Fresh from her USIP delegation trip to Nigeria, Nancy Lindborg explains Nigeria’s importance to Africa and the United States. Lindborg discusses the critical on-the-ground work happening to prevent violence and underscores the importance of Nigerian governors to countering Boko Haram.
This transcript has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Tim Farley (host): President Donald Trump the other day welcomed to the White House the leader of Nigeria. The president was there for a news conference as President Trump was asked about his reported use of a crude word you might remember, the "s-hole" countries, to describe certain African countries. And he also, whether or not he and his Nigerian counterpart, had met and talked about that.
Donald Trump: We didn't discuss it and you do have some countries that are in very bad shape and very tough places to live in. But we didn't discuss it because the president knows me and he knows where I'm coming from. And I appreciate that, we did not discuss it.
Tim Farley (host): Perhaps as important, maybe even more important, is what is actually taking place in the country. There has been important progress in fighting Boko Haram since the height of their attacks. But just last week the media reported yet another fatal suicide bombing attack reminding us that the core grievances and overall allure of Boko Haram remain potent and alive. One of the things we wanted to talk about was that subject and the woman who wrote those words is with us. Nancy Lindborg is the President of the United States Institute of Peace, her piece in The Hill reflecting the current relationship and the status of Nigeria. Nancy, just back from Nigeria, is joining us. She tweets at @nancylindborg.
Tim Farley (host): Nancy, welcome. Thank you for being here.
Nancy Lindborg: Good to be here. Good morning, Tim.
Tim Farley (host): The situation in Nigeria, that is an interesting question. First, why is Nigeria of importance to the United States?
Nancy Lindborg: Nigeria is important because it is the largest economy on the continent. It's also the largest population and rapidly growing, about half of their population is under the age of 30. By the year 2050, Nigeria will be on track to be the fourth most populous country in the world. So Nigeria matters. It matters to the continent, it matters to us.
Tim Farley (host): How would you describe President Trump's relationship with the president and how did that ... I know you were in Nigeria so maybe you can give us some insight into how the U.S. president is perceived in Nigeria right now.
Nancy Lindborg: Nigeria is a gigantic country. It's a key ally of the United States. I think there have been long historically warm relationships. There is a presidential campaign already starting to rev up in Nigeria. President Buhari is up for election in February 2019. So the country's already a little bit in campaign mode, somewhat similar to how we go into campaign mode. So as you can imagine, there's views on all sides of the spectrum about the visit and President Buhari.
Tim Farley (host): You mentioned in the piece you wrote in The Hill, Nancy, about community action and community cohesiveness, I guess, that has helped in certain situations. You also note that community action alone cannot solve the decades of conflict in Nigeria. Deeper issues such as corruption, systemic marginalization and an ingrained lack of government responsiveness to its people have all contributed to conflicts that undermine basic security and trust in the government spark violence and result in devastating humanitarian crises. That sounds like a very difficult hurdle to overcome. It's something that's seemingly ingrained now in the culture in Nigeria.
Nancy Lindborg: It is a difficult hurdle. There was a lot of optimism when President Buhari was elected in 2015. There has been some progress. There has been great progress against Boko Haram since the height of that insurgency a couple of years ago. But as the news is telling us with the repeated bombings just on Tuesday and last week while I was there, it is far from over. And also, there's a different conflict that is capturing much of Nigeria's attention. And that's between the herders and the farmers. This year that conflict has claimed more lives than the Boko Haram conflict. Both of these fundamentally go to some of the lack of governance that is responsive to the people in Nigeria.
Nancy Lindborg: That will be a long road to fix, but there is progress, and it's going to need to stay at the foreground of most efforts. Security measures alone are not going to solve either of these conflicts.
Tim Farley (host): That's fascinating. That sounds like something that happened in the Old West in the United States, the ranchers versus the farmers, the sodbusters versus the free range people.
