A Cause for Alarm
The State, Human Security and National Security in Nigeria
Carnegie African Diaspora Fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan
It is a pleasure to be here at my Alma Mater, University of Ibadan, where I graduated with a B.Sc. degree in Political Science in 1979. It is also gratifying to be working with my esteemed and distinguished colleague and classmate, Professor Adigun Agbaje. I am glad that I’ve been given the opportunity to address the members of the MSS programme and my distinguished colleagues from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Institute of African Studies. It is particularly gratifying to see my colleagues from my home department, the Department of Political Science. I’m delighted that and students from the Faculty of Social Sciences and Institute of African Studies have joined us.
My topic for this presentation: "A Cause for Alarm: The State, Human Security and National Security in Nigeria" considers the foremost challenges and opportunities confronting the Nigerian state and society today. I chose to title my presentation as done to emphatically assure us that we should be alarmed about the political conditions in Nigeria today. I consider this an alarm-worthy situation because Nigeria has gargantuan, seemingly intractable problems with the nature and capacity of the state, and with human security and national security. Nigeria ranks very low on the Human Development Index, which is a possible measure for some aspects of human security. Although according to the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance, Nigeria scores high on national security, it is ranked very low on personal security. I don’t have the resources of the Mo Ibrahim Index, but I think it would be a mistake for Nigeria to consider itself a success case when it comes to national security. The first rationale for my contention is that according to the 1999 Nigerian constitution (in line with common international practice) public security is one of the powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Part II, 11). The right to life and to personal liberty are among the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens (Part II, Chapter IV (33); (35)). Chapter II, (14b) of the constitution further states that: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. These constitutional provisions mean that the state has an obligation to protect and defend the citizens of Nigeria.
Given widespread conclusion that the state has failed to protect Nigerians as constitutionally mandated, and that it has failed to create and foster conditions under which majority of citizens would be free from want and fear, I hope we all aware that many people consider Nigeria a failed state. I personally don’t go that far. I see Nigeria as a fragile state, for reasons that I will make clear shortly. I also hope that we know that there is heightened concern in the international community about the state of human security in today’s Nigeria. It is actually puzzling to me that there isn’t more concern about this in Nigeria itself. Although it has the largest economy in Africa, having surpassed South Africa sometime last year, Nigeria is a low level middle income country. With a GDP per capita of about $3,500, and a huge number of Nigerians living below the poverty line, many of them living on less than two dollars a day.
We have problems with personal safety and security in many of the urban areas of this country. We also have problems with security of property and life, problems that we see in graphic relief in the Northeastern part of the country, where Boko Haram has visited a reign of terror on the population. Given that sovereignty and territorial integrity are important constituents of the fundamental characteristics of a state, if it is true, as a National Public Radio (in the US) program alleges, that Boko Haram controls up to 20% of Nigerian territory, we should be alarmed.
As security agents of the Nigerian state, members of the MSS program should be thinking of how to do their jobs better to ensure the safety and security of the Nigerian citizens in the areas now controlled by Boko Haram, or at least, where Boko Haram challenges the authority of the Nigerian state. I am not a security expert but I know that the reason why the Nigerian ranking on national security on the Mo Ibrahim Index is so high is that it is assumed that the security of the Nigerian state is guaranteed. This should not mean that the elected members of the various levels of government feel secure while ordinary Nigerians don’t. It should not mean that people in the Southwest consider themselves safe because Boko Haram is only rampaging through the Northeast. It should not mean that we are comfortable with the fact that 10.1 milliion Nigerian children are out of school
(UNESCO, 2012, p. xii), and there has been
no school for many children in the Boko Haram-controlled areas, in some cases,
for over a year, in states like Borno, where the attendance rates were 28% less
than those in other states prior to the Boko Haram attacks (IRIN, 2012); just because our
own children are safe and secure in their schools. It should not mean that so many Nigerian
girls, women, and even boys and men have been abducted by Boko Haram, and as
long as they are not our family members, we should not care. It should not mean that we have so many
Nigerian internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, and the National
Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the State Emergency Management Agencies
(SEMAs) are unable to give them adequate relief, and we are OK with it because
our families are secure, and life is good.
Finally, it should not mean that we have a rising incidence of young
girls and boys being used as suicide bombers and we sigh, pray, fast, and say
that we have done enough. We should all
be alarmed. We should all be concerned. We should all be committed to doing our best
to end this dreadful situation. Given
those concerns, it is imperative that one would be concerned about Nigeria’s
My presentation focuses on the state, human security and national security in Nigeria. I will argue that the state is weak, having demonstrated gross unwillingness and/or inability to guarantee the most basic elements of what it means to have a state to citizens—security in one’s person, of one’s property, and also freedom from want, all important elements of freedom from fear, that is: human security. I will begin by defining what I mean by the state, human security and national security. I will then delve into my observations about contemporary conditions in Nigeria to show why there should be generalized alarm and determination to correct the problems identified if the country is interested in being taken seriously in the world at large. Beyond the concern about how Nigeria is regarded internationally, there is the important question of how the state is regarded at home, and the extent to which it demonstrates clarity of vision, mission, purposefulness and rigor in performing its basic responsibilities to the citizens of this country. Moreover, there is the radical disjuncture between pronouncements of greatness and the realities on the ground that should be a cause for concern by anyone that has the interest of this country uppermost in their mind.
My observations will draw primarily on the introductory chapters of two of my most recent edited books. The observations will include my thoughts about how the predatory actions of ethnic militias, armed robbers and the insurgent group, Boko Haram, have endangered the physical integrity of Nigerians, challenging the state, and showing the inability to perform its most important function--guaranteeing the safety and security of Nigerians. The state by deploying weak responses to these challenges, demonstrates its weakness and fragility. I would also have used analysis and data from contemporary studies on politics in Nigeria and Africa, as well as on analysis in Comparative Politics and International Relations, but lack of electricity and internet access conspired to make this impossible.
I have to confess that this is not the paper I want to give. It is a paper that I’m forced to give. The paper I would rather have given would have lauded Nigeria for its position as the largest economy in Africa. I would rather that Nigeria were truly the giant of Africa in terms of excellence in its economic, political and social systems. I would rather be talking about a Nigeria that has solved its human and national security problems and a Nigeria where majority of citizens were enjoying the benefits derived from skilled management of its political economy. But this is not the situation of Nigeria, and I must speak of the Nigeria we have, even as we hope for a better tomorrow. Therefore, given ubiquitous affirmative declarations by scholars and analysts of Nigerian and African politics that we have a failed state in Nigeria, has become almost impossible not to engage this question. However, I will interrogate this phenomenon rather than accept it as given.
If this paper was engaged in conventional political analysis, I would consider national security as conceptualized in the classical Westphalian and post-World War 2 definition, and I would be primarily concerned with the survival of the Nigerian state and the capacity of the state to deploy economic power, diplomatic prowess, military capacity, and the political power that flows from these competencies vis a vis other states in the international system, in the efforts to at least, survive, and at best, dominate. A key part of that preoccupation is about military defence against external threat to the nations’ territorial integrity. I daresay that many of those here gathered might know more about the nitty-gritty of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria than me. However, I invite you to consider human security as crucial to national security in the sense that national security is not meaningful if the individual is insecure. This is the position taken by an emerging paradigm that is gaining traction in global political analysis (Oberleitner, 2005, 185).
Given that it includes physical integrity and psychological as well and emotional security, human security concerns the most essential elements of security that human beings value and treasure in their day to day lives—freedom from fear and want (Graf, 2010, p. 329). It concerns the “wellbeing, safety, and dignity of individuals (190). But as with contemplation on the state, most of the leading analyses on this concept comes from the West and from international institutions like the UN and its ancillary agencies. There is a need for African scholarly intervention that builds theories enabling us to conceptually, better understand the state, and evaluate its functionality or the absence thereof. This is a challenge for us as political scientists in Africa. Until we have Africa-centered theories, we can engage in theory building that tests hypotheses and claims made in what has become the conventional wisdom in our discipline. Also, some critics alert us to the possibility that focus on human security may lead to interference in domestic politics via humanitarian intervention arising from faked concern about human security (Oberleitner, 186). Although these are valid concerns, I argue that we should not throw out the baby with the bath water. We can conceptualize human security in a way that takes national security seriously, and I even go as far as to say that we ignore the human security of Nigerian citizens at our own peril.
The Commission on Human Security defined human security thus: "protecting the vital core of human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment" (187). For Sadako Ogata and Johan Cels: "This means protecting vital freedoms fundamental to human existence and development. Human security means protecting people from severe and pervasive threats, both natural and societal, and empowering individuals and communities to develop the capabilities for making informed choices and acting on their own behalf. 'Vital freedoms' refer to the inalienable fundamental rights and freedoms that are laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments" (187).
As I maintained in the introduction to the book, State Fragility…. ”…. the failed state nomenclature is worth analyzing, given that social and political theorists have been preoccupied with the nature of the state for a good long time, but it is also important to contextualize state failure. By the post-Cold War era, arguments about the failed state were driven by a view that emerged from, and was refined by the neoliberal perspective of the Washington Consensus—the coalition led by the United States under President Reagan, in Britain by Prime Minister Thatcher, and the World Bank and IMF, which took charge of leading the response to the vagaries of the world economy after the debt crisis that followed the 1970s oil shock. It continues to be driven by donor governments and institutions’ needs to both classify foreign aid receiving countries and rationalize the levels and types of aid given. I also hasten to remind us that the concept of foreign aid is problematic, since it is often deployed to meet the geopolitical needs of the donor rather than assist the recipient in solving problems, but this is not the place to comprehensively deconstruct it.
As stated in State Fragility: “The failed state concept was a bleak, jaundiced, pessimistic, dystopic post-Cold War perspective expressed most clearly by Robert Kaplan in his article, “The Coming Anarchy.” The recommended corrective is tantamount to putting the state in receivership—as evidenced by the more sober, but still patronizing validation of a world order dominated by the West and its other allies by Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner, who identify the following markers of state failure: inability to function as independent state(s) after the explosion in the number of independent states “especially in Africa and Asia” where the challenge of “discredited regimes by powerful insurgent forces sets in motion, rampant “civil strife… disrupting essential governmental services… destroying food supplies and distribution networks… bringing economies to a virtual standstill.” Yet, it is appropriate to ask whether or not Nigeria should be considered a failed state.
We also cannot understand anything about the state in isolation of its interaction with society. State-civil society relationship in Nigeria is in flux, not least because since 1999, the country has been engaged in its latest flirtation with democratization after numerous years of military rule. Although there have been three successful general elections, fundamental questions remain regarding the nature of the state, and the type of state that will best serve the country to accomplish the goals of economic and political development. Although Nigeria is now said to have the largest economy in Africa (a factor that does not seem to have affected the life chances of majority of citizens in a positive manner), the consideration of post-authoritarian state-civil society relations in Nigeria began in a situation where the state was deeply embroiled in a morass of economic and political crises, further complicating these relations, and lending urgency to questions about state strength, as well as the nature of the relationship between state and civil society, and their implication for the political health and wellbeing of the newly developing democratic system.
State failure is used to describe states as varied as Sudan, Sierra Leone and Liberia during their civil wars, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Colombia. Does Nigeria belong in this fold? What would one have to measure and verify to make an affirmative response? What does one make of the fact that some of these states perform better than Nigeria on things like reliable supply of electricity and free internet access even in remote locations? Although in my opinion, state fragility appears to be more relevant and applicable, in the contemporary global system, both state fragility and state failure emerge out of the efforts of donor countries and agencies to categorize the states that they engage so that they can better tailor their interventions. These concepts do not emerge from the efforts of African scholars to develop theories that explain African realities. Going back to the Western origins of the concepts, the tendency to categorize in order to better control is not a new phenomenon. Like colonial and imperial projects that came earlier, development initiatives and discourse have always been driven by the needs and agenda of the Northern hemisphere and less by those of the South or their peoples.
Given the hierarchical world order and the social order that it produces, the concepts generated to classify developing countries and ancillary language are now ubiquitous. Given the donor countries and agencies’ assessment of their priorities, they decided that development assistance should go to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), rather than to state elites that were believed to be responsible for rising poverty, the decline of the state, and development failures—factors that were adjudged to have caused a crisis of governance. The World Bank and Western-dominated multilateral institutions have been especially influential in driving the process, and the neoliberal perspective that they favor considers lack of skill and will as well as the influence of rent seeking elites to be emblematic of the failures of development, and by implication, of the state. The assumption by these institutions is that they and the NGOs they sponsor in developing countries are essentially honest brokers who will facilitate the development of more democratic politics and civic engagement, and through these, strengthen the state. Pronouncements by these same international institutions and donor countries make it obvious that the intent is rather, to strengthen NGOs and weaken states that are considered predatory, corrupt and inept at fostering economic growth. To what extent is this agenda, however well-intentioned, geared at serving the best interests of developing countries including Nigeria?
