Is Nigeria Really A Failed State?

by Akintokunbo A Adejumo

The other day, Professor Maurice Iwu, the much vilified and hated Chairman of INEC, who allegedly conducted the most flawed elections in Nigeria in recent times, was in London, ostensibly to put his case across to the Nigerians In Diaspora. I was invited to come to this session, but unfortunately, or even perhaps fortunately, I was not chanced to attend, simply because of two reasons: One, I had something better to do in providing food on my family’s table; and two, I do not see any sense in my being there, as I probably will not ask him any questions, and also because it will be same old story. I do not expect him to accept that the election he conducted was flawed.

This is not to say the Nigerians In Diaspora who did attend this session did not have anything better to do or were not right to attend. It was simply a matter of priority of time, opinion and conviction. It will not do me any good attending. I was sure I will not learn anything new to add to my knowledge of how the 2007 Elections were conducted.

The 2007 Election has come and gone. It has been pronounced as flawed by the whole world, except the politicians and others of their ilk who gained from it, whether by rigging or by collusion with INEC and other associated government or political officials. We have seen what has happened at the various Election Tribunals where supposedly elected officials are falling by the wayside in large numbers, losing their seats or mandates, left, right and center, because the elections were deemed void because of many irregularities. In most cases, we are all happy and thanking God for His Mercies and Infinite Judgement. All these are enough proof that the election was flawed and that the Professor had done a very shoddy job, at best.

Based on these tribunal judgements and reversals alone, it is enough to keep his mouth shut. Yet, when the Yar’Adua vs. Atiku/Buhari judgement was pronounced, he was the first one to say he has been vindicated. Then Obasanjo said the same thing. I was aghast. Are these people thinking right? Or perhaps, they are just referring to the Presidential Elections, and not the whole elections?

The Court of Appeal judgement, as far as I know and as any reasonable Nigerian will realise, has not said specifically that the Presidential Election was not flawed. All that had been said is that based on the evidence that Atiku and Buhari brought before them, they do not have a case to say they won the election and Yar’Adua did not win. Nothing was said about the conduct of the election per se. That was not the Court’s judgement. That is a matter for another jurisdiction, if anybody brings it up.

But all said and done, some people are now, as they always do, predicting all kinds of catastrophe and brimstones and fire on Nigeria. I have read so many articles branding Nigeria as a “Failed State”, it is getting rather tiresome. Please remember that although Nigeria has never been referred to as a failed state even during the worst times in our history (e.g. The Biafran Civil War), all of a sudden, when the promises of democratic change is taking place, it is now being referred to as a failed state. Is there any sense in this label? What is a failed state? Has there ever been a failed state in this world, and if so, what will be the criteria for labelling a country as a failed state? So why is Nigeria an example of a failed state? Is it because the people of Nigeria are not happy with their governments; is it because of our renowned corruption that makes the largest black nation in the world a failed state?

Noam Chomsky (2006) defined a “Failed State” as a state whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory. With this definition and declaration, the use of this term for a country is generally controversial, and when made authoritatively, may carry significant geopolitical consequences. As such, based on this definition alone, and contrary to the “authoritative” Failed States Index and our own prophets of doom, I cannot see how I can support the labelling of Nigeria as a failed state. However, based on the criteria for identifying failed states, I will admit that Nigeria seem on the surface to meet some of them, but not all of them, but does not mean that Nigeria, as a state, or a nation, has failed.

In fact, the Foreign Policy magazine, which publishes an annual “Failed State Index”, listed Nigeria as a failed state in 2007. Nigeria was among the 20 worst countries the magazine listed as failed, occupying sixteenth position, based on 12 indicators of state vulnerability – four social, two economic and six political. Fair enough, I don’t have any problem with this. Please note that Nigeria was not included in the worst 20 failed states in 2005 and 2006, 2005 being the first year that Fund For Peace and Foreign Policy magazine published their “Failed State” list. So what suddenly happened that Nigeria found itself on that list in 2007? Things perhaps are not getting better for us despite our democratic dispensation. And I suppose it is all these indicators that foreign countries, and our own prophets of doom, are using to say that Nigeria will collapse within 20 years. If you believe that, then you had better be concerned, because before you know it, 20 years is here and you will not have a country anymore. So what to do? Pack your bags and leave Nigeria.

