Dysfunction in Nigeria 92

I have fond memories of Borno state, camping beside my LandRover in the cold, crisp early mornings, steam rising from a cup of tea, then the thermometer climbing visibly as the sun got to work.  Fulani herdsmen crossing the horizon under conical hats with their angular cattle, women walking behind, slim and with beautiful posture, swaying as they walked.  The neat homesteads surrounded by fences of beautifully woven millet stalk.  Meals of roasted corn and suya.  I remember the farmer who offered me a drink, then took a tin cup and brought milk straight from the cow, still very warm. The people there are grave and hospitable.

I never one felt in the slightest danger, thirty years ago.  I am taken aback that places I went round then without a care for the British High Commission (I had the agriculture brief, which was an amazing license to roam) are now no-go areas.  The region is mostly dry savannah: the forest area stretching into Cameroon, incidentally, is by no means impenetrable, though it is true the canopy would be a barrier to aerial surveillance.  Very little of it is primary forest any more.

The media now have a new cartoon figure of hate in the bearded, bobble-hatted leader of Boko Haram, and in truth he is a very bad person.  But armed rebellions of thousands of people do not just happen.  It is not a simple and spontaneous outbreak of evil, still less a sign that we must wage Tony Blair’s war on Muslims everywhere.

Nigeria is a country with governance and corruption as bad as anywhere in the world.  A country of billionaires and of near starving sufferers.  A country of pollution and exploitation by big oil, and a happily complicit and deeply corrupt political class.  Nobody disagrees with that, and very few would disagree that there lies the root cause of Boko Haram’s ability to gather support.

If the Nigerian government were to have sent in the army en masse to try to recover the kidnapped schoolgirls, the first result would undoubtedly have been, on all previous experience of the Nigerian army, that hundreds more women would have been raped, this time by soldiers.  Villages would have been looted and people arrested, tortured and killed, more on the basis of extorting money than of looking for suspects.

To be fair to President Goodluck Jonathan he knows this, and he had made the extremely brave decision a year ago to try to deal with Boko Haram by dialogue and negotiation, and call off the military campaign which was making matters far worse.  He drew much criticism for it at the time, particularly from neo-cons, and will be blamed now.  The problem is that things have gone too far to be easily remedied, and to negotiate with the crazed is not simple.

Were I trying to get back the girls, I would operate through the agency of traditional society.  Nigeria’s indigenous institutions are much degraded, but offer more hope than any Western style interventions.  I am not precisely sure which is the appropriate traditional ruler, but I suspect that it is the Lamido of Adamawa, whose immediate predecessor I took tea with on several occasions.  Information on the girl’s whereabouts will definitely be obtainable through the networks of subsidiary chiefs and elders, which still exist, even though their political and administrative power had passed.  It is particularly helpful that in this region these traditional allegiances are linked to Islamic authority.  Adamawa’s territory extends into the Cameroon, and even Chad.

The fact of the old state of Adamawa extending into Cameroon and Chad brings us to the heart of the problem.  Nigeria is an entirely artificial, colonial construct created by the British Empire (and bounded by the French Empire).  Its boundaries bear no relation to internal national entities, and it is huge.  The strange thing is that these totally artificial colonial constructs of states generate a genuine and fierce patriotism among their citizens.  After just my first year of living in Nigeria I had formed a firm view that it would be much better for the country to be split into at least three states, and that Britain’s attitude in the Biafran war, that colonial state boundaries must be inviolable, had been wrong.

Many patriotic Nigerians will be very angry with me for suggesting their country should split up.  It is also worth observing that, not only in Nigeria, many Africans who are, with justice, most vocal in their denouncing of colonialism, are at the same time most patriotic about their entirely artificial nationality, created by the colonial power.





92 thoughts on “Dysfunction in Nigeria

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  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !


    I see that you mention Nigerian troops in your lead-in post, but surely there is no intention of using US troops as Trowbridge seems to be saying? Or am I behind the news curve?

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Right, Craig, tell our most slow learner that it – the most stupid thing Africans have ever done – isn’t so!

    I cannot think of anything which is a bigger boost for the terrorists.

