Navigating the Crisis of Nigerian Statehood

Navigating the Crisis of Nigerian Statehood

Wednesday, July 14, 2021 3:00 pm

Ademola Araoye


By Ademola Araoye

Nigeria, like most post-colonial states in Africa, is an orphan state. The trouble with such state spaces, given their incongruous sociological constructions, is that their internal processes are characterized by an unending struggle, sometimes nuanced but also often overt, for partisan appropriation of the totality of the state space. Compounding the nature of the post colonial African state are its fixations, processual lag andentrenched deviations from the evolved liberalism in the character and norms governing the modern Westphalian state. This liberalism has also been central to the emerging post-modern state. Unlike the post modern state that retrenches the absolutism of state sovereignty, the post colonial state is fixated in an archaic era of the absolute rights of the classical sovereign state.The African state, exemplified by Nigeria, and its state system seem impervious to emerging norms and values of the twenty-first century.These evolved values and norms, challenging the preeminence of the state over the happiness of the individual citizen, are radically transforming the character and internal dynamic of the classic Westphalian state, its society that is part and parcel of atrans national global society driving the transformed universalized sensibilities of a brave new age. This international society, with values that are distinct from the community of states historically referred to as the international community, has evolved to whittle down the traditional notion of unlimited scope of state sovereignty over the dignity and willof the citizen in an ascendant international society. It must however be said that the global tottering trend towards post statism and post realism, signposts of the evolution to post modern state, have been blunted by the assault on neo liberalism of the last decade. That counter veiling process reached its crescendo in the Trumpism of a hobbled United States of America.

Paradoxically, in the context of the resilience of the liberal international order, the more the post-colonial African state seeks to apply coercion to force its legitimacy on its alienated society, the greater the challenge it confronts from competing internal constituent aspirants for control of the state. The alternative of the alienated constituencies, defined in terms of ethnicity or religious affinities, is a defection to create a new polity of their own amenable to their values and sensibilities. Accordingly, as a state fails to overcome the security dilemma, there is always a scramble for the appropriation of the totality of the space by contending forces demarcated along cultural fault lines. The constituent group that has by guile and vision, and who through political dexterity has outfoxed all others to appropriate the totality of the state space may consolidate its preeminence through strategic multiple initiatives. In the ensuing miasma, there is a tendency for elite villains, defecting from the interest of their local communities, to rationalize their private interests in altruistic nationalistic garbs at the expense of thelong term interests of their home constituencies. They align with the winning side, even if as mere sidekicks and expendable allies. Meanwhile, local heroes who emerge to defend communal interests are the dissident villains to be persecuted by the hegemonic controllers at the center. These interests are often personal and material. In their research on “Why do rulers employ ethnic exclusion if it increases the risk of civil war?” Wimmer, Cederman and Min suggest that certain ethnopolitical configurations of power are linked to civil war onset in postcolonial states. Accounting for underlying structural factors, they find that the outbreak of civil war is correlated with the proportion of the population excluded on the basis of their ethnic background. The findings of Wimmer et al represent a significant development in understanding of civil war onset as it moves the debate beyond the relationship between ethnic diversity and civil war to the effect of the distribution of power across ethnic groups. The greatest threat to the longevity of the African post colonial political entity isthus in the poor management of its internal contradictions or its sociological construction.

The challenge of national security remains at multiple levels for the post-colonial African state. The partisan struggle enlists all its internal forces advancing potentially hegemonic intentions. This pervasive crisis, in its multidimensional expressions, emanates directly from the challenge of managing a security dilemma that is implicit in the uncivil interactions of multiple stakeholders contained in mechanically forged political entities with claims to sovereignty that is obviously fictive.  The sovereignty of the post colonial state is largely fictive as the notion of the nation state is a mere concrete fiction. Barnett R. Rubin notes that the generalization of the nation state and the consecration of the territorial integrity of existing states by the UN system had altered the environment for latter day state builders. Rubin expounds that in the post colonial world, rulers struggled and negotiated with external powers to gain aid or capital to protect themselves from domestic threats.  External powers were motivated not by concern for political stability but by the strategic competition of the Cold War. Now the decisive preoccupation of the guarantors of post colonial sovereignty is the potential impact on the “global war on terror”. External powers ultimately then become the guarantors of the fictive sovereignty of the post colonial state. Given the supremacy of their strategic interests, they direct the configuration of the international system, including the longevity of the post colonial entity in distress.

