This may be the most critical moment in Nigeria for a generation. The threat of Boko Haram has been a fuse burning away in the powder keg of Nigerian political life for the last seven years, and has been largely unconfronted. The political class, with a few distinguished exceptions, has long been in a state of smugness, complacency, and collusion.
A kind of informal high-grade corruption has become part of national life. When Boko Haram began its campaign of cultural, religious and educational separatism – decrying western education and trying to bring Nigeria under the shadow of sharia law – it was seen as a small outfit, a ragtag band of fundamentalists, not to be taken seriously.
At the time the nation was distracted by the fallout from the Niger delta protests in the south-east, the sabotage of oil pipelines, and the rash of kidnappings that made the area particularly dangerous. The protests were due to the extreme environmental pollution by oil companies that had devastated farmlands, rivers, whole villages and towns. The execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995 was the last outrage during the long Nigerian sleep.