The biggest threat to Nigeria’s political stability is not a coup but a secession

The mass impoverishment of citizens amidst abundance (only enjoyed by a few powerful individuals) is a potential trigger for state implosion.

On 29 October 2023, during a working visit in Nigeria, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, expressed displeasure over how mineral resources extracted from Nigeria end up abroad without the proceeds trickling down to benefit the citizens. Interestingly, the German Chancellor only echoed a problem bedevilling most resource-rich African countries where criminally entrenched interests in and out of government perpetuate bad governance to enrich themselves. While the criminal undertakings of French interests in cahoots with African leaders in Francophone West African countries have led to popularly supported coups, the threat facing countries like Nigeria, Sudan or DRC is different: secession.

In Nigeria, the government’s failure to tackle the issue of high-level corruption in the corridors of power and improve governance of public resources for the greater good has given rise to mass discontent, agitations, armed conflicts and, most notably, threats of secession.

Nigeria is the second largest crude oil reserve in Africa after Libya; it also houses the largest natural gas reserves on the continent and is said to be endowed with over forty (40) types of minerals, including marble, bitumen, coal, iron ore, gold, silica, lead, zinc, tin ore, manganese, granite, laterite, limestone etc. According to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative 2021 report, Nigeria earned about $2.02 billion in 15 years from solid minerals extraction. Ironically, this huge amount of revenue and the exploitation of natural resources have not improved the standard of living of Nigerians, with about 130 million living below the poverty line.

Both the persistent paradox of widespread poverty amidst plenty for millions of Nigerians and the indifference of the country’s political leadership towards addressing the root causes of this issue portend a great threat to not just the stability but the existence of Nigeria as a state.

It is no accident that at least 23 local government areas in three North-West states of Nigeria remain under the control of bandits, a situation similar to what Nigeria experienced in 2021, where some states in the country were under the control of terrorists and bandits who collect tax from citizens, thereby creating “pseudo” states within the Nigerian state.

This situation has a ripple effect, namely a growing resurgence of separatist movements across Nigeria, such as a) the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which aims to establish an independent state of Biafra in southeastern Nigeria, b) the agitators for a separatist Yoruba Nation in the Southwest region of Nigeria and c) the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta who according to a BBC are fighting for the total control of Niger Delta’s crude oil wealth, contending that local people have not gained from the riches of their region. Despite the fact that scholars have long argued that these separatist agitations are expressions of resentment over economic exclusion and material deprivation of these various groups, the situations have continued to worsen rather than improve.

Nigeria is not alone on this negative trajectory as elsewhere in Africa, the stability and national security of countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Sierra Leone are severely threatened by issues such as militancy, war, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, and violent intergroup relations due to the poor management of mined minerals, coupled with the high level of corruption and the ineptitude of the political leadership. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the M23 rebels who claim to fight for the right of Kinyarwanda-speaking populations to live on their ancestral lands have recently threatened to secede if the government refuses to sit at the negotiation table. Civil wars in Sudan, on the other hand, led to the emergence of a new state, South Sudan, in 2011, and the ongoing war in Sudan could lead the country to further  split into two or more states, with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) controlling Khartoum, Darfur and Kordofan and Sudan’s army controlling Eastern and Northern Sudan.

Unfortunately, governments in all these countries, especially in Nigeria, have resorted to the use of repression and brute force to tackle these issues instead of addressing the root causes of the emerging agitations: governance characterized by endemic corruption, discrimination, and exclusion.

In sum, the signs are glaring for Nigeria and Africa to realize that we cannot carry on with a business-as-usual attitude. The mass impoverishment of citizens amidst abundance (only enjoyed by a few powerful individuals) is a potential trigger for state implosion.


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