BRIEFER: Nuclear, climate, and security issues in Nigeria

By Andrea Rezzonico and Christine Parthemore

As Africa’s largest economy with a monumentally large and young population, Nigeria is a critical country whose future is often seen as a key factor in regional stability. It is also experiencing a wide range of pressures, including terrorist threats, water stress, high energy demands, and one of the world’s highest rates of urbanization, among others. 

Like many countries, Nigeria’s story is that of a fragile nation—facing many challenges but holding strong potential—seeking nuclear energy to help meet its mounting energy needs.

The Council of Strategic Risks explores this landscape in its latest briefer, “Converging Risks in Nigeria: Nuclear Energy Plans, Climate Fragility, and Security Trends.”

In 2017, just over half of the Nigeria’s residents had access to electricity. As part of its attempts to increase energy production and limit greenhouse gas emissions, the Nigerian government is exploring nuclear energy as part of its energy system expansion. Although its latest plans aim to produce 4,800 megawatts of capacity by 2035, the country is not yet on target to meet this goal.

Regardless of timing, Nigeria is actively pursuing international support for its nuclear program. Nigeria and Russia have signed several cooperation agreements (the latest in 2017) on a range of nuclear-related activities, and a 2018 memorandum of understanding with China sets stage for the exploration of civil nuclear cooperation. 

These developments are unfolding in a challenging environment. Nigeria suffers from ongoing instability and government forces are unable to exert control across the nation’s full territory. Boko Haram, a northeast-based terrorist group, has killed around 30,000 people and displaced more than two million over the last decade. The Islamic State in West Africa Province, a splinter group, aims to form a separate state in the Lake Chad region and is working to take over military installations and towns in pursuit of a caliphate.

Compounding and contributing to these terrorist threats in Nigeria’s northeast, Lake Chad has been vaporized by a combination of human pressures and climatic changes. These conditions have already forced millions from their homes in search of subsistence. 

In addition to the Lake Chad crisis, Nigeria’s climate security issues are widespread:

  • Outside the northeast, the Middle Belt has become the setting of ethnic tensions between semi-nomadic Muslim herdsman pushed out by climatic factors in the Northeast and Chrstian farmers.
  • Further south, the Niger Delta is home to an independence movement fueled by environmental degradation and a perceived injustice related to the government’s inability to compensate local communities with oil revenue.  
  • The topography along the southern coast and delta consists of low lying terrain and an intricate network of waterways, making the area prone to storm surges and flooding. This fragility exacerbates socio-political tensions. 

This broad context will continue shaping security dynamics for Nigeria and its neighbors. If not adequately addressed, the interactions among subnational and terrorist groups, environmental change, population displacement, and more will mean that Nigeria will require unique approaches to security regarding its nuclear energy sector. 

There are many signs that the Nigerian government recognizes and is working to address the issues this report highlights. And it is worth emphasizing that the country holds significant resources, especially in its vast and connected youth population, to bring to the challenge. Yet if current constraints and internal pressures continue, it is likely that international assistance will still be needed to help Nigeria prevail against its nuclear, climate, and other security risks. Converging Risks in Nigeria: Nuclear Energy Plans, Climate Fragility, and Security Trendsprovides unique insights into these challenges and offers recommendations for the United States to consider in addressing them. 

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