The nation of Nigeria, with its 150 million inhabitants — split almost evenly between Christians in the south and Muslims in the north — might be a half-century old. But it is still facing growing pains. A year before it’s 50th anniversary as a sovereign nation in 2010, Nigeria’s most famous writer Chinua Achebe published an essay making this statement about his homeland: “Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed, and incredibly wayward.”
The “wayward” ways of the most populous nation in Africa has international policy experts concerned, not only for the future of the oil industry there that America depends on — but also for the social stability of a country with so much promise. Ironically, the material well-being of Nigeria depends greatly on whether its warring religious factions can get along. So far, the Mulsim-Christian divide has continually fueled bloody conflict, culminating in an attack last Friday on a United Nations building in the capital city of Abuja that killed 19 people.
The attack was orchestrated by the home-grown Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram, a faction seen as expressing the frustrations many Muslims feel as a disenfranchised group. Even though oil-rich Nigeria is the largest African exporter of the resource to the U.S., most of the oil comes from the south which is populated by Christians. In addition, the vast majority of the educated elite both within the country and abroad are Christians, including the current president. Muslims in the north have responded to their relative powerlessness by rejecting secular education, medicine and other practices that are associated with the Christian way of life.