Economic Policies & Ideologies

Oil was discovered in the Niger Delta in the late 1950s, and by the 1970s a massive transformation of Nigeria’s economy was underway. Oil wealth is channeled to only about 1% of the population, typically Nigerians with entrepreneurial acumen, political influence, and powerful connections, predominantly (though not exclusively) in the South. This sudden influx of incredible wealth has, in part, led Nigerians to use ethnic and religious identity as an assertion of patriotism in their effort to access that wealth.

Not surprisingly, the high economic stakes have fostered broad corruption.[1] Increasing violence, tension, and hostility between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria is caused or exacerbated by these gaping economic disparities.

Most of Nigeria’s development and job creation has been concentrated in the South, whereas Nigerians in the North have long perceived government neglect, even though it is acknowledged most of the political rulers (particularly heads of state) have come from the North. Some 75% of northerners live in poverty, compared with less than half in the South, though these economic disparities do not fall only along a north‐south divide. Indigenous communities who live in oil-producing regions have also been denied access to wealth and power generated by the oil industry. Militant protest movements, particularly among the Ogoni and Ijaw who inhabit the Niger Delta, have brought attention to the gross inequalities and ecological devastation that have accompanied the oil boom. The rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has staged periodic, targeted attacks on pipelines and oil facilities and kidnapped foreign oil workers. In 2013 MEND threatened to attack Muslim targets in retaliation for Boko Haram violence against Christians in the North. However, while predominantly Christian, anti-corporate activists and rebels include members of various religious faiths.

There has been a collapse of basic infrastructure and social services since the early 1980s, initially as a result of falling oil prices, which has deepened due to neglect of Nigeria’s agricultural sector, to political mismanagement, and to massive national debt.[2] Consequently, many Nigerians feel that they are worse off now than they were at independence. The pressures of rapid urbanization and a climate of political corruption and favoritism has resulted in increasing disenfranchisement and a distrust of the central government. In the impoverished North, this phenomenon has led many to question the moral validity of secularism, which is reflected in Islamist calls for Islamic leadership and provides fertile ground for Islamist recruitment efforts.

At the same time, critics suggest that Jonathan is hostage to the powerful interests that helped put him into office (especially the oil industry). While many in the South also struggle, a small elite concentrated around Lagos has grown increasingly wealthy, and is marked by conspicuous consumption of luxury goods.[3] Notably, among the elite are pastors of some of Nigeria’s large “prosperity gospel” Pentecostal churches.[4] These wealth disparities fuel resentment against the elite, suspicion against some religious leaders, but also incentivize membership in “health and wealth” churches. At the same time, many of these emerging churches have filled in the gaps left by the failures of the state to provide much needed services and support to its citizens.

Ultimately, while progress is visible in some parts of the country, particularly in the richer, well- governed states such as Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, poorer states experience rising unemployment and poverty rates, which stokes inter- and intra‐religious violence and tension. In spite of promises to end government corruption, many ordinary Nigerians express anger and distrust toward their state and national governments, believing that officials continue to pocket riches rather than allocating them toward development projects that will ensure long‐term economic prosperity for all.

Since taking office in 2015, Buhari has continued to uphold the anti-corruption stance he proffered during the election. Corruption is particularly endemic in Nigeria, and is one of the reasons for its stark wealth inequality. One of his ministers, Lai Mohammed, announced that $6.8 billion in public funds has been stolen from the government. He claimed that of the $6.8 billion, a sum of $2.1 billion intended for weaponry to fight Boko Haram was instead used to fund the election campaign of Goodluck Jonathan.[5] In a report entitled “Leaking Revenue,” a charity called ActionAid also revealed that economic corruption and frailty in a different area; Nigeria lost $3.3 billion through a ten-year tax break granted to three oil and gas companies: Shell, Total and Eni.[6] As a result Buhari has appointed himself the oil minister of his own cabinet, in order to stem further corruption and the loss of even more money. Because Africa’s economy is so reliant on revenue from oil exports, the loss of this money, together with the fall in oil prices in 2015, have posed a substantial threat to economic stability.


[1] Kalu, African Pentecostalism: An Introduction, p. 229.

[2] Gordon, Nigeria’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook, p. 165.

[3] Mfonobong Nsehe, “Wealthy Nigerians, Pastors Spend $225 Million On Private Jets,” Forbes, May 17, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2011/05/17/wealthy-nigerians-pastors-spend-225-million-on-private-jets/#41781716a2a3, accessed October 3, 2013.

[4] Tomas Sundes Dronen, Pentecostalism, Globalisation, and Islam in Northern Cameroon: Megachurches in the Making? (Leiden: Brill, 2013), p. 46; Norimitsu Onishi, “Africans Fill Churches That Celebrate Wealth,” The New York Times, March 13, 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/13/world/africans-fill-churches-that-celebrate-wealth.html?pagewanted=all, accessed October 3, 2013.

[5] “Nigerian minister claims $6.8bn of public funds stolen in seven years,” The Guardian, January 18, 2016,http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/19/nigerian-minister-claims-68bn-of-public-funds-stolen-in-seven-years, accessed 12 February 2016.

[6] “Leaking Revenue: How a Big Tax Break to European Gas Companies has Cost Nigeria Billions,” Action Aid, January 20, 2016, https://www.actionaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/leakingrevenue.pdf, accessed 12 February 2016.