By Karl Sorri for Global Risk Insights
The political and economic situation in Nigeria is fraught with instability. A combination of terrorist attacks and oil sector shocks have created an air of uncertainty. The current leadership under President Goodluck Jonathan has proved questionable, but whether this will have an effect on the upcoming national elections is hard to tell. Two issues are standing out that are particularly troublesome for Nigeria and Jonathan: Boko Haram and falling oil prices.
Despite initially being overwhelmed by the media attention surrounding the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the world has finally woken up to the terrible situation in Baga in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram, the same group that kidnapped 219 schoolgirls in April 2014, was responsible for attacks between January 3rd and 8th during which, according to some estimates, approximately 2000 people were killed with thousands more displaced.
Boko Haram has been a bitter problem in Nigeria for years, but President Jonathan has failed to do enough to combat it. Whereas fighters from Boko Haram are well equipped and trained, the Nigerian army has seen another recent cut in funding. Soldiers’ monthly pay has been cut in half with no explanation, and this serves to demotivate and incapacitate a military response to the Boko Haram threat.
Critics say that this is simply another case of corruption by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, which has been accused of corruption on several accounts. The fact that the President also showed a slow response to the Boko Haram attack does not do much to counter these claims.
Boko Haram is, however, not Nigeria’s only weak spot. Nigeria’s economy is heavily dependent on its oil exports, and the recent slump in global oil prices will become a significant economic setback. This will prove to be especially true if oil prices remain low for a prolonged period of time, as previous trends in oil may suggest.
Along with this setback, the United States recently announced that it would cease importing oil from Nigeria. Considering the United States has been a major importer of Nigerian oil since 1973, this compounded development will further dampen Nigeria’s economic outlook in the near future.
Once again, the current leadership has been criticized for not taking steps to ease Nigeria’s dependency on oil, or to proactively look for other importers. Moreover, some suggest that the reason the U.S. stopped importing Nigerian oil (and did not approve a separate arms deal), was because there is strong opposition to President Jonathan in Washington.
But despite all the current and former accusations, Goodluck Jonathan is leading the polls for the upcoming elections on February 14th. This popularity is partly due to his successful management of the Ebola crisis, and partly due to a lack of popular political opponents.
The strongest candidate besides him is Muhammadu Buhari, a former leader who has a record for being tough on insecurity and is “incorruptible.” If the Nigerian citizenry decides to vote for Buhari instead of Jonathan, these qualities would be beneficial for tackling Nigeria’s instability and restoring some confidence from the public and from investors.
Nevertheless, whoever wins the elections will have to take effective action soon to deal with Nigeria’s problems. Boko Haram is growing into an unsustainably strong force that is already acting across borders. Further, Nigeria needs to react to the new realities of its oil sector. If not, the resulting ramifications will prove increasingly harmful for Nigeria and for the region.