The term "state fragility" is used to capture many of the characteristics used to describe state failure, and sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but “state fragility” could be seen as a process that proceeds along a continuum, rather than as a categorical event. Also, it does not have the finality that "state failure" does. It allows that when the aspiration to do better is combined with the will and determination to improve, a stronger state is possible. However, given the state of its politics since the most recent engagement with democratization, using the parameters established by the actors most responsible for imposing the concept on the politics of development, it is also valid to consider whether or not Nigeria manifests such aspiration and determination. Thus, there is no homogenous definition of the term, but fragility in the state is considered by the OECD as:
a fundamental failure of the state to perform functions necessary to meet citizens’ basic needs and expectations. Fragile states are commonly described as incapable of assuring basic security, maintaining rule of law and justice, or providing basic services and economic opportunities for their citizens. Accordingly, the OECD DAC recently characterised fragile states as: 'unable to meet [their] population’s expectations or manage changes in expectations and capacity through the political process (OECD, 2008).
DFID similarly defines fragile states as: ‘those where the government cannot or will not deliver core functions to the majority of its people, including the poor’ (DFID, 2005).
Increasingly, weak state legitimacy is understood to be a key defining characteristic of fragility. States that fail to meet basic needs and to keep societal expectations and state capacity in equilibrium can also fail to establish reciprocal state-society relations or create a binding social contract. The Centre for Research on Inequality and Social Exclusion, for example, defines fragile states as “failing, or at risk of failing, with respect to authority, comprehensive service entitlements or legitimacy”. ’
I will now turn to more analysis on some of the core concepts in this paper: the State, Human Security and National Security. I engage this task in the following sections.
Core Concepts I: State, State Capacity, "State Failure" and “State Fragility”
It appears to be self-evident that most people would have an understanding of the meaning of the state, since this is a concept that we encounter daily; but it is also self-evident that there is no universally acceptable, homogenous, definition of the state. It seems useful to proceed by borrowing from Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O’Leary’s distinction between organizational and functional definitions of the state.
Given the intertwined nature of worldwide ideological, social, economic, cultural, political, and military relations over time, the term "state" cannot also be defined without taking globalization into account. When that is done, it important to bear in mind Martin Shaw’s contention that the dominant form of the state from the 18th to the 20th Century has been the empire, and not the nation-state as classically understood. Looking at the world from the vantage point of Africa at the end of the 20th Century, and the first decade of the 21st, and considering the relations between Africa and the powerful actors in the world system, it is hard to conclude that the imperial state has become irrelevant and supplanted by the nation state. However, it is also clear that the relations are not those of the classical empire, but of a new type of imperialism that is driven by finance capital and its interests.
Max Weber in the essay, “Politics as vocation” said: “Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends.” Essentially, he was saying that the means through which the state accomplishes the ends that one observes matter. This can be taken to be an endorsement of institutionalism. It can also be taken to mean a validation of due process and in relation to democracy, be used as one of the yardsticks for measuring the extent to which democratic openness obtains. The directives coming from globalized constructions of democracy to Africa endorse both institutionalism and due process, but not in a “Catholic” way that is open to all kinds of influences. They privilege liberal democracy and the kinds of institutions that emanate from it. In the contemporary era of globalization, they also favor NGOs as the prime expression of civil society activism.
Most people are more familiar with Weber’s more popular statement: “A compulsory political organization with continuous operations will be called a "state" insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.”
Being currently challenged by Boko Haram, and having had to make concessions to the Niger Delta militias, and contend with others, and given the prevalence of armed robbery and home invasions in Nigeria, it would seem that the Nigerian state is skating on thin ice if this were the sole measure of its “stateness”. But we must not forget that Weber’s “legitimacy” requirement. Are these militias’ and insurgents’ use of physical force legitimate? Should the recognition of their legitimacy by a fraction of the population within Nigeria confer them with authority—which derives from legitimacy? Not necessarily. Martin Shaw reminds us that Anthony Giddens’ definition of the modern nation-state as a 'bordered power container' draws upon the Weberian emphasis on state monopoly of the legitimate use of force. The Nigerian state has been much challenged in this respect, particularly in recent times, with the emergence of ethnic militia in the Niger Delta, the South East and South West.
Lately, Boko Haram has extended the scope of challenges to state autonomy by manifesting an ethno-religious character that both draws on old kinds of Muslim militancy and new forms that sow the seeds of terror through suicide and other bombings, arson, and attacks on the citizenry as well as on law enforcement and other agents of the state. But this challenge of the state’s monopoly over the use of force is not perceived as legitimate by most Nigerians, however, given Boko Haram’s success in imposing its reign of terror in the Northeastern and Northwestern states of Nigeria, it is demonstrating that the state cannot challenge its dominance, or can it? If the state does not demonstrate in a verifiable manner that it can check Boko Haram’s insurgency, its weakness is made apparent.
Like state failure, state fragility cannot be understood without due consideration to the global flow of ideas and the power relations that undergird them, particularly as concerns the concept of development. Although globalization presumably opens up a vista of a world without boundaries, and the flow of ideas in an untrammelled manner, the flow is legitimated by a power structure that privileges the voice of the West, and that privilege is validated by an international community that is operates according to the rules of a liberal international order established after the end of the Second World War. The United States was a major sponsor of this post World War II order, and the coalition it led contributed immensely to building and legitimating a world fashioned after its ideological commitment to liberalism. The world has gone through many changes since, but the ideological hegemony still belongs with the West.
The contradictions embedded in state-society relations in Nigeria cannot be understood without attention to Nigerian history and the peculiar characteristics of the country, its peoples and their experiences. Therefore, some context can be garnered on state-society relations in Nigeria with a consideration of the country’s colonial history as the genesis of the modern/contemporary state. Its peoples’ struggle against colonial absolutism and authoritarianism gives many examples of civil society activism. Its post-colonial experience of politics also provide many instances of associational relations and the dynamics of these relations with state institutions in a constantly evolving process of state-creation.
Beginning from the mid-1980s, the process of state creation was impinged upon by an admixture of local and global forces that compelled the Federal Military government of Nigeria to adopt and implement a neoliberal policy of economic reform in 1986—the Structural Adjustment Program, (SAP) on the advice of the IMF and World Bank, and against the wishes of the majority of Nigerian people. Given the awareness of the potential for serious effects of the program on human security, significant civil society action was mobilized against this decision, albeit unsuccessfully. This was part of a tumultuous period from 1979 to1999 when a civilian regime was overthrown—in 1982, and several military coups created significant political instability.
The decision to adopt and implement SAP is not only an instance of state-civil society struggle, but a veritable assault on the human security of Nigerian citizens who were expected to cope with drastically reduced resources. underline the point made earlier, its significance and implications for Nigeria’s politics of democratization cannot be fully understood without situating it within the ethos of contemporary globalization. On its part, the Nigerian government used multiple strategies, including dialogue, concession, improvements, pay-offs, co-optation, compulsion and subjugation in its relations with civil society organizations. Due to the uncompromising public rejection of SAP, its implementation was somewhat circuitous and incremental, often deviating from the time tables and schedules negotiated with the multilaterals and Nigeria's creditors. “The government's inability to maintain a strict enough agenda in its implementation of the SAP in turn elicited negative and punitive responses from the IMF, World Bank and creditor clubs' coalition. The punitive measures taken served to aggravate the already explosive political situation within Nigeria.”
Nigeria adopted SAP in 1986 in a dialectical process where contesting domestic social, political and economic forces shaped the implementation of SAP in response to an agenda that was set by international political and economic forces. The domestic political economy was radically transformed. The question of state sovereignty, which is an important part of discussions of state power, looms large in any consideration of this transformation. How powerful is the Nigerian state vis a vis civil society? It is also important to evaluate state power in relation to malevolent domestic actors as well as external actors. The most important external actors include the Paris Club, the London Club, and the multilateral organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank.
Contemporarily, Nigeria’s economy has grown tremendously compared with the circumstances after the adoption of SAP—during the lost decade of the 1990s and thereafter. However, the economy remains vulnerable to the vagaries of international economic conditions, as witnessed by the dire effects of the drastic fall in crude petroleum prices in the world market. Although the rebased Nigerian economy was shown to be the largest in Africa, there is considerable concentration of wealth, a situation that conspires to make the conditions even grimmer for majority of Nigerians, over 60% of whom in 2010 (According to the National Bureau of Statistics) live on less than $1 a day. We should be concerned that the 2004 figure is 54%, an indication that there is increased poverty even in the midst of plenty
(BBC, 2012). The upshot of these statistics is that an
estimated 100 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty (Vanguard, 2013). Their human security is threatened by want, a
circumstance made more extreme for populations in Northeastern Nigeria by clear
and present threats to physical security from Boko Haram.
On paper, given its 4b pounds annual budget,[ao1] the Nigerian army is well resourced. However, the inability to put up any kind of consistent and meaningful, decent military response to Boko Haram has shown that allegations of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds, and massive corruption in the armed forces are true. In spite of this significant budget, the Nigerian armed forces were out-gunned and out-resourced by Boko Haram, a situation that generated the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s request for an additional $1billion for the defence budget. We are yet to see the result of this spending, because Boko Haram continued suicide bombing as well as attacks on communities like Baga, where an estimated 2,000 people were killed and the town razed. The survivors are now internally displaced, as well as refugees, who fled into Cameroonian territory.
What are the institutions of the Nigerian state doing to provide relief for these IDPs and refugees? Do we even have the right statistics for the dead, maimed, IDP, and refugees? Do we have any tabulation of losses of life so far? Are there cumulative figures for IDPs and refugees? Is there any verifiable assessment for the service provision by state agencies? The question is worth answering: If people don’t have physical security, how can they possibly have human security?
The point here is that the discourse about both the perceived weakness of the African state and strength of civil society is driven by ideological as well as practical, empirically verifiable considerations. As indicated earlier, much of this discourse emanates from very practical considerations of powerful donor states that want to make a determination about where and how to deploy their resources, and whether or not to engage in nation building in post-conflict states. However, there are also practical considerations arising from the need to assess the extent to which the Nigerian state meets the needs of its citizens. Nigerian scholars should engage this problem with analysis that considers the basic meaning of the state and the gaps that exist in its relationship with citizens and organized groups that seek to bring attention to perceived gaps and inadequacies.
Concerning the post-Chibok Boko Haram abductions and insurgent attacks, #BringBackOurGirls has been the only group that consistently called upon the state to do its job and rescue, as well as re-unite the abducted girls, women, boys and men with their families. The group also calls for efficient and meaningful service delivery to affected communities and populations. Instead of being praised and joined in this worthwhile action, there is generalized apathy among Nigerians and also criticism of the group as unpatriotic. This is abominable, to say the least.
What is surprising is that the historical progression of associational relations that have been an ongoing part of civic engagement in Nigeria has not yielded a cohesive response to this dire situation in Nigeria’s political history. I have argued previously that each period/era of globalization throws up its own peculiar type of associational responses to the challenges of the moment, and there is some continuity as well as change in the nature, form and type of associational relations exist at any given point in time. Given the grave challenge to state capacity to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity, one expects an intensification of the contestation between state and civil society to shape the nature of what is possible for a democratizing Nigeria. However, considering the Boko-Haram induced mayhem in Northeastern Nigeria, there is no significant bridgehead of contestation from civil society to challenge the state’s lack of coherent, effective response to Boko Haram. Only the #BringBackOurGirls groups continue to call attention to both citizen lack of outrage and state inability/unwillingness to rescue abducted citizens and defend communities under siege, and their voices are currently drowned out by the sound and fury of electioneering campaigns.
Following John Locke and later de Tocqueville, there is a strong historical tendency to valorize associational life, and consequently, civil society as the best expression of robust democracy, and to see such associational relations as benign, virtuous expressions that buttress democracy. However, some scholars, following Hobbes, consider the relationship between state and civil society an inherently conflictual one, others see the possibility for a relationship that “may be congruent as well as conflictual” [Bratton, 418]. Others alert us to the existence of “bad civil society” which neither supports democratic values nor embraces civility. A serious examination of the Nigerian situation during the initial stages of the attempt to impose SAP reveals the resistance of a trans-class coalition of social forces united against economic and political marginalization. However, these social forces’ demands were short-circuited by the pressures from the multilaterals that forced the Nigerian state to adopt SAP. In areas beset by Boko Haram, absences and silence are the order of the day, and there is even less response in areas/regions that see themselves as invulnerable to Boko Haram attacks. Thus far, most religious institutions encourage passive responses that prioritize prayers and fasting rather than public outrage that challenge the state.
It was fashionable in the 1980s and 1990s to measure state capacity in the SAP countries according to the extent to which the state either complied with or failed to respond to the adoption and implementation of SAP recommended and closely monitored by the World Bank and the IMF. Failure or inability to successfully implement SAPs was considered tantamount to state failure by these multilaterals, but SAPs were hotly contested in Nigeria and many other countries by coalitions of labor, students’ women’s and professional organizations, often joined by economic nationalist manufacturers’ groups. State-civil society contestation centered around the scope and domain of the political and economic terrain. The critics of SAP considered the overwhelming influence of the multilaterals as instances of assault on state autonomy and a return to colonization. Today, we would be well advised to consider the extent to which the Nigerian state meets the needs of citizens for freedom from want and fear. We should also consider the extent to which civil society engages the struggle to encourage the state to meet its constitutional obligations. However, there is little contestation and minuscule protest in the face of an aggressive Boko Haram insurgency that has ruthlessly wreaked havoc and inflicted brutality on Nigerian citizens in the Northwestern states. There is also little to no protest of the state’s clear shirking of its responsibilities.
