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Nigeria: A failed state?

By Abiola Phillips 
11 March 2020   |   2:59 am
The fabric of the state, at the best of times a clashing cacophony of counterintuitive colour and calumny, is coming apart at the seams; and, there is precious little that can be done to staunch the unravelling.

The fabric of the state, at the best of times a clashing cacophony of counterintuitive colour and calumny, is coming apart at the seams; and, there is precious little that can be done to staunch the unravelling.

In a multiplicity of places and in a variety of ways, the death throes of Albion’s wet dream – foisted on us and always of dubious provenance – unfolds before our eyes. Flailing at every turn, an aggregation whose preeminent imperative was administrative convenience is all but ready to fail and fall! Welcome to the Nigerian coop, with its mutated chickens coming home to roost.

A measured and managed re-definition is the best that can be hoped for but the likelihood of that is degraded daily, from within government and from without. Our ailments multiply and metastasize with such rapidity that any meaningful diagnosis is redundant before it is articulated. The ship of state, rude and rudderless, has a captain lounging languidly in his quarters, happy to satiate himself with the illusion of power and control. Most constitutions declare the security and well-being of its nation’s citizens and property the primary function of government. Our nineteen ninety-nonsense version, a homage to form rather than substance, has similar pretensions. That’s as far as it goes, however; the fact that the constitution is a creature of military misanthropes calls into question not only its validity but its ability to speak to a diverse and divergent human collective. Not a day goes by that we are not witnessing to the abject failure of the Nigerian state to live up to its cardinal responsibilities.

With daily news feeds of death and destruction, one could be forgiven for thinking that large swathes of Nigeria are no man’s land. Every time this presidency, it’s loyal voices or its military hierarchy utter their inanities as a balm for the running sores all over our body politic, the utter hopelessness of our plight is affirmed and amplified. What we are fed are words, worthless words that speak to the failure to grasp how tenuous our corporate being has become.

Exhibit A in the case of a failed state is the brazenness of the repeated challenges to the state’s nominally exclusive right to organised violence within the jurisdiction. I am regularly dumbstruck by the failure to fathom the irony oozing from a government whose party liberally wielded righteous indignation in its successful campaign to unseat the supposedly clueless Jonathan administration. In the lead up to the 2015 election, not a speech was delivered by the upper reaches of the APC that was not layered with references to the PDP’s failure to pacify the nation. They assured us that their coming would herald a speedy end to the scourge of asymmetric violence; if only we could have the moment back. The persisting malignancy of Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), cattle herders, kidnappers, armed robbers and an assortment of other malevolent actors, is explained away by that old reliable – changed circumstances. No such caveat can avail any party that has won the right to govern. Once elected, a government is bound to deal with whatever it finds on its plate. How can this government lay claim to being an effective suzerain when nearly a year into its second term, day in and day out, across the length and breadth of the land, there is neither assurance of life nor safety of property? A suzerain whose writ does not run has no legitimacy.

Exhibit B is the many instances of defenceless citizens left to fend for themselves as they are assailed by a profusion of violent non-state actors. The examples are legion and I shall pick some low-hanging fruit to illustrate my point. We are all left to our own devices if we wish to sleep peaceably. The rush to provide supplemental regional security beyond the national police force is eloquent testimony to how ineffectual the government has been in performing its constitutional duty. Aside from the constitutional propriety of regional supplemental help, the facts on the ground are the most compelling reason for an Attorney-General with little more than a nodding acquaintance with the constitution to stand down his ill-informed observations. The plight of Leah Shuaibu, one of over a hundred schoolgirls kidnapped from a school in Dapchi, Yobe State is a particularly harrowing example of the Buhari administration’s inability to grasp how damaging its inadequacies have proven. A111school girls were abducted from a school on February 19, 2018. Within a few days of the incident, all the surviving girls were “rescued”. Their release was organised by emissaries of the federal government and oiled by the government. Leah however, was not released. The generally accepted narrative is that because she refused to convert from Christianity to Islam, her Boko Haram captors refused to release her. No government worth it’s salt can fail to appreciate how poor the optics of failing to secure her release has become. It has enabled mischief-makers to exploit latent religious differences, differences that have regularly commingled with an already vexatious North-South divide.

