Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Nigeria on the brink? Of what?

September 15, 2010

NIGERIA-ELECTION/Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell sparked a furore when he suggested in Foreign Affairs magazine  that elections due in Nigeria in January could trigger a conflict between Muslim north and Christian south or even precipitate a coup.

In his article entitled “Nigeria on the Brink”, Campbell argued that the ending of a power-sharing agreement between north and south in the ruling party — and a lack of consensus for the first time since the end of military rule over who its candidate should be — could be a recipe for disaster.

“Nigerians have long danced on the edge of the cliff without falling off,” he said. “Yet at this juncture, the odds are not good for a positive outcome, and it is difficult to see how Nigeria can move back from the brink.”

Campbell’s comments were slammed as irresponsible by Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia, who accused him of “seeming to relish in willing a worst case scenario to occur”.

Other critics say references to the “Muslim north and Christian south” and “religious and ethnic unrest” without setting out the context are misleading, painting Nigeria as a radicalized country engulfed by violence.

Horrific as the unrest in the country’s Middle Belt has been, claiming thousands of lives over the past decade, it has been periodic and localised, and born of rivalry for political and economic power rather than religious fervour, they say.

Nigerian friends in the commercial capital Lagos – heaving and chaotic, but also dynamic and full of opportunity – often comment that the country feels permanently “on the brink”. But not necessarily of disaster. In fact, far from it.

The telecoms revolution has made Nigeria Africa’s largest online audience and put mobile phones in the hands of more Nigerians – rich and poor – than anywhere else on the continent, democratising access to information. Other sectors could follow suit.

If the politicians are to be believed and privatization goes ahead, chronic power shortages that are one of the major brakes on economic growth and one of the biggest headaches for the country’s 150 million people, could be a thing of the past within a few years.

The capital markets are deepening and Nigerian firms – particularly its banks as reforms push ahead – are growing in stature, building international reputations. New shopping malls are appearing and in Lagos, a commuter rail system is promised to end infamous traffic jams.

The military mentality is gradually fading, with retired generals reinventing themselves as businessmen whose interests now lie more in the country’s long-term stability than in having a direct handle on power.

The risk of a coup has never been further from most people’s minds.

A report commissioned by the British Council and published this month said Nigeria stands on the threshold of what could be the greatest transformation in its history, with the average Nigerian 3 times richer by 2030 if education and health standards improve and jobs are created.

But it also warned of ethnic conflict and religious radicalization if its legions of youths cannot find work.

So which is it? Is Nigeria on the brink, and if so, what of? Crisis and conflict, as the doomsayers predict, or the greatest period of economic and social development the country has ever seen?

Picture: A man uses his cellphone to take photographs of an election poster of the Nigeria’s former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

On the brink of what? Well I choose, “the greatest period of economic and social development the country has ever seen.”

The doomsday predictions while thoughtful are thankfully, increasingly anachronistic.

Posted by cpafrica | Report as abusive

Mr Campbell must keep himself;” he was the Ambassador/Chief Intelligence Officer of the US in Nigeria when the the famous CIA reports of “Nigeria breaking into pieces in 2015″ was authored; the man must have “rebranded” the report in…to his upcoming book; don’t they pay retiring Ambassadors well in the US?

When the man chooses to use the word “Coup” 3 times; and “Violence” 4 times; and other veiled references to “breakdown of Law and Order,” a couple more times in a 13-paragraph document; you definitely get the idea that he’s planning to push this as a script for a film to be directed by either “Micheal Mann;” “Steven Spielberg,” Jerry Bruckheimer,” or “James Cameron.”

Posted by FavourAfolabi | Report as abusive

I think what Mr Campbell and indeed the British are saying is that we as Nigerians should not continue to live in denial but should endeavour to address the causes of discontent in the polity. I’ll agree that the recipe for the collapse of the country called Nigeria is staggeringly obvious to anyone who dares to enquire.

That Nigeria has enormous potentials is a common knowledge. The potentials can only be realized only IF the underlining issues- so many to list, are forcefully addressed.

Posted by IG_Okorji | Report as abusive

While Mr Campbell’s comment may appear insightful, I cant help but feel the presence of the unseen hand in the timing and the comments itself. It fails to take into cognisance the very critical differences in the North; while it is convenient to talk about a christian south and a Muslim North , let it be on record that the north particularly in the Key states has a sizable christian population , that will not fall comfortably under campbells stereotype. The fact remains that as long as we have these same set of so called rulers , who have raped, pillaged and ruined the economy over the past 50 years,there will still be war drums being beaten by their acolytes and apologist. I feel saddened by Campbell as a person and the intent of the document as a whole;it was obviously calculated and as History has proven over time, Campbell and his likes will be exposed for who they are and what they represent…Insincerity

Posted by NSIK | Report as abusive

Campbell’s opinion that there is tension between the north and the south is very simplistic. The only people who are tensed belong to a small group who could previously ‘select’ Nigeria’s rulers but since the previous president Yaradua died have gradually seen their power base eroded. They dread the fact that Jonathan who is an outsider and also a member of a minority tribe may emerge the next president in a possibly free election. Unfortunately, the options they have of voting a northerner are not too palatable as one of the leading northern candidates, Ribadu may be their nemesis. May their fears come true!

Posted by Olapmp | Report as abusive

I think Campbell could be right but his approach to this problem is wrong. If he feels so strongly about Nigeria being on the brink, he could have worked with the Department of State (which he works for) to intimate the Nigerian government about the possibilities of problems next year.

But like this article said, Nigeria could also be on the brink of economic explosion. If GEJ could pull of the privatization of the power infrastructure and get the rail business going, Nigeria would go places.

Posted by Kekedire | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see