As the United States widens its understanding of the terrorism threat to include countries like Yemen and Somalia, its neighbor across the Gulf of Aden, the State Department inspector general's office is warning about another potential breeding ground for insurgents: Nigeria.
Of course, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hailed from there, but his case is seen as an aberration because he grew up in the most advantageous of circumstances. But according to a new report made public Monday, Nigeria is at risk of becoming the same type of breeding ground for violent extremism that America is now battling in so many other places around the globe.
"Government neglect is provoking disaffection that, if left unchecked, could lead to the growth of insurgency or even terrorism," the report states. "Increased desertification in the North and a growing population mean increased competition for already scant land and water resources. In the South, where unemployment among youths is widespread, vandalism against infrastructure such as pipelines is almost a way of life. Newly armed groups of youths readily join in the sabotage activities and kidnappings, upping the stakes for control of the energy resources of this area. Nigeria is also haunted by ethnic and political conflicts that have erupted in violence on multiple occasions in recent years. Despite all these issues, Nigeria is crucial as a U.S. partner and regional leader."
The U.S. mission in Nigeria faces severe problems, the report also notes. Despite being funded to the tune of half a billion dollars, it doesn't have the budget to meet program requirements, the housing for State Department staff in Nigeria is dilapidated, and there is a lot of trouble staffing up the diplomatic mission there properly, the IG found.
Now, not all Foreign Service assignments are created equal. So it may come as no surprise that the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria is not considered a plush posting, and morale there, especially in the consular section, is a challenge.
The result is that both in the embassy in Abuja (where the underwear bomber's father visited) and the consulate in Lagos are staffed with relatively junior personnel who aren't working in their specialties they were trained for.
"Despite a robust package of incentives, staffing Lagos and Abuja is hard, with many officers in stretch assignments, working out-of-cone, on excursion tours, or on directed first assignments. These staffing woes, an operating budget that lags behind program funding, and aging facilities in Lagos reduce the efficiency of diplomatic operations," the report states.
To add to the challenge, the task of issuing visas in Nigeria is also unique. Anyone who has opened an email from a purported Nigerian businessman seeking help with a bank deposit understands.
As the report puts it,
"Sophisticated patterns of fraud have an impact on protecting visa and passport integrity."
UPDATE: Several readers write in to point out that another problem is the fact that Nigeria's president Umaru Yar’Adua has been missing for over six weeks!
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.