They* blew up the UN

Friday morning a suicide driver crashed through the gates and into the lobby of the UN building here in Abuja. It’s only a couple blocks up the road from us; a few people at the embassy said they heard and felt it. I happened to drive by it for the first time on Thursday when I was returning from an errand. Terribly tragedy. Last count I heard was 18 killed, 40+ wounded.

This marks a significant change in the violence in Nigeria. There have been regular attacks on civilians and government institutions in recent months. The civilian attacks are blamed on Muslim/Christian violence and have recently been characterized by night time raids on residences. Pretty horrific stuff. There was also some general civic (read: religious) violence following the elections earlier this year.

The attacks on the government have been perpetrated by Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group from the north of the country.  They’ve attacked the military and the police, including the police headquarters here in the capital, not far from the presidential villa.  The military has also been active in pursuing them and I’ve seen regular news reports about militants killed or militant attacks. The general level of violence doesn’t get reported on much internationally; it’s only when there is a significant development or changes in trends.

*Before the attack on the UN, it had solely been civic and domestic targets of violence. This marks either an escalation by the Boko Haram or reveals the presence of other actors in the area. There are rumors that Al Qaeda has or is trying to establish a presence in Nigeria, perhaps in association with Boko Haram but I don’t know how much of that is conjecture and how much has been established as fact.  Regardless, it’s a troubling development for this country.

Nigeria has so much incredible potential both in its natural resources and its national character. It’s hobbled by bad governance and a culture of corruption that tolerates exploitation by the oga (big men) who get control.  It is a tribal society, still, and this fact is more important for understanding the corruption than the violence. As I understand it (and mind you, I still don’t know much about this country) the corruption continues with every power shift because “now its our turn”. There is tremendous pressure and responsibility on those in power (and I’m not just talking at the federal cabinet level) to take care of their own. They don’t see is a corrupt as much as just the way the system works and now they’ve succeeded.

The people of Nigeria have it very very rough. They are upbeat, optimistic, friendly people though, and are constantly using every chance they can find to get through to the next day. They are resilient and smart and very enterprising. If Nigeria can reduce the corruption and instill a sense of civic virtue with a level of fundamental services that let people get past the survival level, things could really take off.  If the system gets clean enough for more foreign investment, that would both improve the economy and provide mentorship and a system of good standards that I believe most Nigerians really do want.  They just aren’t willing to give up what they have right now so they keep running game.  The more I see, the more I feel like this society is right out of The Wire.

This post is dedicated to those who lost their lives at the UN, working for the betterment of their nation and its people.

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