Over a sixty-year horizon, rather than mastering the art of governing ourselves most efficiently, we have rather unlearned the most miniature lessons in governance taught us by the colonialists. We also abandoned the ones endowed on us by our rich cultural traditions and values. On the contrary, we picked up and revelled in reprehensibly strange and damaging ways of doing things. All of us are complicit in this. The leaders and followers alike. We have failed in our various capacities and positions in business, civil society, religious realm, public service to enthrone good governance. Cutting corners, deceit, manipulation and subverting the law have become mainstream in paddling the statecraft in the socio-economic and political waters. The inevitable consequences have been the weak rule of law, bribery and corruption, illicit trade, organized crime, terrorism, diversion of public funds into private pockets, impunity, and the rule of man and so on. While these undesirables are enormous risks, they nevertheless trigger third-degree crisis in business, the economy and society. And so, we comfortably live with the contradiction of our oil-rich and vastly endowed country as the poverty capital of the world.
Good governance is the most important pillar for national economic prosperity. There is much incontrovertible evidence that countries’ long-term wealth correlates positively with good governance qualities. But good governance is not achieved by those in political authority alone. It is a collective action of both the leaders and led, the poor and the rich, makers of the law and their enforcers, those pursuing profanities and the spiritually-minded alike. With such collective support, the government succeeds much better in its primary responsibility of ensuring the sustained actualization of long-term public goods and preventing the undermining tirades of those in political authority with hawkish short-term private interests. Yet, it is the body language, policies, and actual actions of those manning the statecraft that determine the extent to which the rest of the stakeholders become effective participants in this process.
As much as good governance or the absence of it underscores the potency of socio-economic growth and prosperity enjoyed by countries, it is also behind their possible degeneration into weak, collapsed, or failed states. At some point, there have been analysts concerns regarding Nigeria’s place in this categorization. Without a doubt, we do not belong to the prosperous states’ category. That poignantly leaves us with the membership of any of the other three types: weak, collapsed, or failed. When a government loses legitimacy in its citizens’ eyes principally because of the intensity of uncontrolled internal violence and insecurity and may no longer meaningfully deliver public goods, it joins the category of a failed state. Various factions and interests aggressively contest government machinery’s control in such a country, with governments armed troops battling them. Sometimes these warring factions may succeed in taking over part of the country’s borders. An additional characteristic is the country’s superficial level of acceptance by members of the international community. Failed and collapsed states are distinct species of the same stock where the latter is worse. A collapsed state can hardly be considered a country in its strict sense. Single recognizable political authority vanishes, and the animal kingdoms “might is right” rule applies to its security management. Warlords most conveniently parcel the supposed state into their fiefdoms and exert political and fiscal influences on the population.
Weak states speedily tend towards failure and collapse if not reined. They embody virtually all the characteristics of a failed state, albeit at their mid-evolutionary stages. Although political structures exist, they are considerably weakened by and, in turn, give a fillip to bad governance. Weak states suffer from fundamental socio-economic weakness such as high unemployment, severe poverty, and low per capita incomes. Combined with poor management, it breeds internal crisis varieties layering on ethnicity, religious differences, marginalization, and unfair allocation of commonly owned resources. Heightened insecurity and the emergence of militia become the inevitable consequence, which helps fortify the environment of fear and terror that is considered fertile for political despots’ activities. These supposed leaders are elected through a compromised process and under the arena of fear and extreme electoral and judicial manipulation. That is also why there are palpable infringements of the rule of law in weak states, with the ‘rule of men’ standing tall and ensuring low accountability levels to the citizens. For that reason, such governments appear to be more concerned with the short-term interests of those who run them. They only make minor considerations for sustained provision of public goods, including public safety and security, the promotion of economy-wide entrepreneurship and the concomitant prosperity and well-being of all. Nigeria is one good example of such a state.
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The Nigerian state’s weakness derives from decades of attenuation of its institutions’ capacities, which are the vehicles for effective governance. Consequently, the country consistently failed to respond promptly to emerging socio-economic and security challenges, rebounding to cripple everything. The result is a complex web of worsening economic conditions, violent conflicts, and poverty. For more than half a century, Nigeria’s justice system has consistently failed to optimally implement the rule of law, which is the soul of market-creating institutions. Solid levels of entrepreneurship on which national prosperity stands also relies on sound private property rights protection. But both can only be effective when the institutions of justice propagation are alive. However, we know that the institution is so weak in Nigeria that it neither substantially maintains law and order nor guarantees fairness and justice.
