Beyond the Violence: Nigeria from a Socio-Economic Perspective

Building off a recent current context piece on Boko Haram and Nigeria, this post suggests ways to use Common Core-aligned strategies to discuss Nigeria’s current events in the classroom.  The goal is to help students understand Nigeria’s socio-economic conditions, thereby giving them the context to make sense of Boko Haram and its impact on Nigeria.

Nigeria contains an interesting paradox – due to its oil reserve it is Africa’s largest economy, but 70% of Nigerians live under the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day.  The majority of Nigerians live without indoor plumbing and electricity, and many lack access to clean water and sanitation facilities.  This lack of infrastructure helps explain Nigeria’s high infant mortality rate – ranking the ninth highest of all countries.  A few more statistics give a brief outline of the birth to death experiences: a full 24% Nigerians age 5-14 are involved in child labor; 70% of Nigerians between the ages of 15-24 have attained literacy (with many more males than females able to read and write); and life expectancy in Nigeria is 52.1 years.  Some of these numbers are striking by themselves, but are less meaningful without comparative statistics.  Ask students to read this chart to learn more about Nigerians’ standard of living as compared to Ethiopia (an African country with a much smaller economy) and to the United States.  Discussion questions could include: What are some of the socio-economic challenges facing the Nigerian population?  If you were to help write the Nigerian budget, where would you put the emphasis?  And why? (For a more comprehensive list of socio-economic statistics, visit:




United States

% of Youth in School




% of Pop. w/Access to Improved Water




Life Expectancy in Years




% of Pop. in Poverty









$459.6 billion

$41.72 billion

$16.24 trillion


Sources: World Bank and NationMaster (taken from CIA World Factbook) with 2010 and 2012 data.

Given Ethiopia’s much smaller economy, yet longer life expectancy and much smaller percentage of poverty, these numbers suggest that Nigeria’s wealth is not being invested in ways that improve the quality of life of its citizens.  After studying this data, students can conduct research of their own to better understand why a nation rich in oil suffers from such high levels of poverty.  There are many online articles and reports that will help students answer the question: Where does the oil revenue go in Nigeria?  Who benefits?  What infrastructure projects does the Nigerian government invest in?  Do Nigerians trust and/or put faith in their government?  How does the outside world (including NGOs and neutral agencies) view Nigeria’s government and its effectiveness?  (See links at bottom of post for suggested resources).

As students conduct their research they will encounter evidence of government corruption in Nigeria.  For example, in the early spring of 2014, prior to the Chibot kidnapping, Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor informed President Jonathan of $20 billion dollars worth of oil revenue that the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had failed to pass on to the government.  After the internationally respected bank governor called attention to this subject, he found himself out of a job as President Jonathan accused him of “financial recklessness and misconduct.”  Decisions such as these led Transparency International to give Nigeria a low ranking in transparent government, and have caused the vast majority of Nigerians to respond in a Gallup poll that they believe corruption to be widespread in their government.  As students consider the implications of this corruption, they can better understand the conditions that could give rise to anti-government groups such as the Muslim extremist group, Boko Haram.  Boko Haram emerged in the impoverished northern state of Borno in 2002, providing aid such as job training and welfare services to youths eager to find support.  As the government pushed back violently against Boko Haram’s goal to transform Nigeria into a “pure” Islamic state based on the Koran’s Sharia law, Boko Haram capitalized on the country’s dysfunctional security system by arming and training their own fighters at least as well as their government opponents.

But students who have considered the above statistics can also reflect on how Boko Haram’s decision to cause mayhem only exacerbates Nigeria’s current socio-economic challenges.  Due to its opposition to western education, Boko Haram has made a practice of terrorizing students.  In the wake of the April 2014 abduction of over 200 girls from a boarding school in Chibok, some northern Nigerians have been wary of keeping their children in school – a decision that will not improve the literacy rate, or job skills, for these youth.  Boko Haram’s practice of kidnapping girls to sell into slavery and/or forced marriage will also not improve the health and well-being of Nigeria’s youth.  These problems, in addition to Boko Haram’s public bombings and assassinations, have led many civilians and businesses to flee the northern region.  According to the International Crisis Group, Boko Haram’s campaign of violence has displaced close to half a million people since 2009.  Moreover, the violence between Boko Haram and the Nigerian police and security forces has created political instability that has threatened foreign direct investment in Nigeria, and therefore, its future economic possibilities. 

With this knowledge, students can explore questions such as: Does Boko Haram appear concerned about Nigeria’s failings as measured by western values, or by some other measure?  If so, what are these measures?  How does the Nigerian government, which is also responsible for a large population of Christians, work with this Muslim extremist group?  What sort of political compromises seem likely in a country where 50% are Muslims and 40% are Christians?  Is a person’s socio-economic status or religious beliefs more likely to provide common ground for Nigerian citizens?

Nigeria faces significant challenges at the local, regional, and state level.  A fruitful classroom discussion about Boko Haram will take into account this larger socio-economic context in order to understand what is at stake, as well as the context in which these battles for Nigeria’s future unfold. 

Suggested resources for student research, in addition to links in Current Context: