What little recent Western media attention has been given to the remarkable country of Nigeria has not been positive.
This is somewhat understandable as horrific images of violence against Christians has become an all too common news item. The treacherous headline-grabber here is the al Qaeda-affiliated Boko Haram group, which has perpetuated unconscionable acts of terror against the country's Christian population.
Just this past Christmas, dozens of Catholic Nigerians were murdered in a string of suicide attacks at churches in Abuja and around the country. This is just one in a series of escalating operations against civilians, the press, schools and so forth.
With so little information in the Western media available about Nigeria, and so much of it focused on the havoc wreaked by this jihadist group, assessments of the Nigerian future tend to be extraordinarily bleak.
Urging us to view the situation in broader perspective is Georgetown University School of Foreign Service professor Gwendolyn Mikell. On today's episode of Faith Complex, the anthropologist and student of Africa rejects recent claims that Nigeria is "on the brink."
In fact, on the very pages of The Huffington Post two years ago, she wrote:
The main flaw in Ambassador Campbell's somber portrait is that he reduces Nigeria to two monolithic, antagonistic and inexorably colliding blocs, one Northern, the other Southern. This is a false reality since Nigeria is a nation of roughly 150 million people with more than 200 ethnic groups. There is no insuperable Mason-Dixon line separating a wholly Muslim North from a wholly Christian South. These hypothetical blocs are convenient intellectual fictions that do not accord with the complexity of the country's vast national tapestry. There are portions of Southern Nigeria where Muslims are in the majority or are large minorities as there are swaths in the North where Christians are the majority or a significant minority. As in our own country, Nigeria's cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity is at times a source of tension but also a tremendous national asset and a source of national pride. Despite occasional local outbursts, Nigeria's Christians and Muslims occupy the national space with considerable peace and tolerance.
Professor Mikell declares herself to be an optimist on Nigeria, noting that troublesome as Boko Haram may be, its popularity is fleeting and could be effectively forestalled. Citing the pivotal role that a strong Nigerian government and civil society could play, she expresses hope for the future.