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During the mid-to-late 2000s, Nigeria struggled to reign in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, better known simply as MEND. MEND is a militant group based in the southwest of Nigeria in the Niger Delta, Nigeria's primary onshore oil production region.  The group sought increased economic benefits for residents of the Niger Delta from the country's oil production and reparations for destruction of the environment by foreign oil companies. The group's guerrilla warfare tactics and deadly bombings were only part of the reason it was so potent; the group also caused severe economic losses by disrupting or shutting in oil and gas production infrastructure and kidnapping foreign oil workers.

A second violent group was developing its identity and reach during this same period: Boko Haram. Much of the world learned of the Boko Haram terrorist group after it kidnapped 276 school girls from their dormitory in the Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014, but for years it has grown in size and capability. Formally established in the early 2000s, this Islamic extremist group gained new momentum and potency in the period 2009-2010 when it started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria. 

Today both groups have contributed to escalating levels of violence throughout Nigeria, although many of the claims of responsibility by purported members of MEND are questionable. In 2014, Nigeria experienced a dramatic increase in fatalities, reaching about 11,000 deaths, according to ACLED estimates. In late January 2015, after the largest massacre by Boko Haram in Baga (1,700-2,000 killed), a coalition of military forces from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger began a counter-insurgency campaign against the group. By summer, it was believed that the Nigerian military had retaken most of the areas previously controlled by Boko Haram in the northeastern area of the country, however, the first quarter death toll still reached 6,109 fatalities.

Violence in Nigeria must be examined in the context of the socioeconomic conditions that have only accentuated ethnic, religious, and geographic divisions in the country. Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy as well as its largest oil producer. Yet, astonishing levels of corruption have left it lagging in basic development and infrastructure in most of the country.

  • Egypt has a population roughly half the size of Nigeria's and yet it has nearly five times the installed power generation capacity, according to data from the International Energy Agency and the World Bank.
  • According to the IMF's 2015 World Economic Outlook, Nigeria also has the lowest total government expenditure as a percent of GDP in the world at only 10.58 percent. The average in Sub-Saharan Africa is 22.4 percent with some countries like Kenya and South Africa spending upwards of 30 percent or more of GDP.

Nigeria, for all its violence, lags not only in socioeconomic-related spending, but also in military expenditures.

  • Since 2009 when MEND signed an amnesty agreement with the Government of Nigeria, Nigeria has maintained military expenditures of about 370-380 billion naira, or 2.2-2.3 billion US dollars. In contrast, Algeria - another large African oil and gas producer with a GDP (PPP) about half the size of Nigeria's - spent $11.9B in 2014 on its military.
  • Steady economic growth has also reduced Nigeria's military expenditure relative to GDP from 0.9 percent in 2009 to 0.4 percent in 2014. Nigeria now ranks 39th among African countries by military expenditures as a percent of GDP. 

Sources: Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset (ACLED) African Data (1997-2016)  SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, 1988-2016Global FirepowerIMF World Economic Outlook (WEO), October 2017 , EIA International Energy Statistics, The World Bank World Development Indicators

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