Nigeria in the 21st Century

By | January 28, 2022

At the turn of the first decade of the 21st century, Nigeria continued to face a series of serious problems: the phenomenon of corruption and patronage, environmental pollution and endemic conflict in the Delta regions, social inequalities, the fragility of civil society and above all the growth of the Islamic fundamentalist movement of the Boko Haram, which starting from 2009 bloodied the country with a trickle of very serious attacks and from 2013 came to control some areas of the Northeast, in particular in the Borno State.

Some women freed from the Nigerian army

According to, Boko Haram, literally “Western education is a sin”, is the usual name of the Islamic extremist movement Ǧamā῾t ahl al-Sunna li᾽l-da῾wa wa al-ǧiḥād (“People engaged in the propagation of the teachings of the Prophet and of jihad “). The group, whose religious roots can be traced back to the Yan Tatsine sect – operating in the Eighties in the State of Kano – was formed in 2005 under the leadership of Muḥammad Yūsuf, an imām of the mosque of Maiduguri (Borno State) with great skills in a few years he became very well known among the local population for his sermons against the corruption of politicians. The movement initially had charitable and indoctrinating purposes and was aimed at a largely illiterate and very poor population. The killing of Yūsuf, in unclear circumstances, by the police in 2009, caused an explosion of violence throughout the north-east of the country. The harsh repression (in a few days about 700 deaths) pushed the movement towards a progressive radicalization also thanks to the relations, which have become increasingly close over time, with the AQMI (al-Qā῾ida in the Islamic Maghreb). This troubled context was preceded by the presidential elections in April 2007, which saw the victory of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the North, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with 70% of the votes. The violence that had marked the electoral campaign (over 200 deaths) and the lack of transparency of the voting operations confirmed the strong uncertainties with which the democratization process proceeded. In January 2010 the Parliament, as a result of the serious illness that had struck Yar’Adua, transferred the powers to the vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the South, who took full office in May, after the death of Yar’Adua himself.. The consultations, held in April 2011 and won with about 59% of the votes, confirmed him as president.

The impact of Boko Haram terrorism on Nigeria

Jonathan’s decision to re-run in 2015 caused tensions in the PDP, which emerged sharply between 2013 and 2014, when some governors, deputies and senators of the party joined the new All Progressives Congress (APC) formation, which brought together the main opposition parties. The old affiliations, however, were confronted with a country that seemed to require an overcoming of ethnic-religious logic, above all because, driven by constant economic growth, an active middle class had now formed in the cities, capable of entrepreneurial initiatives without the aid from the State and which demanded respect for rights, security and the fight against corruption. A phenomenon, that of corruption, royalties derived 70% of state revenues and in which large foreign companies operated. Moreover, economic growth and development of the middle class had not mitigated inequalities and in 2010 68% of the population still lived below the poverty line, despite the fact that the Nigeria, according to the new statistical criteria introduced by the International Monetary Fund, was the country in 2012. with the continent’s highest GDP, higher, at least in accounting terms, than South Africa.

However, starting from 2013 the terrorist activity of the Boko Haram, now supporters of a great Islamic State and strengthened by weapons from Libyan arsenals, became the crucial problem of the country: the intensification of the attacks, attacks on villages, kidnappings made the life of the populations of the North-East is ever more tragic, despite the state of emergency and a territory garrisoned by the army. In the meantime, terrorism widened its range of action with attacks in the capital Abuja itself. On April 14, 2014, the kidnapping of over 200 students from a Chibok school put Nigeria at the center of international attention: the United States and Great Britain sent a team of counter-terrorism experts while France promoted a summit in May among the heads of state of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin to set up a military coordination, which the Nigeria accepted, overcoming the previously opposed resistances for reasons of national prestige. An enlarged intervention was also necessary because the North of Cameroon, which had become the logistical base of the Boko Haram, was the target of attacks and kidnappings: a porous border, that between Cameroon and Nigeria, which extends as far as Lake Chad and where the same ethnic groups and the same languages ​​are spoken.

In the March 2015 elections – initially scheduled for February and then postponed by six weeks to allow the conclusion of a major operation against the Boko Haram in the north-east of the country – the APC won a majority of seats in both Houses of Parliament. Nigerian; moreover, its presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, already at the top of the Supreme Military Council between 1983 and 1985 after the coup that had overthrown President Shehu Shagari, was elected head of state with about 54% of the votes, defeating Jonathan.

Nigeria in the 21st Century