The dependence on extroverted state formation process, where citizens are shut out of critical negotiations between domestic powers and its metropolitan sovereign guarantors, generates assured tensions in the internal dynamic of the state. Given this situation, only the leading members of a regime is privy to the terms of the settlements between the state and the external guarantors of its sovereignty and territorial integrity at every stage of national life. Therefore, integral to extroverted state formation is a security dilemma that breeds intra state wars. This has been abundantly demonstrated in the conflicts in Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cameroun, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, among many others globally. Essentially, a security dilemma, propounded more in relation to international affairs of states but equally applicable to relations among constituent groups in multinational conglomerates, occurs when two or more states or groups feel insecure vis-à-vis other states in the systemor constituent groups in a singular polity. None of the states involved positively wants relations to deteriorate, let alone bring war, but as each group, as in the case of contemporary Nigeria, acts militarily or diplomatically to make itself more secure, the other states interpret its actions as threatening. The threat perception may be based on interpretations of factual realities exemplified by territorial expansionism and or by the totalistic occupation and domination of the all strategic levers of the state. This dangerous scenario is perceived as historically manifest in internal relations in Nigeria and particularly exacerbated under the Mohammadu Buhari administration.

Acycle of deliberate or unintended provocations emerges. The provocations result in an escalation of the crisis of state legitimacy which may eventually lead to open warfare. The conditions for generating a security dilemma in Nigeria were first created in the early rhetoric of mutual mistrust of the founding fathers and laterthe deployment of the coercive apparatus of state for partisan hegemonic projects to overwhelm other constituent groups and stakeholders in the affairs of the country. The resultant power asymmetry among constituent forces reinforced the exacerbation of tensions along ethnic lines. Richard Ned Lebow captures the summation of the security dilemma that “when not held in check by reason, competition for either standing or wealth can transgress the accepted constraints and lead to a rapid unraveling of order…This fear becomes paramount when one actor or faction (or state or alliance) appears on the verge of capturing the mechanism of state (or abusing its power to establish unwanted authority over others) in pursuit of its parochial goals. In these circumstances, violence or warfare may break out, precipitated by a bid for power by one side or pre-emption by the other…”

The turbulence implicit in the struggle for appropriation is the source of the fundamental malaise of this traumatized post colonialpolity. The oftenvalidated illogic driving the internal processes of appropriated spaces-across political, social or economic realms- is permanently in confrontation with another more liberal and rational logic associated with a comprehensive and constructive political settlement based largely on balancing the interests of all stakeholders in the polity. This alternative orientation is derived from a people’s complete identification with a nation as the concrete expression of an abstraction that is the founded on a common understanding, a sense of common ownership and popular heritage by all or at least a preponderant size of the constituent groups in the state space. Some may refer to the process as nation building. The multidimensional tensions in Nigeria arise from the perpetual struggle for partisan, or more bluntly hegemonic appropriation at all levels, rather than a search for genuine joint and common commitment to joint and common ownership of the nation state space. Institutional checks and balances were jettisoned. The perceived attempts at demographic transformations by rampaging violent immigrants seems to be part of a partisan game plan with a potential to further disequilibrate the fragile systemic stability. Accordingly, in the climate of reciprocal distrust, the narratives of officialdom of a herders farmers clash, RUGA, the siting of major military institutions in only one part of the country and unprecedented external borrowings to fund rail constructions that terminate in Maradi, Niger Republic elicit apprehensions among legitimate stake holders in the fortunes of the state.

The end resultof distrust isintense movement to by all protect their respective stakes, including assuring their security. They are expressed in continuous territorial fractiousness and diminishing holdings of the ever newly defined micro identities in the nation-state to satiate agitations for enhanced local appropriation. The agitations fit in the context of a permanently skewed structure of the macro space and the illogic driving it.These challenges in Nigeria have been expressed in unending fractionalization of the national territory that have culminated in a declaration of a force majeure by constituent groups spread across seventy five per cent of the territorial expanse of the state.In the past, reform proposals have aimed at 54 micro-states, limitless struggles dating to the 1960s, the Agbekoyaphenomenon and Operation Wetie in the so called wild West, Biafra, Yerima’s Sharia and the agenda to keep women in servitude, Maitatsine, Boko Haram, the Avengers, Odua Peoples’ Congress, MASSOB, etc, are complemented by institutionalized impunity to advance the illogic of the national disorientation. The nation forgets too or has no memory.