And what will become of the rudiment of the collapse of Nigeria? I suppose what they are saying is that the Igbos will now be able to have their Biafra, including the Efiks and the Ibibios and probably the Ogonis and Okrikas; the Yorubas will have their Oduduwa country and continue their age-long internecine wars; and the North will disintegrate into little Sheikdoms and Emirates, like in the Middle East. And you ask me, what will become of the old Mid-West and the people of the Middle Belt? Some other smaller countries where the Ebiras will live in peace with the Idomas? Or the Itsekiris and the Urhobos sharing a nation? Please think about it and decide if these are feasible propositions or alternatives to a failed or collapsed Nigeria. Just because it worked in the collapsed Soviet Union and Yugoslavia does not necessarily mean it will work in obodo Nigeria.

Going through most of these doomsday articles, one can see the reason why we have problems in our country. The simple reason is our lack of patriotism. Mind you, this is what I mean. The thieves-turned-political leaders stealing us blind are no less unpatriotic than the average Nigerian on the street of Lagos, New York or London who does not believe in the entity called Nigeria. We are all guilty. And this is more profound in that what we tend to do is not see any good come out of the country. We fail to see anything positive at all in that country. We point out all the bad things about the country of our birth whilst ignoring the good things completely. Surely, everything Nigerian cannot be all bad, can it?

Patriotism is like love. When you love somebody, you love them and accept all their faults, good and bad. You can then start to work on turning their bad into good, that is, if you yourself are also good. It goes the same way with patriotism. This is our country. We did not choose to be Nigerians; God in His Infinite wisdom chose that for us. And it was for a purpose that He did that. He could very well have made us Americans if He wanted us to be. But No, God chose to create some as Americans, and some as any other country in the world. He wanted it that way, so why do we, as mere mortals refuse to accept that?

We may travel abroad and spend donkey years in the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Canada and wherever, but you cannot change the fact that you are a Nigerian, no matter how you disguise it. Even go to our neighbours in Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, etc, and it is not better. Worse still, the people of those countries never regard you as a true citizen of their countries no matter how you change your accent or your way of life. Even our children born in those countries still have Nigerian names and their black skin and are never fully integrated into that society.

So my compatriots, should we now shy away from our country? Must we denigrate it in front of the world because we do not subscribe to the behaviour of those ruling us? Yes, the country is not your ideal country – no water, no lights, no roads, not a well organised society, too much corruption, and what not. When we start blaming the politicians, we must also share the blame. The unscrupulous and greedy political class that have been holding us ransom for decades did not just wake up one night and took the country over. They had been planning it for decades, and we had our eyes open all the while, in fact turning a blind eye, to them because in the early days, they were giving us crumbs from their tables, and we felt that was enough. Now that they are not even leaving crumbs for us to eat, we now realise too late our folly and are now trying to wrestle back our country from them. It won’t be easy, friends, it won’t be. They have the advantage now, because they not only have the power, but they also have the money. Throw in the natural resources of the country and also some education, and you will see these rogues (and that is being very benevolent to them) now hold all the aces. They even throw in a few tribal altercations and a few religious riots into the system to keep us occupied, distracted and diverted from their unholy behaviours.

And what did we do? We started backing out, escaping to all countries all over the world, sitting down in comfortable heated living rooms in New York, London, LA, Toronto and wherever, and start firing useless salvoes from thousand of miles away at our oppressors, and calling the country a Failed State. If Nigeria is a failed state, or eventually becomes a failed state, it is the fault of all of us. Nobody can absolve himself or herself from this crime.

In the days when everybody was getting “Udoji”, when we were spending 50 kobo a day to eat three square meals in the Universities, when water was flowing in our taps, and black gold from the earth was, and is still the source of our wealth; when high rise buildings were springing up all over the skylines of Lagos, and Yakubu Gowon was saying that the problem of Nigeria was not money, but how to spend it (a very good example of profligacy), nobody said Nigeria was not good. Nobody said Nigeria was not their country. Now that we see the political class for what they really are, we are blaming the country Nigeria, and now we know that Nigeria is no good.

