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Is it fair to call Nigeria a failed state?

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Kwara State Governor, Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed

Last week, armed robbers stormed five banks in Offa local government, Kwara state.

Eyewitnesses reported that attackers ‘shot aimlessly’ as they ‘blew up entrances’ to banks. Up to N50m has been reported stolen and 17 Nigerians killed, although, the number has been disputed by different media outlets. The Governor of Kwara state, Abdulfatah-Ahmed, pledged to pay the medical bills of the wounded and offered a N5m reward for information that could help police find the robbers.

Sadly, violent deaths in Nigeria are nothing new.

In addition to the Offa robbery, last week saw suspected herdsmen attack in Taraba, Benue and Kaduna states. A report published by the Vanguard in March revealed that 1,351 people died violent deaths in the first 10 weeks of the year.

With each batch of violence, comes fresh anger and questions from Nigerians. The 1999 Nigerian constitution states that ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,’

In 2015 the president announced that Boko Haram were technically defeated, according to Amnesty International in 2017/18 they have killed 411 civilians in at least 65 attacks. 1.7 million people have been displaced due to the conflict. Clashes between herdsmen and farming communities have led to over 500 deaths with thousands of people displaced. In addition to this there have been allegations of unlawful detention, killing and torture

Coupled with the host of other issues facing the country, it all begs the question most of us don’t want to ask ourselves; is Nigeria a failed state?

There’s a notion that circles around that Nigeria is almost always ‘on the brink,’ of some impending disaster that will make the country implode, always close to the edge of a cliff, but never quite over the edge.

Most people don’t like the idea of the country having failed. National pride, patriotism, love of one’s country and a belief in what it could or should be, usually makes people bristle and become defensive. All the reasons why Nigeria is the giant of Africa are brought out, arguments (which can’t be discounted) about the effects and legacy of colonialism and how it has hindered Nigeria from becoming what it should be.

Thankfully, there are ways to look at things in a slightly more pragmatically. One of which is the Fragile States Index, formerly known as The Failed State Index is a yearly report by Fund for Peace that seeks to identify ‘pressures that are pushing a state towards the brink of failure.’

These types of reports aren’t perfect and their methods, analysis will always come under scrutiny and criticism, but the indicators are at the very least a good place to start because for the most part, they can be measured.

The Index identifies the following features of a fragile state; ‘ the loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

There are 12 main indicators, called the ‘conflict assessment framework (CAST) used by the Index to judge if a state is failing; security apparatus, factionalized elites, group grievance, economic decline, uneven economic development, human flight and brain dran, state legitimacy, public services, human rights and rule of law, demographic pressures, refugees and IDPs and external intervention.

Last year’s FSI ranked Nigeria 13th out of 178 countries with a score of 101.6 out of a possible 120. In five out of the 12 indicators Nigeria scored 9 or above  out of 10 (security apparatus, factionalized elites, group grievance, public services and demographic pressures. The lowest score was 6.5, for external intervention.

For those living in Nigeria or up to date with the happenings in the country the scores may not be that surprising, you only have to turn on the news or take a glance at social media to see one of the indicators failing before your eyes, and all the while people pray and hope for improvement, and various administrations promise they will be the ones to set the country right, the reality is, things are only getting worse.

In 2006, Nigeria ranked 22nd on the Index, with a score of 94.4. Every year since the ranking has continued to slip down  (bar 2013 when Nigeria went from 14th to 16th and then in 2014 when the ranking went from 16th to 17th).

It’s likely that your average Nigerian would agree; economic stagnation, a lack of prospects, poor public services and a lack of security. What makes the Offa robbery so shocking was its coordination and organization. It took place in daylight, at somewhere as ordinary as a bank, and showed a worrying lack of security, driving home the message that no one is really safe, anywhere.

That is a frightening reality. But, there are ways for failing states to recover.

The Index posits a way for failing states to recover, by policymakers monitoring and measuring the problems and then focus on strengthening the “core five” institutions: the military, the police, the civil service, judiciary and leadership.

With the upcoming elections around the corner, full blown campaigning will soon start, candidates will lay out their vision for the country and how they plan to get things back on track.

In the 20th year of the country’s democracy it could be a crucial election in Nigeria’s history, with results that could either pull us back from the brink or closer to the edge.


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