beats, which are sort of genuinely African products that really have become sort of mainstream in the West. I'm curious to see how you think about that when it comes to policy opportunities.
CAMPBELL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the Nigerian cultural efflorescence that is going on right now is really quite stunning. We're talking about high culture as well as pop culture. Nigerian artistic and cultural achievements are, I think, being widely recognized in the United States and I would hope that our diplomatic outreach would include those groups.
But again, here's the rub. It tends to be centered in Lagos and the Lagos-Ibadan corridor, and a few other places. But it's not genuinely nationwide. Now, it may become so. But it's— Lagos is the economic capital of West Africa. I would argue it's also the cultural capital of West Africa. But it's Lagos-centered.
So I think, as we pursue an agenda of soft power, we should do everything we can to highlight to our own citizens Nigerian cultural achievements and play that highlighting back to a Nigerian art audience.
HAASS: You got time for a few more. So let's get them in there, Sam.
STAFF: Our next question is from Constance Freeman.
Q: First, let me say thank you so much for a fascinating presentation. I received your book in the mail a couple of days ago, John, and look forward greatly to reading it having discussed some of the concepts in it with you previously.
In the past, Nigeria has played a fairly significant role in African politics. It certainly played a large role in West Africa and extending its military into a variety of other countries, periodically playing an important role in the OAU and then in the AU. That's declined in more recent years, but what is your projection of the role that Nigeria will be playing into the future in inter-African politics? Because it can't avoid playing some role given its size and dominance, particularly in West Africa.
CAMPBELL: That's absolutely right. And, as— I would say, as late as 2010, 2011, Nigeria was playing a leading diplomatic and security role in West Africa. The decline of Nigeria's ability to continue to do that, I think, first became visible with the deployment of Nigerian troops to assist Mali in 2011. In many respects, an operation that was fairly disastrous.
To resume an active diplomatic role, I think the Nigerian government will have to first manage the security threats at home that are so hobbling it. At least fairly recently, the Nigerian Army was stationed in thirty-four of the thirty-six states, basically, for domestic security. They literally didn't have the resources to pursue the active kind of role that they had in the early years of this century. So security or better security, I think, becomes a prerequisite for a restoration of Nigeria's traditional diplomatic role in Africa.
STAFF: Our next question is from Arunma Oteh. Please, as a reminder, state your affiliation.
Q: Thank you very much. My name is Arunma Oteh. I'm at Said Business School, University of Oxford. I want to thank you, Ambassador John Cam—and I'm Nigerian—for the great work and also your care and attention to Nigeria.
And I also want to just acknowledge Alan Silberstein, who was the one who invited me to this conversation.
And I'm sorry, another thank you to Ambassador Richard Haass for the great conversation that you both had. Forgive me, I have several questions, but I'll just limit myself to a few.
HAASS: Why don’t— ask one and then we'll see how we're doing there.
Q: No, I'm teasing. It's just, I'm just excited about your conversation. But I will.
[Laughs.] Thank you.
Q: But before I ask the question, I really want to acknowledge the point that you made about elections. And I hope— I'm looking forward to reading your book. And I hope you suggest how we can make them inexpensive given that they're not doing very much for countries like Nigeria. My question is, if the Nigerian president today appointed you as his advisor to help him get to the optimistic view that you outlined, what would you do?
CAMPBELL: What I would do is I would urge him to identify areas where the Nigerian government can pick up service delivery to the Nigerian people. Health is one area where I think something visible could be done very quickly, particularly having to do with the COVID vaccine and the organization of a mass immunization program. In other words, find something that Nigerians themselves can see that the government is actually doing something for them.
HAASS: Can you say something, John, since you raised it— what has been Nigeria's experience with COVID-19 up to now?
CAMPBELL: We don't really know. We don't really know because the official statistics would indicate that the country has gotten off rather lightly and that may indeed be so.
There are a variety of reasons why the disease may have been less devastating there than it has been here. Much younger population, fewer pre-existing conditions. Things like diabetes are relatively a relatively rare because people don't usually live that long. The— I've forgotten the exact figure, but the average lifespan in Lagos, if you survive to seven, is around fifty-one or fifty-two. So the kind of diseases that afflict elderly people in the United States are much rarer in Nigeria. But I would say we don't really know.
And looking at Africa as a whole and why it appears to have weathered COVID-19 better than other parts of the world, I think it's something that we need to need to do. And there may be lessons for us to learn.
HAASS: Sam, we probably got time for one last question.
STAFF: Our last question will be from Craig Charney.
Q: Oh, thank you. John, thank you for, as always, a fascinating talk. I actually wanted to follow on to the COVID question, because I had been working— I've actually been doing some work in this area.
I think you may have left out an important factor in the equation, which is actually fairly effective public health efforts. Nigeria, after all, did fairly well in the Ebola epidemic as well. And more recently, what our work suggests is that very large portions of the public have been touched by public education efforts. That, you know, in cooperation with work at the state level and efforts to establish lockdowns, do other— and provide some relief, there has been a certain degree of effective if very imperfect federalism. The reason why I think this is interesting is because it suggests that maybe there is a little bit more of a there there in Nigeria than you've been giving it credit for.
Or do you think that the public health and health areas would be an exception to the more general rule you're describing?
CAMPBELL: What I would want to know is the extent to which the public health efforts that you have referred to, the extent to which they have actually been implemented. Take social distancing. How do you do social distancing in a country with twenty-two million people? Take handwashing. How do you promote handwashing when flowing water is relatively rare? What about face mask wearing? What about shutting down important parts of the economy in which large numbers of people are dependent, essentially, on face-to-face contact in order to earn their living?
You made reference to Ebola. There, yes, the Nigerian response was quick and efficient. But it happened in Lagos and it was the State of Lagos Ministry of Health. It took the lead, not the federal government.
Take HIV/AIDS. The figures are pretty bad. They are best, I think, in the Nigerian Army, where, in fact, coercion on things like testing can be applied.
In other words, I'm not so sure that the public health efforts in Nigeria have been as successful as we would like or that they have had the impact that we would like.
HAASS: So, John, you've proved my point, both about your command of issues relating to Africa, but also that this is a book about related larger issues as well, so, which is my way of saying to people in this meeting that you can learn a lot about Nigeria in reading the book, but you don't have to be an Africa specialist to get a lot out of this book. John also writes regularly a blog called Africa in Transition. Is that correct?
CAMPBELL: Yes, yes.
HAASS: Which, for those who want to see more immediate takes on what is going on. But I want to thank you and congratulate you on producing a book that, among other things, is highly readable. It is also short. The text is basically two hundred fifteen pages. I love idea books that one can read in one or two sittings. And this will reward whoever sits down and gives it a few hours. Because you will not look at either Africa or the Middle East the same way if you do. And you'll also see, in many cases, fundamental contrasts with other parts of the world where there is a tremendous correlation between nation and state, say, in Asia and that, to me, it sets up some very interesting and interesting lens through which to view different regions of the world.
The book, again, is called Nigeria and the Nation-State. Ambassador Campbell, thank you for producing such a thoughtful book and thank you for walking us through it here late this afternoon.
CAMPBELL: And thank you very much for the conversation. And my thanks to the audience, both for attending and also for their questions.
HAASS: Thank you all. Everyone, stay safe, stay well. If I don't— we have a few more things before the holidays. But, again, I hope everyone— if their holidays have begun, enjoy the celebrations, if their holidays have yet to begin, stay safe until them and avoid traveling. And— but still have a wonderful holiday season. Thank you all. Thank you, Ambassador Campbell. Until our next meeting.