The predominant tendency within Africanist thought considers the Nigerian state as weak, fragile, failing or failed, but it is also clear that majority see it as dominant in the political, social and economic arena, due to the lack of cohesion among the civil society forces that seek to counteract, balance, and question its power. In this view, civil society in the contemporary era is substantially weaker than the state because although the colonial era had an efflorescence of voluntary associations, quite a few made a transition into becoming political movements during the nationalist struggle for an end to colonialism. The end of the colonial era made state creation and nation-building the top priorities. It could be argued that Nigeria followed the tendency in most African states, which “through corporatism, mass mobilization, pre-emptive action, and co-optation, deliberately prevented the emergence of autonomous civic associations, or short- circuited their development.”
Nigeria has gone through some major ruptures in its political history. One was colonialism, another was the civil war. Yet another was the debt crisis and adoption of SAP as a corrective. Now the depredations of Boko Haram in the Northeastern geopolitical zone is challenging state authority and menacing the citizens of Nigeria. In each of these periods, the relationship between state and civil society proceeded in an atmosphere of deep economic and political crises where the possibility of both democracy and economic development were challenged and deeply contested.
In Nigeria’s period of colonialism, the colonial state, using its imperial imprimatur, denied the possibility of democracy, and its vision of economic development did not bode well for Nigerians, only for their colonial oppressors. Independence was presented by the nationalists as holding the prospect for life more abundant for all. The January 15 1966 coup d’etat was the first blow. It was rapidly followed by the July 29 coup in the same year. The civil war was the final nail in the coffin of those hopes. The oil boom of the 1970s was seen as a reprieve that offered a post-civil war country the possibility of embarking on developing its economy.
Politically, rhetorical overtures were made toward the embrace of democracy and end of military rule, but there were also several coups d’etat—on July 29, 1975 and a failed one on February 13 1976 that led to the assassination of the General Murtala Muhammad, the military head of state. General Olusegun Obasanjo, his second-in-command, took over, and once again, promised to return the country to civilian rule, a promise that he fulfilled. However, although the country found itself at a juncture where military rule ended in 1979, Nigeria’s second republic, led by the National Party for Nigeria’s (NPN) Alhaji Shehu Shagari, disabused most of the viability of democracy and development in the country. Profligacy and rampant abuse of power were characteristic features of the political system.
In rapid succession, the oil boom resources were frittered away, a huge, unsustainable national debt was incurred and in the struggle to determine how to handle it, a coup d’etat led by General Ibrahim Buhari overthrew the Shagari administration on December 31 1983. This regime was itself overthrown by General Badamasi Babangida on August 27 1985. Clearly, the take-over by the military was insufficient to bring stability. And much of the contestation between state and civil society in Nigeria took place under authoritarian military regimes. SAP was no exception. The grounds of contention included demands for democratization. While the state insisted on a controlled transition, significant civil society actors insisted on an opening of the political arena where repression and arbitrary government are eradicated, and meaningful political participation, the rule of law, freedom of expression, freedom of association, academic freedom, and political accountability are restored. As well, economic recovery was a huge concern for all Nigerians.
During the colonial era, civic organizations developed, some drawing on old modes of associational organizing. Despite the instantiation of democratization in Nigeria’s 4th republic (1999-present), there is still evidence of repression in the Nigerian body politic. The Nigerian state, particularly, but not exclusively under military regimes have been authoritarian. Regardless, associational groups have proliferated. Democratization since 1999 has contributed to opening up the political arena, as well as to increased numbers of associational groups. What the experiences of colonial and military rule demonstrate is that associational groups do not disappear under authoritarian regimes, but may engage in covert action. They may also try to accomplish their objectives many different ways, some of which propel them toward more politicization or discourage them from political engagement and/or action. However, associational groups may also be weakened and inconsequential
According to Araoye in State Fragility….”the weaknesses of associational life in the postcolonial state are reflective of the structural configuration of the social and political space“. Although Nigerian civil society “is infused with great bonding capacities, albeit along fractious lines,“ it lacks the capacity to “generate the complementary bridging attributes required to develop an integrative national social capital.“ The problem is the lack of a critical mass of civil society that coheres around “a common national value system or a universally accepted civic theology as a countervailing force against the largely centrifugal dynamic of self-help and ethno-religious elements that dominate the space between the state and the individual.“
Democratization is impeded when divisions between the disenfranchised rural and urban populations militate against their unity, and responses to the Boko Haram attacks on Nigerian citizens show a disconnect between embattled poor rural populations and equally poor urban populations who fail to see a responsibility to speak up for Boko Haram victims and survivors of their attacks. Rural and urban middle class and wealthy Nigerians who are not necessarily marginalized have demonstrated wanton nonchalance for the fate of fellow citizens. This situation to me shows that we are yet to achieve the combination of the rural and urban that Mamdani argues, will democratize African countries.
The state as used here favors a narrow definition that refers to all institutional organizations (including the legal system) that exercise power over (or claim that they have power over) a given region. International recognition of a state by other states is also important. A broad definition of the state would encompass all of the social life and institutions within the territorial boundaries controlled by a government. However, this broad definition would be more applicable to “country” than the state. The state, as defined here, is distinct from family and kinship relationships, different from private enterprise, and from civil society. This definition of "state-hood" is broader (and thus less specific) than the term "government" - a term that should apply exclusively to the holders of legally exerted executive power in a state at a particular time. One major reason to draw this distinction is that other elements of state-hood, such as the legal and institutional framework, are usually more stable than, and to some degree independent of, the various "governments of the day".
In their attempt to deconstruct the state, Dunleavy and O’Leary point to two types of definitions of the state: the organizational and the functional. As an organization, the state is defined as “a set of governmental institutions”. Government involves a process of rule-making, “controlling, guiding or regulating”. Using an institutional definition of the "state" means that it can equally be applied to democratic as well as authoritarian states. It encompasses well-functioning and effective as well as incompetent and inept bureaucracies where corruption and mismanagement are rife. It covers states that have effective control over their territory, and those challenged by armed opposition. It does not exclude structures created, and ruled over, by warlords - at least those structures that are relatively stable over time, and where the population accepts the warlords’ rule, but the entity does not have international recognition.
State, Enforcement, Legitimacy
Dunleavy and O’Leary also identify five characteristics of a modern state as an organization:
1. The state is a recognizably separate institution or set of institutions, so differentiated from the rest of its society as to create identifiable public and private spheres,
2. The state is sovereign, or the supreme power, within its territory, and by definition, the ultimate authority for all law, i.e. binding rules supported by coercive sanctions. Public law is made by state officials and backed by a formal monopoly of force.
3. The state’s sovereignty extends to all the individuals within a given territory, and applies equally, even to those in formal positions of government or rule-making. Thus sovereignty is distinct from the personnel who at any given time occupy a particular role within the state.
4. The modern state’s personnel are mostly recruited and trained for management in a bureaucratic manner.
5. The state has the capacity to extract monetary revenues (taxation) to finance its activities from its subject population.
According to Max Weber, “A compulsory political association with continuous organization will be called a ‘state’ if and in so far as its administrative staff successfully upholds a claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.” This quote provides variables that can be used to assess– state strength and weakness, conceived as the extent to which any given state succeeds or fails along specified parameters. Weber's definition of the state emphasizes the importance of the security function of the state, which relates to its "monopoly of ... physical force"). The state does not always have to use physical force. It could delegate the use of force, but it must appropriate and maintain the use and also the capacity to delegate the use of force. Does the Nigerian state have the monopoly of the use of force? In State Fragility, Adekson in Ismail, Naanen and Nyiayaana, as well as Okereke outline the significant threats to the Nigerian state’s monopoly by ethnic and religious militias with whom the state had to use neopatrimonial tactics (giving payoffs in return for support) in the case of the Niger Delta militias, and intermittently using overwhelming physical force and disorganized responses in the case of the Boko Haram.
Most of the time the state only threatens the use of force, such threat is sufficient to deter most people within its territory to be law-abiding. It is a sign of weakness if the state must use physical force at all, or most times. In State Fragility…. Adekson, Ismail, Naanen and Nyiayaana address this tendency in Nigeria. Okome and Okereke also point to the tendency of the Nigerian state to use sometimes overwhelming physical force against citizens. But where is this overwhelming force in the response of the state toward Boko Haram, which is clearly a huge problem for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria?
Does the Nigerian state have legitimacy? Weber refers to the "legitimate use of physical force" but does not specify where legitimacy comes from. It may spring from a populist ruler’s charisma. It may be the product of the common agreement that a state is concerned about, and working in the "common interest". The source could also be intimidation (Soyinka 2004) due to the use of state or non-state terror. It is virtually impossible to seriously engage contemporary Nigeria without being aware of the high levels of insecurity of life and property that has become normalized.
Okereke in State Fragility…. examines the conflicts and emerging security challenges in Northern Nigeria and the possibility of devising strategies to address them. He argues that “the region has since the 1980s become a theatre for harvesting all forms of conflicts.” These conflicts are ethno-religious and communal in character and have in recent times taken the dimension of terrorism and direct assault on the Nigerian state. The chapter attributes the propensity toward conflicts to the low level of education, struggle for land and water resources, mounting poverty and the manipulation of religious and ethnic sentiments by various indigenous forces in the struggle for political and economic space within the region. The chapter also examines the role of the Nigerian state in the management of security in parts of Northern Nigeria and concludes that the deployment of physical security responses does not solve the problem of the epidemic of violent conflicts in the region. He proposes as a solution, an overall restructuring of the security architecture of the region to address social questions like education, culture, health and environmental issues which facilitate the decline of insecurity and violent conflicts.
Boko Haram is not the only group that threatens the physical security of Nigerian citizens. Ismail, also in State Fragility…. contends that the persistent socio-economic and political disempowerment at the end of military rule in Nigeria witnessed the establishment of new, or the revival of “old structures and practices as forms of self-help mechanisms by the citizenry to cope with diminishing welfare.” His analysis focuses on youth groups, and their “involvement in socio-economic and political violence in Lagos Island area of Lagos State ... whose intersecting location in the social ladder places them at a critical cross-road.“ While some of the groups devote their self-help projects to social and even political causes, quite a few “are often the epicenter of atrocious inter-group violence with considerable destructive aftermaths.” Ismail gives us a perspective into the micro self-help mechanisms and micro social self-help structures on Lagos Island, and how they transitioned “from the more individualistic phenomenon of “area-boyism” to the emerging more group-oriented, and better-organized phenomenon of “Junctions” and “Bases” organized by youths.” He attributes the emergence of Junctions and Bases to the attempts by youths to claim and control their social, economic, political and geographical spaces in the absence of the state. These formations have both criminal and violent, and benign manifestations that engage in civic activities. Both manifestations engage either individuals in the political apparatus, or are ready foot soldiers for politicians determined to take over the state by any means necessary. Using criminal and violent methods, some of the elements, organized as Junctions, also seek to dominate their neighborhood geographical spaces.
Challenging us to expand our understanding of “legitimacy”, Ismail presents the evolution of challenges against the state’s legitimate control over the threat or use of force on Lagos Island. Areas of turbulence include the Niger Delta where ethnic militia groups have abducted foreign oil workers, and also wealthy and not so wealthy Nigerians whose family members are forced to pay ransom before they’re released. The mother of the Finance minister, and the President’s uncle are among the most prominent of those so abducted. These individuals were quickly rescued, unlike the abducted Chibok girls and other girls, women, boys and men abducted by Boko Haram. Boko Haram and the militias that do these abductions could be cast as having some level of “legitimacy“ within their communities of reference, while the state scrambles to respond to the threats that they pose, using a mix of neo-patrimonial methods and physical force. Regardless, political order remains elusive and the state is fragile.
Discourse on the state indicates that its ability to enforce the law is important, and also that legitimacy is equally important. The two concepts are intertwined. The state would be better able to achieve enforcement if it has well-trained, skilled, efficient and dedicated security personnel. It is also important that majority of those within its boundaries consider it to be legitimate, and efficient, transparent enforcement enhances perceptions of the state’s legitimacy. Legitimacy can be created any number of ways, and how it is achieved in any given country varies from how it might be engineered in another. In the absence of empirical studies, including opinion polls and analyses, it is difficult to make categorical statements about the extent to which Nigerians consider the state to be legitimate. But critical newspaper commentaries and cynical everyday assessments by ordinary Nigerians give a window into what people think about the state.
Olukotun and Adebanwi in Contesting the Nigerian State…. give us an insight into the role of the media as a barometer of the opinion of the Nigerian public about the state. They also show us that although there is a core of activist, critical media, the state tries to influence media through a quid pro quo of cash from the state in exchange for glowing encomiums in the media. The conclusion that the state has failed comes from an overwhelming consensus that like people elsewhere, Nigerians want the state to provide them with key services as well as devise the basic structure and come up with an agenda that enables the provision of services by others if need be. These hopes are expressed as demands for rights, and connect with what may be seen as the informal social contract that came about after independence when Nigerians took the nationalists’ promise of life more abundant to heart. The persistent inability and unwillingness of the state to meet these expectations contributes significantly to eroding its legitimacy, and can be used to gauge popular assessments of state success or failure. Many scholars define and measure legitimacy in these terms.
State "Capacity", "Weakness", "Failure"
Most scholarly analysis of the state focus on its ability to enforce the law as a measure of its strength/capacity, or weakness/failure. Modernization theory in the 1950s and 1960s measured the capacity of the state in LDC against that of their counterparts in the developed world. Needless to say, they were found wanting, and the Modernization school prescribed correctives that were said to be roadmaps to development. Aid from the developed to the LDCs were a big part of the prescriptions.
Can the state be separated from society? In reality, it is impossible, and there are many overlapping roles where the same individual may be both state official and representative of a community. There are multiple and complicated inter-relations between state and society as they relate to co-operatives, traditional rulers, and local associations. According to Migdal, from the 17th Century, Hobbes in Leviathan brings us the assumption that the state plays a powerful role in society. After the industrial revolution, Marx, Weber, and Durkheim continued this focus. So did Polanyi. Hegelians see the state as central to what Polanyi described as the “Great Transformation” and Marxists see the relations of production as central, but even they see the state as the driving force (7). Even at the end of the 20th Century, basically, the state was still recognized as a primary force in the modern era, and it is even considered most important driver of change by some (7). For Migdal, it is impossible to understand society without the state, since state formation “created & activated society. If society is the outermost limits with which people identify, then, it is the state that initially determines those limits or social boundaries” (23). But the state is not all powerful, and doesn’t have total power to create, mold, and otherwise shape society, instead, “both state & society are mutually transforming” (23).
At the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, international attention became focused on "weak states" with domestic problems, including poverty. Some including Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Afghanistan were even adjudged to have experienced "state collapse". Chronic civil wars had contributed to tenuous control over significan parts of the national territory by the central government, state institutions were virtually non-existent. These situations were considered problematic not just for the region in which the states were located, but particularly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, became matters of global concern. The concerned further fuelled the debate about state "failure" and "collapse", and requisite responses.
Development is another much defined and debated concept that has had multiple, shifting meanings. One shift was from development as a human right to development as security. The rationale for the latter was that it was crucial to the enjoyment of human dignity, and for the latter that pervasive and chronic lack of development, poverty and collapse of the state destabilizes not only the territory affected, but potentially threatens the international system, particularly those of its strongest members, which are predominantly Western countries. After September 11 2001, the concern was even higher, and the combined development-security nexus is the order of the day. Yet another shift occurred after the World Economic Meltdown/Great Recession of 2008, with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement drawing attention to the manner in which the great concentration of wealth in very few hands subverts collective wellbeing in favour of a minuscule minority—the 1%. In many ways, this discourse on the economic, social and political rights of the 99% recalls early debates about the relationship between growth and development, but the scope and domain of that earlier debate was focused on the Less Developed Countries LDCs, while OWS broadened the scope to include developed countries where supposedly “Third World” problems became routinized and extended to the now shrinking middle classes.
The influence of the World Bank in shaping the agenda is profound. It led a process where, in order to achieve both development and security, an increased focus was directed at "strengthening" state capacity, under buzzwords such as "state-building" or "institution-building". The boom of activities promoting "good governance" is the more practical part of this. But good the governance initiative has been criticized as taking the politics out of the mix through a sterilization of the processes and procedures of government, and through the privileging of technocrats over mere politicians. The technical aspects of governing are where the emphases lie, instead of the pull and haul and nitty-gritty of politics. Although very different from it, this focus on governance drew upon the idea of "bringing the state back in", which started somewhat earlier, marking a certain paradigm shift away from a kind of radical neo-liberal thinking that wanted to leave everything - including what used to be regarded as core functions of a state - to the markets and private business .
In the developed countries, particularly in the United States, by the end of the first, and the beginning of the second decade of the millennium, the Great Recession strengthened voices that coalesced in a libertarian movement that called for a dismantling of some of the state’s apparatus, particularly those that impinge on the pursuit of happiness—the ability to accumulate wealth unimpeded by taxes. The Tea Party movement takes a leaf from neoliberal economic ideas. It has had limited reach into the consciousness of Nigerians. The Arab Spring and Tahrir Square which ought to properly be called the African Spring—given its origins in Tunisia and Egypt—were powerful inspirations that even more than OWS, inspired Nigerians, Africans, and people worldwide to challenge states that serve the interests of the minority. The ideas and methods from these movements tap into the discontentment and frustrations of people who have examined the state and found it wanting. The massive demonstrations against the removal of the petrol subsidy in the first months of 2012 are an example of this phenomenon.
A very good critique of the ideological hegemony that produces the development agenda is made by Arturo Escobar, who, using a self-described post-structuralist, discursive approach (discourse and power central to understanding culture and practice); gave an intriguing explanation of the post-World War II development dream. For him, this comes out of the expectation most coherently provided by the modernization school that in socioeconomic, political and cultural terms, Europe and North America’s industrialized nations would be models for African, Asian, and Latin American LDCs. The LDCs are expected to catch up by becoming like the industrialized countries. Development in this view is almost considered an unquestionably desirable, magic formula.
Escobar contributes to developing a framework for a “cultural critique of economics as foundational structure of modernity”. He also tries to use a culture-based political economy approach to explicate development, and includes analysis of the emergence of “peasants, women, and the environment as clients” of the development business from 1970s and 1980s. The dream of development was soon transformed into a nightmare, since “massive underdevelopment, impoverishment, untold exploitation and oppression” are the rewards of all the efforts at engineering development. The symptoms of the nightmare include development failure, manifested in the debt crisis, famine, more poverty, malnutrition, and violence. Reality was colonized and there was no room for dissent, and development was transformed into an industry for governments which designed plans for development; institutions that carried out development programs, and experts who studied development and underdevelopment. But although people’s conditions remained the same, or even worsened, experts weren’t concerned. One could extend Escobar’s observations to contemporary Nigeria where there are myriad plans for development and the thriving industry that exists to produce it, but there is no appreciable change for the better in the lives of ordinary Nigerians whose situation has actually worsened, as indicated by the aforementioned increase in the percentage of Nigerians living on less than $2 per day, but the political class is not concerned, neither are the technocrats. It is no surprise that human security is elusive, a situation that cannot change without massive, dedicated, single-minded state effort to create conditions that foster freedom from want and fear among citizens.
Operationalising State "Strength" “Failure” and "Fragility"
Robert Cox enjoins us that it is virtually impossible to separate state from society, but for analytic ease, and following Migdal’s approach, in assessments of state power one could make a distinction between state-centric or society-centric perspectives. State-centric approaches claim that the government and the central institutions and decisionmakers in a country control policy making, policy choice and implementation. Society-centric perspectives claim that particularly in the globalized world, states have been considerably weakened, and interest groups, businesses, multinational corporations, NGOs and other actors drive policy choice and shape policymaking.
Both liberal and Marxist theorists make society centered arguments, and the liberal variants emphasize the influence of rent-seeking and particularistic interests in driving governance, while the
Marxists present the state as captured by domestic or foreign capital or a collusion of both. In these perspectives, the state is passive. At best, it mediates among competing interests, and resulting policy reflects the relative power of such interests, which succeed in manipulating the state to work for them rather than for the common good, consequently, the state is weak vis a vis these interests. According to state-centric approaches, the state as an institution and actor has relative autonomy from domestic and external interests, and makes policy based on its own interests. Is it justified to categorize contemporary Nigeria as a ”failed state”? What would constitute state failure?
The thrust of my argument is that state fragility, rather than failure may be appropriate as a concept to deploy in assessing the capacity of the Nigerian state to meet the expectations of its public. Terminological confusion should be avoided: Nigeria is obviously not a "collapsed" or "failed state" in the sense these terms have been applied to Somalia or Sierra Leone. But few would deny that it faces severe deficiencies concerning the provision of basic services, or "public goods"; that in parts of the country (the Niger Delta and Northeastern parts of the country being only the worst cases) it has lost its monopoly of physical force (legitimate or not); and that insurgency, severe ethnic and religious conflict at times appear to tear the country apart. The World Bank in 2002 categorized Nigeria - alongside the most unstable countries in the world - as "Low Income Country Under Stress" (LICUS), facing severe threats to its stability from poverty and violence. The country was thrown into a constitutional crisis when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was spirited away to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment without due notification to the Vice President, and the country seemed to be at loose ends until the President’s death was finally announced. The Niger Delta militia activities, Jos riots, Boko Haram uprisings in Maiduguri, and the bombings attributed to it in Abuja and in the Northeast are just a few instances of the tussle between state and non-state organizations, and also the inability of the state to guarantee the security of citizens in parts of the country.
Whether one employs the term state "failure", or "weakness" (or "lack of institutional capacity", for that matter), is more a question of style or politeness, than a matter of analysis. What is important is to operationalize the working concept "failure" in a useful way; One possibility is proposed one above, and will be summarized again, under three keywords: “differentiation by sector”, “yardsticks of measurement”, and “process character”.
(1) A core aspect of analysing and measuring the degree of "state failure" in Nigeria would be, as stressed above, to differentiate between different sectors (or fields and objectives of state activity, respectively). A state can be strong in some dimensions while being weak in others. A state may provide expected services or may fail to do so in different degrees. This book, as it looks at different sectors of state activity from the perspective of social self-organization, should contribute much empirically well-founded judgement on state success and failure, respectively, in particular areas of social and economic life.
(2) Statements on the degree of state success or failure should ideally be based on yardsticks by which measurement is taken. What are the reference points? What can be realistically expected? What do people expect? Are such expectations important for their views on the legitimacy of the Nigerian state?
(3) At the same time, the degree of state success or failure in particular sectors ideally can and should be analysed in its process character, as changing over time. It is not a one-way road, to either doom or redemption; processes of policy or institutional reform should be taken into account. This conference is not about "state-building" in Nigeria, and about institutional reform; but several of the contributions to this conference may have important things to say about particular aspects of, and reasons for, deficient state institutional structures. They should not be lost in our discussions.
So far these introductory remarks have concentrated on the first core concept in this paper, the state. But since the state does not operate in a vacuum, and power is a relational concept, there is also a need to consider related concepts including self-organization, civil society and, perhaps, "uncivil" society?
Self-Organization, Civil Society, "Uncivil Society"
Many phenomena of social self-organization that we observe in Nigeria today are related to situations or experiences of state fragility, or at least to the unwillingness or inability of the state to provide services that take care of the needs of citizens. In numerous fields of social, economic and cultural life, people act and react, individually or collectively, to what the state provides (or does not provide) for them, demands from them (successfully or not), or allows (or prohibits) them to do. Much self-organization, in this sense, is located at the borderline between the state and the wider society. Dealing with self-organization from this perspective means considering the interface between state and society, and also the interactions between them.
Of course, not all social self-organization evolves out of state failure, but has emerged for historical reasons and/or by conscious design or decision of policy makers (both cannot always be clearly distinguished analytically):
• Historically, there are areas of social life that have been touched relatively little by direct state intervention in Nigeria; for example, the internal self-regulatory and self-governing structures of local village communities. Of course, since colonial days the state has in many ways ruled into this sphere or at least created frameworks within which it operates (for example, by establishing and removing chiefs, by codifying “customary law” etc.). Still, the sphere of self-organization “beyond” or “below” the state (as this is sometimes conceptualized) tends to keep a good degree of autonomy; some contributions to this conference will address this sphere.
• Other forms of self-organization may be the result of policy decisions by governments themselves. A state may decide (voluntarily, or by realizing to be unable to exert control) not to engage in certain fields of activities or sectors, and leave them to “tradition”, private initiative, collective self-organization, etc. A state may restrict itself to establishing legal regulatory frameworks, rather than acting directly. This appears trivial (at least after 1989) with regard to economic life; but the exact boundaries of self-organization and market forces remain permanently contested. It is less trivial when it comes to areas like basic services and social security etc., where the role of state and market continue to be very controversially discussed world-wide; debates in Nigeria around privatization policy are part of this. Such discussions often focus around the principle of "subsidiarity" - i.e.: the idea that the state should become active only if and in so far as forms of self-organization - extending from family networks through voluntary associations to market forces - fails).
Social self-organization thus covers an extremely broad sphere; in fact, by my definition it would reach wherever the state does not reach. This leads to the question whether any type of self-organization in a society (i.e., anything "outside" of the sphere of the state) should already constitute "civil society", in one sense or the other. This will be addressed later. Before that, however, some remarks on the character and normative connotations of self-organization may be useful.
