Is Nigeria a failed state?

By Abuchi Obiora

Before I present facts which may answer the above question, it is important to first ask another question: what is a ‘State’?

The word ‘state’ is one of those few English words which could be comfortably used as a verb, a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, etc; it could also adopt wide, varied and differing meanings based on particular usage and application. It is safe to say that the letter ‘S-T-A-T-E’ may mean different things depending on the context where it is used.

For the purpose of this work, I intend to use the number two meaning of the word ‘STATE’ as enunciated in the Oxford Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary (Special Price Edition) viz: “a country considered as an organized political community controlled by one government.”

A second question is necessary to understand the meaning of the phrase “a country considered as an organized political community controlled by one government”. That question is: what are the characteristic features of a state?

The website www.law.cornel.edu says that a “state is sovereign in its territory (also referred to as jurisdiction) and has the authority to enforce a system of rules over the people living inside it” while the Encyclopedia Britannica (www.britannica.com>topic) adds that a state is “most broadly of the agreement of the individuals on the means whereby disputes are settled in the form of laws”.

There are other definitions of the word “state” as applied in this work but all these definitions are captured in the two simple phrases of “sovereign in its territory….. and has the authority to enforce a system of rules over the people living inside it” and “of the agreement of the individuals on the means whereby disputes are settled in the form of laws”.

These two basic characteristic features of a ‘state’ (as the country Nigeria) have all been questioned by the constituting ethnic nationalities of Nigeria numbering more than 250, who believe that the 1914 amalgamation document of Nigeria expired since December 31st, 2013. For this reason,  these ethnic nationalities believe that all constituted governments after that date, who claim to be in control of the territory marked out as Nigeria lacks the locus, nay “the authority to enforce a system of rules over the  people living inside” Nigeria.  

Obviously in subtle assertion of this understanding of the country as a no-man’s land, both the rulers and the ruled in Nigeria have resorted to different forms of sabotage of a system they believe should be replaced by a new and more acceptable form of co-habitation. For example, instead of delivering effective governance to the people, most Nigerian politicians busy themselves with massive looting of the national treasury. As the politicians loot the national treasury, other Nigerians in their various trades and professions devised different ways to perpetuate wickedness both to each other and to the country they have all lost passion for.

The result of these attacks to the entity called Nigeria is the present condition of insecurity in the country; bastardization of the rule of law and miss-application of justice; high foreign exchange cost for naira and distortion in fiscal policies with the consequent hardship on citizens as a result of high price of food items; absence of clean and drinkable water for Nigerian citizens as recommended by the United Nations; epileptic power supply around the nation in spite of the fact that trillions of naira have been spent in that sector;  unserviceable roads and decay in public utilities and infrastructure around the country; nose-dive in the quality of education with the growing trend of churning out unemployable graduates by the Universities plus the spiraling number of children dropping out of school as a result of massive poverty and abject penury stalking the people; billions of dollar incurred by consecutive irresponsible governments as foreign debts which hang over the heads of Nigerians and generations of Nigerians yet unborn, etc. As a matter of fact, the light seemed to have dimmed, almost snuffing out, in everything for Nigeria as a country, yet, some people whose incomes depend on these conditions of failure still want us to believe that business must continue as usual.

Now, to put my question in another way, I ask: in this condition as enumerated above… is Nigeria not a failed state?.

Let us briefly look at one of the most recent events in Nigeria to confirm that Nigeria is actually a failed state. This most recent event in the long list of wry, sardonic drama featuring scenes cast in sarky tragi-comedy inherent with meanings, was the abduction, stay in captivity and release of four graduates of Benue State University, Makurdi (among others) by bandits on their way to their designated NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) locations.

The bus they boarded, belonging to Benue Links Transport Company, was intercepted in Zamfara state. The abductee graduates were Joseph Zaaka Aondona, Sedoo Gundu,

Jennifer Awashima Iorham and Sechivir, plus four other passengers of the bus not mentioned in the media report. I was aghast when I heard the news. Being a father, I was worried as I placed myself in the stead of their parents who must have sacrificed so much (possibly, sometimes going without food as presently happen in Nigeria) to see those graduates through the University. I followed up with the news till it was reported again that they have been released by their captors after a certain amount of ransom was paid to the bandits.

I was happy when I read the news, not minding the sacrilegious lawlessness of paying ransom to the bandits, because paying that ransom offered the only opportunity to keep those young Nigerians alive. I was happier when I saw those Nigerian youths – the abductors and the abductees – pose in several solidarity photographs to mock Nigeria, a country that has slipped into the condition of a failed state.

In solidarity with themselves, Nigerian youths – the abductors and the abductees – gathered themselves, some of them welding AK 47 assault rifles in the remote and thick Zamfara forest, in open mockery of a system they will soon overthrow by force of arms, if constituted authorities refuse to change the system by peaceful means.

In some of the previous works which featured in the Kaleidoscope, I had written that unemployment and feeling of hopelessness, among  other things in northern Nigeria, are two of the reasons for youth restiveness in that part of the country. I had also written that the feudalist interpretation of government by northern politicians has  deprived the regions in the core north of equitable distribution of national  wealth amongst northerners, in spite of the fact that the north has ruled Nigeria more years than the south has done so, in the history of the country.

In one of those works, I reasoned that the supply chain of recruits into both the Boko Haram, the ISWAP and the bandits will be broken if government puts in place a system that will dutifully engage Nigerian youths in the north.

Unfortunately for the country, northern politicians who are very busy swimming in financial and material affluence with billions of dollars stashed in different banks around the world are too deaf to hear my type of advice. So, while the politicians pillage the national treasury using their offices and smart pens, the deprived and depraved northern youths in alliance with some heartless Nigerians, discovered a hidden gold mine in the lucrative business of terrorism by kidnapping, demanding ransom and involving in sundry forms of crimes and illegalities now fondly referred to as banditry.

In those jolly photographs of the abductors and the abductees which Nigerians saw as inappropriate, asking the security agencies to swoop on the adductors who did not mind showing off their handsome faces and well-fed bodies, I saw camaraderie amongst Nigerian youths who share the same plight of a national woe.

Do not be deceived that the abductees had the privilege of university education when compared with their compatriots and newly found friends in Zamfara  forests (who must survive the hardship brought on them by a failed state through the unwholesome act of banditry) because if attending the University is a guarantee for employment and the good life for the youths in Nigeria, the country would not have witnessed the high turnout of equally disgruntled youths from southern Nigeria who also feel short-changed in the Nigerian system, during the EndSARS protest of October 2020.

Secondly, though not in recommendation of crime as the means to an end, I understand that the law of necessity justifies crime in the minds of some people who lack the appropriate moral training and restraint not to commit crimes when the natural demand to take care of the selves come calling. The point I make here is that the government as the father of all, must take care of everybody, including the morally weak amongst us, to curb crime. This is why governments in some countries introduce welfare packages to cushion the effect of the pressures of life on their weak and less endowed citizens.

I suspect that those Nigerian youth corpers had good time with their equally neglected compatriots in the Zamfara forest. The photographs made available by the abductees confirm this possibility. I also have a feeling that some of those Nigerian youths in the forests may be graduates driven to the bush by unemployment and hunger. As a matter of fact, if the abductees were to tell Nigerians everything they experienced in the custody of their hospitable and amiable hosts, Nigerians will be shocked to find out that those Nigerian youths driven into the bush by the brutal inequity in Nigeria, share the same views with the abductees about their common oppressors in government.

Was ransom actually paid to secure the release of the captives? If ransom was paid, it must have been to satiate the financial appetite of the big boys, the financiers and the hawks behind the curtain of banditry, which supply the arms and ammunitions as well as service the necessary logistics that sustain the banditry business. As for the foot soldiers,

that is, the abductors who Nigerians saw in the photographs, they would have been contented, having enjoyed themselves in the company of their compatriot and making a loud statement in mockery of the Nigerian system.

Going back to our definition of the world ‘state’ and taking cognizance of banditry within the frontiers of Nigeria, I ask: Is Nigeria still ‘sovereign’ – a condition that is one of the most important characteristic features of a state – with the activities of the bandits, the ISWAP, and the Boko Haram who have found permanent residences in some parts within the jurisdiction of Nigeria where they levy taxes on the citizens, appoint village heads as well as regulate the operations of the village markets?.

If government does not know, let me draw its attention to the fact that the bandits have always been lenient with their fellow Nigerian youths when they encounter the youths in action. The government should also observe that there have never been casualties amounting to death which include youths, unless in accidental cases when security operatives embark on forceful release of the captives after having been warned by the bandits to stay away and drop their ransom in designated places.

The Nigerian youths both in the cities and in the forests seem to have reached a consensus opinion as to whom their common enemy is. This is a very dangerous development for Nigeria and more especially so for those people who are still hell bent on maintaining the status quo.

Unless something is done and urgently too, Nigeria seem to have arrived the point of precipice. Now, the problem has gone beyond treating and sparing a wounded leg to amputating a neglected and rotten leg in order to give life to the patient. By this, I mean that the only life line for Nigeria in the present circumstance is to begin to earn the trust and support of Nigerians through a restructuring of the system. Using such government agencies as the defunct MAMSER, and the useless jamboree and money-guzzler called National Orientation Agency failed because Nigerians no more trust, and therefore have withdrawn all support to their government, unless such supports are meant to directly enrich them and secure their own slice of the proverbial national cake.

Earning the trust and support of the inhabitants of a community by any government is the minimum requirement for the attainment of equity, fair play and hence peace, unity and

progress for the people it governs and these conditions are the hallmarks of successful governments. This is far from what presently obtains in Nigeria, and is the major reason for both political, social and economic instability that have combined to contribute to the failure of Nigeria as a nation state.

The ethnic nationalities in Nigeria have made different representations to the United Nations and other international organizations insisting that the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was imposed on them without their input and knowledge, by a group of northern Nigerian military officers and political leaders. By our definition of ‘state’ in this work and because the 1999 constitution did not originate from the constituting ethnic nationalities in the country Nigeria has again failed as a ‘state’ in that regard because she did not obtain “the agreement of the individuals on the means whereby disputes are settled in the form of laws”

To end this discourse, I surmise that if the central government in Nigeria continues to neglect the clarion call for a restructuring of the polity, chances are that the voice of Nigerians clamoring to organize a plebiscite for the federating units to decide what they want to do with themselves, will reverberate enough as to attract the attention of international community and this may most probably end in an unplanned and unguided balkanization of the country.

*Obiora can be reached via abuchiobiora@gmail.com

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