It is not Nigeria that is not good; it is her leaders and her people. Yes, both of us. I accept my share of the blame, as a person. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything about the decay that we are seeing now, nevertheless, the fact that I was alive when it was happening and felt helpless to do anything is enough reason to be blamed. The reason being that nobody ever cared about the future of the country. We were all the while thinking about ourselves. How we will graduate from school, have a good job or business, chop money or share in the” national cake”, build a castle or three, buy three or four Mercedes Benzes, oppress our poorer brothers and sisters, and live ever happily after.

Just take a look at the businesses built by Nigerians in the early 60s to the 80s. All of them are down and cannot be sustained because the founders of these businesses were very selfish, they could not even pass the business on to their own children while they were alive, and after their deaths, the businesses died with them. The children are left with a mountain of debts, or if no debt, the money left behind quickly disappears because of litigations (many wives and many illegitimate children), and a dearth or lack of adequate knowledge to carry on the business. Where are those great business names today? Some of them were built on foundations of lies and deception anyway, so their future and survival had already been pre-determined even before their demise.

We are definitely not “there” yet, but there is no evidence that we will not get “there” at all. Things have been looking bleak for us for the last half century, at least in patches, but hope is not lost entirely. There have been good, progressive and positive things in our life as a nation; so also are the negatives and the depressing. These are normal phenomenon and are not unique to Nigeria. They are called teething problems. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water, should we? We have to not only learn to live with them, but also make concerted efforts to change the bad things that are pulling us back from being a progressive nation, corruption being our most important bane. It all depends on every one of us who calls themselves Nigerians.

The problem is when we are not telling each other the truth, or people are being deliberately misled by the people in power, or we are turning a blind eye to many atrocities committed by our leaders because of our own selfish interests (tribal, religious or individualism), then we have no hope, and we are playing into the hands of those hell-bent on destroying the fabric of our society.

At worst, Nigeria is a “poorly performing state” and at best, an “Improving State”, but it is NOT a “Failed State”. At least, not yet. It is not a “Successful State” either, I concur.

Again, it is we, the people of Nigeria, who have failed Nigeria. Nigeria, as an entity has neither failed us as a people, nor is it a failed state. The success and progress of a state depends on its people. We are the architect of our own country’s development, progress, well-being, etc.

We are too fractious as a people. Religious fractiousness, tribal fractiousness, social fractiousness, economic fractiousness, cultural fractiousness; and then unscrupulous political and military leaders exploit all these fractiousness and use it to grab and misuse political and economic power. But we can really transmute our fractiousness into a virtue, or weapon or as an advantage? Unity in diversity, they say. That is the challenge for anybody who proudly identifies themselves as Nigerians. Why don’t we practice this for once, and see the difference?

You may also like


SUNNY-GEORGE DURU October 2, 2011 - 6:03 pm

Its time to work and not too much talking.


come and give us a 10 minutes Ecumenical speech on your opinion during the GREEN R' Nigeria CONVENTION on 22nd Oct. 2011.

send your full name, email and phone number so we can forward other details to you. God bless you.

Ivie April 21, 2011 - 10:45 pm

Look at your country the so called giant of Africa burning and killing yourselves in the streets. If you were still colonised by the British you may be in a better state today. Why don’t you all just agree to split the country and stop this charade.

CORNELIUS July 23, 2010 - 11:24 pm

Well spoken sir. Nigerians, whether at home or in diaspora need to start contributing objectively, rather than remaining on the sidelines and hurling negative criticisms. we have no other country than Nigeria, and we need to start making positive contributions, NOW!.

Nath May 2, 2010 - 6:32 pm

Failure is defines as follows (this is the index used to rank failed states):

1. Mounting demographic pressures

2. Massive movement of refugees and internally displaced peoples

3. Legacy of vengeance – seeking group grievance

4. Chronic and sustained human flight

5. Uneven economic development along group lines

6. Sharp and/or severe economic decline

7. Criminalisation and delegitimisation of the state

8. Progressive deterioration of public services

9. Widespread violation of human rights

10. Security apparatus as “state within a state”

11. Rise of factionalised elites

12. Intervention of other states or external actors

Some of these do apply to Nigeria.

kenneth April 10, 2010 - 12:46 pm

Nigeria is not only a failed state but a collapsed state because it has dissappointed itself its citizens and the world at large. i am saying this without apology if i am to come to this world a thousand times i will never choose Nigeria as a place of birth rather i will choose chad. let those so called politicians and government officials take note that Nigeria’s problem has gotten to its peak and the last resort if not taken care of will be civil war part 2 and it will be very disastrous

Lanre November 30, 2009 - 12:09 pm

Hi Mike, I live in Nigeria and we are trying to enlighten the people about the activities of the organizations you indeed mentioned. if you are willing to join us in this fight to save Nigeria, please send me a mail or ring me.. and 08066503868. There is chronic ignorance worrying our people both at home and abroad. We are not giving up… we will put up a good anf patriotic fight for Nigeria. God Bless us…

sammie November 19, 2009 - 9:02 pm

You are so right sir we should see good in Nigeria and not focus on the Bad…C’on Mr. I don’t blame you you live in the UK with your family and write Nigeria is not a failed state come live in Nigeria for a week and please bring your family…you guys just write big words you are not different from the dirty politicians…

folarin November 2, 2009 - 2:51 pm

Nigeria has truly failed in all ramification….Please sir,what do you think the way forward is…I’m scared if my future is assured here in Nigeria..I’m in my pen-ultimate year busy preparing for my just started examination…

Tayo October 11, 2009 - 4:43 pm

I am afraid you appear to be naive about the issues in our country. For the record i live in the country, and you don’t. To think that our opinions on this website can bring about change to our polity is absolutely wishful thinking. I take a look at my little daughter and my heart is broken because i can’t give her the best education, that will allow her compete favorably with her mates internationally. Nothing is working, education, social amenities, legal system, political climate, just name and i will let you know its not working. I am deeply concerned about the future of the youth in this geographical area whether you want to call it Nigeria or Niger area. If we have tried an ‘arrangement’ for 49 years and it has not worked, why don’t we try another arrangement? Do we have to wait until there is a state of total anarchy before we think of something? That is my take on the whole issue.

Peter O. Ogunniyi August 11, 2009 - 1:20 am

Leadership (that is, fixing the right leaders) constitute more than 85 percent of the problems of Nigeria. At least, 85 percent of our leaders today got there through fraudulent elections. It is extremely difficult for them (leaders) to have the interest of people who do NOT elect them into offices at heart. Today, more than 75 percent of the population are living in abject poverty. Factories are closing down or relocating to other countries, even small businesses are collapsing because of severe lack of electricity. Every business and household depends on generators for minimum of 21 hours per day.

Virtually every problem like Niger delta crisis, electricity, education, water, unemployment, heath etc will become history if leadership problem become history. The PDP (“Politically Demonised People” or “People’s Destruction Party”) in government wants to turn the country into a party state.

God has blessed Nigeria with abundant resources, but mismanagement caused by bad leadership is our main problem. As for now, Nigeria is certainly a failed state. But if we can solve this problem (leadership), it (Nigeria) will automatically become one of the countries with the highest standard of living.

Mike July 23, 2009 - 6:27 pm

* by error I put ‘INIs’ but meant IFIs (which are International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, GATT etc)

TNCs are Transnational Corporations.

Mike July 23, 2009 - 1:15 am

Tremendously insightful article. As a budding student of international affiars your message of “Unity in diversity” is both hopeful and grounded in reality–despite the arbitrary tag “failed state.”

I just finished writing an article on so-called ‘failed states’ and I can’t help but offer my 2 cents here. I find that within the circles of international discourse, all too often they focus on the internal forces, rather than the external forces that lead to state failue. More than this ‘failed state’ referes to a condition–not a process. In other words, Nigeria did not just fail for intrinsiic reasons–INIs and TNCs played (and continue to) a hand in the process.

I’ll leave it at that as I could endlessly go on.

Your article is refreshing, and what you perceive as “salvoes from thousands of miles” might well be received as that which you hoped for: hope.

