By Lasisi Olagunju
“In an upcoming foreign policy piece, Dr Robert Rotberg and I will argue that Nigeria is a failed state.” That is a 6 May, 2021 tweet from John Campbell, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria. It should worry all who know that this came from Campbell, author of ‘Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink’ published in 2010. In that book, Campbell argued that “a complete collapse” of Nigeria could be forestalled – and he made suggestions. The same Campbell has now come up with a definite position of failure of Nigeria as we know it. On the same May 6, 2021, the ex-envoy made a blog post in which he wrote about “something of a consensus” forming “among Nigerian elites…that the country is in deep trouble and that radical options must be considered.” He was not definite or sure about what the ‘radical options’ are – probably because there are no ‘good’ options.
We used to boast that no matter what we do to our country, something always pulled us back from the brink. Now, it looks like we’ve lost that magic. We should be worried at what may be coming. The world appears to have an idea too. Robert Rotberg, with whom Campbell is co-authoring Nigeria’s report card, is the President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation and the founding director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict and Conflict Resolution at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. He is further described as “a frequent commentator on conflict and conflict prevention in the developing world, especially Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, on failed and fragile states, on good governance and encouraging good governance, on genocide and ethnic cleansing, on corruption, and on specific civil wars and other contemporary issues in Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Somalia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Haiti.” Take a deep look at that resume and at those countries and their history of conflicts and wars. We have done enough to ourselves to get seated with Sudan and Somalia in the same club house of failure.
You go out, bandits get you; you stay at home, they come for you. The world is alarmed at what we have made of our country. We are shocked too that it could be this bad. The United States in April described Nigeria’s security problems as extraordinary. To be extraordinary is to be more than ordinary, to be very unusual, very big. UNICEF, in a December 2020 video documentary, told a troubled world that “big problems require big solutions.” And big solutions come only from ‘big’ brains, not from ratty, resource eaters. Our country is in a very big mess; it is in a turmoil because we are an incredible people, towing the truck of Nigeria with a Volkswagen Beatle. We do not need Americans to tell us that it is finished. We don’t have to be told that the solution to our “extraordinary” security problems lies beyond the capacity of the present ‘ordinary’ leadership we have blessed ourselves with. We have a ‘big’ presidency that begs bandits, fires abuse, not at terrorists, but at “disgruntled religious leaders” and at teary bereaved women and men. We have a federal government that thinks, seriously, that banditry and kidnapping are not its responsibility. We ask what is the definition of state failure? Check.
Is our case completely hopeless? Once in a season of famine, Tortoise was found cooking stones. He told his critics that he was at least, doing something to keep hope alive. No bread is stale in the mouth of famine. In the absence of big solutions from big Abuja, where do we turn? Some talk of breaking down the problems into “manageable, time and resource-dependent steps.” Nigeria is not completely an orphanage. Regions and states are stepping in to contain the flood from Nigeria’s collapsed dam. In the South West where I live, I know serious-minded elders stopped sleeping long ago; they are working. Obas have gone back to their ancestors to save them from the shame of failure. They hold a trove of facts and information, method and means that may calm the sea and pull the land back from the precipice. I hope the state taps them. Some governors are also awake and we can talk to them without the fear of insults. They are the reason we still speak about government and governance in Nigeria. Just on Saturday, speakers of South West Houses of Assembly met in Ibadan. They asked their governors to invest in drones and surveillance helicopters to battle insecurity. In the absence of the pilot, Nigeria’s cabin crew members are scrambling to avert a crash. That appears to be what the governors and the obas are doing at the moment: each taking his bits and working on them to stop the crash.
The timeliness of the Amotekun initiative did so much to scare the enemy, rouse and help Western Nigeria. The West is the only zone so far without the orgy of upscale violence we see in other zones. The West is the only region that has not donated its powers and space to criminals who daily attack security forces, murder policemen and raid schools. Some states have enacted laws banning open grazing of cows to stop herdsmen’s atrocities. Has it worked? Not really. Benue is one example. We heard the cries of Governor Samuel Ortom two weeks ago. Unfortunately those he was crying to don’t hear anything. They carefully choose what to hear and whom to listen to. The problem of Ortom’s people is not the biblical wall of Jericho. Noise cannot defeat the enemy of the people of Benue. The enemy is without ears. The governor needs to cook something better than what he has in his pot.
