Averting Nigeria’s catastrophic collapse – Punch Newspapers

Averting Nigeria’s catastrophic collapse – Punch Newspapers

THE red flag by a former military head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, that the country could disintegrate amid ongoing convulsions should compel immediate interventions by all critical stakeholders. His warning was hinged on an unprecedented level of insecurity featuring daring, spectacular acts of criminality, bitter feuding among ethnic nationalities, a dysfunctional national government, mass poverty and joblessness, restive youth and increasingly voiced loss of confidence in the union by significant segments.

Abubakar, who handed over power to civilians 22 years ago and heads the National Peace Committee, joins the lengthening list of eminent personages voicing alarm at the country’s plunge towards state failure; “Tension has been growing and embers of disunity, anarchy and disintegration are spreading fast and if care is not taken, this might lead us to a point of no return,” he warned. Earlier, a Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, a former Defence Minister, Theophilus Danjuma, and a former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, had repeatedly sounded similar alarms. Apart from their increasingly bellicose sparring, major ethnic and regional groupings have also openly expressed fears of state collapse. And someone who has just left the theatre of war, Henry Ayoola, a retired major general said, “Nigeria is in a critical state facing real, present and existential threats to her peace, union and progress. Everywhere across the country, there are signs of degeneration, collapse and loss of confidence.” The possibility of a second civil war, once thought to be far-fetched, has become altogether real now.

Robert Rotberg, a one-time professor in governance and foreign affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, says the state’s prime function is to provide political good of security — to prevent cross-border invasions and infiltrations, and any loss of territory; to eliminate domestic threats to or attacks upon the national order and social structure; to prevent crime and any related dangers to domestic human security; and to enable citizens to resolve their disputes with the state and with their fellow inhabitants without recourse to arms or other forms of physical coercion. On Buhari’s watch, the Nigerian state has flunked each of these tests.

Events that alarmed Abubakar are a culmination of long ignored pointers. Sundry banditry has become commonplace. The Fragile States Index 2020 ranked Nigeria 14th most fragile country of 178 surveyed. Among the 12 social, economic and political factors it considered in the ranking were, ethnic and religious conflicts; massive internal displacement; widespread vengeance-seeking group grievances; corruption; economic inequality and decline; widespread rights abuses and de-legitimisation of the state. Bandits captured 27 schoolboys and staff from a secondary school in Niger State, copying the abduction in December of over 300 schoolboys from a secondary school in Katsina State. The government has lost control of swathes of territory to insurgents, bandits and armed militias. As Rotberg indicates, “a collapsing state, as state authority weakens and fails, and as the state becomes criminal in its oppression of its citizens, so lawlessness becomes more apparent. Criminal gangs take over the streets of the cities. Arms and drug trafficking become more common. Ordinary police forces become paralysed. Anomic behaviours become the norm. For protection, citizens naturally turn to warlords and other strong figures who express or activate ethnic or clan solidarity, thus offering the possibility of security at a time when all else, and the state itself, is crumbling.” Nigeria fits this characterisation.

Violence, a sure sign of state failure, has become monstrous. In the North-East, the Boko Haram Islamic terrorist group holds sway. In the North-West, bandits contend with the state; in the North-Central, bandits and armed herdsmen are ravaging the land while the South-West has become the latest target of murderous herdsmen, who destroy farms, kidnap for ransom, burn property and rape. They are increasingly penetrating the South-East and South-South regions. The forests have become ungoverned camps for terrorists, bandits and kidnappers from where they charge at the very soul of a crumbling country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that over 3.4 million persons have been displaced by conflicts. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said bandits and Boko Haram killed 8,279 persons in 2020. Nigeria is the world’s third most terrorised country according to the Global Terrorism Index, hosting two (Boko Haram/ISWAP and Fulani militants) among the six deadliest terrorist groups in the world. Herdsmen have raped, murdered, kidnapped and plundered across the country. Local vigilantes have in desperation sprung up in self-defence as the Buhari regime curiously pampers the Fulani marauders at the expense of national security. Regrettably, officials live in constant denial.

