I read this article that says that the country of Saudi Arabia has some influence over Nigeria to the point where Nigeria may be on their side in the current Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict. This leads me to the question of How much political and economic influence does Saudi Arabia have over Nigeria?
The Washington Post article you cite largely discusses ties between Saudi Arabia and individuals in Nigeria who helped build a Salafi community in northern Nigeria. The article emphasizes Saudi Arabia's ability to export a particular religion -- Salafism -- as a means of spreading its influence abroad.
This type of Saudi influence not unique to Nigeria. Rather, Saudi Arabia has exported Salafism to other countries, such as Afghanistan. Additionally, Salafism has informed the ideology of many militant organizations, including Boko Haram (as was explained in the WaPo article), Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and many others.
What is Salafism?
Salafism is a conservative revisionist branch of Sunni Islam that seeks to return to the social, political, and religious practices of early Muslims. Adherents believe that Sharia law should be implemented and followed. Salafism is commonly divided into three branches.
- Jihadi Salafism: This is the probably the most well-known form of Salafism, though it is not the most popular. It considers violence as a legitimate means of combatting internal and external enemies of Islam. Jihadi Salafism is a core component of Al Qaeda's ideology and informs its broader objectives.
- Quietist/Scholastic Salafism: This version of Salafism eschews political participation and activism and instead emphasizes deference to a Muslim leader.
- Activist Salafism: Adherents to this version of Salafism see political participation and activism as legitimate and effective means to promote their beliefs. Some of the political parties that emerged after the Arab Spring can be considered Activist Salafi parties, like the Al-Nour Party in Egypt.
Where does Saudi Arabia come in?
Saudi Arabia has ties to all three of these types of Salafism. Saudi Arabia can be thought of as a hub for Salafi education. Its universities and religious institutions have trained a number of Salafi clerics and preachers, including those listed in the WaPo article about Nigeria. Additionally, the Saudi monarchy provided significant funding to Salafi jihadists fighting in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War. Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda, was famously a Saudi national, though his network was not supported by the Saudi monarchy. Finally, activist Salafism largely developed in Saudi Arabia as way for Salafis to push for political reform through activism and direct engagement.
Saudi Arabia is known for exporting Salafism. The World Muslim League, for example, was established in 1962 by the Saudi government to distribute information promoting Salafi beliefs. Saudi Arabia's efforts to spread Salafism in the 1970s and 1980s were widely seen as a massive propaganda campaign. Additionally, the cultivation of a Salafi universities and religious institutions made Saudi Arabia the preferred place for Salafi education.
For more details on these connections to Saudi Arabia, see this report from the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center.
What's the connection to Nigeria?
The WaPo article discusses the growth of the Salafi movement in northern Nigeria. The individuals that played a significant role in building that movement all spent time in Saudi Arabia at some point, likely because (as discussed above) it is an educational and religious hub for Salafism.
These individuals were not major players in the Nigerian government, so it is an overstatement to say that Saudi Arabia exercises significant influence over Nigeria's policies. One of the individuals mentioned, Muhammad Yusuf, went on to establish Boko Haram, a highly violent militant organization in Nigeria. (This is the group that kidnapped 200+ school girls in 2014 and sparked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.) It would also be an overstatement to claim that Saudi Arabia is responsible for the development of Boko Haram, though one could potentially argue that Saudi Arabia exported some the Salafi beliefs that drove the group's creation.
It is important to remember that, while Saudi Arabia may be known as an exporter of Salafism, local actors "can re-evaluate and adapt doctrine and practices according to [local] context and interests" (Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center, pg. 2). As a result, exporting Salafism is an imperfect and unreliable tool of political influence for Saudi Arabia.
Economically, not much.
Note: this section is based on statistics from 2019
Nigeria is part of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition, a group founded by Saudi Arabia. Other than that, the only other notable thing I could find is that this Wikipedia page says about Nigeria’s relation with Saudi Arabia: