Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink


Nigeria, the United States’ most important strategic partner in West Africa, is in grave trouble. While Nigerians often claim they are masters of dancing on the brink without falling off, the disastrous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the radical Islamic insurrection Boko Haram, and escalating violence in the delta and the north may finally provide the impetus that pushes it into the abyss of state failure.

In this thoroughly updated edition, John Campbell ...

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Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink

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Nigeria, the United States’ most important strategic partner in West Africa, is in grave trouble. While Nigerians often claim they are masters of dancing on the brink without falling off, the disastrous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the radical Islamic insurrection Boko Haram, and escalating violence in the delta and the north may finally provide the impetus that pushes it into the abyss of state failure.

In this thoroughly updated edition, John Campbell explores Nigeria’s post-colonial history and presents a nuanced explanation of the events and conditions that have carried this complex, dynamic, and very troubled giant to the edge. Central to his analysis are the oil wealth, endemic corruption, and elite competition that have undermined Nigeria’s nascent democratic institutions and alienated an increasingly impoverished population. However, state failure is not inevitable, nor is it in the interest of the United States. Campbell provides concrete new policy options that would not only allow the United States to help Nigeria avoid state failure but also to play a positive role in Nigeria’s political, social, and economic development.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Africa's most populous nation totters toward the "failed state" abyss in this measured study of Nigeria's travails. Campbell, the U. S. ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, juxtaposes the nation's great potential—including huge petroleum reserves—with its dire poverty and growing instability. He fingers a litany of dysfunctions: a weak government and rigged elections; a ruling elite of generals and plutocrats who view the state mainly as a dispensary of petro-profits; endemic corruption; bloody sectarian violence between Christians and increasingly radical Muslims; the curse of oil wealth, which encourages Nigeria to neglect industrial development and fuels insurgencies in impoverished oil-rich regions. Part history and part memoir, Campbell's chronicle of Nigeria since the 1960s civil war is fleshed out with firsthand profiles of its leaders and observations on recent political turmoil, along with a shrewd insider's analysis of Washington's policy toward the country, which he feels is too aloof. His rather dry and diplomatic account is written from an ambassadorial remove; his views are shaped by contacts in government and business, while everyday life filters in through reports and statistics. Campbell gives a lucid, perceptive survey of the hardships and perils Nigeria faces, but he doesn't make us feel its pain. (Jan.)
A masterly piece of work written with candour.
— Matthew Hassan Kukah
Ambassador John Campbell has written an important book on Nigeria which demands the attention of every Nigerian and every American interested in Nigerian politics and Nigeria's place in African and global affairs. . . . A tour de force in every sense of the word. . . . [Campbell] shows a magisterial understanding of Nigeria's troubled political terrain, which only an insider could accomplish.
Foreign Affairs
Part diplomatic memoir, part layman’s introduction to the country, Campbell’s book provides an excellent snapshot of Nigeria today. Campbell recounts key events in the country during his terms there as an American diplomat, including a spell as U.S. ambassador from 2004 to 2007. On several occasions, Campbell comments on U.S. timidity, notably Washington’s hesitancy to publicly voice its concerns about Nigeria’s deplorable levels of corruption or about the fraud and violence that have marred recent elections. . . . His book is a lively and sometimes highly critical analysis of the country’s political class.
The Africa Report
A masterly piece of work written with candour.
Richard Joseph
This lucidly written book will appeal to scholars, policymakers, and general readers. John Campbell explores key political, economic, and social issues and frankly evaluates U.S. policies in helping or inhibiting the building of a stable, democratic, and less corrupt Nigeria. It is essential reading for all concerned about the unfulfilled potential, and uncertain future, of this complex nation.
Crawford Young
A fascinating work. With the detail Ambassador Campbell provides based on his Abuja assignment, the book is a lucid and valuable contribution to understanding contemporary Nigeria. Campbell writes with unusual candor, and with his initial academic training as a historian, he brings analytical discipline to his writing. This is much more than a mere memoir.
Nigeria, onetime giant of Africa, rich in both human and natural resources, has in the past decades or so descended into what Samuel P. Huntington calls 'praetorianism'—control of society by force or fraud, especially by venal, corruptible, and often sycophantic people; into what Richard Joseph calls 'prebendalism'—the disbursing of public offices and state rents to one's ethnic-based clients; and into what Larry Diamond calls 'uncivil society'—lacking the horizontal relations of reciprocity and cooperation that breed the honesty, trust, and law abidingness that mark the civic community. The aforementioned descriptions of Nigeria raised the specter of a failed state. Campbell (Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations), former US ambassador to Nigeria, cites numerous factors responsible for this situation: endemic corruption, maladministration, election malpractices, and sectarian violence perpetrated by Boko Haram. Campbell condemns Washington's indifference in the past and cautions the Obama administration to be circumspect in helping Nigerian civil society in reversing this trend. A must-read for people interested in security of Nigeria and US-Nigeria bilateral relations; recommended for other readers. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections.
[A] bold and courageous book. . . .Campbell sounded the alarm bell [but] we ignored the clear and prompt message contained, instead we went ahead to demonise the messenger. . . .If Nigeria continues to be the epicentre of corruption, infrastructure decay, violent conflict, religious extremism and criminality, there is not much anyone can do to improve her image. I earnestly hope that our country wins the war against terror which will possibly begin with the safe return of the girls kidnapped from Chibok. It is now clear that Campbell was right in most of the issues he raised. . . .The lesson is that we must try to give some of the many ‘western’ discussions about Nigeria the benefit of informed scrutiny before discarding them as promoters of pre-conceived interests.
Tony Blair Faith Foundation
A crucial layman's introduction to Nigeria as a whole, and to its inextricably intertwined identities of religion, politics, and society.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442221574
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/16/2013
  • Edition description: Updated Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 452,144
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

John Campbell is the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served twice in Nigeria, from 1988 to 1990 as political counselor and from 2004 to 2007 as U.S. ambassador.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: An Ambassadorial Credential Presentation
Chapter 1: “Un Peu d’Histoire”
Chapter 2: If Nigeria Is So Rich, Why Are Nigerians So Poor?
Chapter 3: Who Runs Nigeria?
Chapter 4: Faith
Chapter 5: The Niger Delta
Chapter 6: A President for Life?
Chapter 7: The “Election-Like Event” of 2007
Chapter 8: The Breakdown of the Nigerian Political System
Chapter 9: Boko Haram
Chapter 10: Washington and Abuja
Chapter 11: Dancing on the Brink

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