The toll on the country is unbearable. The Fulani herdsmen assault and their kid-gloves treatment by the regime has created tensions, including the recent inter-ethnic clash in Ibadan, Oyo State, expulsion orders to herders in the South and threats of war by non-state actors.

Insecurity is disrupting farming, transport, markets and destroying infrastructure, the economy, hit by COVID-19 pandemic, falling oil prices and power shortages, is battered. The country just crawled out of its second recession in five years, but food inflation is now over 20 per cent. Schools have been closed in several northern states, a catastrophe in a region that averages over 70 per cent illiteracy rate and 75 per cent poverty. Unemployment is rising. Anarchy looms; weapons, small and large, have flooded the country. In Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Benue and Kaduna states, the governments cannot fully enforce their writ. When a state loses control of territory, of the means of the instruments of coercion and begins to negotiate with criminals and militias, state weakness is strikingly obvious.

Worse; when the constituent ethnic nationalities in an artificial state lose confidence in the moderating influence of the national government, opt for self-help and increasingly question the legitimacy of the state, then the threat of implosion is dangerously real. Other tendencies towards state failure are present such as when “ruling cadres increasingly oppress the majority of their own compatriots while privileging a more narrowly based party, clan, or sect, thus provoking countervailing action.” Yet, Buhari’s incorrigible sectionalism has provoked a splenetic push-back from victims. Corruption lubricates state failure, infrastructure provision and social services suffer and growing income inequalities become pronounced.

This crisis has degenerated beyond Buhari’s ken. Nigeria currently does not have a responsive government alive to its key responsibilities. Buhari is not bothered by the massive influx of armed Fulani gunmen from all over West and Central Africa, the flood of illicit guns and advanced weaponry into the country or the agony and concerns of the majority of Nigerians.

Therefore, critical stakeholders must wake up before Buhari drives the country over the precipice. Nigeria does not belong to him or his narrow circle. Key officials and individuals rose to save the United States from the degradation of its democracy from Donald Trump; justice officials, the courts, the military high command, electoral officials and a majority in the Congress, including some members of his largely compromised Republican Party. The survival of this country is poignantly at stake.

Tokenism will no longer suffice; the problem must be tackled at the root. The current security architecture featuring a single centralised policing system has failed; state and local policing must berth today to save the country. To pull the country from the brink, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State says, “the first is to implement the three key devolution proposals that I mentioned: Give us state police now; vest all minerals in the states now; and decentralise our judiciary now – not later.”  The National Assembly, state governors and parliaments, parties and all others must invoke the Doctrine of Necessity today to amend the constitution to authorise devolved policing. Nigeria currently does not have a responsive government alive to its key responsibilities.

There should be a national consensus on how to effectively tackle insecurity. As the Nigeria Governors’ Forum recommended, criminals must be swiftly apprehended and prosecuted. Criminality has no ethnic identity. The practice of blanket amnesty and compensation for criminals should stop. Only a failed state pacifies criminals and terrorists with cash and amnesty. Emphasis should be on protecting and rehabilitating victims of banditry and terrorism. Declaring an emergency as recommended by the Senate without accompanying reform of the security apparatus will not accomplish anything.

There must be a total, all out war on criminality. The country should reach out to other countries for help.

There should be strong cooperation between the federal and state governments and between states. Military and police action should be driven by intelligence and technology and accompanied by provision of basic social services. The porous borders should be monitored and undesirable aliens apprehended and locked out. A massive mop up of illegal arms should begin. Governors should take full charge of security in their states.

But the country will only be buying time if Nigerians do not immediately begin the process of organising as a true federation. Restructuring the country along the broad lines of the 1963 Constitution, with considerable autonomy to the states should no longer be delayed. All must act now to work out the quickest possible solution in order to avoid an imminent doomsday scenario.

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Source: punchng.com