AS they gathered during week-long low-key activities marking the country’s 62nd Independence Anniversary, Nigeria’s thoroughly discredited political leaders, despite their hypocritical precepts, could not ignore the prevailing mood of melancholy among the people. From the usual detachment from reality of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and his false claims of achievement, to homilies by other officials, and disquiet voiced by opinion moulders, the palpability of an artificial state unravelling and a presentiment of its future are unmistakable. Nigerians have a choice; either rework the doomed edifice or negotiate a peaceful loosening of the union.
The third option is fearful; failure to restore the federation to the path of rationality and progress could end in violent implosion and disorderly break-up. For this generation of Nigerians, resolving the questions of a common nationhood, of shared aspirations for the country’s over 250 ethnic nationalities cannot be put off for much longer. Tension is boiling over, and along with the disruptive activities of violent non-state actors, is reshaping the contours and dynamics of the state.
While the ruling elite are running the country aground and the people grumble helplessly, the fault lines in the federation, long papered over, have widened to chasms. For long, several international agencies have rated the country as fragile, or failing. To yet others, the country is already a failed state. In the Fragile State Index 2022 prepared by the US think tank, Fund for Peace, Nigeria ranked 16th most fragile country.The OECD’s State of Fragility 2022, using parameters such as economic, political and security, rated the country’s fragility from strongly fragile to severe. The World Population Review’s Failed States Report 2022 ranked Nigeria 14th and among the states “most in danger of failing.” Nigeria is like an adult crawling at age 62!
The WPR identifies two broad characteristics of a failed state: where the government cannot project authority over all the people and territory; and where the government structure is unsuccessful and cannot fully control resources. To many observers, Nigeria is failing; to others, it has already failed.
The dreams of nationhood nurtured at independence in 1960 have been shattered. Initial progress made in the first three decades has given way to incremental retrogression and gathering momentum. On all fronts, the country is in reverse.
Start with the economy: in the 1960s, there was rapid growth, propelled by the then three (later four) federating regions. Nigeria was the largest producer of palm oil with a global market share of 43 percent.Today, said PwC, it is fifth largest with less than 2.0 percent market share and is a net importer, ceding the first two spots to Malaysia and Indonesia, respectively.
From being the second largest producer of cocoa from the 1950s through to the 1960s and 1970s, Nigeria is now fourth largest producer after Ivory Coast, Indonesia, and Ghana. Similarly, Nigeria was once a leading producer of groundnuts, which along with cotton, provided revenues to fund the economy of the old Northern Region that today covers 19 states. Policies like import-substitution, industrial policies and estates, and indigenisation policies enabled the country to take tentative steps towards industrialisation.
The economy is in a disastrous shape. Diversity in exports and competition among the regions have been replaced by overreliance on crude oil revenues for foreign earnings and for funding the federal and 36 states. Self-reliance has vanished, replaced by neglect of productive initiative, agriculture, and mining.
The Central Bank of Nigeria has just raised benchmark interest to 15.5 percent, the highest in 20 years, as inflation reached 20.52 percent in August, and the highest in 17 years. The naira exchange rate hit N737 to US$1 on Thursday at the parallel market. The economy is disarticulated, spending trillions importing food and minerals it can produce, including refined petroleum products despite being a leading crude oil producer. Subsidising imported petrol may cost up to N6.4 trillion in 2022 in a N19.76 trillion budget that is to be funded by over N11.3 trillion borrowing. Total debt stood at N42.84 trillion by June 30 and servicing now drains over 90 percent of all government revenue.
Things have headed south since 1999 when the country transited from military to civilian rule. Under its degenerate and corrupt political class, Nigeria became the World Poverty Capital in 2018 and has maintained the title since then. The World Bank projects the number of poor in the country to hit 95.1 million by year-end. UNESCO says its out-of-school children now number 20 million, the world’s second highest after only India.
Corruption has degraded all institutions and hindered progress. The United Nations notes that corruption deepens inequalities, erodes trust in leaders and institutions and hinders economic growth, democracy, and sustainable development. Corruption drains about 40 percent from government procurement, says the US Department of Commerce and is on track to cost up to 37 percent of GDP, adds a PwC study.
It is estimated that Nigeria accounts for 20 percent of the $50 billion in illicit financial flows by multinationals in Africa annually. The Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Professionals of Nigeria reckons that over 70 percent of the national, state and LG budgets is lost to corrupt practices. Infrastructure is poor and the daily power supply of 4,000 megawatts cannot sustain a population of over 200 million, or an economy with GDP of $440.1 billion.
