Stopping the Train to Apocalypse


Ademola Araoye

By Ademola Araoye

The Nigerian state, a product of crass imperial mercantilism, has been hollowed out. A colonial creation motorized by the worst human impulses of lies and deception to satiate imperial greed was classic political mischief-making. Nigeria was, in time, bound to go the way of all such ethical vacuities. Mechanically cobbled together in the interest of a dominant External Order, it suffered congenital pathologies at birth. The principal drawback was that the state was birthed with a dearth of serious articulators or moulders of an altruistic vision for a truly great united nation among its leaders, who have been mischaracterized as early founding fathers (I call them wounding fathers). A vast majority of these pioneers were thus delinquent midwives, even if lionized in folkloric narratives of their ethnic/regional and religious constituencies. Overall they did not do the future any favours. They proved incontestably to be possessed of feet of clay and trapped in petty provincial-mindedness. In their hands, the embryonic state was mortally wounded, even before birth. The often sickening evidence of this misfortune of a people is abundantly codified. The chances of survival of the ever-tottering conglomeration of nations amalgamated by toxic imperial fiat were slim. Nigeria today is confronted with the verdict of time. And that verdict has been damning.

Given the dubious motive behind its creation, Nigeria was structurally constructed to serve the objectives of the External Order. Nigeria was not designed to be an end in itself. Accordingly, its internal organization was contrived to ensure that it buckled under the most crucial and defining test that confronts every multinational state, in particular those colonially demarcated impositions that emerged after World War II.  Nigeria was lost in managing the critical security dilemma that all mechanically crafted polities face. It is also to be observed that the floating of the structurally incongruous state into the harsh universe of the international system was also in the spirit of universal freedoms of the liberalism of immediate post-World War II. Yet this spirit of the times was also an imposition by a new allied force more powerful than the creators of Nigeria. This new geist was also a deviation from an old dispensation that even now has struggled to retain its validity. Liberalism was therefore not a done deal. In the context of the hot molten generated by the ideological bifurcation of the immediate WWII, the foundations of this peculiar structural edifice were indeed feeble. It is no surprise that from its very inception the internal dynamic of Nigeria was turbulent. Accordingly, the diagnostic challenge is to frame the violent contortions of the evolution of Nigeria exclusively within the framework of ethno-regional fixations, but rather to understand the fundamental contradictions in the crisis of statehood and nationhood as expressions of major divergence in the dominant ideo-philosophical orientations that have driven socio-economic as well as the developmental trajectories of the major contenting constituencies of the state.

So Nigeria was not insulated from the systemic confrontations of the global universe into which it was born.  The jousting of divergent ideo-philosophical preferences impacted the dominant weltanschauung of the various regions that constituted the Nigerian state. This directed approaches to governing but, more importantly, shaped the developmental paradigms of the various peoples. These were definitive political choices that exacerbated ethno regional developmental gaps between the regions. The ensuing widening gaps in the socio-economic plane have driven interactions or better still consolidated bitter schisms among the internal forces in the new state. Six decades later, Nigerian politics remain characterized by a raw and intense partisan struggle for the appropriation of the totality of the socio-political, cultural and economic space among its constituent elements. Various not-so-subtle politically inspired mechanisms to impede the advancement of the more progressive constituencies have mainly frustrated the ambitions of certain parts of the country. The ill-motivated mechanisms have meanwhile failed to solve the problem of the relative backwardness of peoples trapped in the narrow world of conservatism. In these realms, ultra-conservatism was instrumentalized for personal political gains until finally, it has consumed those societies entirely. The implication has been to further stretch imbalances across all facets of human endeavour to a breaking point. Nigeria thus lost at its birth the opportunity to begin the process of constructive cognitive contaminations that more serene political systems constructed in the same manner as Nigeria deployed in the arduous process of nation building.

Elsewhere, I have observed that what goes for society in post-colonial states, in general, are in actuality rival contending groups and forces that do not rest on a minimum of universally acknowledged and shared ideational substructures and values systems. The contending groups are, therefore, unable to reach a level of inter-subjective normative understandings that allow for the formulation of a common vision, elaboration of national order, and development of common ideological guidelines to direct common political action by the diverse and fragmented peoples. In such post-colonial African state environments, intra-societal relations would be intensely conflictual as clashes of opposed worldviews and value systems constrain the emergence of common identities and the development of a national value system. The opposed values, attitudes and world views are embedded in identities that are professed by the contending protagonist groups.  Thus the debacle at the level of the state and its multiple fractious societies are intertwined.

Nigeria is a prime example of the above postulations. At all levels of engagement; psychical, spiritual, temporal, emotional and physical, violence was embedded in the national psyche and legitimized as the default currency of interaction among the constituent interdependencies. In the robust jousting in the environment of an ethical septic tank, every human value was upended. Nigeria is the humanist’s nightmare. The principal mantra of leadership in the land, both at the centre and at the sub-systemic level, has been that the most daring appropriates the booty. The way it has worked is that actors at the local level aspiring to a share of the booty at the national level must first jettison any pretensions to pursuing any gains for the community in whose name they are at the centre. They pledge alliance to the person and interests of the king. Thereafter, they have the uninhibited leeway to pursue their personal goals, whatever those objectives are. Often, the hero at the national level is indeed a villain at the local level. And local heroes emerge as the bulwark to the depravity of the centre and its cronies.