If there is a southern state that needs to be really worried about getting the Benue experience, it is Oyo State. Its geography, history and current demographics lay it out as a state very vulnerable to attack from Fulani bandits beyond the present episodic cases of ambush and kidnap. The Ibadan-Ijebu Ode road is almost as deadly as the Abuja-Kaduna road. The vast swathes of forested plains from Ibarapa to Oke Ogun has a history of bandits incursion dating back to the 19th century. It was between Oyo town and Oke Ogun area that Samuel Ajayi Crowther, his mother, grandmother, sisters, cousin and everybody in his village were, 200 years ago, literally hunted down and sold into slavery by the Fulani. In his 1837 letter to Rev. Williams Jowett, then Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Crowther told his gripping story: “The morning in which my town, Ocho-gu (Osogun), shared the same fate which many others had experienced, was fair and delightful; and most of the inhabitants were engaged in their respective occupations. We were preparing breakfast without any apprehension; when, about 9 o’clock a.m. a rumour was spread in the town that the enemies had approached with intentions of hostility. It was not long after when they had almost surrounded the town, to prevent any escape of the inhabitants…the enemies entered the town after about three or four hours’ resistance…Your humble servant was thus caught — with his mother, two sisters (one an infant about ten months old), and a cousin…” Crowther said the attackers were Fulani actively assisted by some Yoruba felons, who tied them, “with a noose of rope thrown over the neck of every individual” like goats. They were then led through the town by their captors. He added that “before we got half-way through the town, some Foulahs (Fulbe or Fulani), among the enemies themselves, hostilely separated my cousin from our number.” These horrific details came in the first quarter of 1821, exactly 200 years ago. That was a moment of state failure in Yorubaland.
Now, the felons have reincarnated. We are back to the past. That Oyo area has lived up to that reputation. Tales of woe from residents and visitors blight lives and living there. So, when I read the Oyo State governor recently launching a new technology-driven security initiative deep in the kidnappers den along Ibadan-Ijebu Ode road, I said we may be getting there. It was cheering that in a week that President Muhammadu Buhari’s Katsina State announced using untrained ancestral hunters’ dogs to protect schools and students, there was a state government elsewhere that knew we were in the 21st century. Governor Seyi Makinde told the media at the Ibadan- Ijebu-Ode road event: “This particular place has been in the news for kidnapping, people coming across the border to perpetrate evil here. This is a pilot project, we want to secure all the entry and exit points to Oyo State. This is the border with Ogun State. We have CCT cameras here that are being monitored from the control room in Ibadan. If anything is going on here, we will get alerted for the security agencies to quickly deal with the situation appropriately. If any crime is committed inside the state and the criminals want to run, we will activate the process and get them arrested.” I pray this works. If it works, replication by other (neighbouring) states will be a viable expectation. You see why we ask for a decentralized, unbundled Nigeria?
Nigeria as a state has moved from fragility to failure. It is panting, helpless and rolling in what Rotberg calls “a maelstrom of anomic internal conflict.” And it is scary. Criminals make demands which must be met. Last week, we exchanged one bandit for 29 students of an agric school in Kaduna. Fair deal, good bargain? Is that our new exchange rate? How many more of such trade-by-barter are in the works? Everywhere you turn, the plaintive questions you hear are: How did we get here? What do we do now? Where is the Federal Government in all these? We see meetings and eating; we see designer caps and shoes. We hear presidential appeals to bandits to have mercy on the state. We read lamentations about arms still flooding markets and forests despite presidential decrees. We read of felons attacking security formations, murdering cops and escaping calm and collected. So, we ask: What is a ‘failed state’? If state failure and state collapse still mean a country losing “authority over its territory and peoples, and, cannot protect its national boundaries,” then, sadly, we are there. The pot is broken.(Nigerian Tribune)