Mapping the Unlikely Break-Up of Nigeria


As the previous post argued, electoral geography indicates that Nigeria has a problem with national unity, as the winning candidate in the 2015 presidential election received extremely few votes in the southeastern corner of the country. Such evidence, however, should not be unduly emphasized, as a sense of national identity is well established across most of the country. As a result, I certainly do not expect Nigeria to collapse and be replaced by a group of successor states.

But that said, it remains true that quite a few Nigerians would like to see the dismantling of their country and the subsequent emergence of smaller and more ethnically and religiously united countries. Interesting discussions of this issue can be found in internet discussion boards, especially Nairaland Forum. As a result, a number of “post-Nigeria” maps have appeared on the internet. The remainder of this post will examine and analyze a few of these maps.

Division of Nigeria Map 1The most basic vision of a divided Nigeria splits the country along religious lines, separating the Muslim north from the mostly Christian south. The first map shows such an imagined division from a northern perspective. The term “Arewa,” used to denote the prospective Muslim state, is the Hausa word for “north.” As noted in the Wikipedia article on the word:

In post independence Nigeria, some use the word as a general term for Nigerian Hausaland: a contraction of “Arewacin Nijeriya” (Northern Nigeria). Much of the north was once politically united in the Northern Region, a federal division disbanded in 1967, and was previously home of the seven Hausa states, later the Sokoto Caliphate in the pre-colonial period, and the Northern Nigeria Protectorate under British colonial rule.

Northern Nigeria regionalist groups, such as the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Arewa Media Forum based in Kaduna, and the related Arewa House and Arewa People’s Congress are examples of this usage. These groups do not advocate independence from Nigeria, and focus on cultural unity of the so-called Hausa–Fulani community which forms the majority in the north of the nation.

Within even smaller regionalist circles, the term Arewa Republic is used as to describe a speculative future region, entity, or state that coincides with the pre-1967 Northern Region, Nigeria.

Division of Nigeria Map 2The second map shows an independent South Nigeria, imagined in this case from a leftist political perspective (note the use of “People’s Republic”). Although it may seem a relatively easy matter to separate the north from the south, the issue is complicated by the existence of the ethnically and religiously fragmented Middle Belt. As a result, the first two maps posted here show a significant degree of overlap, with such states as Plateau claimed by both groups. In any divisional scheme, Nigeria’s Middle Belt would prove problematic – as the region is today. This relatively lightly populated area is currently experiencing widespread violence that pits sedentary farmers against nomadic herders, a conflict that has pronounced religious and ethnic overtones.

Division of Nigeria Map 4Some divisional schemes would address this problem by making the Middle Belt an independent country in its own right. Intriguingly, in one vision this is the only area that would retain the name “Nigeria.” Such finer-grained divisions generally separate the Yoruba-dominated southwest from the Igbo-dominated southeast. But for some futurist cartographers, such a division would not be fine enough, and as a result they envision additional states. One Division of Nigeria Map 5such fictional country is composed of the Edo-speaking region along with the ethnically mixed delta; this “United Niger-Delta” would be the wealthiest of the proposed Nigerian successor states by a significant margin. Some proponents of a Nigerian break-up also imagine the separation of the Hausa- and Fulani-speaking northwest and north-center from the Kanuri-speaking northeast, as can be seen in the upper-left map of the four-map set.

Division of Nigeria Map 6Division of Nigeria Map 3Few of these maps connect their imagined new states with areas located outside of Nigeria’s boundaries. A prominent exception, however, is found in the last map posted here, which envisages a greatly enlarged Republic of Benin. This country would include—and would be demographically and economically dominated by—southwestern Nigeria. Such a state would also be dominated by the Yoruba people, who are a minority group in the current Republic of Benin. Note that the old Edo-speaking Kingdom of Benin (now Nigeria’s Edo State) would also be included in this would-be country, as would much of the oil-rich delta.

Such imaginative maps of political devolution are by no means limited to Nigeria, and can instead be found in reference to most parts of the world. As a result, they should perhaps not be taken too seriously. But I do find them intriguing, and I think that they sometimes illustrate deeply embedded ideas about how the world should be politically organized.


Echoes of Biafra: Geographical Patterns in Nigeria’s 2015 Election

(Note to Readers: GeoCurrents is now on its summer schedule, which should entail 3 posts per week.)