  • Kevin

    I must say that this is a most simplistic assessment of the Nigerian situation. By the same measure, based on of the traditional political, social and religious bent and texture of American state one could also suggest that the US would be “better off” splitting into at least two separate countries (i.e. liberal north and northeast versus conservative south and southwest) — historically at loggerheads since the civil war, and even more recently (since the advent of Obama, ironically) more polarized and polarizing than ever in US history. In reality, however, U.S. citizens would ultimately revolt against such suggestions due to their patriotic spirit. I’m not so sure suggesting nations would be better off split up is a sensible assessment. Nor would it necessarily lead to stability — as more and more ethnic groupings (Nigeria has 250) might themselves wish to ‘secede’ thereby creating chaos. The key is good governance not the number of states or statelets we can divvy up a nation into (for our own interests, mostly)…

  • craig Post author


    Your argument ignores the fact that the Nigerian state as at present constituted plainly does not work, for the large majority of its citizens. The BBC just gave a statistic – which strikes me as probably correct – that of the 50 million children in the world who get no schooling at all, 10 million are Nigerian. Yet that state has vast oil wealth.

    Actually splitting the United States into smaller components is not an axiomatically bad idea, as you seem to think.

  • Kempe

    Reports so far describe the people the US are sending as “experts” although what they’re expert in isn’t specified. I can see how special forces might be useful in tracking the kidnappers back to their base and maybe some of these specialist police negotiators have been sent out. No doubt time will tell. I see the Nigerian government has at last put up a reward which might loosen tongues.

    Incidentally Craig I don’t recognise Nigeria from your idyllic description. A friend who spent seven years working in and around the Delta area at about the same time descibed it as a hell on earth, mired in corruption and in the grip of a epidemic of armed robberies. He himself saw six Nigerians gunned down in the course of a multiple car-jacking on the Port Harcourt Road because one driver was foolish enough to try and reason with the robbers. Certainly a guy my company sent out in the early 90’s returned after a fortnight (he was supposed to have been out there for 3 months) with just the clothes he stood up in having been held up at gunpoint four times.

    I agree though that the whole map of Africa needs to be re-drawn. The colonial boundaries, those straight lines on the map, make no concession to tribal territories but as you suggest it might be too late now.

  • John Goss

    I plead ignorance over Boko Haram and have therefore taken a look using bi-polar analyses. The first is the standard MSM analysis of where we are coming from via West Point, which makes Boko Haram sound like it might be the west’s next Al Qaeda.


    The second is from an Islamic point of view. It over-preaches with quotes from the Koran. There is some in it I cannot agree with together with a few English or typing errors, and I am not really sure what it is trying to say except Islam does not believe in killing. I am posting it because it is the only article I can find which purports to be an Islamic perspective on boko haram. So if anybody can find me a better article I should like to see it.


  • Kevin

    Craig, all I’m saying is that once we start advocating the splitting up of nations because, in our estimation, they “don’t work” we are walking down a very dangerous path… Textbook analyses are good for the textbooks, but may not work out the way we anticipate in real life. Tony Blair, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Pearl and Paul Wolfowitz had a grand theory of how ‘successful’ and ‘easy’ it would be to invade Iraq, how they would be welcomed (as liberators) and how the middle east would be thereby begin a process of “transformation” into the image of the West, etc. The reality is a horror we have lived through sincxe 2003 and are still witnessing today… Maybe Nigeria (and the U.S. — and the UK for that matter: we hear the Scots are considering something along those lines) would be better off split… Time will tell..

  • John Goss

    I should add that like everyone else on this blog I would like to see the schoolgirls home with their families. I am just trying to work out the mindset of a group that would abduct children and brag about it.

  • Splittist majority

    Kevin, of course the US would be better off splitting into two (or better yet, 3, or 9, or 11) separate countries. There’s no America, there’s just a state that’s got its hooks in different peoples. And they are very different peoples, historically and culturally: look at Albion’s Seed or the Nine Nations or the 11 http://www.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/fall2013/features/up-in-arms.html

    The world would be much safer because the out-of-control US national-security parasites would have to shrink with their hosts. Governance is important, as you suggest, but with a terminally corrupt federal state, governance is more readily secured internationally through rights and rule of law.


    Violence is part of the scenery in Nigeria. I had a work associate who used his vacation time to travel to his farm every year. His family tended to duties in his absence. In 2009 he was murdered while in Country. Communications with his family were simple.

    “We don’t know why, and there was no investigation because the police are too busy”

  • Splittist Majority

    Besides, when your state goes crazy you have to leave. Slovenia escaped civil war that way. Slovakia escaped neoliberal austerity. Crimea and Donestsk can escape both. And Scotland now has the opportunity to leave a criminal regime and pursue peace and development, as the law requires.

  • craig Post author


    There was indeed violence in the Delta thirty years ago. there was also terrible violence in Lagos – I had three friends murdered in separate incidents. But in the countryside, outwith the Delta, you were perfectly safe.


    Incidentally; This anecdote-Sylvester, or ‘Sly’ as we called him used to come up to me and say ‘Give me a cigarette!’. On the second occasion he did the same and I said; “Do you say ‘give me’ instead of asking politely because you would appear ‘weak’?



