Is Nigeria Sleepwalking? The Geopolitics of Nigeria's Energy Potential

Nigeria is positioned to reap great benefits from available resources in terms of sustained development and economic standing, with the developing trend of African countries trying to move up the production value chain. The question still lies in whether Nigerian leadership will seize such opportunities that may be fleeting.

In 2022, Nigeria held up its role as an influential player on the world stage—for better or worse. Through various metrics, Nigeria is consistently referenced as a prime economic player in Africa, and with this, effective governance and leadership should steer the country towards prominence regionally and globally.

The past year was filled with pivotal global events and Nigeria was not left out. From resolutions at the 77th United Nations General Assembly; to global conflict and the challenges on the African continent that Nigeria had to respond to. For one, Nigeria’s role in the decision by ECOWAS to sanction Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso in response to coups and government upheavals in those countries, but the missing nuance is why said coups took place.

In Burkina Faso and Mali, the removals were triggered by growing discontent among security forces, mostly around governance and ineffective counterinsurgency strategies. Nigeria seeks to play active roles outside internal governance, but insecurity is a pressing problem within its borders. This has hindered the success of the development plans Nigeria attempts to adopt. Security analysts have suggested that armed extremists across the Sahel and Sahara are likely to ramp up their activities because the Lake Chad region is still vulnerable and the Benin-Niger-Nigeria borderland remains porous.

Outside insecurity, Nigeria drew attention to its own priorities at the 27th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) summit that took place in November 2022 in Egypt. The call to move away from fossil fuels met much resistance, especially from the global South, whose countries remain heavily dependent on the energy generated from fossil fuels and are seeking to industrialize. Nigeria and other African countries put forth demands to allow for the continued exploitation of their hydrocarbon resources for development purposes, this stands in contrast to the call for decarbonization.

China Dialogue suggests that as of 2019, Africa needed about $2 trillion in investments targeted towards affordable power generation and reliable infrastructure. While China has been the largest source of energy infrastructure investments, developed countries have also shown the willingness to re-engage with assisting in the development of energy infrastructure. Interestingly, prominent policy analysts argue that African governments must partner effectively to broaden the base of economic development if only to avoid the extractive relations that plagued the African energy sector through the 20th century.

For Nigeria, Minister of State Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva said the country’s intention to continue with a multipronged energy transition strategy was aimed at attracting investments for Africa.

According to Sylva:

Nigeria will continue to advocate for gas as a transition fuel for Africa. We have said that we cannot move at the same pace as the rest of the world because we contribute less than two per cent of the global greenhouse gas emission. We are not the problem and we cannot be made to pay for the sins we did not commit.

Relatively, Nigeria’s per capita emission of C02 is approximately 0.6 tonnes/person as compared to the global average of 4.5 tonnes/person and the US value of 14.4 tonnes/person, according to reporting by OurWorldinData.

The African Development Bank reports that $130billion-$170billion in funding is needed until 2025 to close the infrastructure gap across the continent, and such a target is improbable unless natural resources are explored. It is a skewed suggestion that African countries abandon the same natural resources that funded and powered economic development everywhere else. Certainly, environmental sustainability and impact assessment must continue to inform energy policy, but the misguided calls from the West to switch energy sources must not influence the African condition, according to Gwede Mantashe, the South African Energy Minister:

Energy is the catalyst for growth…They even want to tell us to switch off all the coal-generated power stations…until you tell them, ‘You know we can do that, but you’ll breathe fresh air in the darkness’.

On the economic front, Nigerians not only dealt with fluctuating fuel prices and rising inflation rates, but higher and more varied tax levies put more pressure on the already dismal purchasing power of Nigerians. The Nigerian government moved to introduce new naira banknotes; a process that has not been executed efficiently. From a hard deadline to return old notes to banks lacking supply of the new notes, the average Nigerian has faced another dimension of economic uncertainty.