Nigeria 2015 election mapNigeria’s 2015 election has been widely regarded as marking a milestone in the country’s democratic transition. For the first time, an incumbent president lost a bid for reelection. Goodluck Jonathan, the outgoing leader, conceded defeat readily, graciously passing power to his challenger Muhammadu Buhari, who he had trounced in the 2011 election. Buhari had been a repressive military ruler of Nigeria in the early 1980s, but he now regards himself as a “converted democrat.” Many observers credit Buhari’s victory to the belief among many Nigerians that a northern Muslim with a military background can deal more effectively with the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency than a southern Christian with a civilian background, such as the militarily ineffectual Jonathan. Many also think that Buhari’s somewhat abstemious personal habits will give him an edge in tackling the country’s massive corruption problems.

Nigeria 2011 election mapAs the first two maps posted here show, Nigeria’s 2015 election saw a significant reduction in county’s north/south regional/religious electoral divide. In 2011, every northern, Muslim-dominated state voted for Buhari, many by an overwhelming majority, whereas almost every southern, Christian-dominated state voted for Jonathan, many by an overwhelming majority. In the 2015 election, however, a number of southern states favored Buhari, including the country’s economic core of Lagos. Such a “mixed” electoral map is a hopeful sign for Nigerian national unity. Nigeria’s regional political division has been so pronounced that a special election rule was created to ensure some measure of trans-regional support: a successful presidential candidate must gain at least 25 percent of the vote in at least two-thirds of the country’s 36 states.

Nigeria 2015 election Jonathan Vote MapBut the 2015 electoral map also shows the persistence of regional division. Although Buhari did quite well in many southern states, he failed miserably in the southeast. Over most of this densely populated and economically significant area, Buhari received less then 10 percent of the vote, as the electorate remained overwhelmingly committed to Jonathan. Intriguingly, the area that voted heavily for Jonathan in 2015 almost exactly matches the Nigeria 2015 Election Biafra Mapregion that rebelled against Nigeria and declared itself to be the independent country of Biafra in the late 1960s, as can be seen in the next map. This area, demographically dominated by the heavily Christian Igbo people, thus remains politically distinctive from the rest of the country. Among some groups in the southeast, the desire for independence remains strong.

In the coastal belt of the southeast, another factor may have contributed to Buhari’s poor showing. Prior to the election, it was rumored that Buhari was planning to suspend job-training programs and payments to former militants that had greatly reduced political violence in this strife-plagued region. As Voice of America reported on June 2, 2015:

Former militants in Nigeria’s Niger Delta say unrest may resume if the country’s new president ends the amnesty program and monthly payments that brought peace to the oil-producing region.

Each month, former militants who used to spend their time bombing pipelines and kidnapping foreign oil workers in the Niger Delta get the equivalent of about $330 to convince them to occupy their time in other ways. They also get access to training programs intended to help them find other work.

This arrangement started in 2009, but it was never supposed to last forever. New Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said so in his inauguration speech last week, announcing the program would end in December.

Two days later, however, a senior Nigerian official announced that the new Nigerian government “is committed to continuing with a militant amnesty program in the Niger Delta in a bid to improve the security situation in the oil-producing region…” The country can ill-afford renewed fighting in this region, despite the expense of the program.

Nigeria 2015 Election Yoruba MapThe real change in Nigeria’s electoral geography from the 2011 to the 2015 election is found in the southwest, another densely populated, economically significant region. In 2011, this area had supported Jonathan, but in 2015 it gave the majority of its votes to Buhari. But in neither election was the margin of victory pronounced. As a result, the southwest has apparently come to function as the vital “swing region” in Nigerian elections.

Most of the southwest is demographically dominated by members of the Yoruba ethnic group. Although Yorubaland is mostly Christian, it also contains quite a few Yoruba-speaking Muslims, as well as many practitioners of the indigenous Yoruba religion, a faith that has seen something of a revival in recent decades. (Unfortunately, data on the actual religious make-up of the region is not easy to find.) Although the Yoruba are mixed when it comes to religion, they do tend to have a strong sense of regional and ethnic identity – as well as a degree of suspicion of both the Igbo-dominated southeast and the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri dominated north.

Nigeria Econony Igbo People MapAnother “swing” area in recent Nigerian elections is the Edo-speaking state of Edo in the south-center. Here Jonathan triumphed in the 2015 election, but did so narrowly. Edo is one of the most economically productive states of Nigeria. It is also the heir of the once-powerful kingdom of Benin, noted for its magnificent artistic output of bronze-work during the medieval and early modern periods. The Kingdom of Benin is not to be confused with the modern country of Benin located to the west of Nigeria, which was formerly called Dahomey. Dahomey changed its name to “Benin” not in reference to the kingdom of that name, but rather to the adjacent portion of the sea known as the “Bight of Benin.”

Wednesday’s post will examine Nigeria’s regional divisions more carefully, looking specifically at those who would like to divide the country into several new sovereign states.