This particularly grave dereliction has flowed into other tributaries, reinforcing and reinvigorating a host of cleavages. I am still trying to pick my jaw off the ground at the crass insensitivity of the Buhari administration’s handling of the matter. She was one of over a hundred children abducted; the government managed to negotiate the release of all the surviving children, except her. The prevailing perception among many, in my view not unjustified, is that the General did not and does not care enough about the plight of Christians to fight tirelessly for Leah. Again, all he offered were worthless sound bites. That has been General Buhari’s M.O. from the get-go. It was no different with his insufficient decisiveness in addressing the excessive menace of itinerant, gun-toting Fulani herdsmen. Mealy-mouthed in his criticism, he has left room for self-help. I guess Command College was a long time ago but I would wager that Strategy 101 must have taught that power abhors a vacuum, and still does.

Exhibit 3 in the case for a failed state is the coach and horses regularly driven through that other staple of the 2015 campaign – the promise of a robust anti-corruption campaign. By the General’s own admission, if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Prescient but not plausible: more empty words! What we were promised by the APC were rectitude and transparency, what has been delivered is fidelity in word rather than indeed. From the beginning of what Buhari described as an anti-corruption crusade, we have been treated like idiots, asked to swallow wholesale selective posturing masquerading as tackling corruption.

Putting aside the APC’s willingness to get into bed with any reprobate offering the prospect of short-term political advantage, the party is – like Donald Trump – greatly enamoured of truths of its own construction. Instead of making meaningful progress in tackling corruption, the General has turned away from uncomfortable truths and in so doing helped to entrench and enthrone that very thing he claimed to have come to do away with. Opportunities have not been taken to make the kind of zero-tolerance statement that would resonate loudly in crooked quarters close to home. Instead, all that is taken is more and more liberties. Two instances, in particular, demonstrate how gargantuan the battle to slay corruption will be. In the first, an APC governor of a northern state was caught on candid camera, allegedly demonstrating the versatility of the babanriga as a storage space for transporting ill-gotten dollar-denominated gains.

In spite of the awful optics and the opportunity this represented to scream no mas from the rooftop, it was a case of the African corruption tsar that did not bark.

To further rub salt in the sore, the said person successfully ran for a second term as governor and, with the support of the party apparatus (including the President), was re-elected. The second example, only slightly less outlandish but no less egregious, again demonstrates the Achilles heel of the General’s supposed campaign against corruption. Let me first come out of the closet by declaring myself a secret admirer of the incorrigible player in this unsavoury saga; particularly of his ability to surmount inordinate political odds and opponents within Yorubaland (a notoriously vexatious and treacherous milieu). It is a feat that ought to be acknowledged. However, being formed of clay, he too has deep flaws emanating from the inordinate power he has amassed.

How else is one to explain the blatant disregard for the propriety of an APC national leader having two bullion vans deliver God-knows-what to his home on the eve of a major election. The contents were more likely than not cash being delivered to influence the elections scheduled for the next day. Regardless of what the bullion vans contained, the appearance of impropriety was overwhelming, as was his arrogant leonine assertions that followed. The fact that his conduct was so flagrant demonstrates how deep the impunity in our political class runs. For such a cavalier display of disregard from the highest reaches of the ruling party to not be sanctioned or publicly reprimanded by a president that rode into office four years earlier on a white charger goes beyond mere dereliction. It is tantamount to placing the president’s own imprimatur of approval on wanton misbehaviour. Perception is reality and to the degree that our perceptions predicate our subsequent conduct, they affirm or create new realities, no less consequential than objective realities. There is no Nigerian ship of state to speak of and the appearance of leadership is little more than wishful thinking. The undignified wrangling in the kitchen cabinet further testifies to the coming denouement. Whenever uncomfortable truths surface, a less than studious silence emanates from the president, evidencing how bare the locker is.

I no longer feel strongly one way or the other about the endurance of an idea that was foisted on us rather than born of us. I recognise that a nation’s death throes may be more painful than its birth pangs but we will not be the first people forced to confront unpalatable truths. Little of what has gone before us gives reason to hope that saner heads will prevail over our funeral rites so all one can fall back on is that staple of the dispossessed, prayer!

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