Judgements about the value and problems of social self-organizations differ drastically, depending on perspectives taken. One school of thought, coming from the Hobbesian tradition, may view uncontrolled human beings as so competitive, anarchic and/or violent that they will end up in (self-) destruction if no state or other force stops them. From this perspective, the state is the saviour as it creates order; self-organization (if it is worth that term at all) is at least dangerous, if not worse. (State officials, especially those concerned with security, may tend to see it that way. The experiences described at the beginning of this paper - i.e., self-organization under conditions of stress, on the example of Lagos traffic - would support this view).
For another school of thought, however, self-organization is an intrinsically positive phenomenon: It is a creative human capacity generating remarkably productive results. Especially for students of African societies, self-organization tends to have a very positive image. This derives perhaps from the knowledge that many pre-colonial societies of Africa had no states at all and organized themselves at the local level; it certainly also derives from the experiences of state failure in post-colonial Africa, where forms of self-help and self-organization have become important means of survival. This positive image of self-organization, as a principle reverberates in the fundamentally positive connotations of "civil society". Of course it also reverberates in discourses about "down-sizing government".
Any such generalizing judgement on self-organization does not stand closer scrutiny: Self-organization as a social phenomenon, taken as such (i.e. as an abstract concept), is neither positive nor negative. It is only a mode of operation that "happens" or "is done". It can be studied in its own logics and contradictions. And what is good or bad, with regard to a particular phenomenon of self-organization, should simply be measured by its outcomes.
Civil Society is an “essentially contested” concept. The concept has been analyzed, dissected, and critiqued ad infinitum but we remain befuddled about it, and the prospect that a homogeneous understanding will emerge from all the analysis is at best, highly unlikely. But this is not the place to engage in a full explication and deconstruction of civil society. Burnell and Calvert draw our attention to the questions raised and critiques made by scholars on the idea, theory, and practice of civil society. For example, much of the conventional assumptions about civil society has been challenged, including the question of its autonomy vis a vis the state. It is suggested by Chadhoke in her study of India that we might want to see state and civil society as organically linked “through structures of power”. For Gordon White state and civil society are complementary, for Whitehead, they are dense in some locales and time periods and sparse in others, and new manifestations do not necessarily replicate old forms of civil society.
Questions arise on what should be included or left out in a definition of civil society in democratization, and such questions are especially relevant for analysis on Nigeria where the country is still democratizing. In this regard, should one include only civic associations and social movements or also embrace “uncivil society”? While Whitehead argues for a more restricted definition, Nelson Kasfir supports a more inclusionary perspective. Writing about Africa, he contends that if one excludes “aggressive”, “anti-democratic” ethnic and religious organizations, it is tantamount to leaving out much that is meaningful. Chandhoke makes germane point about the lack of internal coherence, fragmentation, divided and hierarchical structure of civil society. Burnell and Calvert’s solution is to move away from the tendencies to define the “truly civil”, since this causes over-selectivity and labelling some organizations uncivil, pre-civil or non-civil just because they are traditional, authoritarian, or pre-capitalist. The concept has also been coopted by the promotion of democracy enterprise that is sponsored by the developed countries and the institutions that they support.
To what extent are phenomena encompassed by social self-organization already constitutive of "civil society"? It is also necessary to consider NGOs and their emergence in the context of the new manifestations of late 20th Century globalization, and the extent to which they contribute to reinforcing the status quo in terms of the hierarchy of power in the world, and the consequent ideological hegemony on development priorities. According to Yash Tandon:
Most NGOs in Africa are purely functional, whether they are working in the area of welfare, development, refugees, debt or human rights. There are only very few that might be considered as ‘thinking’ NGOs, organizations that sit back and reflect on what they are doing and how their particular activity is related to the broader issues related to state, society and development in the present international conjuncture. Unthinkingly, thus, many purely functional NGOs that used to undertake ‘development’ work in Africa have now shifted their resources to welfare and refugee work. Many of them are doing ‘good work’ in these fields, no doubt, and yet they unwittingly help perpetuate the very conditions that they seek to alleviate.
Soetan in Contesting the Nigerian State…. considers the active role played by feminist Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the three democratization phases since Nigeria‘s independence from British colonial rule in 1960. In exploring the relationship between feminist CSOs and democratization in Nigeria, she considers the impact of the feminist CSOs, the extent to which their agendas are compatible with gender equity, and whether their engagement with democratization has furthered gender equity in Nigeria. Soetan contends that while feminist CSOs have been most active at the decisive periods of Nigeria’s democratic experience, women have not had gains accrue to them as measured by their representation and participation in decision making. She critiques the tendency to incorporate token women into positions of power in the Nigerian state, despite their organized activism in feminist CSOs against colonial and military rule, in defense of women’s rights, in advocacy for women’s empowerment and in critiques of “mis-governance.“ However, Soetan also critiques feminist CSOs for using ‘advance and retreat’ strategies instead of building “long term strategies for engaging the state and advancing gender equality.”
Much of the organizational responses to the Boko Haram insurgency are by women’s organizations that formed the Women for Peace and Justice Coalition. Some of these organizations also belong to the #BringBackOurGirls movement. However, they have not managed to capture the imagination of the Nigerian people in a way that shows that there is generalized outrage to the brutal, harsh, and destructive depravity that has characterized the Boko Haram attacks. They are also not as organized as they could be, and their voices are being muted by the day, particularly in the midst of current election campaigns (January-February 2015). It also appears that the regional divide in Nigeria is being manifested in graphic relief. It doesn’t appear that the citizens outside of Northern Nigerian states consider Boko Haram to be a significant threat. This assessment is perilous and troubling not least because it would have been more desirable if Nigerians embrace a collective security perspective that believes that any attacks to any citizens of Nigeria should be considered a threat to all citizens. Such a perspective would have produced outrage and generated more calls for the state to wake up to its responsibilities of security guarantees to all citizens of Nigeria, regardless of their location.
There are also definitional complications with the concept of civil society. Equating self-organization to civil society is also problematic. Civil society is often described as a "third sector" beyond state and market. Some definitions explicitly exclude the micro-world of the family, or the "private sphere". "Civil society", thus, would comprise phenomena of social self-organization, in so far as they are located within (or directed towards) the public sphere and do not (directly) pursue economic profit in the market. If one takes this definition seriously, "civil society" extends far beyond the focus of "civil society promotion" by international NGOs and donor agencies.
We should in the first instance realize that that civil society, when it functions well, is one excellent means through which state accountability could be demanded. In addition, there are five observations which hopefully will turn out to be useful in understanding civil society, and also explain the perspective taken toward these debates.
(1) First, the intellectual roots of the "civil society" concept are extremely long and varied. One strand is primarily from a U.S.-based debate, taking off from the uneasiness about what happened to the civic virtues in the (perhaps idealized) pre-industrial "community" during modernization and urbanization. Another strand (more prominent in Europe) addressed the emergence of a "public sphere" in Western society, historically linked to the rise of the modern nation state and of the bourgeoisie (and its struggles with both, the feudal order and an authoritarian state) since the 18th century. From a quite different background, Antonio Gramsci's work on civil society in the 1930s became very influential, as it explored the opportunities of breaking the stranglehold of capitalist (ideological) "hegemony" within the public sphere (and, especially, consciousness) by socialist/communist movements. Later on, the "civil society" concept was employed by Latin
American and Eastern European anti-regime groups to oppose authoritarian or communist governments. Within all this intellectual and political-activist diversity, there is one common strand: This is the idea that a public sphere, different and separate from the state and from the sphere of private life, has historically emerged; within this sphere, citizens act towards society and interact with the state (responsibly for some "common good", ideally), organized in whatever form. Of course, this leaves space for a very broad range of possibilities of acting, association and self-organization.
(2) Secondly, there is a profound confusion between empirical and normative definitions of civil society. An empirical definition is simply concerned with what is actually "out there" in terms of self-organization and expression in the public, non-state sphere; it allows the inclusion of all kinds of organizational forms - and all kinds of political agendas, including questionable, militant or destructive ones which may be called "uncivil society" (I'll come back to that later). The entire concept used here is very much based on such an empirical definition of civil society.
By contrast, a normative definition is less concerned with organizational characteristics but focuses on objectives instead: civil society, according to this normative view, implies "a commitment to common human values that go beyond ethnic, religious or national boundaries"; it may constitute "a political project, or a sphere through which to resist, pressure or influence the state, and increasingly also the market." (Glasius 2002). Non-violence is usually, but not always a necessary ingredient - if Pro-National Conference Organization (PRONACO) wants to hold a civil society-based "People's National Conference" in Nigeria, how does it relate to Mujaheed Dokubo-Asari (founder of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF) one of the Niger Delta militias)? Who defines the particular values concerned - and does everybody who subscribes to them belong to "civil society"?
While one could appreciate the values and objectives concerned, it is clear that a normative definition will get us very far towards understanding the social and political dynamics of (civil) society and the state. At any rate, one should at least provide clarity on whether one favors an empirical or normative definition.
(3) A third observation refers to another extended debate: Does it make sense at all to talk about civil society in Africa? In the midst of the boom of the civil society paradigm in Africa since the 1990s, many doubts have been raised as to the very possibility of applying the Western-originated "civil society" concept to the African socio-political landscape. These doubts arose for many reasons, largely founded on the argument that Africa's historical development resulted in socio-economic and political formations that were so different from Europe or the U.S. as to make the "civil society" concept irrelevant or misleading for Africa. The lack of a strong bourgeois society, with powerful organized interest groups, and the dominance of the state in the public sphere make it indeed difficult for a civil society on Western models to emerge.
African social scientists have indeed argued against the very possibility that a substantial public sphere could exist in Africa: Peter Ekeh (1975) conceptualized Africa as having "two publics". Within the "primordial public" (kin, ethnic, "tribal"), individuals act responsibly and accountably; whereas the "modern" public sphere (on the level of the nation state) is neglected or, even worse, looked at primarily as a resource for looting. Mahmood Mamdani (1996) explained the non-emergence of a strong public sphere in the Western sense as a result of colonial policies that treated the vast of majority of Africans as "subjects" (to traditional, community law) rather than "citizens". These patterns continued well into post-independence Africa.
One could argue that the Nigerian state treats majority of the country’s people as though they are subjects instead of citizens. On the part of the citizenry, although there are many civil society organizations, there is also a lack of organized generalized outrage about the plight of fellow citizens in Northeastern Nigeria who are being attacked and killed by Boko Haram. Further, there is very weak response to the activism of the organizations that currently mobilize to bring attention to the cause of abducted Nigerians and their besieged communities, where lives have been lost and people have been forced to flee, creating a flood of internally displaced persons and refugees. Arguably, what is being described is the lack of a broad autonomous public sphere that is able to push for state attentiveness to important causes. The situation in the Northeast and parts of the Northwest is dire enough that there should be robust civil society demand for state accountability in terms of fulfilling its responsibility of defending and protecting Nigerian citizens from all harm.
The scepticism on whether or not civil society really exists in Africa explains a good deal of the problems we encounter in the public sphere and in the African state today. However, we do not subscribe to the conclusion that the "civil society" idea (even in its normative dimensions) cannot be applied to Africa, due to some kind of "Western exceptionalism". It is clear that civil society ideas and practices, when "imported" into an Africa context, may change according to local conditions. They may be adapted, accommodated, transformed, "re-invented" - processes that have happened with numerous other "imported" ideas and practices as well. From an analytical perspective, this, indeed, is the most interesting aspect of it all: We should not take always take civil society self-designations at their face value; we should not expect them to function necessarily in the same ways as they function in "the West". We should also not make the (Western) "original" concept the sole yardstick of measuring success or failure. We can however, assess civil society activism based on empirical evidence. Empirically, it is clear that Nigerian most actors within civil society has failed to function effectively as means through which the accountability of the state is demanded. Only the #BringBackOurGirls activists have vocally demanded rescue of abducted Nigerians, their reunification with their families, and security for the embattled citizens in the areas where Boko Haram is a constant menace.
The question of the adaptability of the civil society concept in Africa is a challenge: What do African societies make of the organizational and ideological model offered by the civil society concept? When talking about civil society in Africa, we should not only look at ideas, actors and practices that constitute "civil society" in the West; instead, we may want to look at "traditional", communal spheres of self-organization; at kindred- or ethnic-based structures; or even at the possibility that civil society in Africa may not only counterbalance the state or the market, but also kin groups or "traditional" systems of organization and control (and, sometimes, oppression) (Lewis 2001: 9).
Focusing on Yorùbáland, Olasupo in Contesting the Nigerian State…. attempts to make the case that the participation of women civil society organizations in state-building, state-creation and in challenges against the state have been commonplace in Nigeria since the pre-colonial era, and is documented in the 19th Century. He also contends that Nigerian women’s activism in the public sphere as part of civil society are responses to state inability or unwillingness to perform some of its responsibilities. He attempts to explore the origin, growth and developments of the transformations from the traditional state to the imposed European style modern state, and their effects on women’s associational life in the diminished realm of traditional governance. As well, Olasupo identifies past and contemporary instances of the marginalization of women in governance and the economy in Nigeria some of the methods and mechanisms used by women to play what he describes as an interventionist role in the state.