    “On Sunday, three weeks after the kidnapping, President Jonathan publicly acknowledged the abductions for the first time, and admitted he had no idea where the girls might be. On Tuesday, he finally accepted the offer of U.S. help.”


    Afghanistan comes to mind and surely jonathan was reluctant to allow the US access for Imperial reasons. Objections to females getting an education seems to have been aggravated by US presence.

  • Old Mark

    An enlightening read Craig, particularly as virtually all of us commenting here would likely have no direct experience of northern Nigeria.

    If a benign split into 3 or more states (essentially Ibo, Hausa, Fulani ?)could be agreed, and given western encouragement, the outlook for the country would surely be better than it is now. Isn’t part of the problem that, at the time of the Biafran War, secession was rejected by all major powers (except De Gaulle, for obvious reasons)but was supported by the bad boys of Africa (back then, Colonialist Portugal & Apartheid South Africa). As a result, ever since, the idea has been tainted in the eyes of the Great and Good.

  • Habbabkuk (La vita è bella) !

    “Objections to females getting an education seems to have been aggravated by US presence.”

    Is there anything which – if you “look” hard enough – you cannot blame on the Americans? Or any thread into which you cannot insert your anti-American narrative?

    It’s sad.

  • DomesticExtremist

    The strange thing is that these totally artificial colonial constructs of states generate a genuine and fierce patriotism among their citizens.

    This is an interesting observation.
    I wonder if the fervour for these
    synthetic post-colonial nations is stronger in the urban
    areas and weaker in rural ones where older tribal allegiances
    still persist.
    There’s probably a good PhD thesis in that for someone.

  • Herbie

    You don’t have to look too hard to see American and European involvement in Nigeria.

    Craig, in advocating the splitting of Nigeria, is following the neocon policy line of weakening Nigeria, a strong regional player, the better to implement the West’s objectives in Africa.

    Boko Haram is as much a creature of Western policy objectives as the Syrian terrorists and all the West’s other proxies.

  • Mark D.

    I wonder what would have happened in India, if Pakistan had not been separated into a separate state on independence? It was a difficult separation, but staying together might have been worse.

  • Herbie

    Interesting backgrounder from a Nigerian perspective here:

    “But how did a ragtag collection of largely half literate unsophisticated persons operating mostly on Okada transform literally overnight to being able to design, manufacture and deploy bombs in buildings and in vehicles costing in excess of a million naira and carry out attacks in several locations around the country?”

    WARNING: There are a number of disturbing images contained within.


    Here we go again….

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Habbabkuk, for starters in your education, you know that there is a difference between the US government and its people, the Americans.

    The only complaint I have with the Americans is their continuing to support their rambo government whose nearly daily dark actions I shall continue to discuss as soon as I spot them, like sending is top advisers to coordinate, and do with the kidnappers what the Nigerian government should be doing. It’s just another example of Washington’s neocolonialism to suit its interests..

  • mark golding

    The same Bandar mindset John that commandeered and controlled the ‘nineteen’ ghost cutouts on September 11th 2001 that implanted fear into the weakened minds and sufficient souls of ordinary Americans to sustain religious terrorism as a precursor for illegal onslaught, regime change, control and necessary massacre.

    Adebolajo and Adebowale were part of the same psychodynamics exploited by the West to advance a collective whose ego parallels that of a serial torturer.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    The 19 were hijackers, not cutouts, but when they turned out to be suicide bombers, the Americans had no alternative but to go along with the neocon crackpots who had made the convenient cockup since 3,000 of the fellow citizens had been murdered in the process,

  • Herbie


    The possibility of Nigerian breakup has gained a lot of traction recently because a CIA boss was predicting the final breakup by 2015.

    Some Nigerians have certainly expressed the opinion that they’d be stronger, separated into areas comprising the major tribal groups. A bit fanciful.

    I’d agree that there will be differences of opinion within Western power centres, and Big Oil, which is itself divided, isn’t the only player. Individual players will of course always be loathe to forfeit cosy relationships which have been built up over time, but we’ve seen them forfeit these again and again as the grand strategy trumps individual desires.

    From a grand strategic perspective, the West’s more general long term interest lies in a much weakened Nigeria, and that’s why Boko Haram is useful to them.

  • Phil

    Tea over an African sunrise. Nothing like it. A randy old colonialist gentleman could gallivant freely to and fro. I was only there to help don’t you know. Agriculture stuff. Ruddy queer farmers. Drank milk without freezing it don’t you know. Damn fine postures on the native lassies though. It’s all changed now. Bloody peculiar show. I was only there to help don’t you know…

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