Nigeria: Armed Conflicts, Military Spending, and the Economic Context

During the mid-to-late 2000s, Nigeria struggled to reign in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, better known simply as MEND. MEND is a militant group based in the southwest of Nigeria in the Niger Delta, Nigeria's primary onshore oil production region. The group sought increased economic benefits for residents of the Niger Delta from the country's oil production and reparations for destruction of the environment by foreign oil companies. The group's guerrilla warfare tactics and deadly bombings were only part of the reason it was so potent; the group also caused severe economic losses by disrupting or shutting in oil and gas production infrastructure and kidnapping foreign oil workers.

A second violent group was developing its identity and reach during this same period: Boko Haram. Much of the world learned of the Boko Haram terrorist group after it kidnapped 276 school girls from their dormitory in the Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014, but for years it has grown in size and capability. Formally established in the early 2000s, this Islamic extremist group gained new momentum and potency in the period 2009-2010 when it started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria.

Today both groups have contributed to escalating levels of violence throughout Nigeria, although many of the claims of responsibility by purported members of MEND are questionable. In 2014, Nigeria experienced a dramatic increase in fatalities, reaching about 11,000 deaths, according to ACLED estimates. In late January 2015, after the largest massacre by Boko Haram in Baga (1,700-2,000 killed), a coalition of military forces from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger began a counter-insurgency campaign against the group. By summer, it was believed that the Nigerian military had retaken most of the areas previously controlled by Boko Haram in the northeastern area of the country, however, the first quarter death toll still reached 6,109 fatalities.

Violence in Nigeria must be examined in the context of the socioeconomic conditions that have only accentuated ethnic, religious, and geographic divisions in the country. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy as well as its largest oil producer. Yet, astonishing levels of corruption have left it lagging in basic development and infrastructure in most of the country.

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