A failed state is one in which the state can no longer govern; where all the institutions and structures of governance have collapsed, and the polity has regressed dramatically into a vast ungoverned space. In the absence of an overarching authority to administer order, everyone ends up doing what is right in their own eyes, in a manner akin to the biblical narrative of that tortuous period ‘when there was no king in Israel.’ The physical manifestation of state failure is evident in what Somalia, Yemen, and to a large extent Afghanistan and Libya, have become. This piece is not an interrogation of the role of one recurring agency, and its single-minded commitment to regime change, in how each and everyone of those countries atrophied and changed status to what they are today – standing embarrassment to human civilization. Rather, I worry that so soon, another country, another African country, is again treading this same path that Somalia trod.
In June 2015, standing on the pedestal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration speech, I called attention to some danger signals in the way the new president set at his job, as revealed in that carefully, but ominously crafted speech. ‘Of Inauguration Speech and Ominous Signs,’ I titled the piece. Again, convinced that the direction in which the country was moving way into Buhari’s presidency left much to be desired, I suggested some concrete steps that I thought the president could take to redirect our ship of state, our Titanic, from the treacherous iceberg, for which it was headed. This was put across in a widely-published newspaper article July 2016, titled ‘Buhari and an Agenda for Real Change.’ I am not sure that much was done in that regard. Regrettably now, the chicken is manifestly coming home to roost.
Let’s examine the evidence in its more dramatic form. Mindless killings going on apace in and around the entire Benue Valley, and elsewhere across the country. Indeed, this piece is a product of outrage that one once again felt reading reports that yet another set of scores of innocent people had been put to death, this time in Birnin Gwari, Kaduna State, on Saturday 5th of May! Armed robbers taking control of whole neighborhoods for hours, with no form of resistance whatsoever, as we saw in Offa. Kidnappers having a field day all across the country. Hundreds of school girls being hauled into captivity by terrorists unhindered, as we saw in Dapchi, suggesting that we had all not learnt anything from the horrific Chibok experience. Hoodlums storming the Senate chamber to snatch the mace of authority, in one institution that is the very personification of democracy, as the security establishment stood akimbo. Inter-service rivalry among security operatives playing out as open confrontation on the streets of the federal capital. Youths of the country getting derided as a do-nothing generation by a President who should be mobilizing this latent dynamo of a people for national rebirth. Universities reeling in the throes of gargantuan crises of essence, morality, and relevance. An elected president wantonly assailing the Constitution by approving commitment of a humongous $496 million dollars, without legislative appropriation; and cherry-picking which court orders to obey, which ones to disregard. Officiating ministers of God being mowed down in cold blood, in their cassock, without any consequence thereto. Elected senators being harried and humiliated for no justifiable reason, other than what seems to be their outspokenness. Accusations and counter accusations of monumental corruption flying around between what I call the two sides of a counterfeit coin – APC and PDP. Improvised explosive devices (IED) incessantly going off and killing innocent people, including in places of worship, and government-run internally displaced people (IDP) camps. The ruling party’s attempt at holding election to fill minor party positions going down in a manner that conveys the practical meaning of the word, pandemonium. Hunger and anger stalking the land in an unprecedented scale. Official spokespersons of state, those who should ordinarily be marketers of government policies, disparaging any scintilla of disaffection on the part of citizens, taking joy in deriding and mocking the latter as ‘wailers and haters,’ putting down their acts as yet another indication of ‘corruption fighting back.’ A horde of ebullient folks, many without much in policy groundwork or institutional experience to call upon, seeking the presidency, hoping to take advantage of the anger so palpable in the land – all in the spirit of ‘if Buhari, why not me?’
Elsewhere, I had argued, that a state that is inexorably on the path of failure, can indeed be put down as a failed state. Isn’t Nigeria, in the foregoing circumstances, becoming a vast ungoverned space? Isn’t this textbook example of a fragile state now atrophying most rapidly? Isn’t the spectre of state failure starring Nigerians in the face? It is no doubt convenient to walk away in comfort, in the impression that all one is raising here is but an unnecessary alarm. Many are indeed wont to argue, for sundry reasons and motivations, that it is not just that things are not as bad as they are being made to sound, but that one is indeed manifesting the so-called ‘wailers’’ tendency at emphasizing the down side, when it should have been a celebration of that which is taking place on the positive side of the balance sheet. Others would readily cite figures of growing foreign reserve, hike in tax revenue, ‘stable lending rates,’ , etc. – conveniently pushing to the background the age long and conventional wisdom that the welfare and security of the citizenry is indeed the whole purpose of government. Even at that, what no one can deny are, first, that the litany of acts cited above not only exist, they have indeed defined the Muhammadu Buhari presidency. Secondly it is trite that the present government is yet to demonstrate any credible evidence of its desires, or better still, capacity to deal with, and constructively manage the situation. Neither of these inferences provides any basis for comfort.
