Nigeria – Senator Susan Collins (R, ME) is calling for a comprehensive amendment to aid the Nigerian government and its people in the fight against the radical terrorist organization Boko Haram’s escalating insurgency.
Sen. Collin’s amendment would require Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to deliver Congress a regional strategy to address the threat posed by the group. That plan would have to include provisions to aid Nigeria’s government and military, provide humanitarian assistance to displaced civilians, and support a U.N. Security Council resolution to establish a task force to combat Boko Haram in the region.
Best estimates indicate that upwards of 1.5 million people have been displaced by violence incited by the terrorist group since it had abducted 276 schoolgirls in April of last year.
In 2014, Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa after re-basing its GDP. Most of its economy’s recent growth has been realized in its commercial southern region, where investment from companies like Nestlé, Heineken, and Proctor & Gamble has yielded relative economic prosperity and an emerging middle class. However, that growth has scarcely been felt in the poverty-stricken northern region, where Boko Haram’s militants have capitalized on systemic corruption and a fractured populace.
So far, Boko Haram’s economic impact has been most devastating to the agriculture industry, which accounts for one-fifth of Nigeria’s GDP and employs 35 percent of youths aged 18-35. Agriculture is most heavily concentrated in the northern states, where conflict has decimated natural resources like land and irrigation systems.
Pressure from the conflict on the agriculture industry has had a negative impact on food prices, which rose 9.8 percent last summer. According to a Brookings report published in July 2014, “The effects of conflict on the agricultural sector are largely due to the risk of being attacked by insurgents”. Inflation is particularly damaging to marginalized rural workers who already suffer from a lack of purchasing power.
Nigeria has been one of the largest African recipients of foreign direct investment. Despite escalating conflict, investment rose by 28 percent (up to $21 billion) in 2013. However, very little of the new wealth created by those investments has gone to those in the conflict-torn northern states. While the number of Nigerian millionaires has increased by over 45 percent since 2007, the number of Nigerians living in poverty has increased by 55 percent in the last decade.
What is most dangerous about Nigeria’s economic climate, is that to outside observers, it is continuing to thrive. Real GDP growth is projected to increase in 2016, and the currency remains stable. These figures do not reflect the urgency and instability facing the country’s most vulnerable people. They also indicate the extent to which new wealth created by foreign direct investment is heavily skewed towards the commercial southern region.
Sen. Collin’s proposed amendment comes at a time when an enormous amount of Nigerian wealth is being created by commercial investment, but efforts to guarantee its civilians basic protection against violence are insufficient or entirely neglected. Before the country’s most vulnerable citizens can begin to reestablish their means of agricultural production and gain economic stability, they need to be guaranteed defense against the predatory activities of Boko Haram’s militants.
The amendment would be the most comprehensive legislation undertaken by Congress since Boko Haram amplified its insurgency in 2012. Sen. Collins is hoping for the outlined requirements to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently being discussed in the Senate.
– Zach VeShancey