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

1 2 3 4
  • ESLO

    Oh its all the American’s fault – as is all evil in this world.

    I wondered how long it would take some of the residents to reach that conclusion.

    Should I be blaming the weeds on my lawn on the US?

  • John


    Nigeria has form concerning attempts to split up along the lines you suggest –

    1)At independence in 1960 Nigeria had a handful of states or administrative divisions – now she has 36. The growth in the number of states was driven partly by the need to appease ethnic regional interests.

    At what point does the country stop sub-dividing (whether into separate states or sovereign nations)?

    Nigeria has over 250 ethnic groups and a population of over 160 million.

    2)From ’67-’70 a brutal civil war (remember Biafra?) was fought as a result of ethnic/religious tensions between northern Muslim Hausa-Fulani and south-eastern Igbos who were resident in the North. The Igbos were the predominant tribe/ethnic group within Biafra but not the only one. Other tribes would probably not have gone along with the idea of a sovereign Biafra dominated by Igbos. Although I’m Igbo myself, I can quite understand that – not all tribes are as patient as the Scots.

    3)In the 90s, a military officer from the Middle Belt (a region arguably more culturally aligned to the South), Gideon Orkar, led an abortive coup calling for all southerners and middle-belters resident in the North to return south, as a precursor for national dialogue on the direction of Nigeria. The idea was generally regarded as absurd.

    4)The Boko Haram episode, unless swiftly resolved, will result in the complete destabilisation of Nigeria along the lines of Egypt, Syria, Ukraine, etc. Certain parties (Nigerian or otherwise) with vested interests in such a scenario will gain, and Nigerians, as usual, will lose.

  • OEM

    I am a Nigerian of Igbo ethnicity. Having grown up listening to horrific stories of my parents, grandparents and extended family suffering during the unjust destruction of Biafra, I do recognise the yoke of ethnic conflict in my country. But I feel that with more and more new generations of Nigerians these ethnic divisions will wither away as they have done to a large extent in my own generation. In fact I consider myself more Nigerian than I am Igbo. My thinking is this: Yes, Nigeria is a colonial artificial construct, essentially a business deal by the British Royal Niger Company; but nations are rarely formed out of natural ethnic boundaries. I am religious and I feel there has been a divine purpose for bringing us different ethnic peoples together even though it was done in the most tragic of circumstances of European racial chauvinist imperialism. Unity is a fait accompli and we must live with it having built our institutions and networks of life (albeit very weak they are)around the basis of a united Nigeria. Other initially artificial nations have faced these pressures to break up along natural ethnic lines whether it is Britain, the USA, Russia you name it and they have all overcome various kinds of religious, linguistic, cultural and ethnic conflict. As a student of the history of civilisation, I know Nigeria can do so also but it will take time. The process of nation building will happen eventually but strong leadership will make that inevitable process come to a quicker end. We currently lack that strong leadership and it is wholly dissapointing. In the end I think Nigeria needs a new generation of leaders. If you hark back to the early history of an independent Nigeria you will find out that we did have these effective, inspirational iconic leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe (the co-father of African nationalism along with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana ). But sadly following a series of destabilising military coups our whole foundation of a democratic political system and culture was lost. So as we have flirted with democracy again and again we only produced a kleptocratic nightmare due to the usurpation of power by a different post-independence generation of ignorant incompetent leaders who hijacked the whole system initially created by our founding fathers. Nigeria will get there in time.

  • Mary

    Nothing changes.


    ‘It was, however, evidently impossible for a chartered company to hold its own against the state-supported protectorates of France and Germany, and in consequence its charter was revoked in 1899 and, on 1 January 1900, the Royal Niger Company transferred its territories to the British Government for the sum of £865,000. The ceded territory together with the small Niger Coast Protectorate, already under imperial control, was formed into the two protectorates of northern and southern Nigeria.

    The company changed its name to The Niger Company Ltd and in 1929 became part of the United Africa Company. The United Africa Company came under the control of Unilever in the 1930s and continued to exist as a subsidiary of Unilever until 1987, when it was absorbed into the parent company.’

    We return to Unilever, currently attending the World Economic Forum for Africa in Ajuba. My comment above refers.


    ” In the end I think Nigeria needs a new generation of leaders.”