Above all, the general elections grabbed national and international attention; in Nigeria, especially among the youth. While parties sought to mobilize voting blocs and alliances, the socioeconomic issues glaring at Nigerians made them more worried about high inflation rates, insecurity across the country, and poor prospects for economic development.


Coined by World Economic Forum founder, Klaus Schwab, the fourth industrial revolution is disruptive as digital technologies are at the forefront of social development. It is also disruptive in terms of the raw materials required for the production of said technologies. Cobalt, lithium, coltan, and other such metals are needed for battery, and semiconductor chip manufacturing. These are minerals African countries have significant deposits of, begging the question of who has access to these resources and who will reap the benefits. The so-called fourth industrial revolution is rife with opportunities for African governments to take advantage of, in sectors like agriculture, mining, manufacturing and information, and communication technologies.

Nigeria, like many other countries of the global South, was unable to gain much during the first (steam power, mechanization), second (mass production), and third industrial (automation, electronics) revolutions because of the colonial legacies that kept many countries as sources of resource extraction. However, several African countries are taking steps to reverse such trends. Zimbabwe, in 2021, announced that China’s Tsingshan Holding Group would commence the development of an iron ore mine and a carbon steel plant, the announcement comes three years after the investment deal was first entered into.

In 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) passed a mining code identifying cobalt, coltan, germanium, and lithium as ‘strategic minerals’ of which it has increased royalties from 2 per cent to 10 per cent. With proven lithium reserves of about 44.6 million tonnes, the DRC sets itself to become a leading supplier of lithium, a metal classed as ‘strategic’.

In 2022, Nigeria’s Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, turned down an offer by Tesla Inc. to obtain high-grade lithium from Nigeria. While the country has not necessarily classified lithium as a strategic mineral, the move is in line with leveraging valuable minerals for sustainable development. According to Adegbite, electric vehicles and battery storage would account for roughly half of the energy minerals demand over the next two decades. He also acknowledged that establishing a battery industry would improve the value chain of mineral exploration in Nigeria. Nigeria is positioned to reap great benefits from available resources in terms of sustained development and economic standing, with the developing trend of African countries trying to move up the production value chain. The question still lies in whether Nigerian leadership will seize such opportunities that may be fleeting.

Nigeria entered an agreement with Morocco for the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline project (NMGP), a 6,000km pipeline crossing 13 African countries that will bring over 5,000 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Morocco. The project is intended to supply gas directly to the Maghreb Europe Gas Pipeline and by extension, the European Gas Network.  Nigeria and Morocco also agreed to develop industrial clusters in the sub-region with a focus on sectors like agriculture, and manufacturing, as a way to attract investment and improve export competitiveness.

Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the rising energy prices and demand in Europe, and the economic sanctions placed against Russia; African energy is at the forefront of global demand.


The gas agreement between Nigeria and Morocco is a recent development despite diplomatic relations that have stalled for many years. On one hand, Nigeria has maintained support for the sovereignty of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)—which has territorial disputes with Morocco. On the other, Morocco had withdrawn from the Organization for African Unity (OAU) because of the OAU’s decision to recognise the SADR as a member state; this changed in 2017 when its readmission to the African Union was accepted.

Algeria had lobbied Nigeria for the development of a Trans-Saharan gas pipeline to Europe as opposed to Morocco’s option that traces around the Atlantic coast of West Africa. With the opportunity of replacing Russia as a prime supplier of gas to Europe, and the energy struggle between Algeria and Morocco, Nigerian authorities are not taking advantage of the underlying geopolitics of the environment.

TheCable suggests that Nigeria also has to contend with not just insecurity issues, but infrastructure challenges. This is what a partnership with China or the G7 members could solve. With the China-led ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, and the G7-led Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, Nigeria is currently unable to play a strong hand owing to 90 per cent of revenue going towards debt servicing (a challenge familiar to many other African countries) and a required $84billion per annum to close the infrastructure gap. China and the United States—along with its allies, are economic rivals, With a less competitive Nigeria between these nations, the government must devise a means to reduce the infrastructure deficit and enable economic competitiveness.

