I wrote an article a couple of years ago titled, "Ignore Nigeria at your peril". It was meant to be an alarmist cry to the West to forget not Nigeria simply because she now had a civilian government, or at least one that didn't wear military garb. Fears had been raised over Nigeria having a Pakistan assisted nuclear programme of some sort, and also talking to Axis of Evil state North Korea about nuclear weapons. I thought it was a very well written article, one which would have sat beautifully on the pages of the Daily Telegraph, the Economist, or some such highbrow publication. The Economist wouldn't print it because they said the nuclear programme accusations were unfounded and far-fetched. So I qualified it with a sort of "rumour has it", but that wasn't enough. They were obviously fobbing me off, but that's not why I'm writing this.
Over the weekend, Nigeria hit the international headlines for all the wrong reasons. Mend militants kidnapped more oil workers and attacked oil infrastructure, just as cartoons protests turned sour in Maiduguri, killing up to sixteen people. These stories are making headlines here in Britain, but not for any altruistic reasons. Lord Palmerston was the one who said that a country has no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. And right now, the interests and fortunes of Nigeria are as intertwined with the West's as Hansel's fate is tied to Gretel's. In the nineties, when Abacha was raping the country, the West couldn't give two hoots. Nigeria was just another failed state, known for advance fee fraud, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Daniel Amokachi. But one man changed all that. Nope, not OBJ, but the mighty Osama bin Laden.
In the years BO (before Osama), House of Saud and House of Bush were cosy, oil was guaranteed. House of Saud could sponsor Wahhabism in Kano or Aden, so long as the black stuff kept flowing and, nobody attacked US interests. When the mulitnational (though mainly Saudi) nineteen brought down the Twin Towers*, the US figured out two crucial things: 1) the US cannot rely on Saudi Arabia for strategic partnership in the Middle East, especially oil, 2) the US has to fight Islamist terrorism wherever it may or may not rear its head.
These two positions forced the US to invade Iraq. You couldn't have some of the world's largest oil reserves being sat on by a despot like Saddam Hussein, especially when Iraq's neighbour Saudi Arabia wasn't such a great partner anymore. The US's objective has been to reduce reliance on Middle East oil, and this is where Nigeria comes in. Why rely on the mad mullahs of Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, when you have pliant Nigeria, and Venezuela? Except that even Nostradamus couldn't have forseen the impact of Hugo Chavez, and Mend, leaving the US State department up a Delta state creek without a paddle.
When the Twin Towers went down*, there was a spike in the number of children named Osama in northern Nigeria. I have thought since then that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in Kano state, but people laugh. Yesterday, someone who was in Jos around 2001, told me that motorcycles (okadas) had pictures of Osama on them. Some riders would say, "he's a good man, he helps us". Potential Islamist bombers don't just come from the Middle East, they come from Morocco, Indonesia, Leeds, Nigeria, and so the US has taken a special interest in Nigeria, and the Sahel region.
Mend attacks Shell facilities, and world oil prices spike. People protest against Danish cartoons (a few weeks after everyone else) in Maiduguri, and people die - potential recruting ground for terrorists. The West can't ignore Nigeria anymore, because Nigeria will bite them in the arse, hard. I only wish I could find that article.
ps. There's also bird flu, but I reckon Nigerians will eat all the chickens before any WHO or Minsitry of Health official dares knock on their door.
*I hate using the term "9/11", it turns the event into a brand. Not cool.