Nigeria – Conquering Polio, Playing in World Cup, But Coming Apart at the Seams

What will our future be?
What will our future be?

ABUJA – The country of Nigeria is an enigma. While, on the one hand, the Nigerian Minister of Health announced today that the country’s efforts to eliminate polio within its borders “are beginning to yield results, considering the fact that we have spent 18 months without a case of poliovirus,” the country stands at the precipice of expanding conflicts.

That 18-month, polio-free period began after four polio cases were confirmed in 2016 in areas under the control of Boko Haram. Prior to that, the country had gone nearly two years without a reported case.

Nigeria made headlines on the international sports scene by gaining a birth in the World Cup Tournament being played now in Russia. That’s a task that even the United States team was unable to accomplish.

As of 2015, Nigeria had the world’s 20th largest economy, overtaking South Africa. It is the most populous country in all of Africa and the seventh most populous in the world. It ranks third in the population of youth under the age of 18, exceeded only by China and India.

On the downside, Nigeria ranks 152nd in the world relative to protecting human rights and is laced with “a substantial network of organized crime.”

The people, especially rural farmers, are under constant threat from Boko Haram terrorists. Although it has been a couple of years since the last reports of the group using young girls as suicide bombers, they have returned to that tactic in the past week. As many as six girls were used in two different communities. More than 40 people died in the blasts in Damboa. A dozen people are “desperately injured.”

“Civilians consistently bear the brunt of the conflict and over 200 women, children and men have now been killed in indiscriminate attacks in the north-east since the beginning of the year,” according to a UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria.

Although government leaders have vowed to eradicate Boko Haram, they are having more success conquering polio. The Nigerian army is stretched thin and it appears that Boko Haram is better-armed.

Now the country is being torn apart in the fertile grasslands engendering a conflict that observers fear will degenerate into a religious civil war. The issue at hand is that the once plentiful northern agricultural areas are being overtaken by frequent droughts, expanding deserts, the “disappearance of water sources.” Nomadic farmers from the north are driving their cattle to the south, literally overrunning central farmlands with their cattle, forcing “Middle Belt” farmers to flee or be slaughtered along with their entire families.

One might ask how this could become “a religious civil war.” The herdsmen to the north are predominantly Muslims and the farmers in the central grasslands are primarily Christian. Although the conflict is about survival on the land, the situation is ripe for escalation and the lines are clearly drawn as much by religion as any other factor. Thus, the conflict could easily become a national conflagration.

Adding to its problems, the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that the government will shut down one of its borders with a neighboring country. The problem? One of those borders is being used to smuggle rice into Nigeria in an apparent effort to undermine the economy for which rice is an important product.

The government agricultural growth program has been able to reduce rice imports by 95 percent over the past two years. The number of rice farmers has grown from five million to 30 million. So, while civil war could be brewing, a border conflict is also a potential threat.

Adding insult to injury, Nigeria’s soccer team lost its open World Cup match to Croatia by a score of 2-0.

Please pray for the people of Nigeria whose lives and livelihoods are far more precious than a World Cup trophy.


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