Accordingly, those strategically minded who cajoled and schemed to control the levers of state coercion have always won. Even the feeble veneer experimentations in putative Democracy were undergirded by this understanding. Democracy, instrumentalized, threw up brigands and adventurers as the crème de la creme in the political stratosphere. Nigerian politics polluted all it touched and contaminated everything and everyone. If you are in doubt, ask the managers of the Naira. Ask Professors. Ask doctors. Ask patients of hospitals with ever no drugs that cost you an arm and a leg, ask beggars on the street. Ask the scavenging dogs roaming the streets. Ask everywhere. There is no hiding place from the tortured land that the Federal Republic of Nigeria has metastasized into. The brigandage brigades are beyond the reach of the downtrodden. It is trite to affirm that in no time the wizened and true intelligentsia have learnt to avoid this lava-spewing volcano desiccating everything on its path.

Meanwhile, in Post WW II, with liberalism ascendant in global sensibilities, had evolved such that the concept of governing, also associated with the conventional theory and praxis of public administration, developed even as nation-building processes began jettisoning coercion in favour of persuasion as the main instrument of political development in advanced societies. But the state and coercion still retained their centrality in the affairs of society and the lives of the citizenry. Governing however is not to be conflated, as has been odiously notable among faddish intellectuals in Nigeria, with its conceptual antithesis of public governance. Public Governance is a new approach to state-society relations aligned with the fourth industrial revolution or the digital age. Essential to this is the realization of the state that coercion as an instrument of state relations with the citizenry has been greatly delegitimized. Public Governance emerged basically to rectify the deficiencies of governing and the traditional praxis of public administration. The recalibration of relations between society and the state has been imperative in a response to the tectonic changes in society. The implication has been a rebalancing of the relative leverage in the public policy process between an increasingly fragilised state buffeted on all sides by a phenomenally empowered national society integrated into a network of international civil society across the globe. The emergence of the distinctive attributes of public governance, setting it apart from those associated with governing, has been driven by technological revolutions that have impacted the character of society and the very nature of doing things. The revolutions have fuelled tectonic changes in the environments in which political, social, cultural and economic decisions are made and implemented across the globe.

The Westphalian state is on a back foot in contemporary times and things are projected to worsen. The impact of the technological revolutions, especially in communications linking the world in nanoseconds, has been to pool together the strength of global humanity in their activist engagements with the predatory instincts of the state. Enabling oppressed humanity to act in unison against any state no matter how powerful, the digital age has realigned the traditional balance of influence in the policy making process between the hitherto coercive state associated with paradigms of traditional governing and all other actors in society whose respective leverages for action in the policy making process have been phenomenally elevated in the practice of public governance. The upsetting of this traditional balance has been made possible and manifest in the trans national integration of the global and national society, including individuals and groups, as well as the accentuation of humanistic global values. This has come with radical shifts in the face of the convergence and fusion of the concerns of global society and national societies on numerous planes.

The abstract and literally virtual forces actuating these changes in policy making processes are beyond the control of states. They have been given steam by intensified globalization in the fourth industrial revolution, and, in particular, transformative influence of digitalization in the orientations of society and the values of the individual. Digitalization and globalization have accelerated a widening consciousness of a transnational and transracial human identity as well as enhanced recognition of the ascendancy of democratization as the sine qua non for the protection of humanistic values globally. In the digital age, the acquisition of run-away liberties of the individual poses a threat to the traditional conception of the state. In this setting sovereignty has being redefined. The monistic conception of sovereignty is seriously under assault especially in the post-colonial predatory African state. At the best of time, the post-colonial state largely thrives on international legal sovereignty, since its internal space, like in Nigeria, is not pacified. Accordingly, the domestic sovereignty of Nigeria as well as its Westphalian and interdependence sovereignty are weak. The case of domestic sovereignty, which relates to the formal organization of political authority within the state and the ability of public authorities to exercise effective control within its claimed borders is evidently challenged.  Again, Nigeria has witnessed the potency of well mobilized citizenry in the domestic political sphere through virtual interaction. These are key lessons that the African state has to imbibe. It is also salient, if it is not too late, in managing the dilapidations of the Nigerian state.

Meanwhile, the evolution of Nigeria exemplifies the dictum in basic security and political science that coercion as an instrument of control may be effective in the short term, wobbly in the medium term and absolutely inefficient as a tool of state and nation building in the long term. The contestation for political power in Nigeria has always been against the backdrop of sectional control of the military. The military, perceived to be partisan and on the side of a section, thus is an integral element in the calculus for hegemonic control. This has bred a culture of indifference to negotiations on thorny issues and a lack of sincerity in forging and implementing political settlements in the hegemonic axis of the embattled political entity.  In failing to adopt suasion as the main instrument of the construction of its nation, the historicity of this state has been exacerbated by its inability to surmount the problem of security dilemma. This dilemma is inherent in every multinational state. The resolution of security dilemma is key to overcoming the challenge of nationhood.