Although the Nigerian state is in the main, male dominant, Olasupo points to the significant impact of women cabinet members in traditional political systems, where women, albeit in minority positions in such cabinets, challenged the establishment. He gives as examples, palace women and women chiefs such as Efunsetan Aniwura in 19th Century Ibadan, and Madam Tinubu in 19th Century Abeokuta and Lagos, who were shining lights and powerful players in the politics of their lives and times.
More relevant to the subject matter of state-civil society relations are the activities of women as organized associations within kinship and ethnic groups and the impact of their collective efforts to challenge absolutist and corrupt governments and contribute to the maintenance of order and security. While women’s associational activities in the Oyo Empire in the 19th Century for instance, cannot be blithely incorporated under the umbrella of civil society, such indigenous associational efforts are relevant because they inform similar contemporary actions by civic groups, and contribute to the expansion of the public sphere. Led by Mrs. Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the Abeokuta Women’s Union in the mid-20th Century provided an instance of the incorporation of traditional modes of organizing collective action, methods of protest, and effective, brave opposition to colonial rule and its local surrogates (at the time personified by Alake Ademola). Okome presents the cases of Ibo women who engaged the colonial state in the 1920s, and successfully fought against taxation and the abuses of the Sole Native Authority system, and Lagos Market women’s resistance of colonial impositions. She emphasizes the similarities between these protests and that by Abeokuta women against taxation and attempted abrogation of the rights of the women of Abeokuta to control their crafts and commerce. Given these antecedents, it is not surprising that the activism of the
#BringBackOurGirls movement is spearheaded by women’s organization. However, there are significant limits to such activism, most significant of which is the passivity and/or nonchalance of most Nigerians in the face of the dangerous Boko Haram insurgency. Press reportage has dwindled significantly, and the Nigerian media has not covered the story as effectively and comprehensively as could be done.
(4) A fourth point applies to the problem of "importation" of a Western-derived civil society model into Africa. “Democracy promotion has become a growth industry. Many developed countries engage in a multiplicity of efforts to “promote democracy” by funding NGOs that they consider to be “civil society” personified. The mandate for such organizations is presumably the promotion of good governance, and in some cases, to engage in social welfare and provide services that the state is unwilling or unable to deliver. Soetan sees feminist CSOs in this light. But does autonomy matter? To what extent are the CSOs that are overwhelmingly aid dependent relevant and accountable to the populations that they serve? Is the state really irrelevant?
The #BringBackOurGirls movement is homegrown, and many women’s rights organizations are members. However, it depends on the volunteerism of members and is poorly resourced in terms of its financial capacity. As previously mentioned, it has been unable to capture the imagination of majority of Nigerians, many of whom were more persuaded by Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) misinformation that the Boko Haram’s abductions were fictitious. In terms of government response, it is not far-fetched to claim that the was essentially “missing in action” (MIA). The FGN spread the fiction that #BringBackOurGirls activists were unpatriotic. FGN claimed that the activists were making false claims about abductions. After the Chibok abductions on April 14, 2014, it refused to respond to reports by residents of the Chibok community that Boko Haram was in Sambisa forest until long after the insurgents had moved the abducted girls. It is shameful that FGN has thus far been unable to rescue the girls. The only girls freed from Boko Haram captivity freed themselves. President Goodluck Jonathan never visited Chibok, and had to be persuaded to meet with the girls’ families by Malala, an eighteen year old young woman who chose to eschew celebrating her birthday in favor of visiting and commiserating with the parents of the Chibok girls. The meeting was an example of an inept public relations overture by the President.
It is abominable that Boko Haram continues to attack communities, people in public spaces and educational institutions on a regular basis, inflicting death, maiming Nigerian citizens with rampant abandonment, destroying lives, property and robbing citizens of peace and well-being. It is also a symbol of utter disdain for affected Nigerian citizens that top decision makers never saw fit to visit affected communities, never expressed condolences until external actors pointed out the need to do so. The government of Nigeria and its West African allies also did not see fit to meet to consider coordinated responses to Boko Haram until invited by foreign actors to do so. The Nigerian state must do better. Even after the Baga massacre, President Goodluck Jonathan was more interested in expressing solidarity with Charlie Hebdo journalists who lost their lives after a terrorist attack than with Nigerians who lost family members and property in Baga
(The Guardian (UK), 2015; Abubakar, 2015). The belated visit to Maiduguri on January 15,
2015 (Vanguard, 2015; Adetayo, 2015) was an instance of
too little too late, (since the President’s last visit to the city was in 2013) (Vanguard,
and it smacked of a calculated electioneering stunt. If the Nigerian government cannot show that
it values its own people by showing empathy, providing relief, and defending
them from predatory attacks, who else is to do it?
Nigerian military forces have also failed to perform their constitutionally mandated duty to the Nigerian people. The military’s mutiny (resulting in a court martial and death sentence for 54 soldiers), refusal to confront Boko Haram
are instances of grand failure to defend citizens. But should one blame the reluctant military
forces? They have complained about being
out-gunned and out-resourced by Boko Haram.
There has been massive embezzlement of the public funds meant for
outfitting the military. No attempt was
made thus far to ensure accountability by the FGN. It is indeed a sad pass that the country has come
to, given that it was previously able to intervene successfully in Sierra Leone
and Liberia, and help both countries end terrible civil wars and restore some
level of law and order. Worse still,
there are allegations of human rights abuses against Nigerian citizens (Amnesty
It is imperative that the FGN give an indication of the way forward.
One line of criticism, summarized above, argues that real "importation" of civil society is impossible due to Africa's different social and political conditions; and that it must either fail, be inefficient, or will produce unexpected, or even perverse, results. This may, or may not be the case—it is simply a matter of empirical inquiry. Are NGOs efficient in achieving targets? How well are they grounded in local society? How much legitimacy do they have to speak for others? What about transparency and accountability in the NGO community? All these questions are intensely debated in Nigeria, but empirical studies remain scarce. It is impossible to give a categorical answer to these questions. More empirical studies would help to better answer these questions. It still remains important to observe that there are many NGOs in. Many remain functional and even active in fulfilling their mission, and have not been subjected to rigorous scholarly evaluation, although they must account to their funders. In addition, their mission may not related to issues of state accountability for defence. However, in a catastrophic situation such as the one faced by Nigeria at present, every Nigerian should be concerned enough to give voice to frustrations about the gross insecurity of life and limb in some parts of the country. They should be alarmed enough to do more than their routine tasks. This is yet to happen for most NGOs. It is yet to happen for the religious and ethnic institutions. It is yet to happen on the part of individual citizens.
The criticisms of civil society as more responsive and accountable to funders and questions about their legitimacy, transparency, and accountability can also be used to mute opposition to the state, which has adroitly maneuvered the #BringBackOurGirls activists into a corner by claiming that they are unpatriotic, alleging that they may be sponsored by foreign actors, and claiming that they are intent on embarrassing the state. #BringBackOurGirls is a movement composed of various women’s NGOs, as well as those with a human rights focus. They are organized in a loose coalition. They have succeeded in keeping the Boko Haram abductions on the public agenda. However, they have been unsuccessful in making the state live up to its responsibility of taking the security of Nigerians in a region of the country seriously enough to invalidate Boko Haram. Is this a failure of the #BringBackOurGirls coalition, or a failure of the state? Clearly, the problem belongs with the state.
A state that has to be convinced that a challenge as serious as Boko Haram is a problem to the territorial integrity of the country over which it should exercise authority. The state also should need no reminder that it should be more concerned about its citizens’ welfare than any other actors and entities anywhere in the world. No one should be given the impression that Nigerian citizens can be abused at will and the FGN would stay aloof, making excuses about the need for international assistance, allegations about Boko Haram having infiltrated the institutions of government, and doing absolutely nothing to correct the situation and rescue citizens from oppressive forces. Nigeria should do better. It is of no consequence that Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, and it’s irrelevant that it has the largest population in the continent, if it does not demonstrate that it is capable of defending its territorial integrity. No one else is responsible for the security of the peoples of Nigeria other than the state. If the state is unable to do this basic job, we should be alarmed. We should not wait for foreign governments, no matter how well-intentioned, to tell us to attend to our responsibilities as a nation, as a people, and as a state. However, the events thus far have shown that we are comfortable with other world actors lecturing and hectoring us about what we should do in response to circumstances in our country.
Another line of criticism is that "importation" of the civil society model may be efficient, but counterproductive in the long run, especially non-state actors are used to provide key services like health and education. Given the post-9/11 increased awareness among international agencies, about the need for building the institutional capacity of states, the wisdom of abandoning the state in favour of NGOs is questionable. Also, should international agencies have this much power in determining the course of development and management of politics in developing countries? What does this portend for the future? In the first place, it is important to realize that civil society in Nigeria is not entirely imported, given that there are indigenous and ethnic institutions that pre-existed the establishment of the modern state, and there are many homegrown institutions. There is also a difference between partnering and even seeking collaboration and assistance from abroad, and being entirely controlled by external agents. Indeed, international agencies wield too much power vis a vis actors in developing countries. However, this is not to say that they are always the source of initiatives in these countries. #BringBackOurGirls was not founded by any international actors. It uses current tools of information technology to engage in social media campaigns. Doing this is not tantamount to being controlled by outside forces. The state has the responsibility of ensuring all Nigerians that they are valuable, protected, and secure. It does not appear as though the state knows that it should inspire confidence in this regard.
A third, but very different kind of criticism of the idea and practice of "importing" the civil society concept to Africa refers to what may be called the "hidden agendas" behind such policy. It is sometimes argued that NGOs serve as instruments of external influence - perhaps even as instruments of undue interference into already weakened nation states. This view seems to be shared by many officials in African governments who see their power challenged by international actors and their "proxies". But the line of criticism can even be extended further: May foreign support for "civil society" forms of organization strategically target at re-shaping African societies on the Western (neo-)liberal model? Does service provision by NGOs, systematically disempower the state, while claiming to empower "the people" or the "poor"?
Hakan Seckinelgin (2002) even goes a step further and argues that the focus of international donor organizations on the NGO organizational model may actually serve to reshape the Africa's "broader" civil society and forms of self-organization, on lines that resemble the Western liberal model of society. Donors use NGOs as "proxy to civil society" (Seckinelgin 2002: 19) - i.e., as a proxy to the "real" and diverse African civil society which they cannot reach as long as it does not constitute itself in an NGO format. But does this mechanism really transform society in Africa, or may it just be another case of creative adaptation? Again, it remains to be tested empirically to what extent forms of self-organization that did not originally operate on the NGO model, re-invent themselves in order to get access to foreign funding.
Hakan Seckinelgin (2002) even goes a step further and argues that the focus of international donor organizations on the NGO organizational model may actually serve to reshape the Africa's "broader" civil society and forms of self-organization, on lines that resemble the Western liberal model of society. Donors use NGOs as "proxy to civil society" (Seckinelgin 2002: 19) - i.e., as a proxy to the "real" and diverse African civil society which they cannot reach as long as it does not constitute itself in an NGO format. But does this mechanism really transform society in Africa, or may it just be another case of creative adaptation? Again, it remains to be tested empirically to what extent forms of self-organization that did not originally operate on the NGO model, re-invent themselves in order to get access to foreign funding.
(5) The fifth, and final, remark on "civil society" is an observation of a more abstract kind. Throughout this chapter, we have referred to forms of social self-organization that (and in so far as they) relate to the state - and, especially, relate to the failure of the state to guarantee security, provide services etc. But is "civil society" really only about engaging the state (or substituting for its deficiencies)? In fact, working with or in relation to the state (making demands on it, criticizing it in order to improve policy, etc.) is only one of at least two different options, as regards the mode of engagement between (civil) society and the state. The other option is disengagement, or the insistence on autonomy. This option has always been a prominent one in African studies, especially in the study of pre-colonial and colonial history. But it has also been applied to post-independence settings, for example by Goran Hyden (1980) who analysed relationships between farmers and the Tanzanian state under the heading of the "uncaptured peasantry", showing how rural communities defended their autonomy by resisting a state that attempted to re-structure them, break into their traditional ways of life (even though ostensibly in their best interest), etc. Bruce Baker (2000) analysed "political disengagement" (or, alternatively, "escape from domination") as a very common strategy in both historical and post-colonial Africa. It was and is a strategy of groups and entire communities to keep, or re-gain, autonomy, by leaving an existing state and its pressures. This appears to constitute the very opposite of the idea of any "civil society" operating in the "public sphere". But when looking at the great variety of social self-organization in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa, we should always also ask whether actors actually want to engage the state, or rather seek disengagement in order to get rid of it. (In reality, both objectives and strategies may even appear in combination, or in different periods of time.)
Asaju and Asaju in State Fragility… make a failed state argument, based like Olukotun and Olasupo’s argument in Contesting the Nigerian State… on an assessment of the Nigerian state’s inability and/or unwillingness to fulfil most of the basic requirements of a modern state in the 20th and 21st centuries. As with virtually all other scholars, they consider the long shadow cast by Nigeria’s economic crisis and its deleterious effects “on the prevailing socio-economic indices of living standards in Nigeria, the breakdown in security occasioned by religious terrorists particularly Boko Haram Islamic sect, collapsing infrastructure and the government’s lack of public responsibility and accountability to the masses” and claim that the state seems to have failed the Nigerian people.
