The Battle for Nigeria

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by Aryn Baker/Abuja,

from TIME Magazine,

Whoever wins February’s presidential election in Africa’s most populous country will face a daunting battle against an increasingly confident Islamist insurgency.

The Nigerian government’s military campaign against the Islamist militants of Boko Haram began in 2009, but it was the abduction of the schoolgirls last year that thrust Nigeria into the spotlight and alerted the world to the growing threat of a force that now controls large swaths of Africa’s most populous country. As the continent’s top petroleum producer and the home to rapidly growing telecommunications and entertainment industries, a secure, efficient Nigeria could be a beacon of stability in tumultuous West Africa. But should the country crumble under economic mismanagement and an insurgency that already has free rein over territory roughly the size of Costa Rica in northeastern Nigeria, it risks pulling much of the unstable region down with it.

Whoever wins this month’s election won’t have an easy job. The next President will be tasked with addressing the corruption, military weakness and economic inequities that have enabled Boko Haram to thrive. He will also have to cope with the plunging price of crude, which has seen the oil-dependent government’s revenue tumble. Recent opinion polls conducted by research group Afrobarometer show that the election is too close to call.

Many Nigerians and outside observers fear that a long-standing rivalry between Buhari’s largely Muslim base in the north and [incumbent Goodluck] Jonathan’s southern Christian supporters could erupt into bloodshed over election results that would benefit no one but Boko Haram.

Rotten Core

The failure of the military in the fight against the insurgents has caused a crisis of confidence in a country where many once considered the army a source of pride, largely because of its participation in African peacekeeping missions.

Western security officials say they have seen little evidence of a robust attempt to track the girls down. Many Nigerians suspect that corruption, which they believe has resulted in equipment shortages, is the primary cause of the military’s weakness. When Boko Haram fighters attacked a military post in January, soldiers said they were forced to flee because they ran out of ammunition, and the air support they requested never came.

Corruption remains endemic in Nigeria. Out of 174 countries surveyed by Transparency International in 2014, Nigeria ranked alongside five others as the 15th most corrupt country in the world.

In addition to strengthening security, Buhari has made ending corruption one of his key campaign pledges, promising to establish an independent corruption watchdog and to strengthen laws protecting whistle-blowers.

Fragile Democracy

… the city of Abuja is still emerging from the farmland it was before the capital was moved in 1991 from coastal Lagos in the south to the country’s central and regionally neutral plateau.

Nigeria’s democracy is still a work in progress. With its wealth and rapidly expanding population, Nigeria will inevitably play a significant role in an economically ascendant Africa, for good or for bad. As one of the continent’s most powerful leaders, the winner of this month’s election will have to heal the fissures in Nigerian governance and society that have allowed Boko Haram to flourish.

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