November 4, 2014
Nigeria: Current Issues
Nigeria is considered a key country in Africa because of
its size and political and economic role in the region. The
U.S. government considers its relationship with the country
to be among the most important on the continent. Nigeria is
Africa’s largest economy, its largest oil producer, and its
most populous country, with almost 180 million people,
roughly divided between Muslims and Christians. Its
Muslim population is among the largest in the world, vying
with, and likely overtaking, Egypt’s as the largest on the
continent. Lagos, its commercial center, is among the
world’s largest cities. Nigeria, which currently holds a nonpermanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, also ranks as
a top troop contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
Despite significant promise, Nigeria faces serious social,
economic, and security challenges that have the potential
to threaten state and regional stability and affect global oil
prices. The country has faced periodic political turmoil and
economic crises. Political life has been scarred by ethnic,
geographic, and religious conflict, and corruption and
misrule have undermined the state’s authority and
legitimacy. Years of social unrest, criminality, and
corruption in the oil-rich Niger Delta have hindered oil
production, delayed the southern region’s economic
development, and contributed to piracy in the Gulf of
Guinea. Perceived neglect and economic marginalization
also fuel resentment in the predominately Muslim north.
A violent Islamist group, Boko Haram, has grown
increasingly active in northeast Nigeria, and the
government has struggled to respond to the growing threat.
U.S. officials have expressed concern about Boko Haram’s
impact on the north and related threats to national stability;
its ties with another extremist group, Al Qaeda in the
Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); and the recruitment of Nigerians
by other transnational terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda
in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The State Department
designated Boko Haram and a splinter faction, Ansaru, as
Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) in November 2013.
Nigeria is a federal republic with a political structure
similar to that of the United States. Its president, legislators,
and governors are elected on four-year terms. The country
was ruled by the military for much of the four decades after
independence before transitioning to civilian rule in 1999.
Elections held in the subsequent decade were widely
viewed as flawed, with each poll progressively worse than
the last. The most recent national elections, in April 2011,
were seen as more credible, but donors and advocacy
groups continue to press the government to improve
electoral procedures and prosecute cases of electoral fraud.
The upcoming February 2015 elections may be affected
by domestic criticism of the Nigerian government’s
response to the Boko Haram threat, and in particular to the
group’s April 2014 kidnapping of more than 250
schoolgirls from the northeast town of Chibok. President
Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, is
seeking reelection and appears set to face a strong challenge
from an opposition alliance that draws support, in part,
from popular disaffection with his administration in the
north. Protests and violence across the north in the
aftermath of Jonathan’s 2011 electoral victory illustrated
northern mistrust and dissatisfaction, which by many
accounts has grown as Boko Haram activity has increased.
The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has suffered
internal divisions and defections to the opposition, and the
party may face its toughest election yet in February. The
opposition appears likely to coalesce behind a northern
presidential candidate, possibly with a vice presidential
candidate from the southwest, to challenge Jonathan. By
many accounts, the elections may be close, and, given the
stakes, may be a flashpoint for violence.
Development Prospects and Challenges
Nigeria’s economy is now internationally recognized as
the largest in Africa and the 26th largest globally. Based
on adjusted metrics, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) is now almost double what it was previously thought
to have been and substantially larger than South Africa’s
economy. It is also less reliant on oil than expected,
although the sector continues to account for the majority of
government revenues and export earnings. Nigeria lags far
behind South Africa on the U.N. Human Development
Index, though. There is massive income inequality, and a
majority of the population faces extreme poverty.
Some economists view Nigeria’s long-term growth as
threatened by chronic underperformance, notably due to
poor infrastructure and electricity shortages. Decades of
economic mismanagement, instability, and corruption have
hindered investment in Nigeria’s education and social
services systems and stymied industrial growth. Corruption
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Nigeria: Current Issues
is “massive, widespread, and pervasive,” according to the
State Department’s annual human rights reports.
Divisions among ethnic groups, between regions, and
between Christians and Muslims often stem from issues
relating to access to land, socioeconomic development, and
jobs, and are sometimes fueled by politicians. By some
estimates, 16,000 Nigerians have died in localized clashes
in the last decade, including more than 800 people killed in
2011 in post-election clashes. Nigeria now has the largest
displaced population in Africa—an estimated 3.3 million
people—and the third largest in the world.