The Asajus point to the palpable social discontent and disillusionment about “the dilapidated roads, infrastructure, fallen standards in education, collapsing healthcare facilities, lack of public utilities such as potable water and unstable electricity supplies.” Decrying the paradox of deepening poverty and unemployment, particularly among the youth the in the midst of oil wealth, they cast a dim eye on the profligacy, “opulence and sleaze perpetrated with impunity by the rulers at executive and legislative sectors of government”. Huge disparities in life chances due to the massive concentration of wealth in the hands of very few contributes to restiveness and great tension.
The Asajus point out as an instance of the disconnect between the government of Nigeria and the masses of its citizens, the announcement on January 1, 2012, by President Goodluck Jonathan that the subsidies on petrol were ending. This immediately resulted in over 100% increase in the pump price of petrol. As with previous attempts by previous administrations to end petrol subsidies, thousands of Nigerians took to the streets in various towns, cities and villages, and called for a reversal of the subsidy removal policy. Pointing to the consequent across-the-board price increase and inflationary spiral. For many Nigerians, since the country is Africa's biggest oil producer, cheap petrol is the only benefit they derive from the nation's oil wealth, and the subsidy removal was tantamount to both inflicting great pain on them and denying them the benefits of accessing the proceeds of resources that belong to all Nigerians. As with previous administrations, the Goodluck Jonathan administration backed down in the face of widespread public protests and reduced, rather than abolish the petrol subsidy. Currently, given the precipitous fall in the price of petroleum in the international market, the Nigerian state again succumbed to what is comparably milder pressure from labor to lower the pump price of petroleum. The FGN lowered the pump price by only 10 naira. The reduction in prices is of course, not as much as that expected by those demanding it, but it seems that the 2012 experience taught the FGN a lesson on the importance of diffusing tension, instead of waiting for escalation, and consequent confusion.
The Asajus emphasize the role of the IMF in pushing the Nigerian government to remove the subsidy. They also comment upon the public distrust of the “government due to inconsistency in policies, extreme corruption, lack of direction and willpower to effect transformation.” They criticize the Nigerian state for abdicating its responsibilities and for privatization of public facilities and failure to honor agreements entered into with labor and professional unions, and most especially, the Nigerian people. For the Asajus, the logic of the state’s decisions is indecipherable, because it manifests total lack of awareness of the significance of the Arab Spring revolution sweeping through the North African countries of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They attribute the search for alternatives by the people to state failure to provide social services. There is no doubt that in 2014, the Asajus’ criticisms are still apt. Service provision remains poor. Some state officials may attribute the inability to provide services to the refusal of Nigerians to pay taxes. This justification is spurious, since the state should also be able to levy and collect taxes. Doing so is not optional. It is imperative, and also, is a measure of state power.
For the Asajus, the church as a viable alternative to the state in this regard, because it has the moral responsibility to be concerned about the welfare of the poor and oppressed, and should be outspoken in criticizing abuse of power and corruption, it also has historically contributed a great deal to the welfare of Nigerians. However, the Church also must put its house in order, because it is beset by many of the same problems that afflict the state. Similar to the subject-matter and perspective of the Asajus, Omotoye and Campos in Contesting the Nigerian State…. also focus on the role of the Christian Church in providing alternatives to the state in providing education and social welfare.
While they point to the ambivalent history of the Church in propagating Western education and facilitating access to health care, as well as supporting the colonial and imperial efforts to dominate and exploit Nigerians, they also see a role for the contemporary Church in fostering civic engagement and promoting ethical politics. I see the Church as wanting in this regard. There seems to be more of a desire to move in the corridors of power and a collusion with the state and wealthy, powerful individuals than a desire to be Christ-like in the preference for frugality, modest material conditions, self-sacrifice and fulfilling the prophetic mission of speaking truth to power.
Omotoye and Campos draw attention to the Christian missionaries‘ evangelical and educational mission as well as to the unintended consequence of the educated elites that they produced becoming leaders of the nationalist movement and founders of the country’s early African Initiated Churches. While hopeful about the possibility for the Church to step up to the plate to fill gaps left by state ineptitude or lack of capacity, they also emphasize the divisions within the Church and the disparate responses and attitudes of the various denominations to civic engagement. They consider the mainline Churches, and some African Initiated Churches such as the Cherubim and Seraphim, Christ Apostolic Church, Church of the Lord (Aladura) and Celestial Church of Christ as more kindly disposed toward their members‘ civic engagement than many Pentecostal Churches. For instance, The Deeper Life Christian Church is apolitical and concerned strictly with holiness and the hereafter. However, the Latter Rain Assembly, which is also a Pentecostal Church is led by a Pastor (Tunde Bakare), who is civic minded, activist in politics and concerned about good governance. Pastor Bakare has been very outspoken as a critic of the government of Nigeria, for corruption, impunity and incompetence. He has also not been averse to mobilizing mass protests against government policies that inflict undue pain on the poor. Rev. Father Ejike Mbaka recently also criticized President Goodluck Jonathan for not realizing that he should not run for another election as head of state, given his administration’s inability to deliver “the dividends of democracy” to Nigerian citizens
The Church must do better. Part of what ought to be done is to follow the examples of the brave clergy who have dared to criticize powerful Nigerians, including the head of state. Such critiques are also part of the norms of a well-functioning democracy. Instead, some Nigerians have chosen to see criticism of incumbents as disloyalty. We should also be alarmed by such responses because they come from a refusal to understand the basics of democracy.
Omotoye and Campos echo the concern expressed in many chapters about the rise of Jama’atul Ahlus Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (Brethren united in the pursuit of holy war), popularly known as Boko Haram, a radical Islamic militia, and the implications of its use of armed and violent methods to terrorize its perceived enemies—the Nigerian state, Christian Churches, and corrupt leaders of all stripes, including Muslims. They see the threat presented by Boko Haram as one of the most serious challenges to both state and Church in contemporary Nigeria, and implicitly fear the consequences on dampening civic engagement and increasing insecurity, particularly in Northern Nigeria. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) under the leadership of Ayo Oritsejafor and the leadership of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) seem to have thrown their weight behind the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Oritsejafor’s plane was used to carry $9.3m in cash to South Africa, with an Israeli and an agent of the Nigerian government on board, to purchase arms and ammunitions clandestinely. The South African government confiscated the money
(Godwin, 2014), and the Nigerian
government claimed that the clandestine purchase was due to the US blocking
Nigeria from legally purchasing arms and ammunition. The Oritsejafor response was that the plane
was leased without his knowledge.
However, the closeness between Oritsejafor and President Goodluck
Jonathan, evidenced by his participation in the Presidential entourage on a
trip to Israel (P.M. News, 2014; Premium Times, 2014). The CAN should be non-partisan. It cannot be said to be so.
Obadare in Contesting the Nigerian State… inquires into the meaning and limits of citizenship in contemporary Nigeria. He criticizes Christian and Muslim leaders and Nollywood film industry, particularly the Christian productions within it for intolerant and harsh rhetoric characterization about Nigeria’s homosexual populations. Obadare considers the struggles by homosexuals—a group whose struggle is often dismissed as arising from a foreign agenda—to legitimize the identity they affirm. He also considers the civic engagement by homosexual groups and their efforts to claim their entitlement to the full rights of citizenship in Nigeria. He examines attempts to silence and marginalize the individuals and groups that claim homosexual identity; the scathing, derisive and condemnatory discourse about homosexuality; sexuality and notions of sexual identity and rights, and the recent escalation of the discourse in the public sphere. Obadare argues that the situation pits the defenders of gay rights “against the rump of the political elite, the theocratic class, and the mainstream media,” and is a crucial aspect of a much needed “expansion of the public sphere, and the development of deliberative capacity within the country’s civil society.” Why did the discourse on sexuality and homosexuality become public and publicly debatable? Obadare encourages a perspective that considers the evolution of a social environment where four factors had become important: “HIV/AIDS and the transformation of popular attitudes towards sex; the role of gay rights groups in the circulation of new discourses about the rights of sexual minorities; the emergence of sexuality as an issue central to international development, especially the promotion of sexual rights as human rights; and finally, the emergence of new communicative media with the power for the dramatization of private concerns.”
Giving cogent examples of its existence in the country, Obadare debunks the notion that homosexuality is foreign to Nigeria. He also argues for the importance of including all groups in the body politic as participants in civil society. Although he contends that deliberation is a fundamental aspect of democracy, Obadare recognizes that it is necessary but not sufficient for its realization. He also argues that discourse about homosexuality and sexuality “carries the unanticipated benefit of forcing a rethink of social axioms relating to sexual and reproductive relations, social citizenship, and national identity.” The important point being made by Obadare should not be obscured by whether or not one likes or dislikes homosexuality. The point is that there should be a free market of ideas in a democracy. The public sphere should be large enough to accommodate many different perspectives. There should be freedom of association, freedom of expression, and respect for attempts to actualize social citizenship. Full understanding of what all this entails is yet to be seen in Nigeria.
I have reserved dealing with what is likely to be the most controversial concept to the last part of this conceptual exploration: "Uncivil society". “Uncivil society" is intended to provoke critical reflection about one of the comfortable concepts that we are all accustomed to: "civil society". At the same time, although the term "uncivil society" hardly represents an analytical concept, it has a heuristic value, inviting one to think about ambivalences and contradictions, and it is useful for exploratory purposes.
Googling "uncivil society", it turns out that the term was used sporadically in a variety of contexts already in the 1990s. It made it first "official" appearance in 1999, when the United Nations General Secretary's report on the state of the organization employed it to refer to the "netherworld economy" of non-state criminal networks (e.g., drugs and arms trades) that operate on the fringes of the globalizing international system, or in its uncontrolled spaces created by failing or collapsed states (United Nations 1999; see also Cardoso 2003 who added terrorist groups to the picture).
In the academic world, usage of the term "uncivil society" so far is very limited. A workgroup at the Central European University (2004) uses it, similarly to the approach taken here, for "sorting civil from uncivil social configurations and activities" and for other explorations along the borderline of the civil society concept, e.g., the changing character of the public and private spheres in Western societies. Other references are to negative trends in processes of political liberalization (especially in Eastern Europe), referring to right-wing extremist parties or religious radicalisation.
Interestingly, the concept has made some inroad into Nigerian studies and is applied to the Niger Delta conflict (Ikelegbe 2001) and to the militant ethnic radicalism that manifests itself in “militias” and “vigilante” groups (Ukiwo 2002). The most systematic approach is to be found in a 2004 book by Adedayo O. Adekson (2004), who discusses the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), the Ijaw Youth Council and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra with reference to “civility” (and “incivility”, as he calls it). All three movements arose from political protest against repressive government practices; at the same time, at least the OPC, and even more markedly some other “vigilante” groups such as the “Bakassi Boys” (Harnischfeger 2003) provided security for local communities in situations where the state’s police force was abysmally failing to provide protection from crime. Boko Haram is both similar and different. Like these groups, it uses violence to achieve its objectives. However, it is not a vigilante group but an insurgent force that wants to take over and control Nigerian territory. Its use of violence is both quantitatively and qualitatively different from that of the vigilante groups. For one thing, it has superior, more sophisticated arms and ammunitions. For another, it seems to have them in huge quantities that are significant enough to scare Nigerian armed forces. Finally, to a greater degree than the vigilantes, it is vicious, brutal, and uncompromising in using multiple terror tactics to barrage any community that it chooses to attack.
It ought to be clear to the FGN now that it has left Boko Haram alone too long. Why did it do so? One can only speculate. Only the Jonathan administration can give accurate answers to this question.
For Adekson (2004: 136-40), the overtly militant movements which openly embrace violent threats up to the point of challenging the state’s legitimate monopoly of force, present “theoretical anomalies”: By their social composition and their character as authentic forms of self-organization, they are obviously aspects of Nigerian civil society, in a wider sense. But they display few of the “civility” characteristics usually attributed to the latter. Of course, a “theoretical anomaly” only arises out of an assumption that the empirical and the normative definitions of civil society (see above) are congruent - which clearly is not the case, and thus leads to confusion. In fact, Nigeria’s militant ethnic radicalisms provide a conceptually interesting mix of strategies vis-à-vis the state: On the one hand, they challenge the state, frequently in violent forms (or employing threats of violence); on the other hand, they already appear to stand on the brink of disengagement and secession. In the meantime, at least some of the groups offered to participate in the “re-negotiation of Nigeria”, by attending the “People’s National Conference” scheduled by PRONACO for June 2005. Is Boko Haram to be seen in the same light? Boko Haram seems to me not to be an instance of “uncivil society” even as defined by Adekson. Again, it would seem to be both qualitatively and quantitatively different from past insurgencies in its determination to control and administer territory as well as in the ability to escalate its capacity to challenge state military forces.
