After decades of dictatorships, Nigeria saw its fourth ever democratically elected president take office one year ago. Today, the country’s nascent democracy is being tested by rampant crime, a disaffected public, and an unprecedented campaign of terror.
In the south, civil unrest threatens safety and stability. To the east, gangs who kidnap expatriates for ransom lie in wait on the roads, in bars, and in town centers. And to the north, the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram is growing in both organization and brutality. The group has issued brazen challenges to the government and the ultimatum “leave or die” to Christians and those living in the northern region but belonging to ethnic or religious groups from the south. Confidence that the government can protect the people is at an all-time low.
For the last two years, Nigeria was categorized as the 14th worst state out of 177 countries ranked by multiple factors in the Fund for Peace (FFP) Failed State Index. “The 2011 elections exacerbated north-south religious and ethnic tensions, leaving the state vulnerable to further internal conflict,” notes a 2011 FFP country profile for Nigeria.
“The security situation there is very fluid right now,” says Jay Radzinski, intelligence manager at Max-Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm.
Violence between the Christian and Muslim communities is not new. It has in the past resulted in the death and displacement of thousands in the Middle Belt region, Radzinski says. But it is currently more widespread with the resurgence of Boko Haram—the number one threat to stability in Nigeria right now. According to the BBC, “Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it ‘haram,’ or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. Recently, the group has resurged, staging more wide scale and sophisticated attacks.
Boko Haram first emerged in the early 2000s. It attacked government buildings and churches, making demands that the country reject any notion of Western culture. The Nigerian government fought back, killing hundreds of the sect’s members and, eventually, the head of the group.