The unrest in Nigeria matters to the United States.
Nigeria sells 40 percent of its oil to the United States, comprising more than 8 percent of our overall oil imports, according to the Energy Information Administration. (That’s almost as much as Saudi Arabia, which accounts for 11 percent.) So the country plays an important role in keeping our economy churning.
This OPEC member state exports 2.1 million barrels of oil each day, exceeding its allowed production quota, and thereby having a downward impact on oil prices. Any serious threat to its stability would not only put Nigeria on the brink of civil war, but could have a disruptive effect on the world’s economy.
Nigeria also matters because it is home to a terrorist group that wants to yank the country backward into a bygone era of Shariah rule. Starting with its terrifying Christmas Day bombing of a church which resulted in the deaths of dozens of Christians, Boko Haram, an extremist Muslim organization, has emerged as a real threat, largely due to its suspected al-Qaida ties.
Based in the Muslim north, Boko Haram is assumed to have fundamentalist wealthy backers on its home turf. If Boko Haram becomes a magnet for like-minded individuals, it could lead to more attacks on U.S. interests in Africa or even on our soil.
Today, Nigerians are fed up.
They’re fed up with a crippled and corrupt government.
They’re fed up with stagnant levels of poverty and misery.
They’re fed up with increasingly violent homegrown terrorists.
And they’re fed up with the irony of being a leading global exporter of oil but also one of the world’s poorest nations.
The average Nigerian survives on less than $1 per day, with 70 percent living below the poverty line. While oil earnings account for 80 percent of the nation’s governmental revenues, the constant stream of black gold does not mean prosperity for its people.
Nigerians are so fed up that they took to the streets this month, in a move reminiscent of the early days of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is run by a kleptocracy, effectively making the federal government the second-largest industry in the country. High and low-level public servants routinely become multimillionaires by scamming public funds or taking bribes from private sector interests and powerful individuals eager to influence policy and laws. Members of Nigeria’s parliament rake in about $1 million per year and build mansions with government funds.
The match igniting the flame that culminated in a general labor strike this month was lit when President Goodluck Jonathan removed a gasoline subsidy, effectively doubling the price at the pump overnight. The brazen removal of the one benefit average Nigerians receive from their country’s oil riches displayed a chasm between the government and its people, and was enough to bring educated professionals, working-class stiffs and poor market vendors out en masse.
For my husband’s family still in Nigeria, that meant days of sitting at home due to the work stoppage and a heavy military presence that appeared overnight in most major cities — especially the country’s commercial capital, Lagos.
The United States can’t neglect what’s happening in Nigeria. It is one of the most vital countries in Africa. And for economic and strategic reasons, Washington should use its influence accordingly.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams writes about current issues for the Progressive Media Project. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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