One thing is obvious: The analytical use of the term "uncivil society" is limited. Even more obviously than “civil society”, “uncivil society” mixes up empirical and normative dimensions. When used as the opposite of “civil society”, “uncivil society” does not mean much more than “those aspects of civil society whose aims and/or methods I do not approve of ”. This hardly represents a very consistent core category of any social analysis. However, if used carefully enough, the term “uncivil society” continues to remind us of the ambivalences, contradictions, costs and, sometimes, “dark sides” inherent in social self-organization, of the more narrow “civil society” description or in a wider sense. The book, State Fragility…. uses “uncivil society” with these limitations in mind.
It is necessary to continuously engage in inquiry into the interfaces between state and (civil) society in Nigeria. The Nigerian state, in recent decades, has in many respects “failed to deliver" (in a broad sense). We must engage a number of empirical studies that address civic or popular reactions to this experience – including the variety of problems that these reactions involve. We must take stock, empirically, of the state of social self-organization in Nigeria, which one may call “civil society” in a very broad sense. These reactions of self-organization in the face of state unwillingness to deliver are expressions of the same Nigerian crisis and are indicative of the state’s progression down the slippery slope to failure. There is still need to reflect on “civil society” as a concept, and to identify its obvious problems in concrete forms, both as an academic exercise as well as for more practical reasons.
From a research perspective, it remains necessary to continue bringing together aspects and phenomena which are usually discussed in separate, specialized debates. For example, service delivery failure and gross inadequacy in basic utilities are usually discussed with regard to economic reform policy. It is desirable to pay attention and look into the ways in which people, individually and collectively, have reacted to these perennial failures, and what the successes and the costs of these processes of self-organization are. Further, it is clear that issues of territorial integrity and human security for citizens are of infinite importance to any well-functioning state. These issues must necessarily be addressed with great skill, will, efficiency, seriousness and dedication. We should be alarmed that this is not the case.
Another example is the discussion on “civil society” (in the narrow sense) which usually takes place as an immanent discourse on its capacity (and, to some extent, legitimacy). Scholars of African politics should continue to contribute to broadening the understanding of what “civil society” could be all about. A third example are the studies on local politics and local governance, many of which are situated in debates on “administration”. These perspectives should be brought into the wider debate on civil society and social self-organization, as well as into considerations of human security and even national security.
The two books to which I have referred extensively brought up issues and questions, including:
• The extent of "state failure" or "weakness", and reasons for it. To what extent is the failure observed systemic? "Failure", of course, has to be measured against what people actually expect from the state. This includes the question about what kind of state behaviour is or should actually be expected.
• A typology of popular reaction to state failure: What kind of self-organization can be observed? In so far as it is self-help, what kind of self help is it? Is it mostly individual or collective? Is it self-help at all, or do we rather observe disengagement, protest, or violence?
• The conceptual question, to what extent dimensions of civil (or, perhaps, uncivil) society can be observed in the popular reactions, in the particular area discussed, and what this means for the broader debate about civil society in Africa.
• Finally, there is the question of policy consequences: Are there particular conclusions to be drawn, as regards government policy, from the observations made in the particular field or area?
This preceding part of the paper is an expanded excerpt from the book: State Fragility…. I have attempted to consider the extent to which "state (failure)", "state weakness", or state fragility applies in the Nigerian context.
I now turn to the question of Human Security and National Security. These are ruminations generated by my alarm at the Boko Haram insurgency and its implications for Human Security as well as National Security in Nigeria and its West African neighbors. It also draws heavily on a concept paper produced to guide analysis on these issues for a recent conference in NYC. I will however concentrate my comments here to Nigeria.
Core Concepts II: Human Security and National Security
The conventional understanding of human security draws on old traditions dating back to the Peace of Westphalia, which also informed the post-Second World War international order, about the identity of the primary actors in the international system. The state was seen as the primary actor. The top decisionmaker in the state is considered a representative of his/her country and the primary agent through whom national interests are expressed internationally. State sovereignty and territorial integrity are considered key markers of a state’s identity. Developments in the recent past have contributed to increasing the actors in the international system, first to include Multinational Corporations, and later, Non-Governmental Organizations. Now, individuals are included. There is also a developing consensus that the defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity) while important, are insufficient, and that national security should include human security (defined as the safety of individuals from fear and want, and the wellbeing of the individual). I see human security and national security as intertwined because the fundamental purpose of the state is to guarantee and protect the security of citizens. The Nigerian constitution says as much. Let’s consider the constituents of human security. For Roland Paris (2001), it includes:
(1) economic elements, depending on the scope of human context, human security (e.g. freedom from poverty);
(2) food security (e.g. access to food);
(3) health security (e.g. access to health care and protection from diseases);
(4) Environmental security, e.g. protection from environmental pollution and depletion
(5) personal security (e.g. physical safety from such things as torture, war, criminal attacks, domestic violence, drug use, suicide, and even traffic accidents);
(6) community security (e.g. survival of traditional cultures and ethnic groups as well as the physical security of these groups); and
(7) political security (e.g. enjoyment of civil and rights and freedom from political oppression.
Seen this way, it is clear that human security is affected by national security, and vice versa. If Nigerians are not safe from attacks by insurgent groups like Boko Haram, they cannot enjoy human security. If Nigerians cannot be protected from Boko Haram and other insurgent groups, the Nigerian state could not be said to be enjoying national security, since territorial integrity and sovereignty are threatened by such groups. If such fundamental constituents of national security are threatened, how can the country possibly think that we should complacently carry on politics as usual? I say we should be alarmed. I now turn to the question of the implications of the Boko Haram insurgency for human and national security in Nigeria. Instead of writing something new, I merely reproduce the blog that I wrote a few months ago on the matter.
Conclusion: A Cause for Alarm—Boko Haram insurgency and its implications for Human Security as well as National Security in Nigeria
The importance of National Security and Human Security to the integrity of the state should be clear from my discussion above. The inability to guarantee either is enough cause for concern. The ability of any insurgent forces to prevent Nigerians in any region of the country from enjoying human security should be seen as unacceptable by the state, which should have put an end to the problem in short order. Instead, the Nigerian state presented a disorganized, inefficient, inept response and allowed Boko Haram to become a greater menace.
By abducting the Chibok girls and other girls, women, boys, and women, and through the gruesome murders and assassination of citizens of Nigeria and its West African neighbors, Boko Haram is successfully exploiting the weaknesses in the Nigerian political system to push its agenda of forcing its own warped perspective about the proper observance of Islam on all the people it encounters. Boko Haram brooks no resistance. Disagreement with it is met with overwhelming force that aims to obliterate opposition. It challenges the traditional and post-colonial state, as witnessed by its destruction of state-owned infrastructure, battles where it increasingly deploys superior firepower against state security forces; foiled abduction and assassination attempts on Muslim traditional rulers, including the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, in February 2013; the assassination of the Emir of of Gwoza in May 2014, the attacks against a former Head of State, Muhammadu Buhari, and the moderate Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi on July 28. UN House in Abuja was bombed as were numerous churches, markets, and countless public gathering places. Baga was sacked. Over 2,000 Nigerians were killed. Maiduguri and Monguno were attacked this past weekend. The terror and mayhem inflicted on the Nigerian people by Boko Haram are unprecedented in the annals of Nigerian history.
But Boko Haram is not the source of insecurity. The structural problems that were set in motion by the establishment of the modern Nigerian state under the tutelage of the British colonizers are responsible for the emergence of Boko Haram. The most serious aspect of the problems is the weakness of the state and the inability or unwillingness of its custodians to prioritize the security of Nigerians. This enabled not only Boko Haram, but other militia groups to thrive, and permitted them to act with impunity. It is the absence of the state and its lack of awareness of its most fundamental reason for being that allows an insurgent militia to strike at will, mostly unchallenged to wreak havoc and mayhem in a region of the territory under its sovereign control that the state itself says is “very remote”. To the contrary, sovereignty over an area means that it can never be too far to be availed of the same basic protections as the capital, otherwise, the state might as well discontinue its existence. Thus, the incapacity of the state to challenge Boko Haram and bring it to heel is a key element of the Nigerian predicament.
The indifference of the wealthy is a key part of the resentment and anger that gives Boko Haram a ready army of foot-soldiers to carry out its horrendous agenda. Structurally, there is a North-South divide that drives ongoing struggles for access to political goods, including the proceeds from the natural resources produced by Nigeria. Complicating that struggle is the Christian-Muslim divide, the sectarian divides among Muslims, the rampant and grinding poverty of the masses of Nigerians, which is more extreme in the North, the mass unemployment of even educated youth, inadequate and atrociously barren educational opportunities of the children of the poor, lack of social welfare for the teeming masses, and increasingly, a refusal to accept this as a perpetual fate of the poor who bow and kow tow to the wealthy, who are indifferent to their plight
A third element is the embrace by even those who barely managed to claw their way into middle class status, of the gross inequities and stark inequality that is writ large in Nigerian society. These are people who have escaped poverty and never want to see it again. They thus distance themselves from the plight of the poor. Many only get passionate when they are consuming the exploitative and manipulative interpretations of their chosen religion’s tenets by their favorite "Man or Woman of God”/clergy. The wealthy spend their too often ill-gotten resources with wanton disregard for the plight of the struggling masses. The state elite is part of this nouveau riche, and it is also blatantly uncaring about the poor and oblivious to their needs. It was caught unawares when Boko Haram came calling. It still refuses to go beyond its very limited comfort level because it would rather see the problem as one caused by its political enemies who would rather not have a replay of a Jonathan administration. Rather than swiftly deal with the insurgency and defuse the situation by attacking its underlying causes, the Federal Government of Nigeria continues to embrace policies that don’t work, while Boko Haram waxes strong and boldly declares a Caliphate.
Boko Haram’s violent reign of terror has not been checked in any appreciable way by the Nigerian government and this has caused a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. 3 million people have been displaced by this violence. Millions have also escaped from affected areas to neighboring countries. They are in dire straits and there’s no meaningful response by NEMA and the various SEMAs. The inability of the Nigerian state to check Boko Haram, (which by the way, is not the first insurgent movement in the area, having been preceded most recently by the Maitatsine millenarian movement in the 1980s), is at the heart of the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Let’s be clear, Boko Haram may bear some resemblance to Maitatsine, but it is also different from it and from similar millenarian movements. For one thing, it has superior weaponry, and what appears to be more sophisticated strategies. For another, its aims appear to be grander and its attacks on civilians also appear to be unprecedented both in scale and ferocity.
As the humanitarian crisis unfolds, there is devastating disruption of everyday life and the tendency of the wealthy to distance themselves from the plight of the poor means that many in close proximity to the affected areas also do not see this crisis as their problem. It is the problem of the vulnerable poor. The farther the distance of the wealthy to the epicenter of the Boko Haram controlled zone, the more their blasé attitude and determination to carry on business as usual. Nigerians should be ashamed! Even so, there is a possibility of redemption if we all gird our loins and engage the struggle of making sure that we rescue those beset by Boko Haram predators, and by so doing, begin to rescue Nigeria from its serious structural flaws that are most damaging to the body politic.
The state governments in the Northeast of Nigeria where Boko Haram has been most destructive have also succumbed to imposing “easy” solutions, such as the establishment of vigilante groups to battle Boko Haram. Regardless of the success of the vigilantes, it is difficult to see the groups as advantageous to the corporate integrity of the state. Vigilantes are not legally constituted entities. They may be seen by pragmatic people as a stop-gap but they challenge the very existence of the state because they are in essence an admission that the state has failed.
Being the largest economy in Africa is well and good, but it means nothing if there is no peace and security, if majority of Nigerians are still scrabbling in the dirt for their day to day sustenance, if Nigeria’s communications infrastructure is at best inadequate, at worst, decrepit and decayed; if the educational system is full of substandard institutions that are poorly funded and neglected because the children of the wealthy and upper middle class have alternatives, often in the ivy league institutions of these United States and other Western countries. It is at the very least, most unseemly that the majority of the citizens of a country as wealthy as Nigeria are in the dire straits that have become their norm. Growing into the true manifestation of the largest economy in Africa means Nigeria begins to take care of ALL its people. Since there’s no existing culture of doing this in a serious way, doing it well will be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
#BringBackOurGirls is a clarion call that the largest economy in Africa and the most populous country in the continent do its job and rescue the abducted Nigerian girls, boys, women and men from Boko Haram, and foreground the human security of its citizens in order to rescue its tattered reputation and restore its respectability in the comity of nations. Nigerian activists and scholars should be concerned about the problem of human security in West Africa, Boko Haram’s role in catalyzing the crisis of the African state, and the tragic consequences for Nigeria’s teeming masses as well as their West African neighbors. They should participate in suggesting solutions that prioritize the rescue of the Nigerian girls, women, boys and men as well as make actionable suggestions on how to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis. They should also suggest long term solutions to the crisis of development in Nigeria and its West African neighbors. It is incredible that we are not all alarmed enough to have risen to this challenge already. We all need to do better. Members of the MSS programme and the faculty members in the Political Science Department at the University of Ibadan have the skills, knowledge base, and experience to be able to rise to the challenge of rescuing Nigeria from the slide down from state fragility into state failure. Thank you.
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