    OEM; Respectfully, can you tell me how this can happen in light of the environment? I am American, and I have the same conclusions for my country.

    ” Other initially artificial nations have faced these pressures to break up along natural ethnic lines whether it is Britain, the USA, Russia you name it and they have all overcome various kinds of religious, linguistic, cultural and ethnic conflict”

    Indeed. There are special interests, however, who have their own vision of growth objectives, and they can manipulate with resources resembling a ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Many times persons with good ideas have to go to venture capitalists (Bankers) in order to launch their business. Those VC’s have a lock on the outcome, and it is very self-serving. How to address that for your country?

  • Ba'al Zevul ( :- ) )

    “strong leadership…”
    Look at recent European history, and be careful what you wish for. And the best of genuine luck!

  • John

    Of course, the timing of the increased activities of Boko Haram and the World Economic Forum in Nigeria are purely coincidental…

  • mark golding


    Sadly committing a body to ‘The Deep’ from a Navy warship is not an entitlement for sailors serving or not. Committal of ashes from a fleet tender is possible (expensive) yet with some influence a sea salt casket containing ashes can be committed from a Naval warship.

    A jolly good day out at sea for everyone (limited to six) and no children under 14 years.

  • Duncan McFarlane

    Solid argument. If they can find tribal intermediaries to negotiate a release they should. I’m wondering if, in a country as corrupt as Nigeria, some police or government officials might be taking a cut for the sale of the girls? Or is hatred between Boko Haram and government employees strong enough to rule that out? Are the girls being sold or is that a rumour?

  • Laurent

    Craig, I sent this link to an African friend who covers Nigeria as an analyst and is following the situation closely — this was her reply. I thought it was interesting and worth posting.

    It’s a good (brave) piece – he rightly points out that his statements, especially the suggestion of partition, will draw the ire of Nigerians.

    Reaching out to the Lamido/traditional hierarchy would be an effective strategy for intel gathering, but disagree that elders would have much traction with BH for potential negotiations/hostage release. BH has threatened members of the Borno royal family, the Caliph in Sokoto and other Emirs with targeted attacks, accusing them of colluding with the deeply corrupt gov’t. Also, the group’s Salafist leaning undermines these traditional power structures, so the northern and Islamic aristocracy are very concerned about any increase in BH’s sphere of influence.

    Select northern ‘big men’ have been pushing for a negotiated settlement to BH crisis but some Nigeria media reports have pointed to these figures as being the alleged patrons of the group and a pursuing self-serving agenda. None of this has been confirmed, but it’s very probable that BH has supporters within the military and government. Last month, Cameroon accused Nigerian governmnet officials in the north-east of paying bribes to BH, but this is likely to include many cases of extortion. To secure the safe release of the girls, BH would probably expect a hefty ransom and the release of its fighters in custody. As much as the group touts its jihadist ideology, it still bound by its practical needs, such as paying fighters or buying wheelbarrows for surrounding communities to secure allegiance. The military pressure on the group only makes BH’s ability to dole out patronage more important.

  • Rehmat

    O’Al-Qaeda, where I find thee?

    How did al-Qaida, a tiny anti-Communist group in Afghanistan that had no more than 200 active members in 2001 become a supposed worldwide threat?

    How can al-Qaida be all over the Mideast, North Africa, and now much of black Africa? This after the US spent over $1 trillion trying to stamp out al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

    The answer is simple. As an organization and threat, al-Qaida barely exists. But as a name, al-Qaida and “terrorism” have become the west’s handy universal term for armed groups fighting western influence, corruption or repression in Asia and Africa. Al-Qaida is nowhere – but everywhere.

    If you’re a rebel group seeking publicity, the fastest way is by pledging allegiance to the shadowy, nowhere al-Qaida.


  • nevermind

    looking forward to purchasing a copy, assume you recovered what you once lost?

  • Mary

    Abdullahi v. Pfizer, Inc.

    In 1996, an outbreak of measles, cholera, and bacterial meningitis occurred in Nigeria. Pfizer representatives traveled to Kano, Nigeria to administer an experimental antibiotic, trovafloxacin, to approximately 200 children. Local Kano officials report that more than 50 children died in the experiment, while many others developed mental and physical deformities. The nature and frequency of both fatalities and other adverse outcomes were similar to those historically found among pediatric patients treated for meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2001, families of the children, as well as the governments of Kano and Nigeria, filed lawsuits regarding the treatment. Representing the government is Babatunde Irukera. According to news reports, “[r]esearchers did not obtain signed consent forms, and medical personnel said Pfizer did not tell parents their children were getting the experimental drug.” The lawsuits also accuse Pfizer of using the outbreak to perform unapproved human testing, as well as allegedly under-dosing a control group being treated with traditional antibiotics in order to skew the results of the trial in favor of Trovan. Pfizer denied these claims, and subsequently produced an approval letter for testing from the Nigerian Ethics Committee. The Nigerian government insisted that it was a fake and a panel of Nigerian medical experts agreed that the letter had been concocted and backdated by the company’s lead researcher in Kano. They went on to conclude that Pfizer never obtained authorization from the Nigerian government to give the unproven drug to children and infants.

    In 2007, Pfizer published a Statement of Defense letter. The letter makes several claims, including that Pfizer donated 18 million in Nigerian Naira (NGN) (about $216,000 in 1996 US dollars (USD)), that the drug’s oral form was presented as safer and easier to administer, that the administration of Trovan saved lives, and that no unusual side effects, unrelated to meningitis, were observed after 4 weeks.

    In June 2010, the US Supreme Court rejected Pfizer’s appeal against a ruling allowing lawsuits by the Nigerian families to proceed.

    In December 2010, WikiLeaks released US diplomatic cables, which indicate that Pfizer had “used dirty tricks to avoid clinical trial payout”. The company had hired investigators to find evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general to persuade him to drop legal action. Washington Post reporter Joe Stephens, who helped break the story in 2000, called these actions “dangerously close to blackmail.” In response, the company has released a press statement describing the allegations as “preposterous” and stating that they acted in good faith.


    They make Viagra, the money spinner. Other uses too! 🙂
    I think a Wiki contributor is having us on.

    Cut flowers – Israeli and Australian researchers discovered that 1 mg of the drug dissolved in a vase of water can extend the shelf life of cut flowers, making them stand up straight for up to a week beyond their natural life span.

  • Ba'al Zevul (Elämä on hyvä!)

    Olof Palme…

    Trowbridge, 8 May 2014:

    Former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was appointed Kurt Waldheim’s Special Representative on November 11, 1980 to help bring about a settlement to the growing Iraq-Iean War, thanks to Security Council Resolution 478, and he was assassinated on February 28, 1986 by the Anglo-American Iran-Contra plotters for doing so.

    Trowbridge, 29/11/03:
    Gordievsky’s counter measures, though, especially the shooting of Swedish statsminister Olof Palme to trigger a showdown at sea with the Soviets, did not prove all that successful despite assistance from Younger at the MoD, thanks to the spying by Soviet double-agents Aldrich “Rick” Ames at CIA, Robert Hanssen at the Bureau, and Vitali Yurchenko back in Moscow. They closed down American double agents Sergei Motorin, Valeri Martynov, Boris Yuzhin, and others who conspired in the USSR to make Soviet nuclear submarines on station sitting ducks, ready for slaughter by US Navy attack submarines in the Barents Sea, when they reacted to the surprise. Only Palme bit the dust, thanks to an assassin’s bullet from, it seems, Guards Captain Simon Hayward’s .357 Magnum revolver. Then American Atlantic Fleet Commander Carlisle Trost refused to commit his carrier battle groups to Navy Secretary John Lehman’s plan to attack the Kola peninsula across Norway, obliging SOD Younger to cancel NATO’s Anchor Express Exercise, in which 16 Norwegian engineers had already been killed because of avalanches, in support of the absent American Task Force Eagle. (Information Clearing House -‘The Secret Government, How It Led To Political Suicide of Thatcher’)

    (Sorry about the length of the second extract, but I wanted to know how it finished -BZ)

  • Abe Rene

    The British divided India, and consider the result. I am not certain that dividing Nigeria would be a good idea.

  • oddie

    Feldman who did the Israel’s Drone Dealers film (linked again below) has an extraordinary new film showing on Aljaz this week. depressing to say the least:

    Aljazeera – Witness – The Lab: by Yotam Feldman: A unique insight into
    the world of Israeli arms dealers selling weapons and experience around the
    Armies and police around the world are interested in the latest Israeli
    weapons and their military tactics, which have been refined by fighting in
    the occupied territories.