The history of impunity and contrived national amnesia is not a recent one. It spans a considerable time space while traversing a broad swathe of fields and spheres: fossilized villainous deceptions around the conduct of the civil war, the massacre of over 500 unarmed university students and innocent civilians across the nation on Black Friday in 1978, the state murder of Ken SaroWiwa and the Ogoni nine, the destruction of a cultural iconic Kalakuta Republic and associated murder of Funmilayo Kuti, the matriarch of Africa’s foremost family preeminent in constructive service in the  public domain, by state sponsored vagabonds (officially dubbed as unknown soldiers). The lawlessness of the state continued with state inspired mass murders by the military of unarmed civilian population in Odi and its hideous replication in ZakiBiam. All of these but for the murder of Ken SaroWiwa and the Ogoni nine, that goes to the account of Abacha, were singularly perpetrated under only one man, Olusegun Obasanjo, a self-declared life co-President of the state. Ibrahim Babaginda stood out in deploying mass corruption as the carrot and incentive. He was not averse to the use of all necessary and any other means to dispatch those who had alternative ideas on state morality. The daylight bombing of frontline investigative journalist Dele Giwa and the disappearance of Gloria Okon remain unresolved mysteries. Abacha was a class on his own. The killings of Kudiratu Abiola, Alfred Rewane, the bombings of the home of General Alani Akinrinade, the persecution of a section of the national population are credited to the dark goggled dictator. What a snapshot of Nigeria’s revered leadership in this land of sycophants.Every musty rot in power is golden! These moral Lilliputs, constitute the big patriots in the land. They are memorializedin monuments odiously dedicated to their “selfless service” to the Nigerian state. General Pinochet of Chile would be envious of the glorious fate of the Nigerian members of their exclusive club of peculiar patriots. To further compound the situation in Nigeria is the rather more recent syncopated rampage of Fulani herdsmen and Miyetti Allah who openly claim unbounded liberties and virtual dominance of the totality of the national space. These all make sense, albeit a grim one, within the operative principles of the illogic of the Nigerian state space.

The defining struggle for partisan appropriation of the state space has thus entailed the enthronement of villains in national memory and institution of many unbridgeable gulfs in the imposed contours, values, ethics and the entrenched operational principles of the polity. The state space has been run in permanent ad hoc navigations of the almost inhuman and inhumane governance labyrinth.Most policy choices are made as pragmatic irrationalities in the context of entrenched dichotomies and harrowing dilemmas defining the polity. In the paradigm of Nigeria’s internal processes, forging a national settlement on any issue involves a clash between opposites: mediocrity, no matter how euphemistically expressed,  faces off and triumphs against excellence and competence, particularity and parochialism win against universalism, theocracy and distorted public spirituality of today’s more refined charismatic Brother Jeroboams have effectively downed secularism, pragmatism and immediacy have trumped long term and the normative, elevation of ascription has invalidated the long term sacrosanct belief in striving to achieve. There is also the convenient alliance of the elite within and across the constituent spaces. Politicians carry along their traditional monarchs. The implication has been the delinking of the political class and their monarchical allies from the grassroots and their communal interests. Nigeria is thus confronted with a life threatening holistic crisis of : state legitimacy, identity, value and ethical orientation, public governance and leadership, fiscal and value disbursements, intellectual and ideational bankruptcy, integrity of operators of the public realm and managers of the private estates, etc…

Meanwhile, the narratives of contemporary Nigeria, half a century and a decade into the life of the country, have been consistent with the histrionic historiography embedded in a falsification of the true character of the nation. In thesethe official narratives take a cue from a now conveniently revised historicity of our first and foundational republic. That history in the mainstream airbrushes from national memory the inanities, mis-happenstances, apprehensions, controversies, the ideational void and contentions, as well as the betrayals that eventually led to 1 October, 1963. This sanitized codification of a peoples trajectory is always the handiwork of self serving hyperactive self-proclaimed patriots, who as is well known, are also no better than petty and glorified scoundrels in longitudinal perspectives of national histories. The emotional and sometimes physical torturers of a nation are also the self-interest inspired formulators of the strands of the nation’s fragile contending memories. These dominant charlatans, often mummified in enviable spots in the accursed national pantheons, dubious national honorees clutching faked medallions cast in mud, have always won the constant and unwavering ethical and value contest for the depraved soul of Nigeria. These characters preeminently bestride the Nigerian firmament. They are constituted by plain and simple minded murderously human Ebola vectors entrenched in high and low placements, validated, brusque and unrepentant military dictators of all hues and their baby generals, recycled thieves and robbers, unruffled and arrogant scions of venerated shameless invaders of the common wealth flaunting their sense of entitlement, Colonels in distinguished careers as torturers in establishment garbs and death fatigues, opportunistic and state licensed looters, poor sergeants and foot soldiers as foils to the corruption of the voracious military hierarchy. They face their waterloo against their opposites in asymmetric ethnic militias and frontiers men, secessionists, mindlessly violent national security operatives and their Boko Harams and their all-pervading blind religious ideologues, megaphone blaring crusading Christian spiritual conmen across the aisle. These protected miscreants all constitute true human impediments to any long term change mantra.