Now, elections are supposed to be around the corner. A graduate student of mine just completed a thesis wherein he noted that Ghana has gotten itself to a situation in which elections are seen now as festival, a basis for celebration; while in Nigeria, to all intents and purposes, they still equate war, coming with all the attendant trepidations. In the upcoming 2019 ‘war’ ‘by other means,’ borrowing from von Clausewitz, I am persuaded that there are more than enough reasons to worry. I stand to be corrected, but my sense is that 2019 is going to be the most divisive election in the history of Nigeria. How do I mean? At a recent high profile colloquium, I expressed concern about the palpable ‘win-at-all-cost,’ and ‘no-matter-what’ sense that is already tick in the air. My hunch is that President Buhari and his team are determined to win the 2019 election, and without much regard to whatever the Nigerian electorate chooses to do, or not do.
It is my hunch, and I may be wrong, but I see a sense in which Buhari needs yet another victory desperately, in the hope that he would be able to use the opportunity of a fresh term to redeem the ‘failure’ image that swivels around him, regardless of what the official narrative, and the proclamations of the hidden persuaders suggest. Allied to this is the hope that goings-on at the international plane, especially in the permanently volatile Middle East, would jerk up crude oil prices, make the government more solvent, and thereby able to deliver on several of its promises, which have thus far been delivered more in the breach, usually by blaming those the government believes were responsible for the problems in the first instance.
The comfort with which this government delivers selective justice is arguably unprecedented in the annals of Nigeria. Thoughts of what becomes of the operatives of the government in the event of loss of power, the logic of karma, cannot make the president comfortable with the idea of loss of power. Meanwhile, for those who want to be truthful, there is not a single basis for which the old order was decried, and its partisans harried for the past three years that has not been replicated under the incumbent government. Allegations of corruption, and other improprieties on the part of government operatives at all levels are mounting. Expending non-appropriated funds is a case in point. That all of these may catch the attention, and command the action of a new government is not unimaginable. Hence, the thought of the maxim, what is good for the Jonathanian goose cannot but be good for the Buharian gander, will resonate, and make the latter quirk at the prospect of losing power. The point is that the fear of the unknown, so defined, would hardly make a president Buhari willing to relinquish power.
There is at any event, this entitlement syndrome around Mr. President that goes like this: ‘why should I rule for only one term, after having contested elections (and being rigged out three out of) four times? I deserve at least to be in office for eight years!’ That is why the Olusegun Obasanjo admonition, and that of many well-meaning others, on the president to resist the temptation of running for a second term couldn’t have cut an ice with the man of the moment.
In a recent social media commentary, I pointed attention to the unprecedented level of confidence, what the ‘Global Terrorism Index 2015’ refers to as ‘Fulani militants’ have enjoyed these past three years, in doing their acts across the country. A few days ago, the social media was awash with the absolutely provocative clip of those who allegedly massacred 17 church goes, including two catholic priests, in Benue, adorning themselves with the regalia of the dead, and practically dancing on their graves! The thoughts of what would come the way of Fulani herdsmen across the country in the event of loss of power by Buhari, in whose government the former have found so much acquiescence to impunity, must be of genuine concern to the president. It is not unthinkable that this concern may want to make him remain in office for as long as possible. It is the type of orientation that does not brook any desire or willingness to lose in the upcoming 2019 ‘war.’
