Nigeria: A Progressive Struggle



The recent emergence of the Islamist group Boko Haram in the north of Nigeria has exacerbated a north/south split in the country that divides primarily along religious lines (Muslim/Christian).  As the most populous nation in Africa and one of the leading oil exporters in the world, Nigeria is a key player in the region.  Join Active Minds as we explore the past, present, and future of this important country.

Key Lecture Points

  • Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and its most populous country with 177 million people, about equally divided between Muslims and Christians.  Nigeria also has 250 ethnic groups of which the 3 major groups are the primarily Sunni Muslim Hausa-Fulani, the primarily Christian Yoruba and the mostly Christian Igbo.  Because of its explosive population growth, Nigeria is expected to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050.
  • Since obtaining its independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, Nigeria has struggled in its quest to become a modern republic. The country has been faced with corruption, dictatorships, military rule, coups and war.  Although the 2015 presidential elections were not perfect, they gave Africa a good example of democracy in action with a peaceful, well-monitored and uncontested election in which the opposition candidate won for the first time in Nigerian history.  Muhammadu Buhari, the new president, will need to address widespread corruption as well as economic and security concerns.
  • Although Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer with 70% of its budget coming from oil sales, over 62% of the population lives in extreme poverty.  The Nigerian economy has been hit hard by falling world prices for oil and by the loss of its oil sales to the US as the US has become nearly energy independent.  The government continues to face the challenges of diversifying a petroleum-based economy, whose revenues have been squandered through corruption.
  • Since 2009 Nigeria has been in the grip of an insurgency, fought by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram that has been marked by bombings, assassinations and abductions.  Boko Haram’s goal is to overthrow the government and establish an Islamist state.  The militant group drew international condemnation in 2014 when they abducted more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who are still missing.  A revitalized Nigerian Army pushed Boko Haram back in spring 2015, recapturing most of the territory the militants controlled.  Despite this success, it is too early to say the Boko Haram threat is over.  The long-term solution to Boko Haram is addressing the nation’s poverty and creating an education system that the Muslim north will accept.

Exploration Questions

  • How has the discovery of oil affected the history and economy of Nigeria since 1960?
  • What are the current challenges Nigeria faces?  What is the impact for the US?
  • What is Boko Haram and why is it important?

Reflective Questions

  • What comes to mind when you think of the country of Nigeria and its people?
  • Estimates are that as many as 45% of African Americans are descended from slaves brought to the country from Nigeria.  Do you think that this should affect the way that the US interacts with Nigeria?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Falola, Toyin, Matthew M. Heaton.  A History of Nigeria.  Cambridge University Press, 2008.  329 pages.  This book explores Nigeria’s pre-colonial and colonial past and the country’s journey to independence.
    Click here to order
  • Abure, Ebho, Agbose Akinwole. History and Truth in Nigeria.  Createspace, 2014. 274 pages. Using a collection of emails and other communications, we see the current debate among influential Nigerians about their country and its future.
    Click here to order
  • Comolli, Virginia.  Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency.  Hurst, 2015. 208 pages.  The author traces the development of Boko Haram, the causes of the insurgency and how the government has reacted to the insurgents.
    Click here to order
  • Morell, Michael and Bill Harlow.  The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from al Qa’ida to ISIS.  Twelve, 2015. 384 pages. The book examines terrorist groups from Khorasan to Boko Haram.
    Click here to order