Education is in a shambles: adult illiteracy rose annually by 21.43 percent between 1991 and 2018, reported Knoema, with the number of illiterate adults rising from 24 million to 41.76 million in 2018, and 76 million by 2021, according to the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu. The ill-equipped, under-funded public universities have been shut for seven months by a lecturers’ strike.
Some fundamental factors may sound the country’s death knell: one is the faulty foundation.
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A natural federation; it is operated like a unitary state. The centrifugal forces are tearing the country apart. Attempts to cobble together a nation of people with shared ideals have crashed. Irrevocably, the country is divided, peopled by mutually hostile groups divided by region, ethnicity, and religion. As Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president said, “We have never been this disunited, not even during the Civil War (1967-70).”
Right on target, he said the country had no national identity or shared aspiration the way Americans have the ‘American Dream’ or the Chinese a common destiny. With this, there is no national consensus even when confronted with existential threat as is unfolding with the disjointed, politicised response to terrorism and insecurity.
Countries at comparable stages of development in the 1960s like Brazil, India, China, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea have soared. The dream of joining the BRICS club of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – to become BRINCS has failed. Flailing already under ruinous military regimes, the politicians who emerged as leaders since 1999 have accelerated Nigeria’s downward spiral.
Arising from the faulty structure, insecurity has reached state failure proportions: 1,743 persons were killed in 269 violent attacks by criminals in the first quarter of this year, translating to 19 persons murdered every day, according to TheCable Index. The figure reached 7,222 killed in the seven months to July according to the Nigerian Security Tracker. The governors of Katsina, Niger, Kaduna, Zamfara, Borno have separately confessed that terrorists control several local government areas in their states. Terrorists, kidnappers, oil thieves, cultists and armed robbers are everywhere.
Each successive government, rather than tame insecurity, ends up unwittingly as a force multiplier of crime and lawlessness. Impunity reigns. Nigeria exhibits classic isomorphic mimicry, where institutions mimic foreign ones but fail to deliver the expected outcomes. The Presidency and the state administrations successively throw up worse occupants, the federal and state parliaments are corrupt, costly, and inefficient; state legislators and LGs have been captured by state governors and rendered impotent. The judiciary is compromised.
WPR cites several reasons for state failure: a predatory and corrupt government, ethnic violence, insurgency, inability to provide infrastructure, social services or implement policies, violation of human rights and civil liberties, insecurity, unstable political and economic systems. Nigeria amply reflects all these.
Nigerians need to reverse the headlong lunge towards total state collapse today. The preoccupation with the 2023 elections is misplaced. Elections are heavily monetised, compromised and the violent selection system has crowded out the upright and those without money or rich godfathers. Nigerians are emigrating in droves, including the most skilled.
The 1999 Constitution is restrictive, federal only in name, but centralising in practice. The political class must agree, and Nigerians should insist on its replacement with one that devolves more powers to the 36 states, enshrines fiscal federalism, state policing and resource control.
Nigeria’s independence was negotiated based on a consensus by representatives anchored on true federalism; that solemn agreement has been destroyed, the fundamental support of the amalgam of diverse people knocked off. It must be restored to save the union.
The choice before Nigerians is plain: the ideal is fashioning a truly federal constitution along the general outlines of the 1963 Constitution with the 36 states as federating units each with its own constitution. States that so desire can willingly combine for economic viability. There is the other sensible option suggested by an increasing number of stakeholders: peaceful negotiation and separation like the Czech Republic and Slovakia’s exemplary “Velvet Divorce” from old Czechoslovakia; though preceded by riots, the decoupling of Singapore from Malaysia avoided war. All four countries are doing very well; Singapore and Malaysia are export-led economies, Czech Republic and Slovakia are vibrant democracies and European Union member states.
The other alternative is to do nothing and allow the forces tearing the country apart to run out of control. Only chaos, violence and inevitably, state failure can ensue. Everyone loses. This option should be avoided at all costs.
Nigerians should stop being accomplices in their own oppression and pauperisation. Democracy is never left to politicians and office seekers alone; that attitude has taken the country to the precipice. They should organise at every level through sit-ins, peaceful protests, petitions, and regular engagements with elected officials to demand accountability. South Korea’s democracy is enriched by its activist youths. Peaceful protests are legitimate tools in democracies. Nigerians should resist impunity and misrule.
The future looks dark and ominous; it is up to Nigerians to take back their sovereignty, checkmate the unruly, corrupt, and unaccountable political class, and create a peaceful, prosperous polity.
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