Members of a civilian joint task force patrol in Maiduguri, Nigeria, April 2016 Ashley Gilbertson / VII / Redux
Nigeria is in big trouble. If a state’s first obligation to those it governs is to provide for their security and maintain a monopoly on the use of violence, then Nigeria has failed, even if some other aspects of the state still function. Criminals, separatists, and Islamist insurgents increasingly threaten the government’s grip on power, as do rampant corruption, economic malaise, and rising poverty.
Most failed states in Africa—such the Central African Republic, Somalia, and South Sudan—are small or marginal; Nigeria, by contrast, boasts a growing population of 214 million. It is expected to become the world’s third-largest country by population by 2050. And prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had Africa’s largest economy or its second-largest after South Africa (depending on how one measures). That is why state failure in Nigeria is having profound consequences for the entire region—and beyond. It bodes especially ill for the stability and well-being of weak states in Nigeria’s vicinity, as evidenced by the spread of jihadi and criminal groups to Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ivory Coast, Mali, and Niger.
Nigeria’s collapse can be reversed, however. Increasingly, prominent Nigerian opinion-makers are calling for an alternative to the
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JOHN CAMPBELL is Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
ROBERT I. ROTBERG is President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation, Founding Director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict, and the author of Things Come Together: Africans Achieving Greatness in the Twenty-First Century.