This cankerworm also emboldens those holding political authority to shirk their responsibility for providing essential public goods; instead, they divert public resources into their pockets without any consequence. Measly provision of public goods such as electricity and roads and other infrastructure exacerbate the costs of transacting and make it extraordinarily challenging for economic agents to create prosperity. Additional salt sprinkled on the injury is the inadequate quality of market stabilization institutions. Increasingly poor coordination between monetary and fiscal policy implementation further creates market dis-coordination, inflationary distortions and economy damaging uncertainties. The inevitable consequences include acute unemployment, low-income levels, and poverty, which effectively waters the ground for violence and crime. Therefore, in totality, the Nigerian state’s established institutional mechanisms failure to contain the aggravation of violence, militancy, insurgency, and the threats of secession and separatism created by this complex web of poor governance eminently demonstrate the level of our fragility.
Nigeria’s race to collapse gains momentum virtually every day, with the government’s legitimacy constantly challenged by massive voltages of waning loyalty from citizens. Insurgency in the Northeast and Northwest geopolitical zones continue to worsen for over a decade. In virtually every corner of the country is a self-proclaimed Messiah of an ethnic group heading a militia that mainly operates unchallenged. Assume that Nigeria eventually falls; it will therefore likely become a tapestry of fiefdoms shared among a band of thugs and warlords. Nnamdi Kanu would probably lead the southeast or contest it with Asari Dokubo, who is already conceptualizing an expanded Biafran territory. In the Southwest region Sunday Igboho, the new Messiah of the prospective Oduduwa Republic may contest it with Gani Adams, the Are Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland and the head of the O’odua People’s Congress who appears to have started the struggle. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, will most certainly take over the present Northeast geopolitical zone while unknown Fulfude bandits currently occupying the forests of Zamfara, Kaduna and Jigawa states may end up ruling that fallen state. What a grim future that is so fear evoking.
All around us, the show of disdain for the legitimacy of the government keeps growing. They show up in well-established calls for secession. In addition to that are increasing violent confrontations among the citizens but primarily targeted at the government. A few days ago, an unknown band of heavily armed persons attacked the Nigerian police headquarters in Imo state. In apparent disregard for the Nigerian institutions of justice, they released about 1800 prison inmates. The reason for their action was that no one should be put in prison when most members of the political class and persons belonging to some privileged ethnic group commit crimes and walk around freely undisturbed by the arms of the law. Again, about six months ago, there was equally a massive uprising that practically cut across the country in revolt against the police’s brutality. But such is an insult to both the government and the law, whose face is the police.
Disappointedly, it does not appear as if these poor-governance-induced insecurity conditions will abate anytime soon as their drivers are still actively at work. Last week, a piece of heartrending statistics on participation at the national common-entrance examination made the rounds on WhatsApp. While Lagos state has about 24,500 candidates for the exam, Zamfara, Kebbi and Taraba states have 28, 50, and 95 candidates, respectively. These kinds of numbers explain why the entire Northwest and Northeast regions breed and suffer insurgency and banditry. It also points to the difficulty in managing the menace even into the future. It is also indicative of why amnesty may have minimal impact as the governance system and the political class consciously deprived these so-called bandits and insurgents of the opportunity for meaningful intellectual development and civic consciousness. In narrowly focusing on their short-term personal interests, the political class has equally denied the entire country the chance to become prosperous.
It remains a shame that with all the oil money earned by the country in the past fifty years, we cannot boast of stable electricity, good healthcare, good roads, efficient rail systems, and solid institutions for effective governance. This conscious deprivation of most citizens of those public goods and services necessary for market creation and stabilization has also created untold poverty, hardship, hunger, and anger in many Nigerians’ lives. As they say, it is foolishness for a rich man to live amid poor and hungry people and expect to have reasonable peace. Far from exaggeration, Nigeria is increasingly becoming uninhabitable. Everywhere in our bushes and forests are the dangerous AK-47 wielding Fulani pastoralists increasingly driven southwards by climate change, who has a well-established reputation for havoc and crime. In the educational institutions and streets are cultists, manifesting our educational system’s emptiness, poor moral life, and defective civic standing. In every ethnic conglomeration is a militia with a self-proclaimed Messiah leading a band of bloodthirsty individuals and waiting for an opportunity to partition this country into fiefdoms for their political control. On the roads and farms are bandits roaming everywhere and kidnapping victims for ransom. Kidnapping and hostage-taking have become ordinary business and source of livelihood for many. The capacity of the government to effectively maintain law and order is increasingly vanishing daily. Unarguably, we are a people that are idiomatically speaking between the devil and the deep blue Sea. A choice therefore must be made between strengthening our governance structures and institutions on the one hand or continuously reaping the evils of poverty, hardship, and insecurity.