Nigeria is in a mess; it is fair to say that the country that is Africa’s largest economy, with a population, Africa’s largest, of an estimated 190 million, is always in trouble, but the problems this time are considerably greater than normal in recent years.

The chaos caused in the northeast by the Islamist Boko Haram movement, it of the Chibok girls fame, is more under control than it has sometimes been in the past. At the same time, this state of affairs has been brought about by sometimes brutal Nigerian military action, including the burning of villages. The disruption caused by Boko Haram and the Nigerian military together has led to widespread famine in the region through unplanted crops. That’s No. 1.

The second problem is continued unrest in Nigeria’s oil-producing region in the southeast, in the Niger River delta, making the country’s overall economic situation acute given its dependence on oil for legal and illegal revenue. This is not a new problem. Oil production has consistently created environmental problems for that region’s fishermen and farmers, who resent the pollution and the fact that they continue to receive what they consider to be a disproportionately small portion of the oil money.

No. 3 is local, in a sense, but also national. Nigeria built a new capital in the 1980s at Abuja in the center of the country, succeeding Lagos, a port, whose population has exploded to an estimated 21 million. It built an airport at Abuja but severely neglected maintenance at it to the point that its runways are now unusable. The nearest, small airport is at Kaduna, a hundred miles away, and Abuja airport is expected to be closed for years of repairs.

The fourth problem is the health of President Muhammadu Buhari. He has just returned from two months of treatment in London, where he was basically incommunicado. He still looks frail. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is Christian, from the south, and if Mr. Buhari, a Muslim from the north, were to step down or pass away, it would risk confounding Nigeria’s rough rotation of the presidency between its Christians and Muslims, south and north. In the meantime, it appears that Mr. Buhari will not be in much of a position to lead the country in addressing its other problems.

Why should Americans care? Nigeria’s size, the importance of its role in Africa — including as a sometime peacekeeper in West African scraps — and its relatively important trading relationship with the United States make it a useful American partner in a frequently troubled Africa. The United States sells Nigeria 9.3 percent of its imports and buys oil from it. Nigeria shouldn’t need American aid, but the United States should stay close to it as it makes its way through its problems.

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Publish date : 15 March 2017 | 4:05 am

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