Since the end of last year, social conflicts in Nigeria have been escalating to such an extent that observers are warning that the country could drift into civil war. First, terror attacks by Islamist groups in the north of the country increased, causing 50 deaths, while simultaneously the violent conflicts in the Niger Delta over the apportionment of petroleum wealth were ongoing. A nationwide general strike started last week. President Goodluck Jonathan's cancellation of gasoline subventions - tantamount to doubling gasoline prices - was the spark that set off the protests, in which millions of Nigerians participated. The government reacted with brutal repression. At least nine people have been killed in skirmishes with government repressive forces. Jonathan has backtracked on some of his subvention reductions, causing the protests to abate - at least for now.
Austerity Policy and Effects
However, the more deep-seated cause of these current conflicts lie in the catastrophic social situation of Africa's most populous nation. Though Nigeria disposes of the world's eighth largest oil and the seventh largest natural gas deposits, approx. 90 percent of its population is forced to subsist on less than US $2 per day. It seems improbable that the incumbent government's policy could alter this situation, given the fact that President Jonathan follows an entrepreneurial-friendly policy aimed primarily toward attracting international investments to Nigeria. That this is fully in line also with German companies' interests, is apparent from the opinion expressed by the German government's Africa Commissioner in the Foreign Ministry, Walter Lindner, concerning the recent rise in gasoline prices. "The economic necessity of these measures is generally accepted by economic experts." Since the growing impoverishment, due to these measures, is further inflaming domestic conflicts, there is growing apprehension in the West that Nigeria could in fact fall apart. Even Germany has two reasons for not wanting this to happen: economic and geostrategic.
The economic motive is linked to the profit opportunities offered by this petroleum producer, Nigeria. For years, German companies have been seeking to expand their business ventures in that country, with varying amounts of success. Germany, as a business partner, is now, trailing behind such global player rivals as China, the USA and even India. Even though Even though the so-called energy partnership with Nigeria should provide advantages to German energy companies, the partnership is developing only "slowly," complained German Chancellor Angela Merkel before her official Nigeria visit in the summer of 2011. The E.ON Ruhrgas company, headquartered in Essen, has, since some time, been trying to get a slice of the lucrative Nigerian natural gas exploration business - until now, without success. Munich's Siemens Corp., on the other hand, has - manifestly through bribes to Nigerian officials - been able to penetrate the market. Siemens is currently constructing the Geregu II gas power plant in Ajakuta, approx. 200 km south of the capital Abuja, and another power station 100 km north of the economic metropolis Lagos. The contract for the construction of Geregu II is estimated to be worth 230 million Euros.
Factor of Stability
There are also geostrategic reasons for Germany's interests in Nigeria. That country is principally pro-western oriented and has one of the largest and best equipped sub-Saharan military forces on the continent. Berlin is therefore appraising Nigeria as a regional factor of stability to control social and political conflicts. Over the past few years, Nigeria has clearly staked its claim to being a hegemonic power in West Africa and beyond. It was the first African state to call for military intervention in the Ivory Coast, when the power struggles over the presidency of that country escalated at the end of 2010, thereby taking sides with the West, in support of the current President Alassane Ouattara, who came into power last spring through a military putsch. Nigeria is also very prominently engaged in southern Sudanese Darfur, providing the largest military and second largest police contingents of the joint African Union and UN (UNAMID, African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operations in Darfur). German troops are also participating in the UNAMID contingent. During her visit to Nigeria last year, Chancellor Merkel emphasized that West African country's military function.
In a report dating from 2010, analyzing the safety of global maritime routes for Germany's supply of raw materials, the German Fleet Command described Nigeria's significance as a force of stability in the oil rich Gulf of Guinea. The authors contend that the extent of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is "certainly comparable" to the "situation in the Gulf of Aden." Unlike disintegrated Somalia, Abuja's navy is trying "to comprehensively monitor its territorial waters." In addition, Nigeria "has reached an agreement with its neighboring countries" allowing its units in pursuit of pirates "to intrude 15 nautical miles into the neighbors' territorial waters." This could serve as a basis for securing the German industry's supply of vital raw materials against piracy. A colloquium organized recently by the CDU affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Burkina Faso shows the importance Berlin accords to controlling the movement of goods off the coast of West Africa. At the colloquium, high-ranking West African military personnel also discussed war on piracy strategies. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.)
Tensions in the Sahel
Nigeria's political destabilization would also run counter to Western efforts to gain political control in the Sahara and the Sahel Region at its southern border. Northern Nigeria, in which Islamist forces are presently carrying out violent attacks, is part of the Sahel Region with close ties to the neighboring countries. "We are observing increasing tensions all over West Africa and the Sahel region," confirms the German Foreign Ministry's Africa Commissioner Walter Lindner. These tensions have deep-rooted causes - particularly the shortage of food - but they are intensifying because of "Libya's disintegration": "The Sahel Region could face the danger of destabilization because of the return of thousands of repatriating Tuaregs but also migrant workers" fleeing Libya to return to their home countries and the "arms depots that have been brought in." It should be ensured, Lindner warns, that "insecurities" are not "being exported" to the region. The increase in violence in Northern Nigeria runs counter to these efforts.
Germany is pursuing its cooperation with Nigeria on a bilateral level to secure its economic and geo-strategic interests in that country. In early December 2011, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle met his Nigerian counterpart Olugbenga Ashiru. The talks focused on future intensification of the strategic partnership. They agreed to establish a bi-national commission, which will hold "regular consultations on bilateral, regional and international issues." The current escalation of violence in Nigeria will give enough reason for discussion at the first of these meetings planned for this year.