Add to these the fact that tension in the land, substantially attributable to socio-economic pressures, is not only unspeakable, but growing. It is made much worse by suggestions from official spokespersons that things are indeed looking up, only that most Nigerians either do not seem to be smart enough to know, or choose to forget ‘where we are coming from,’ after 16 years of PDP. Opposition is being muzzled. The much hyped corruption fight has ended up being selective, defective, and discredited. Above all, there is the rising market value of extremism, with the middle ground shrinking fast! The evidence: the arguments for restructuring, once touted as the quick-win, is now sounding in the ears of many, like a broken record. In its place, an increasing number of Nigerians are calling to question the very basis of the country’s continued existence. Secessionist tendencies, once mentioned in hushed tones, are gaining traction across the land. There is evidence of retaliatory killing; and call to self defense is coming from very credible sources. These are being made very attractive by the growing suspicion that the security forces, as T.Y. Danjuma recently noted, are themselves hopelessly partisan. What we have seen the APC do in its ward elections across the country a few days ago, and in its candidate selection process in Ekiti State, is also enough food for thought in this regard.
What all of these suggest is that the 2019 ‘election’ is going to be, as pundits would say, one handshake that is bound to go beyond the elbow. I hope I am wrong, but something tells me, going by the evidence heretofore adduced, that this country may indeed unravel by reason of the next election. It is evident that come what may, the incumbent president will proclaim himself winner of the election. Recall that the man had often given vent to how shocked he was that his predecessor could so readily walk away from power as the latter did in 2015. To have President Muhammadu Buhari out, therefore, may just require a little more than getting PVCs ready to do their job. I shudder to think of what I call the Mohammed Morsi syndrome, about which I feel increasingly uncomfortable. This is the story of the first democratically elected president of Egypt, who unfortunately rather than focusing on core social issues that propelled him into power in the first instance, wantonly marginalized them; and instead prioritized political control and dominance. The rest is now history.
Yet, bad as things are in Nigeria today, and in spite of this gory spectacle painted heretofore, I hasten to add that it is still not too late in the day to pull our country back from the precipice; and this is the entire purpose of this piece. How? First, the Buhari presidency can be made much more inclusive going into its final year. For, the truth is, it is exclusion, the provincial predilection, and very limited capacity of Mr. President, that lie at the root of much of the tension currently soaking the land, sharpening long-standing fault lines around which the country is now threatening to fracture.
Secondly, official spokespersons of government should level up with the people; talk fact, shun propaganda, and appreciate the right of people to complain and demand greater accountability. Thirdly, presidential leadership is needful in the quality of election campaigns to be conducted going forward. These should be persuasive homilies, not intimidation and psychological warfare. Fourthly, selective prosecution of citizens across the land should stop forthwith. Fifthly, it is important for 2019 for the election management to do a good job in Ekiti and Osun States in the up-coming 2018 gubernatorial elections. Only this can imbue 2019 with the requisite credibility. The very controversial type of outing that INEC had in Ondo State in 2016 should not be repeated in these two states. Sixthly, the government has a duty to rapidly expand the social net for the most vulnerable in the country with a view to defusing the smouldering volcano and tinderbox. Above all, there should be a listening to the argument of the protagonists of restructuring. One reason is that the dominant ideology of this century, as Jeffrey Sachs among others have aptly noted, is nationalism and self-determination. There is, therefore, nothing anybody can do to stave off the move in the direction of sub-national autonomy. The ultimate goal is functional federalism, and nobody should think it can be kept at bay for too long.
These times call for leadership. It is not a time to fall into particularistic cocoons. Neither bluffing nor bravado would do. Ego trips, and denials do not at this time make any sense. The time to act is now if our nation must be saved from bleeding to death! For those who choose to regal themselves in the inviolability of Nigeria’s sovereign status, I cite in extenso from my July 2016 piece, where I requested all to ‘take lessons from the story of the Titanic and its most awesome rendition in that classic motion picture of the same name. Therein, the proud captain of the world’s most compelling ship when it was asked of him the possibility of his monstrous machine ever sinking, thundered, ‘Never!’ Similar to the late Obafemi Awolowo’s metaphor of the ship and the rock, rendered years ago, I can feel it that Nigeria is racing on, like the Titanic, headed for the iceberg. It requires of the President to stand up and be Nigeria’s own Frederick de-Klerk whose ingenuity and courage delivered a ‘Rainbow Nation’ of great promise from the pangs of death that apartheid represented.’ Again, the time to act is now, if this nation must be stopped from bleeding to death!
Femi Mimiko, mni, is a professor at the Department of Political Science, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He tweets from @FemiMimiko.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.