Here ensconced are the protagonists for the status quo and the endowed gladiators against the people. These are the malcontents of a pantheon of nation’s heroes validated and flaunted in the public realm, who can operate with impunity in an enabling environment outside a national consensus on the very essence of the state and society, the ethics and morality of the public space and indeed the ideational underpinnings of the Nigerian state and society. The calculus of power is thus simplified in the Nigerian scenario, a nebulous political arrangement. If the President is Muslim, the Vice President must be Christian. If the former is from the South, the latter must be from the North. The rest is the inglorious historiography of our era. The cookie palace historians would do the photo-shopping of the nostalgic era of the unending summer of their times. Meanwhile, the Vice President, a truly respectable and decent articulate intellectual, must never lose sight of his true political constituency-the Church. His professorial intellectual power is a mere irreverent bonus-not particularly salient in these matters. It derives from the operative illogic of the Nigerian state.

The Nigerian public space, suffused by these elements, is thus configured to be operated in violation of the principles of the protection of the interests of the commons. Although the very concept of the commons is problematic is this fractious space. Charlatans preeminently thrive in such a space. Led largely and historically by coopted charlatans or willing proxies of those with hegemonic impulses, Nigeria has become the epitome of the challenge of the Africa state space. The challenge, irrespective of the profiles of individuals at the helm of national affairs, is expressed in the unending inevitable conflicts and schisms, across all the facets of national life- from the depraved political order, including the Legislature, a suspect Judiciary strenuously and epilepticallyvending justice, law and order against a confrontational  but at the same time unemotional cash and carry Bar committed to the consolidation of the constitutional order and a status quo with a high payload, through a mass debased and distorted national and individual spirituality, economic structures contrived to support a delegitimized political order, and a discounted national intellectual circuit well-heeled in a culture of political expedience in conceptual underpinnings to the critical evaluations of the nation space in time, among others. It is a systemic rot demanding radical holistic intervention to restore this nation state space on the basis of some clearly defined moral and normative essences.

Yet, the realities of this flailing experiment has continued to defy the persistent scant-truths and majorly lies that have and are still being bandied about by this coalition of opportunistic elite beneficiaries of an unending national trauma.  Membership of this hierarchical structured coalition is founded on and constantly circulated among a select group of families, their dastardly scions and newly recruited individuals from the margins and ghettoes who are indoctrinated to rationalize or are minded to reluctantly accept the controversial fundamentalist hegemonic patrimonial principles on which the Nigerian national tragedy is anchored. Every inductee to this fundamentalist credo must reflect this unwritten convention in the execution of the national hegemonic governance paradigm to which they are pledged. The key to power was to concede control of national security to those who claim to themselves total and partisan ownership of the state.

So Nigeria ended with murders and assassination of those who dared to test the will of the dominant forces. The Abiolas, MKO and Kudirat, Rewanes and co, or Ken SaroWiwa and his Ogoni nine. Of course, before him came AdakaBoros. And they always got away. So Nigeria spawned the likes of wily Obasanjo, Babaginda, a dark goggled Abacha, Major Al Mustapha, Chief Security Officer, under the Abacha incubus. They all in one way or the other represent the sharp reality of Nigeria. They all built formidable alliances across the country to subvert everything worthy left in Nigeria. They imbibed well and demonstrated the truism of the Babaginda years that everyone across the aisle had his price. Ask exiled Major Bashorun or better still, General Isama Alabi. Through such avenues, the hegemon thus appropriates the state space. The condition is that he must pay the price to all co-opted members of his alliance. That these alliances have very volatile discount rates and timeframe and thus often transient, explains the permanent state of flux of the Nigerian state space. The constitutional jamborees, almost always stuffed with icons of the status quo, so far have never been about the realignment of the balance of power or the re-equilibration of the structure of the state. This has been so because of the reluctance to challenge the very quintessence and underpinnings of Nigeria as presently formulated. Meanwhile, fruitless atomistic interventions are floated by the federal government on how to stop the Niger Deltans from demanding comprehensive restructuring of the political economy that guarantees perceptible dividends to it from oil from the Niger Delta. In this, the Niger Delta repudiates the dominant operative illogic of the Nigerian state and its political economy. Such issues, that border on the amoral foundations of the state, cannot be won by war, no matter the provocation from the militias in the creeks or lately from elsewhere such as IPOB  or Ilana Odua. The situation across Nigeria raises foundational challenge to the structure of the state and its political economy. Nigerians have overwhelmingly pronounced on the dissipated legitimacy of the extant constitutional dispensation.

There is thus no moral, ethical and ideational premise undergirding the Nigerian state and its society other than the informal self-seeking understandings to which the elite are bound. Deriving from this complexity, it is the main thrust that conflict in Nigeria and instability in its state system result from the continuous attempts to appropriate the state by major domestic constituent groups acting in collaboration with local accessories, allied extra-territorial stakeholders as well as the metropolitan guarantors of Nigeria’s sovereignty. These stakeholders are members of the larger corporate trans-national communities of which the constituent group in the post-colonial state and its national society are a part of. Such stakeholders are pre-existing trans-national nationalities and groups with historical affinities which may be largely tribes or religiously based communities. Common ethnic identification and religious affinities present a certain understanding of the cosmology, universe and a defined worldview that may not only compete with others, but may also be the basis to challenge the emergence of new and common values as well as principles to legitimize the nascent state.

These competing ideational sub-structures of the numerous societies are often expressed in a fragmented civil society that is unable to develop an integrated national social capital base. In Nigeria, social capital abounds, but it is non-integrative, atomized and limited within networks of clearly defined corporate identities. The strength and resilience of the social capital that is derivable from informal structural linkages of the disparate transnational communities in the post-colonial African state and its intermestic environment have a deleterious bearing on the process of generating new and unifying identities and consciousness for competing compatriots of the state. The disparate identities and groups compete to impose their respective partisan and narrow conflicting political agendas that can only be concretized through the total control of the social, economic and political space. The highly exclusive agenda of the contending forces can only be fulfilled through domination of the state and all its pivots of power. Power in that context is conceived in terms of the successful appropriation of the state for the imposition of a hegemonic agenda. At the cultural level, this includes the entrenchment of the symbols and images of the hegemonic group, its worldview, the norms and values as well as conceptions of the universe of the dominant group as synonymous with that of the appropriated state.

Accordingly, a national dissembling machinery has been responsible for the current state of affairs as it has also been responsible for defining the fundamental assumptions, the almost axiomatic underpinnings of a false sense of the inevitability of Nigeria even in its fragile social construction as a nation state space. Paradoxically, the inevitability of Nigeria is the only fundamental lie that one may on ideological premises whole heartedly subscribe to. It is simply that the British unwittingly did Africa a favor in creating a Nigeria.  But what Nigerians have done with this unintended gift to Africa is a historic crime against black humanity. It is in that context that the longevity of Nigeria articulated by its villainous champions as an enduring contrivance is not an incontrovertible fact. The British did not intend to do Black humanity that favour. But that has been the implication for Africa. Nigeria and Nigerians must wake up to their axiomatic salience as a necessary condition and presence for the holistic emancipation of black humanity. But more importantly, let it be firmly affirmed that Nigeria, no matter our partisan wishes, would not enjoy a permanence built on this mountainous accretion of fossilized amorality, its peculiar sense of contrived justice that merely upends social justice, and the illogic currently driving it. It is in that context that the imperative to revisit the premises and contortions of Nigeria becomes compelling. Nigeria urgently deserves a geo-political restructuring. But before then, it is imperative to define a consensual moral and historic quintessence for the anticipated rebirth, if that rebirth would ever be actualized. Otherwise, the deluge…


*Professor Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations.Hewas Director, Abuja Leadership Center, a TETFund Center of Excellence in Public Governance and Leadership at the University of Abuja. Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. His latest book The Ghettos of Pan Africanism, published by the Pan African University Press, is due to be released on August 12.


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