    The Lab can be seen from Wednesday, May 7 at the following times GMT:
    Wednesday: 2000; Thursday: 1200; Friday: 0100; Saturday: 0600.

    Aljazeera: Israel’s Drone Dealers by Yotam Feldman
    People & Power investigates how Israeli drone technology – first tried and
    tested in Gaza – came to be used by the US and its allies in Afghanistan and

  • oddie

    should have said Aljaz’s The Lab is not yet on youtube, so it would need to be watched on Aljaz this week. not to be missed.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    Oh, Hab, want to know why not let the USA deal with the Nigeria problem? Have you forgotten how we got into this mess in the first place in Afghanistan?

    The Taliban was willing to hand over Osama if Washington provided the evidence that he was a leading international terrorist.

    At the time, he wasn’t, so the USA had to make him look like one by letting the 19 followers on the planes, and do their anticipated hijacking.

    The only trouble was that they were suicide bombers, and the murder and mayhem has been with us ever since.

    Thanks, Ba’al Zevul, big improvement.

    The big things to think about now is making it look like someone else did it after Stig Bergling was prevented from being set up as the assassin – what led to the troubles of Christer Pettersson, the murder of Viktor Gunnersson, the set of of policeman L. C. Underwood, the murder of Catherine Miller to make it stick, and Underwood going to prison for life – like all the spies who prevented the world from going up in nuclear smoke.

    The mas men run the globe.

  • Mary

    Good comment on Medialens exposing Obomber’s wife’s hypocrisy.

    Grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls provokes outrage ………………
    Posted by Curtis on May 10, 2014, 2:46 pm

    and heartbreak in Michelle Obama while the actual snuffing out of the lives of young girls in Afghanistan by her husband provokes, well, silence.

    Obamas ‘outraged and heartbroken’ over Nigeria girls

    US First Lady Michelle Obama has said her family is “outraged and heartbroken” following the mass abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls.

    In an unusual move, Mrs Obama delivered her husband’s weekly radio address to condemn the kidnapping as, “grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls”.

    Islamist militant group Boko Haram says it carried out the attack in north-eastern Borno state.


    Nato airstrike ‘kills eight women and girls’ in Afghanistan

    Seven victims in hospital as villagers take bodies to provincial governor’s office after women gathering firewood are hit


  • Mary

    Another comment on Medialens.

    Guru-Murthy’s “Snowmail” on Michelle Obama and the Nigerian schoolgirls…short email…
    Posted by Ed on May 10, 2014, 7:30 pm

    Hat tip to Zemblan for the links to US atrocities.

    Mr Guru-Murthy,
    In reference to tonight’s “Snowmail”(1) and the “Michelle Obama calls for return of Nigerian schoolgirls”(2) piece you link to.

    I would like to ask if you or your colleagues experience any moral qualms at all about praising Michelle Obama for her selective concern for one group of children, when on the other hand her husband happily and frequently orders drone attacks that mutilate and incinerate children in Afghanistan and elsewhere and the US military on the ground commit their own atrocities, exterminating any number of children and civilians with virtual impunity.(3)

    Actually, when I say “moral qualms”, what I really mean is how can you keep your goat’s cheese roulade down when reporting such nauseating hypocrisy and opportunism as caring and sincere.

    Ed Murray.

    Michelle Obama calls for return of Nigerian schoolgirls
    “In these girls we see our own daughters”, said Michelle Obama, speaking about the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. In a speech replacing her husband’s weekly presidential address, she said the couple were “outraged and heartbroken” and that America would help in the hunt.
    Meanwhile, in Nigeria’s capital Abuja families have held another demonstration calling on the government to step up efforts to find their daughters after yesterday’s allegations that the military were alerted hours before the attack. Our Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller is in Nigeria tonight.

    (2)Michelle Obama calls for return of Nigerian schoolgirls







  • Courtenay Barnett


    You say this:-

    ” 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.”

    So – in practical terms does a post-colonial power:-

    A. Revert to religious and/or geographical pre-colonial boundaries; or

    B. Pragmatically hold together what exists.

    I opt for the latter.


1 2 3 4

Comments are closed.