A boy scout salutes near the graves of victims of a suicide
bomb attack during a memorial service at St Theresa's
Church in Madalla, on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital
Abuja on December 23. Photo from Reuters.
It is not known if the word ''dysfunctional'' was
invented specifically to describe the Nigerian state - several
other candidates also come to mind - but the word certainly
fills the bill.
The political institutions of Africa's biggest country are
incapable of dealing with even the smallest challenge.
Indeed, they often make matters worse. Consider, for example,
the way the Nigerian government has dealt with the Islamist
terrorists of Boko Haram.
Or rather, how it has failed to deal with them. Boko Haram
(the phrase means ''Western education is sinful'') began as a
loony but not very dangerous group in the northern state of
Bornu which rejected everything they perceived as ''Western''
science. In a BBC interview in 2009, its founder, Mohammed
Yusuf, claimed the concept of a spherical Earth is against
Islamic teaching. He also denied rain came from water
evaporated by the sun.
Bornu is a very poor state, however, and his preaching gave
him enough of a following among the poor and ignorant to make
him a political threat to the established order. So hundreds
of his followers were killed in a massive military and police
attack on the movement in 2009, and Mohammed Yusufwas
murdered while in police custody.
That triggered Boko Haram's terrorist campaign. Its attacks
grew rapidly: by early 2012, Boko Haram had killed 700 people
in dozens of attacks against military, police, government and
media organisations and against the Christian minorities
living in northern Nigeria.
So, last March, Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan,
promised the security forces would end the insurgency by
June. But the death toll just kept climbing. In September, a
senior official told The Guardian newspaper:''There is no
sense that the government has a real grip. The situation is
not remotely under control.''
Six people died in an attack on a church on Christmas Day,
seven killed in Maiduguri, the capital of Bornu state, on
December 27, and the abduction and murder of 15 Christians,
mostly by slitting their throats, in a town near Maiduguri on
President Jonathan's response was to visit a Christian church
on Sunday and congratulate the security forces on preventing
many more attacks during Christmas week: ''Although we still
recorded some incidents, the extent of attacks which [Boko
Haram] planned was not allowed to be executed.''
If this is what success looks like, Nigeria is in very deep
trouble. Part of the reason is the ''security forces'', which
are corrupt, incompetent, and brutal. In the murderous
rampages that are their common response to Boko Haram's
attacks, they have probably killed more innocent people than
the terrorists themselves, and have certainly stolen more
property. Right across the country's mainly Muslim north,
they are Boko Haram's best recruiting sergeants.
But it is the government that raises, trains and pays these
security forces, and even in a continent where many countries
have problems with the professionalism of the army and
police, Nigeria's are in a class by themselves.
That is ultimately because its politicians are also in a
class by themselves. There are some honest and serious men
and women among them, but as a group they are spectacularly
cynical and self-serving.
Democracy has not transformed politics dramatically for the
better anywhere in Nigeria, but the deficit is worst in the
north, where the traditional rulers protected their power by
making alliances with politicians who appealed to the
population's Islamic sentiments.
That's why all the northern states introduced sharia law
around the turn of the century: to stave off popular demands
for more far-reaching reforms. But that solution is now
failing, for the cynical politicians who became Islamist
merely for tactical reasons are being outflanked by genuine
fanatics who reject not only science and religious freedom
but democracy itself.
Nigeria has only an Islamist terrorist problem at the moment,
mostlyin the north and with sporadic attacks in the
Christian-majority parts of the country. But it may be
heading down the road recently taken by Mali, in which
Islamist extremists actually seize control of the north of
the country and divide it in two. And frankly, lots of people
in the south wouldn't mind a bit: just seal the new border,
and forget about the north.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent London