Foreign Policy Journal: Nigeria as a Failed State

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Generally speaking, nation-states are legal entities that enjoy permanent population, a well-defined territory, and a government capable of exercising sovereignty. Mostly referred to as countries, they are the primary units of the international political and legal community which emerged out of the collapse of the feudalistic system in “old Europe.” Over time however, some states may become weak or collapse (fail). They fail because, generally, they can no longer deliver political goods to the vast majority of her citizens, and they cease to function in accordance with intermestic law and norms.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, a number of African countries experienced state collapse. Somalia, Sierra Leone and Liberia come to mind. Many others were moribund with decaying political institutions, and a rapidly failing public service scheme. In short, the majority of African governments were struggling to administer the most basic functions of a modern state. There were several reasons for these, i.e. the colonial heritage of most African states; their inherent disadvantaged position within the international political and economic system; crisis of accumulation, crisis of governance and crisis of legitimacy. Additionally, they performed poorly on the United Nations Human Development Index.

Joel Migdal’s “Strong Societies and Weak States” luminously discussed the issue of state failure. In summary, weak states are characterized by: (1) Low levels of legitimacy, as decisions are not widely accepted as authoritative and binding upon all citizens; (2) They have very little capacity for independent analyses of their own development problems as well as for designing adequate strategies; (3) They have low capabilities to collect taxes and spend government revenue in a planned way; (4) Their administrative capacity is insufficient to implement decisions taken or policies adopted by the government; and (5) They have very limited influence on the pattern of societal development in their countries.

The July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Policy journal, in concert with Fund for Peace, discussed the state of failure of failing states, stating that “the problems that plague failing states are generally all too similar: rampant corruption, predatory elites who have long monopolized power, an absence of the rule of law, and severe ethnic or religious divisions. Apparently failure has both domestic and international implications; hence, “the world’s weakest states aren’t just a danger to themselves. They can threaten the progress and stability of countries half a world away.” Even so, “the vast majority of the states listed in the index have not yet failed; they exhibit severe weaknesses that leave them vulnerable, especially to shocks such as natural disasters, war, and economic deprivation.”

In all, there 12 indicators of state vulnerability, and these are: demographic pressures; refugees and displaced persons; group grievance; human flight; uneven development; the economy; delegitimization of state; public services; human rights; security apparatus; factionalized elites; and external intervention. In the top-twenty column of failed states are twelve African countries like Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Central African Republic, Guinea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Sudan. Nigeria is ranked seventeen.

According to Foreign Policy/Fund for Peace, “History is full of brutal leaders who have plunged their lands into poverty and war through greed, corruption, and violence. And though many events — natural disasters, economic shocks, an influx of refugees from a neighboring country — can lead to state failure, few are as decisive or as deadly as bad leadership.” Three African leaders received special mentioned: Omar Hassan al-Bashir (Sudan); Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe); and Idris Deby (Chad). The biggest failure of all, Nigeria, has had more than its share of strongmen: Sani Abacha, Ibrahim Babaginda, and Olusegun Obasanjo. However, Obasanjo was, and is still is, in a class of his own. He was a brute, a rogue, and a dupe and a monumental failure.

Policy makers, the oligarchy, and some Nigerians with nationalistic fervor may not think so; but available data, in conjunction with the social, economic and political reality on the ground points to, and supports the fact that Nigeria is a crumbling and fading enterprise. She has been for more than three decades. Further evidence of Nigeria’s thorough fetidity can be seen in the miserable condition the vast majority of Nigerians have been in since the late 1970s. These conditions are especially painful and shameful considering the fact that Nigeria is awash with human and natural resources other countries around the world would die for. But unfortunately, the country’s resources are being plundered, stolen and mismanaged; her institutions weakened; and the citizenry abused, disparaged and assaulted on a periodic basis.

Nigeria is a country living well below its potentials. It is a country that has managed to curb its people’s hope, aspirations and possibilities. It is a country that has failed to grant public goods such as security, public infrastructures, and an enabling environment for decent living. Any wonder then that — save for the government of General Yakubu Gowon — successive Nigerian governments have lacked legitimacy? At various times in the country’s history, government has generally been at war with its populace — leading to a feeling of dissatisfaction and estrangement between the government and the people.

In spite of Nigeria’s riches, she has been stricken with poverty of leadership, and poverty of ideas — validating Professor Chinua Achebe’s thesis that the difficulty with Nigeria is that of leadership. Nigeria must find ways to select and elect first-rate leaders with the appropriate vision, character and skills. However, the Nigerian condition is not hopeless. All is not lost. A lot can still be done to turn things around — including genuine efforts at good governance, strong and viable institutions; reorienting, educating and reeducating the populace; tinkering with a national culture that accepts nepotism, corrupt practices and mediocrity; deemphasizing some of the cleavages that makes national integration difficult to achieve, i.e. religion, ethnicity, and regionalism.

Here is the paradox, the absurdity that is Nigeria: she has the wherewithal to be great. She knows how to be great. She can be great. She wants to be great. With the right mix of leadership, national culture and resources, she could propel herself to the international stage. But for some incomprehensible reasons, she shoots herself on the foot and on the head again and again and again. Why? What’s the cause or the source of this self-defeating, suicidal tendency?

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julius July 4, 2007 - 10:52 am

This article was very thought provoking. I took time to check out the website of fundforpeace and observed that Nigeria was actually ranked #22, not too much of a difference from #17 anyway. I am one of those that strongly believe that Nigeria’s #1 problem is leadership, no matter how good the subordinates are once the head is bad then the whole body is rotten, there is nothing anyone can do. Head matters a lot because head gives direction, it gives vision, and most importantly it gives leadership. Some people might want to say that most Nigerians when they get to position of leadership end up getting corrupt, I disagree, you know why because most good Nigerians that get to position of leadership are figureheads since the actually power lies with someone else. From the north to the west to the south to the east we have a bunch of vultures that will not rest until the wealth of the nation is completely plundered. These bunch of vultures now believe that ordinary Nigerians are cowards, that we cannot stand up for our right, that we are too lazy to fight, that N20 here, N50 there will keep us quiet, some of them strongly believe that what happened (and still happening) in places like Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone can never ever happen in Nigeria because Nigerians are afraid to die. I will never ever wish anything like war to happen in Nigeria because no matter what, that is where I come from, but I will like to inform this brood of vipers that something will happen if they fail to change their ways. I pray sincerely that all these people who have refused to let Nigeria prosper will not die but will be disgraced and humiliated these people who have nothing in their heads but ideas of how to steal and plunder will be punished. That time is coming, we never had anything like armed group in Nigeria but go to the Niger-Delta, that might just be a taste of what is to come if these people refuse to change their ways. I salute the resilience of my people, their courage, their longsuffering, and their determination, and I sincerely pray that their day of joy shall come. To those chameleons, vengeance will sound on each person’s head soon, God willing.

God Bless Nigeria.

Paul July 2, 2007 - 8:04 pm

Obasanjo is the greatest problem facing Nigeria today. For God Sake, what does Obasanjo want again from Nigerians after wasting 8 years in power without anything meaningful for the citizenry. The PDP loyalists should be told in strong language that Obasanjo is now history and should not be allowed to partake in Yar'Adua's government considering all the attrocities, curruptions and lawlessness that occured during his tenure. If Obasanjo is a serious man, how on earth can an ex-leader go to Jamaica for vacation after leaving power? If he had developed or resuscitated all the infrastructures in Nigeria while in office, the country would not be in this state of disrepair. Infact, if Obasanjo was honest to himself, with all the petro-dollar at his disposal while in office, Nigeria would have been better developed and Jamaicans would have been happy visiting Nigeria and not the other way round. Shamefully, he even had to rush home in order to fraudulently regain the chairmanship (BOT) position of his party. It is a BIG shame for him to tell jounalists that he does not care to know that Nigeria's strike on his return from Jamaica. This man keeps insaulting Nigerians and the other criminals in his PDP party are still trying to make him relevant in the new government. With the new powers given to him, he is now heading all political meetings and telling the new governors how they should conduct their businesses. This brainless ex-leader is still very much in control of the affairs of that country and if care is not taken, he will finally render Yar'Adua impotent. He likes to dominate, control and will ensure that the new leader does not succeed. Once again, what does Obasanjo really want from Nigeria and Nigerians after 8 years in power? If he is not probed, then, my conclusion is that, something seriously is wrong with that country.


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