Where is Nigeria headed?

A single paragraph in the body of a 17 page report on a United States National Intelligence Council (NIC) January 2005 conference, which brought together a group of experts to discuss the fortunes of Sub-Sahara Africa, created a sensation in Nigeria. The paragraph, under the heading "Downside Risks" said there was a "potential" for the "outright collapse of Nigeria". This last quoted phrase, moreover, was set in bold type, a rivulet of ink that turned into a raging torrent of international press coverage, and a flood of indignation from Nigeria's leaders starting with its current President.

The report was prepared in March 2005 and released in May 2005.

The first part of the NIC's Nigeria comments started with a reference to the precarious balance of power in the present Nigerian government. It then went on to sketch a scenario in which junior officers in the Nigerian military would stage a coup and open warfare would break out "in many places in a sustained manner". This would, in turn, result in Nigeria becoming a "failed state" generating millions of refugees.

The movement of this population into neighboring countries would destabilize "a large part of" the West African region. Nigeria itself would take years to put back together - if that could be...

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