Given the circumstances of its creation, a security dilemma was set off almost immediately. Conventionally a framework to explore international conflict, a security dilemma exists when actions by which a state or a constituent part of a multinational state tries to increase its security is perceived as threat that exacerbates the insecurity of others. Experts advance that such a dilemma provides the rational foundation for what is termed the “spiral model,” which describes how the interaction between states or constituent unit of a multinational state that are seeking only security can fuel intensified competition in the system and even at the micro sub system. In domestic settings of multinational states the same dynamic foreseen among states at the systemic level may apply. The indigenous nationalities with previously scant affinities lumped in the new territorial demarcations of state and potential nationhood were set apart by intrinsic fears of domination by their mutually acknowledged adversarial compatriots. The turbulence occasioned by the open frostiness to some iconic actors on the very first day of independence as a fully-fledged state has turned out to be of great symbolic salience.  It signaled the intensity of the viscosity of the process of a nation-in-being and the beginnings of the entrenchment of unfortunate shenanigans of the process that has led Nigeria to its current prostrate posture.

All reflected the foundational adversarial mindset that shaped the tortuous evolution of the Nigerian state. The situation was compounded by the intricate manipulations of the External Other creators of the state to ensure continued control after the flag independence. This complex dynamic driven by perception of ultimate divergence of interests and buoyed by cognitive dissonances across the board generated a constant interplay of internal forces in a permanent state of agitations and combat for hegemonic control. This was a first tragic failure that has haunted an unrepentant Nigerian Republic since.  The not so subtle ubiquitous presence of the self-interest driven interventions, in particular at critical junctures of the national feebleness, of the preeminent External Other were designed to consolidate partisan advantage of local proxies. This has equated the flip side of the bad coin. The interactions of the two and their volatile outcomes have defined the central theme of the evolution and castration of a people. The impact of these awry fundamentals have not been limited neither to politics nor to security, its impact are expressed in economics, education, sports and recreation. In the process, everything good made for the benefit of humankind spanning the ideational through the physical, the metaphysical, including religion, is upended in the Nigerian firmament. The consequences of the Nigerian derailment of the natural order, a definition of the comprehensive corruption of everything under sky, has been totalistic in its holistic influence. Here in lies the sources of the critical elements of Nigeria’s contemporary lexicon: Boko Haram, ISWAP, Hushpuppi, Abba Kyari, Turji Bello, State thuggery, federal character and institutionalized mediocrity, Nonsensical Remediations everywhere, Kidnapping, fornicated spiritualism, disputed monism of sovereignty, abused professoriate, Hybridized Judicial systems, Naira, a national currency that is racing south in depreciated value on a quotidian basis, Olu le, Emi lokan. After all, as John Nef exclaims: All sides of human endeavor are intertwined.

Six decades after sham freedom, in the aftermath of a cheek in tongue rhetoric of fizzled hope in the public realm, with daggers constantly drawn and barely hidden in flowing Babaringas, the territory formally demarcated as the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been transformed into a vast unbroken landscape of flaming hotspots: of murderous violations of the sanctity of life; an expansive wasteland of denuded hope of black humanity goaded seemingly irresistibly into a coming Armageddon. They elicit a callous indifference from flag waving merchants delinked from the gory realities of the scotched land. The deafened patriots and their associated scoundrels would drive the bewildered amalgam of mass poor into the abyss. The loud cacophony of destitution and fear and the shrill Jeremaids of caution of the wise in the land have been suppressed. Their prophetic urgings for the train to pause awhile from the maddening race to doomsday are drowned by the loud shimmering of ill-gotten shekel. Politics has been reduced to a tragic game of the unfeeling deaf and presumably blind inundating the land in their well-oiled propaganda. These orchestrations for power at all costs is by a mere thousand beneficiaries determined to actuate odious personal ambition and glory. Elections! Elections! they scream their voices hoarse. The train to the apocalypse is set on auto pilot. All pirates, Ahoy!

The failure to bridge this ever widening chasm due to the dearth of strategic thinking to surmount the mutually counteracting forces at the highest levels of governing has taken a toll. It has exacerbated the Security dilemma that has spiraled out of control into existential threats at all levels: the fragilized and prostrate state, the dissipated notion of nationhood, as well as bewildered human contents of the national space as individuals, communities and nationalities. The notion of Nigeria today expresses no more than a desiccated landscape of sanguinary contestations. These are taking place in the context of comprehensive institutional morass. The Constitution, maligned across the significant parts of the land, is perceived as having lost its legitimacy. Nigeria’s claim to sovereignty, the favorite hideout of states operating on surreal principles, at its best, is merely a fictional reality that has been wittingly and unwittingly devalued by its interminable internal struggles. The assaults have intensified. In the face of all, the shrill refrain of the disenchanted and disillusioned can be heard: Stop this Train to the Apocalypse, I am leaving.


[i] Professor Ademola Araoye wrote from Ibadan.