Nigeria’s insecurity remains a major stumbling block for the effective implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially when considering the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna rail system in March 2022. With Chinese partnership in the construction of the standard-gauge rail systems, Nigeria has been unable to leverage the economic potential of the newly built transport systems and this hinders any chances of revenue generation and loan repayment.

It is clear that regional tensions cause the spread of conflict past the borders of origin. In 2011, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) led the destruction of Libya, causing the further destabilization of the entire Sahel region of Africa with countries like Nigeria, Mali and Chad seeing high levels of extremist insurgency transforming into violent military attacks, illicit trade and kidnapping. These contemporary security challenges have hampered the stability and development not only of Nigeria but the rest of the continent.

With violent regime change initiated in Libya by NATO as opposed to negotiated settlement as proposed by the AU; NATO facilitated the collapse of a government and paved the way for the massive flow of illicit weapons to budding insurgencies and the resurgence of human trafficking. These problems, among others, perpetuate the challenges that hamper effective collaboration between African countries and a global counterpart like China.

As a means of seeking progress, there is the need to find a middle ground in China-Nigeria bilateral relations; while Nigeria has existing partnerships with governments that consider themselves rivals to China, the Nigerian government must understand that its geopolitical position allows it to enjoy the benefits of robust relations with various countries.


On the foreign policy front, Nigeria has sought to position itself as an active member of the international community, being the most populous country in Africa. The cold war saw Nigeria engage a particularly proactive foreign policy, seen in the leadership of the ECOWAS and the more recent peacekeeping operations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Somalia.

Nigeria’s foreign policy approach through the end of the 20th century was based on decolonization, non-interference, respect for borders, and the promotion of African Unity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Nigeria’s contemporary foreign policy. This is because the country has been operating on the back foot in terms of governance, economic development, and global relations. While Nigeria has abundant resources to leverage its position geopolitically, little effort has been exerted in that regard and consecutive administrations have not brought forth the progress that potential leaders promise citizens during elections.

National security ails in the face of Nigeria’s lacklustre foreign policy. Admittedly, Nigeria is a member of several multinational security pacts with addressing insecurity as a major objective, but with the persistence of insurgency, illicit trade, and kidnappings, there is little evidence of the success of these programs. With economic difficulties, corruption, and poor governance as driving factors, Nigeria has suffered issues of credibility as concerns dealing with insecurity, which in 2021 cost roughly ₦8 trillion without desired results. It should be noted that Nigeria—like other African countries, has sought alternatives as per security partnerships like the China-sourced Global Security Initiative (GSI).

By focusing on the principles of indivisible security, and sovereignty, the GSI enables Nigeria and China to cooperate on issues such as maritime security, a move that was announced with the donation of military equipment, including a 46-meter patrol boat to the Nigerian Army and Navy by the People’s Republic of China. This is simply an opportunity for Nigeria to adopt elements of China’s initiative, not wholesale, but as a continuous process of adapting foreign policy to the fast-changing landscape of contemporary geopolitics.

Nigeria’s foreign policy successes will be based on adequate security but current developments on the world stage indicate that Nigeria’s foreign policy must state clearly the terms under which the country engages with others. Therein lies the importance of following through with the objectives at hand, such as upgrading and leveraging the value chain potential of strategic minerals relevant to the fourth industrial revolution. This much was admitted by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who noted the difficulty of Nigeria’s current condition, but also added that:

What we know, and have learned from both our recent experience and the experiences of others is that in this new world, our foreign policy must unapologetically define the terms on which we engage the rest of the world.  To do this, we must establish the values that define us, and be clear about the concerns that motivate us and the interests that inspire us.

With all the above factors in play, Nigeria certainly requires proactive peace building measures, and definitive policies focused on addressing the myriad issues hindering economic development and political progress. Internal issues have to be dealt with before external factors can be addressed from a position of confidence.

While time unravels the results of decisions being made, the question remains, ‘is Nigeria awake or sleepwalking?

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