When states (nations) fail
A state or nation, big or small, could fail. Its institutions and other collaterals simply collapse after a long period of pressure. Internal and external pressures sometimes combine to bring a state to its knees. We have seen or read about cases of internal pressure being the most important single factor occasioned by fighting among power holders, real and potential. We have also read about the collapse of a state coming after the exit of a strong man who had managed to hold the different interests which constitute together. Libya (Muammar Ghaddafi), Somalia (Siad Barre) and Yugoslavia (Josip Tito) are great examples of this type of failure.
Great empires have fallen too as history poignantly tells us after a period of steady decline in administrative competence and/or economic fortunes. People readily point to Somalia’s fall in 1991; but they forget the USSR behemoth established in 1922 which collapsed in 1991. Yugoslavia collapsed in 1992 after a long period of tension. A collapse does not often come overnight. It starts gradually and steadily and ultimately consumes all. A failed state, Wikipedia says “is a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly.”
These thoughts came to my mind last week after the unfortunate incident between men of the Nigeria Army and the Nigeria Police which occurred along Ibi Jalingo road in Taraba State. A special squad of policemen had been dispatched to arrest and indeed succeeded in arresting Alhaji Hamisu Bala alleged to be ‘‘a notorious but very rich and highly influential kidnapper.’’ On their way back to base, the quad led by ASP Felix Adolije ran into a military contingent and the soldiers opened fire on and killed three policemen and a civilian. The soldiers, it was reported, set the suspected criminal free. There is a manhunt for the liberated criminal as at press time. On social media ‘war’ broke out between those who took umbrage at the terrible act of the soldiers and those who felt that the policemen had been given a dose of their own medicine. To be sure this is not the type of discussion that should take place at all. It simply shows that there is a deep cleavage between the people and the institutions that are supposed to protect them. Add to these two institutions the judiciary, the legislature and the executive arms of government.
The high command of Nigeria Army and Nigeria Police must be or should be in deep embarrassment about the whole incident. The Federal Government also ought to be worried by the incident because it is one too many in our recent history. No credible steps have been taken so far to reassure the nation of order across. There is an increased disrespect for law, order, codes of social behaviour and engagement. Perhaps the government and its institutions are overwhelmed by the depth and scope of atrophy which the nation currently battles with. Which itself is frightening. Whether by default or design there is a script for doomsday being acted out. Are the actors aware of the enormity of the challenge that we face? Is the nation going for broke?
The Taraba incident is a symptom. If its portents have been missed by Abuja it is the duty of civil society to point fingers in the right direction. We are headed in a dangerous direction. Other incidents had in the past promoted this narrative. Apart from failure of the Nigerian state to arrest and prosecute criminals of a particular type, the outcry of a former Chief of Army Staff General Theophilus Danjuma (retired) that the Nigeria Army was no longer a national institution but a partisan one, was a marker, an etching in the memory of watchers of our recent history. He called on Nigerians to prepare to defend themselves against the army funded with taxpayers’ funds. This could only happen in a state that is on the way to perdition. Subsequent events have proved that the respected general was not crying wolf when there was none.
When leaders promote a sectarian and narrow agenda at the expense of the collective will or the common good, they sow the seed for a failed state. This entails disregard for the sensitivities of other stakeholders by incumbent leaders. Such men of power see themselves as rulers and scheme to impose a viewpoint on others. There is a presumption that power resides in them and that whatever happens they can manipulate the political system in a pre-determined direction. When states fail it is often the deeds of the men in power. States fail because of the men not despite the men in power or out of power.
Disintegration or outright rejection of an existing political system by stakeholders are options. It is a process, a journey of sorts. Once a state by design or default destroys its national institutions there is no guarantee that the centre can still hold. It is a sign of anarchy for self help to be the only true way to justice. When the forces at the centre carry on as if there are no alternatives to their stay in power then all options are placed on the table. Two former Heads of State retired General Abdulsalami Abubakar and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo called different interest groups to a mediation meeting about three weeks ago in Minna and Abeokuta respectively. The subtext was clear: Abuja is not saying or doing the right things. A third fore was necessary.
Nigeria should not be allowed to fail whether by acts of omission or commission. Nigeria is not too big to fail. Words and actions which can hold the country together should be carried out. Those extreme statements coming from some so-called leaders should be disregarded. They are likely to get on the first jet out of the country if push gets to shove because they have the means to do so. The soldiers who killed the policemen at Ibi should be brought to book as quickly as possible.
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