My naive mental picture of Nigeria - the second largest economy in Africa - is as follows:

  1. A Muslim North scratching out a living in the Sahara desert
  2. A nominally Christian South making money on the Internet (and seemingly offering an unending supply of unattended million dollars!)
  3. A bunch of oil workers in the Niger Delta.

Each of these regions seems highly antagonistic to the others (witness Muslim killing of Christians in the North, or Goodluck Jonathan's uneasy rise to power). Furthermore, there doesn't seem to be much of a synergistic effect amongst these different regions. In contrast, even empires as vast as the United States or the Soviet Union seem to be able to cohere a "national purpose" or at least trading partnerships that enrich most of the country.

What is that thing for Nigeria? What keeps it together as a single states rather than three separate nations under one rotating leader?

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    One could argue that at this point, Unites States are no more united than Nigeria, and be at least somewhat correct :) – DVK Dec 20 '12 at 4:03
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    As Yannis correctly points out, Nigeria has had much more instability and civil war than the United States. – Affable Geek Dec 20 '12 at 7:45
  • This question seems to me to be a better fit on History SE, especially in light of the fact that the answer 90% consists of historical exposition that doesn't answer it at all from politics standpoint, and 10% a guess that to me seems to contradict the rest of the answer (civil war was caused by being a single country, not resolved by it) – DVK Dec 20 '12 at 12:58
  • I welcome this question but cannot help but notice that it seems to be as open-ended as others that tend to be closed. What's the correct/current "meta" view to adopt here? – Drux Jan 30 '13 at 14:06
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    Sorry, I'd vote for migrating it back to politics, unless you edit to give it a better history outfit. Something purely cosmetic, admittedly. – astabada Jan 30 '13 at 15:57

Nigeria became independent from the United Kingdom on October 1, 1960, and shortly after the country plunged into a bloody civil war, with estimates for the number of dead being between 1 and 3 million. During the civil war, two secessionist states were created:

Thus, and strictly speaking, we can't say that Nigeria had stayed together for the whole of its history as an independent state.

The ethnic and religious tensions that lead to the civil war still fuel secessionist movements. The Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) advocates for the re-establishment of the Republic of Biafra or at least a new state for the Ogbi people. Its members have claimed that the Nigerian police and army harass and prosecute them regularly. In a recent news story, Chief Arinze Igbani has sued both the police and the army for violating his human rights. In another incident, the movement's leader, Ralph Uwazuruike, and 280 other members were reportedly detained, and released after a few days with the intervention of President Jonathan.

Another notable secessionist movement, the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) advocates for the creation of a state for the Ogoni people, north-east of the Niger Delta. The repression of the Ogoni people is described in some detail in the Human Rights Watch publication The Ogoni Crisis: A Case-Study of Military Repression in Southeastern Nigeria. MOSOP has declared "self-government" in August 2012.

A third source of secessionist tension is the Bakassi issue. Nigeria may have given up on its claims on the oil rich Bakassi peninsula in 2008, however the Efik people that traditionally inhabited the area plan to join forces with Southern Cameroon to form an independent nation.

Adding to these and various other smaller secessionist movements, sectarian conflict isn't rare either, with the Boko Haram being responsible for over 900 deaths (to date). While what held the country together during its era of military rule might be obvious, since 1999 and the country's first democratic elections it seems that ethnic and religious tensions are constantly growing and currently Nigeria is in a very fragile state. President Jonathan's election in 2011 was met with violence in the predominantly Muslim North, although the election process was hailed in the West.

I think the country is one of the worst examples of colonialism, the British had the terrible idea of packing traditionally warring factions into a single country. While researching the answer, I got the feeling that the only time the various ethnic groups of Nigeria had some kind of "national purpose" was when they were fighting the British and now that the British are gone they're back at fighting each other.

Simply put, it's a gigantic mess, and if tensions continue to rise, it's not unthinkable that the only solution would be for Nigeria to split into separate states. One factor that might contribute towards Nigeria remaining a single state is that memories of the civil war and the various military dictatorships that followed it are still fresh, but that won't last for long.

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  • I'd suggest removing the Republic of Benin - turns out it was a puppet state of Biafra that only existed for one day (possibly a world record there). – Felix Goldberg Jan 30 '13 at 14:05
  • I think most African nations were created by the west with division and civil war in mind. The division makes it easier for corporations to manipulate and abuse them. – user202 Jan 30 '13 at 23:23
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    @HermannIngjaldsson et al., the comments section is not really appropriate for discussions. The chat room for the site "The Time Machine" is a better venue: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/1560/the-time-machine That being said I thought the comments were in fact quite good, and I think you guys could have hashed it out if you were chatting. – ihtkwot Feb 4 '13 at 13:51

My understanding is that national leadership is de facto (but not de jure) rotating between members of the most influential ethnic groups in the country. National politics are perhaps rightly seen as a mess (a lot of private fortunes are at stake, hence the corruption), but the country has had a long federalist tradition too.

Some of the strongest groups are based in peripheral parts of the country (e.g. the Hausa in the North), whereas its oil wealth is concentrated in the Niger delta in the South: so there you have a strong interest against political separation as in Sudan, facts on the ground.

There is also the centralizing force of the military (juntas ruled from 1966 to 1979 and 1983 to 1998), plus perhaps new benefits to be had from being Africa's most populous country (with South Africa in relative decline and China looking for new strategic partners in the region).

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