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Which way Nigeria?

In Nigeria there are at once good and bad signs for the future of Africa's largest democracy. Peter Ezeh, reporting from Enugu State, explains why it is so.

The credit for the headline of this story goes to the late Sonny Okosun, one of Nigeria's virtuosi of highlife music during his lifetime. The title is that of his hit number that chronicled the political woes of Nigeria since its independence from Britain in 1960, and the apparent hopelessness in overcoming many of its problems. A number of recent events, however, have made citizens of the West African country begin asking Okosun's question once more, this time with a sense of urgency.


Two recent elections, give the brightest signs ever that Nigeria is at last taking democratic processes seriously. These are the elections of governors in Anambra and Ekiti, two of the 36 constituent states of Africa's largest federal nation-state. Judging by the way the elections went, few will doubt that Nigeria has arrived as a modern democracy.


Two recent elections, give the brightest signs ever that Nigeria is at last taking democratic processes seriously. These are the elections of governors in Anambra and Ekiti, two of the 36 constituent states of Africa's largest federal nation-state. Judging by the way the elections went, few will doubt that Nigeria has arrived as a modern democracy.


But if one chooses to focus on institutional weaknesses in general, these are prominent as well; and indeed numerous. The more familiar inimical practices of corruption, cronyism, ethnicism and sectarian violence, are all still present. Many say that these have rather ballooned. Sectarian violence has grown from sporadic, localised eruptions of instances of bigotry to a serious pan-Nigerian concurrent crisis disturbing normal social life in all parts of the country.


The far north-east of the country was made notorious last April by the kidnap of an entire school population of girls in one fell swoop; it is only the most frequently disturbed, and not the only troubled place. A company of the suspected Boko Haram fighters were rounded up while moving in a convoy of buses to the oil-producing southernmost districts of the country.

It is difficult to get the exact number of casualties since Boko Haram began its campaigns in 2009 but in mid-July 2014 a Nigerian media report put it at 5,653; 36% of this in the first half of this year alone. Many see this as a disturbing trend. The number does not include those who are missing from instances of kidnapping by the jihadist sect, or those who have died from other sources of religious violence.


The group, whose full name is Jama'atu Ahlil-Sunna Lidda'awati wal Jihad, has aspired since 2009 to Islamise the entire Nigerian state, although the Christian and Muslim populations here are virtually equal in numbers, not counting those who practise Nigeria's various autochthonous religions. Nigerians gave the sect its colloquial Hausa alias, Boko Haram (which translates as "Western-style education is sin") from its ideology of condemnation of a Western-style education and non-Muslim lifestyle.


Nigerian newspapers report that the sect is probably connected with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has been active in east and northern Africa, and has caused serious strife in Mali, Nigeria's northern neighbour. France came in to help quell the trouble in its former colony.


President Goodluck Jonathan's government's strategy in handling the challenge of Boko Haram is two-pronged: making local security agencies more efficient, and cooperating with countries that are more experienced in fighting terrorism. France, Britain, China, Israel, and the US have all offered assistance.


At a meeting in Paris, Nigeria agreed to also help its neighbour Cameroon in an effort to rout the insurgents. Cooperating with Nigeria has mutual benefits in that if the terrorists are allowed to operate in any of Nigeria's neighbouring countries, it will make their spread of instability to the rest of the region easy. Niger, Cameroon and Chad have agreed to form a common military command to fight the terrorists with Nigeria, to which each will contribute 700 troops.