May 26, 2015
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, largest oil producer, and most
populous country, with almost 180 million people, roughly
divided between Muslims and Christians. Its Muslim
population is among the largest in the world, and has likely
overtaken Egypt’s as the largest on the continent. Lagos,
Nigeria’s commercial center, is among the world’s largest
cities. The country, which currently holds a non-permanent
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. Nigerian politics have
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.
The Nigerian government has struggled to respond to the
growing threat posed by Boko Haram, a violent Islamist
extremist group based in the northeast. U.S. officials have
expressed concern about Boko Haram’s impact in Nigeria
and neighboring countries; and its ties with other extremist
groups, notably the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria
and Iraq, to which Boko Haram recently pledged allegiance.
The recruitment of Nigerians by other transnational terrorist
groups has also been a concern. 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. 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. Elections in 2011 were seen as more credible,
although they were followed by violent protests in parts of
the north that left more than 800 people dead and illustrated
northern mistrust and dissatisfaction with the government.
Nigeria’s 2015 elections were its most competitive contest
to date, and were viewed as a critical test for its political
leaders, its security forces, and its people. They have been
widely hailed as a historic event, with the ruling People’s
Democratic Party (PDP) and its incumbent president,
Figure 1. Nigeria Facts
Goodluck Jonathan, losing power to a new opposition
coalition, led by former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari.
Jonathan is the first incumbent Nigerian president to lose an
election. The polls had been controversially delayed by six
weeks at the behest of security officials, from February to
March 28 and April 11, which had heightened concerns
about tensions around the polls and raised questions about
alleged political interference in the electoral process.
Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) capitalized on
popular frustration with the Jonathan government’s
response to rising insecurity and allegations of large-scale
state corruption, among other concerns, winning a majority
in the legislature and a majority of the state elections. The
PDP had suffered internal divisions and defections to the
APC since late 2013, and President Jonathan had come
under increasing criticism from some prominent leaders in
the party. Decreased support and turnout for the PDP in the
elections appears to be linked, in part, to public views of the
government’s response to the Boko Haram threat, in
particular to the April 2014 kidnapping of more than 270
schoolgirls from the northeast town of Chibok and the
group’s subsequent territorial advance.
Boko Haram has grown increasingly deadly in its attacks
against state and civilian targets in Nigeria since 2010,
drawing in part 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
called for an uprising against secular authority and a war
against Christianity. Its attacks have not primarily targeted
Christians, who are a minority in the north, where the group
has been most active, but periodic attacks on Christian
communities nevertheless fuel existing religious tensions in
the country. Boko Haram commenced a territorial offensive
in mid-2014 that Nigerian forces struggled to reverse until
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early 2015, when regional military forces, primarily from
neighboring Chad, launched an offensive against the group.
Private mercenaries have also been used in the campaign.
services systems and stymied industrial growth. Corruption
is “massive, widespread, and pervasive,” according to the
State Department’s annual human rights reports.
Multiple factors have undermined the Nigerian response to
Boko Haram, notably security sector corruption and
mismanagement. By many accounts, Nigerian troops are
not adequately resourced or equipped to counter the
insurgency. Abuses by Nigerian forces have taken a toll on
civilians and complicated U.S. efforts to pursue greater
counterterrorism cooperation, despite shared concerns about
Boko Haram. Coordination has also been hampered at times
by a lack of cooperation from Nigerian officials.
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. An estimated
16,000 Nigerians have died in local clashes in the last
decade, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
Boko Haram currently appears to pose a threat primarily to
stability in northern Nigeria and 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’s March 2015 pledge of allegiance to the selfdescribed Islamic State has raised its profile and may
provide recruitment and fundraising opportunities. The
extent to which affiliation might facilitate operational ties
between the groups remains unclear.
In the southern Niger Delta region, local grievances related
to oil production have fueled conflict and criminality for
over a decade. Government negotiations with local militants
and an amnesty program have quieted the area, 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, 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 cut oil theft are also hampered by a
lack of transparency in the oil industry.
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 the country’s education and social
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 has been tempered, however, by
Nigerian perceptions of U.S. intrusion in domestic and
regional affairs, and by U.S. concern with human rights,
governance, and corruption issues. In 2010, the Obama and
Jonathan Administrations established the U.S.-Nigeria
Binational Commission, a strategic dialogue to address
issues of mutual concern. 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 routinely ranked among the United States’
largest sources of imported oil, with U.S. imports
comprising over 40% of Nigeria’s total crude oil exports
until 2011. U.S. purchases of Nigerian oil have since
plummeted as domestic U.S. crude supply has increased.
Congress oversees some $700 million per year in U.S.
foreign aid programs in Nigeria—one of the largest U.S.
bilateral aid packages in Africa. The Administration’s
FY2016 aid request includes more than $607 million for
Nigeria, much of it focused on health programs. Nigeria is a
focus country under the President’s health initiatives, Feed
the Future (FTF), Power Africa, and the new Security
Governance Initiative (SGI). U.S. security assistance to
Nigeria has totaled more than $15 million annually in
recent years, much of it focused on enhancing law
enforcement, counternarcotics, peacekeeping capacity.
Counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria has been constrained
by various factors. Nigeria is expected to benefit from a
new 3-year, $40 million regional program to counter Boko
Haram, and may receive additional support if the new
government is seen to be more responsive to U.S. concerns
about Nigeria’s counterterrorism approach.
See CRS Report R43881, Nigeria’s 2015 Elections and the
Boko Haram Crisis, CRS Report RL33964, Nigeria:
Current Issues and U.S. Policy, and CRS In Focus IF10173,
Lauren Ploch Blanchard, email@example.com, 7-7640
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