Thanks in large part to high oil prices, Nigeria is enjoying a period of sustained growth. Last year its economy grew by 8.4%. The new year has begun, however, against a backdrop of social unrest. And far more troubling for this country of 160 million inhabitants, Africa's most populous, is the very real threat of a civil war.
A general strike that could extend throughout the entire country began Monday. The strike was called by two of Nigerias largest unions, which are protesting a decision by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to do away with a major oil subsidy that made fuel cheaper in Nigeria than in neighboring countries. Nigeria is Africas leading oil producer.
The government says the subsidy, which halves gasoline costs, is unsustainable and most benefited the middle and upper classes, which are far more likely to own large gas-guzzling cars. But the government failed to take into account that transportation costs fall disproportionately high on the 70% of Nigerians who live below the poverty line.
Christian churches have called the decision to drop the subsidy immoral. President Jonathan would do well to loosen fiscal policy: he should take measures to compensate Nigerias poorest citizens. If not, Nigeria which is already looking at the beginnings of a civil war in the north could be facing a long, tough and violent strike.
The immense country has as many Christians as Muslims. It's normal for them to mix, even as Christians are a clear majority in the south. In the north, an armed insurrection led by the Boko Haram movement, an Islamist group, has gained momentum since Christmas. Boko Haram fighters are seizing banks, public buildings and, in some cases, going directly after Christians. They have carried out multiple attacks on Christian churches, schools and neighborhoods, killing as many as 100 people since December. Here and there, the army has deployed tanks. There have been street battles as well between government forces and jihadist fighters.
Even before these latest difficulties, the army which has a reputation for brutality had its hands full dealing with another insurgency by people in the Niger Delta area. The Boko Haram movement, which no doubt has links to other jihadist groups particularly from Africas Sahel region wants Christians out of the north. They speak openly of religious cleansing. All of this is reminiscent of the civil war that raged in Nigeria during the late 1960s, leaving nearly a million dead.
The tragedy in the north is symptomatic. Nigeria is in the midst of a real boom and boasts an admirably dynamic economy thats driven by the private sector. But it remains under-equipped and insufficiently administered. Nigeria urgently needs to build a functioning public sector, and certainly has the capacity to do so.
Read the original article in French
Photo - sosialistiskungdom