Efebeh,Vincent Eseoghene May 30, 2009 - 10:08 am

I totally agree with Ibe on the failed status of Nigeria but sharply disagree with him on the need for Nigeria to disintegrate,because it is ‘our’ size as nation and diversity as a people,coupled with our huge natural and human resourse endowment that put us on the map of a potentially great nation and people. The problem we have as a people is that of managing these huge resouses for the benefit of our people and indeed of mankind. Should Nigeria disintegrate,the fragmented units will certainly be too small to make impact in world affairs. I think we are better together but we have to identify our common enemies(our leaders) and take a decision on them.

cjw May 29, 2009 - 12:38 pm

1. Well written, 2. I agree with this. A lot of Nigerians indulge in pessimsm to such an extent that it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy(sad to say some of them are on this thread), they can’t seem to see that they are the problem as much as the politicians who govern them and that with them lies the solution. Somalia is a failed state(today), Afghanistan is a boderline case. Nigeria is not any of those categories, despite its problems of which there are many

Samuel March 20, 2009 - 2:44 am

You old people with chronic lack of reason and focus. It’s your likes that makes Nigeria a failed state. It gets on my nerves when you over 30 Biafra activists make stupid comments… like things would magically get better if nigeria just disintegrates. The same Nigerians who were in nigeria would reside in your separate state… each region is sovereign enough as it are. If we can’t make good of yourselves now, then we can’t even with disintegration. You are just greedy and selfish- like a typical Nigerian leader.

Ibe February 8, 2009 - 3:29 pm

I totally agree that Nigeria is a failed state. I’m waiting for the day we will disintegrate so that I can atleast have peace of mind. It is clear that we are not meant to be together. It has simply made us big for nothing. A situation where you don’t and canoot have a consensus in a country without a cry of marginalisation is disheartening. We really need to Divide. I need to hold another passport to salvage my battered image. I hope it comes soon.

lateef olokun November 19, 2008 - 10:33 am

it is ok

Ibe Nga March 17, 2008 - 2:36 pm

A state fails when it lacks the power to provide its citizens the most basic needs of man: security, water, roads, power, voting right, leadership, food, transport. If such a state has not failed, how do you define failure?

Adejumo March 10, 2008 - 1:21 pm

Sir, you have said it rightly and I do agree with you to an extent. It will be defeatist and pessimistic of us to say Nigeria is a failed state. I am referring to the country, not the rulers. Yes, the rulers of Nigeria have failed Nigeria and her people, but like you correctly and intelligently said, “HOWEVER, it certainly does not have to, nor will it, REMAIN SO”. That is the hope to which we all cling on. Expressing our feeleings on websites and through writings is our way of letting it be known that we cannot bear it anymore, and we can only hope our leadewrs read our writings and take note of our frustrations and feelings for the way they are behaving and playing with peoples’ lives. Please refer to my previous articles and you will see the pain in them. I, however appreciate your comment. It was well made.

Patricia March 10, 2008 - 11:53 am

Can you look objectively at Nigeria and say it is not failing? I do not think so. From an outsider (American) who has only visited Nigeria once, it was shocking to see the level of poverty that I witnessed with my own eyes, the lack of the government to provide a well-deserved and decent education for all students, no accommodations for the handicapped, whom some have told me are not considered important to Nigeria’s society due to their condition, and need I go on-and-on-and-on. It takes a lot to admit that something has failed or is failing–whether it be a friendship, a marriage, or a student who does not seem to be progressing ahead like his other classmates.

In my opinion (and I admit I do not know ALL of the issues enough at this point, but I DO READ AND STAY ON TOP OF NIGERIA), Nigeria is failing the PEOPLE most of all who live there. Where is their hope when life is a daily struggle? Where is their opportunity for improvement if education is not important enough to make sure ALL its citizens are educated, where is the oil and gas resources being put back into its economy?

My heart goes out to Nigeria, for they are rich with resources, but poor with the know how to implement the country and turn things around. Perhaps there are just not enough people (in power), who are working for the “GOOD OF THE PEOPLE”–and not for themselves.

My heart aches for Nigeria, for they are so rich in intellect, ability, and potential, but they lack OPPORTUNITY.

At this point, I would say, “Yes, Nigeria is a failed state in it’s present state”; HOWEVER, it certainly does not have to, nor will it, REMAIN SO. We do an awful lot of talking on this website, giving our opinions, making assumptions, putting our 2 cents into it, but in order for change to occur, the words must FLOAT off of the paper into some action. Faith without works is Dead. Just like words, without action are dead too!

God help Nigeria, for Nigeria is one of the wealthiest countries, and should not be in the condition that it suffers from. God send us and others to make a difference there. Amen!


Leave a Comment