Nancy Lindborg: That's a perfect analogy, that's almost exactly what it is. And you have generations of herders and farmers who have coexisted, they've worked out any differences through traditional methods, but you've got an exploding population, you've got environmental degradation with the desertification that's moving south and taking away grazing lands that used to exist. The herders just don't have the same grazing corridors that they used to have and their cows end up trampling farmer lands. Plus, you've got this influx of criminality, partly driven by the continued drain of guns and criminals down from Libya and partly related to Boko Haram. So you've got strangers with guns and cows coming into communities.
Nancy Lindborg: It's an explosive mix and it's really spreading across much of Nigeria right now. It's a conflict of concern that then gets into the Christian-Muslim divide. It's a pretty potent brew that will need focused attention and that's what a lot of Nigerians are calling on President Buhari to really focus on right now.
Tim Farley (host): Nancy Lindborg with us, President of the United States Institute of Peace just back from Nigeria. And President Trump the other day at the White House with the president of Nigeria saluting their efforts to work against Boko Haram.
Donald Trump: Nigeria's also leading African nations in the fight against Boko Haram, another ruthless jihadist, terrorist group. You've been reading about them. They kidnap the young girls and young women, many of whom never are seen again. It's tough stuff.
Tim Farley (host): That's President Trump speaking the other day.
Tim Farley (host): You know, Boko Haram, I wonder ... of course people are familiar with the Save Our Girls movement which, in many ways, brought attention, but perhaps no solutions to the issue. But I wonder, Nancy, is Boko Haram a response to a void in Nigeria or is it something that was, I guess, engendered by outside interference injection into the country. Where did it come from?
Nancy Lindborg: Well, you know these things are always complicated, but part of the roots of Boko Haram are definitely based on a whole group of people within Nigeria who are traditionally discriminated against and marginalized. Then it gets fed by young men who have no options and they see this as a way forward. Boko Haram was passing out cash and promising opportunities to some of these both marginalized groups and young men. And it seemed attractive at the time. Then things spiral and become violent and you've got the terrorist group that you see today.
Nancy Lindborg: Part of the problem in both of these conflicts is that Nigeria has a very underpowered and overwhelmed police force. There's a need to have a more responsive security force, particularly police, not just military, that the communities trust. So that you've got the ability to join together to fight these threats instead of feeling like the police are not on your side if you are a community.
Tim Farley (host): Nancy, you wrote that the voices of Nigeria who are now working things like state leaders, faith leaders working to address chronic violent conflicts, their voices need to be heard amplified. It will be vitally important for the United States to continue to invest in their efforts as well.
Tim Farley (host): Is there any sense that the new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to change policy? Is he going to focus more on Nigeria? Any sense yet, I mean it's a very early tenure as Secretary of State, but I wonder if you've seen any signs?
Nancy Lindborg: What I have seen is encouraging statements that came out of the White House from both President Trump and President Buhari who in his comments talked about the need to look at conflict resolution. I had a chance to visit two states in Nigeria where the state governors have instituted very important state entities to conduct this kind of conflict resolution. U.S. Institute of Peace is working with both of those states. And that's where you see the possibility of really addressing grievances more at the local level. The goal and the hope is to connect these local community processes with the state level conflict resolution entities. And then ultimately, it needs to connect to national level policies, national improvements in police and importantly in the justice system.
Nancy Lindborg: I think the elements are there. Nigeria is a country that has amazing capital in terms of human activity, they've got an economy that could be unleashed and really be an extraordinary driver. So the ingredients are there if they can get those pieces aligned and moving forward. It's well worth our interests in the United States to help support that package.
Tim Farley (host): Nancy Lindborg, thank you for joining us this morning.
Nancy Lindborg: Thank you, Tim.
Tim Farley (host): Nancy Lindborg, President, the United States Institute of Peace just back from Nigeria. You can also see what she's written at thehill.com, some thoughts on the meeting at the White House with President Buhari and President Trump. And you can also catch her on Twitter at @nancylindborg, @nancy L-I-N-D-B-O-R-G.