Boko Haram has grown increasingly active and deadly
in its attacks against state and civilian targets in Nigeria
since 2010, drawing on a narrative of vengeance for state
abuses to elicit recruits and sympathizers. More than 11,000
people are estimated to have been killed in Boko Haram
violence, and some 1.5 million have been displaced. Boko
Haram has publicly called for an uprising against secular
authority and a war against Christianity. Its attacks have not
exclusively, or even primarily, targeted Christians, who are
a minority in the north, where the group has been most
active. The group’s periodic attacks on churches and
Christian communities nevertheless fuel existing religious
tensions in the country.
Multiple factors have undermined the Nigerian security
forces’ response to Boko Haram, notably security sector
corruption and mismanagement. By many accounts, troops
are not adequately resourced or equipped to counter the
insurgency. Abuses by Nigerian forces have also taken a
toll on civilians and complicated U.S. efforts to pursue
greater counterterrorism cooperation with Nigeria, despite
shared concerns about Boko Haram and its ties to regional
terrorist groups and operatives. Coordination on
counterterrorism efforts has also been hampered at times by
a lack of cooperation from Nigerian officials.
Boko Haram currently appears to pose a threat
primarily to stability in northern Nigeria, and potentially
to surrounding areas in neighboring countries. The group
also poses a threat to international targets, including
Western citizens, in the region. Boko Haram’s leader has
issued direct threats against the United States, but to date no
U.S. citizens are known to have been kidnapped or killed by
the group. Boko Haram has made rhetorical pledges of
solidarity and support for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, but the
Obama Administration does not currently consider the
group to be affiliated with Al Qaeda’s central leadership.
In the southern Niger Delta region, local grievances
related to oil production have fueled conflict and
criminality for over a decade. Government efforts to
negotiate with local militants and an amnesty program have
quieted the restive region, but the peace is fragile. Some
militants remain involved in various local and transnational
criminal activities, including piracy and drug and arms
trafficking networks. These networks overlap with oil theft
networks and contribute to the rising trend of piracy off the
Nigerian coast and in the wider Gulf of Guinea, now
considered one of the world’s most dangerous bodies of
water. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime suggests that
most piracy in the region can be traced back to the Niger
Delta. Involvement in the theft and illegal trade of crude oil
is not limited to Delta militants—politicians, security
officers, and oil industry personnel are widely rumored to
be implicated. Efforts to addressing oil theft are further
hampered by a lack of transparency in the oil industry.
U.S.-Nigeria Relations and U.S.
The Obama Administration considers its relationship
with Nigeria to be among the most important on the
continent. Diplomatic engagement is sometimes tempered,
however, by Nigerian perceptions of U.S. intrusion in
regional or domestic affairs, and by U.S. concern with
human rights, governance, and corruption issues.
The United States has been supportive of reform
initiatives in Nigeria, including anti-corruption efforts,
economic and electoral reforms, energy sector privatization,
and peace and development efforts in the Niger Delta. In
2010, the Obama and Jonathan Administrations established
the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, a strategic
dialogue to address issues of mutual concern; its working
groups meet regularly. The State Department maintains a
travel warning for U.S. citizens regarding travel to Nigeria,
noting the risks of armed attacks in the northeast and the
threat of kidnapping throughout the country, including in
the Niger Delta, and currently restricts U.S. officials from
all but essential travel to all northern states.
Total U.S.-Nigeria trade was valued at over $18 billion
in 2013, and the United States is the largest source of FDI
in Nigeria. Nigeria has routinely ranked among the United
States’ largest sources of imported oil. U.S. imports
comprised over 40% of Nigeria’s total crude oil exports
until 2011, but U.S. purchases of Nigerian oil have since
plummeted as domestic U.S. crude supply has increased.
Congress oversees an estimated $700 million in U.S.
foreign aid programs in Nigeria—one of the largest U.S.
bilateral assistance packages in Africa. The State
Department’s FY2015 foreign aid request includes more
than $720 million for Nigeria, most of which is focused on
health programs. Nigeria is a focus country under the
President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and a
beneficiary of the Feed the Future (FTF) initiative. The
Administration has identified Nigeria as one of six initial
partner countries for its Power Africa initiative, which aims
to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. U.S.
security assistance to Nigeria has totaled over $20 million
annually in recent years, most of which has focused on
enhancing law enforcement, counternarcotics, peacekeeping
capacity. U.S. counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria has
been constrained by various factors, but is growing.
Nigerian forces are expected to participate in a new 3-year,
$40 million regional program to counter Boko Haram.
CRS Reports RL33964, Nigeria: Current Issues and U.S.
Policy, R43558, Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions.
Lauren Ploch Blanchard, email@example.com, 7-7640
www.crs.gov | 7-5700