Nigeria is an emerging nation and the proverbial growing pains are a part of the process. Granted, we have been undergoing this pain for longer than usual or permitted. Such phrase defines the nation properly. Lately, there have been a lot of ramifications over whether this country is a failed state or otherwise. While all those who joined the bandwagon in terming Nigeria as a failed state, none has defined what constitutes a failed state. Being thus removed from a proper definition based on certain inalienable criteria, one can safely assume that those who like to call Nigeria a failed state are merely verbalizing their opinion. Opinions are very subjective and thus often fail the litmus test of truth. This is not to say that opinions have no value.
To say the truth; Political violence has by and large been a part of the nation’s political lexicon for a very long time. In a sense, therefore, one could say that it is all part of the process, that indeed in our effort towards creating a fully functioning system of democracy, it is quite natural for us to come to terms with such realities. And yet there is the very logical feeling among people, as indeed there is among the various political quarters side our Nigeria that the prevalence of violence has been responsible in a big way for the continuing slide we have noticed in our striving for a democratic order.
One cannot overlook the fact that lately there have been a plethora of pseudo-intellectuals, sophists, paralegals and theorists who venture into areas where even an Irish elf fears to tread. They are armed with academic degrees, dressed in a mortarboard but lack sense and propriety. They love to jump to conclusions without checking or re-checking their first or second premises, ignore reasoning from particular cases but arrive at a faulty conclusion, at best. They love to court the sensational and present their views which in most cases are of questionable veracity.
Is Nigeria a failed state? Depends who you ask. There are those who will nod their heads in affirmation without giving it a studied thought. They are obviously opinionated and are led by their political ideology. There are others who will vehemently ascertain that Nigeria is not. They too are prompted by their political ideology. In comes the country director of WB, Christine Wallich, who seems to have remembered the Aristotelian/Ovidian ‘golden mean;’ the meden agan or the middle path; ‘thou wilst go safest in the middle.’ She seems to have struck a compromise within herself when she said that Nigeria may be ‘fragile’ but not ‘failed’. She was speaking at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Foreign Investors’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Her comments may not be acceptable across the board, but its is perhaps closest to reality..
Be that as it may, an objective scrutiny is perhaps necessary to project both sides of the argument [vis-à-vis failed or not] to those who care and leave it up to them to come to their own conclusions. A cursory definition of statehood will include that the criteria of statehood is met when there is a definite geographical territory for the people to live, a language, common heritage and traditions, a government and administration. Nigeria has come a long way in its struggle to re-establish a democratic form of government. The economic development has been optimistic. Efforts at poverty reduction and increasing the standard of living have been commendable. The annual growth rate of five and six percent is reason for hope. The infrastructure development is strikingly visible.
Population growth has been brought under reasonable control, macro-economic growth has been satisfactory, social indicators have been on the rise, incidence of poverty alleviation has been quite remarkable. These are some of the positive indications to nullify the argument of a failed state; and these observations are coming from the donor countries, including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Before someone ascribes this as a rosy picture painted by a partisan, let us also say that these achievements did not happen overnight or during the present government’s tenure only.
The previous governments also had their contributions. It is a fallacy to believe that during one government’s tenure, Nigeria could not be a failed state but with the change of government, it becomes a failed state overnight, so to speak. The logorrhoea of those who claim that Nigeria is a failed state base their argument solely on the failure of the administration in controlling the anti-social elements in the country, in failing to stem the tide of corruption, in failing to provide safety and security to its people, etc. These are all facts. True, the government has failed to do its job in these and other areas. But do these alone justify crucifixion? Let us look at similar conditions in other countries which hadn’t earned the disrepute of being called a failed state.
We have read about India’s failure to address communal issues which only recently resulted in the murders of thousands of innocent Muslims in Gujrat. We read about her failure to control Kashmiri ‘insurgents’ and many stories of human rights violation, including death in custody in the area. Insurgency and fighting for independence in her south-eastern part of the country has been a sore point, the state of Bihar is a hotbed for communal and caste riots. But India is not a failed state by any stretch of imagination.
A great country like the USA, is beset with racial and ethnic problems. Teenage pregnancy and unwed mothers are problems that the USA has been unable to find an answer for. There have been murders over the issue of abortion; clinics which perform abortion have been torched, bombed and people injured and dead. Discrimination and bigotry did not go away with the signing of the Civil Rights Act. Murder still ranks as one of the serious crimes. War against drug is all but won. Pakistan has her own problems of Shias and Sunnis, of Talibans and al-Qaedas. The frontier states are all but independent. But the USA and Pakistan are never called failed states. These are just a few examples that need to be cited to show that terming a state as a failed state is motivated, ill conceived. At worst, the so-called failed states have failed in certain areas of their capacity to manage and control.
There is a term in educational psychology called the Pygmalion Effect. It comes from Shaw’s play of the same name. In Shaw’s play, Professor Higgins takes up the challenge on himself about transforming an uneducated, uncouth street urchin named Eliza into a socialite. He succeeds after spending with her hours and days teaching her to read, write, sing, dance and be a lady. Psychologists borrowed this transformation concept and applied it to the theory that the so called ‘unteachables’ can be taught provided enough motivation and encouragement are given. The relevance of bringing this brief subject up is to try to make the malevolent to try not to be opinionated or inflexible.
One of the impediments to good governance for which many label us as a failed state is the dominant political culture and practices that our political parties follow. Once a party is in power, it is perceived by people that the party and its members come first; the public and the national interest take the back seat. This perception is not baseless. The party in power tries to consolidate its power and authority over every government entity. It tries and becomes successful in politicizing the bureaucrats, the police ands other powerful agencies. By nurturing a set of party loyalist, it tries to ensure its return to power. The party loyalists, on the other hand, exemplify the quid pro quo principle.
All these years after the restoration of elected civilian government in the country, it becomes important for everyone to evaluate the degree of pro
gress we have so far made in turning ourselves into a tolerant Nigerian society. The evaluation, we might as well note, will be quite disappointing. And it will be that because we have had cause to observe in the past fourteen years a gradual rise in the use of political invectives by our politicians and their followers across the spectrum.
The culture that has grown of politicians at the national level not communicating with one another, not playing their due roles in the National Assembly, et al, has caused serious damage to the political process. The process of democracy is one where a healthy respect subsists in politicians for one another despite the divergences in opinion among them. Political leaders at the senior levels are expected, as part of transparency, to socialize with one another and thereby impress upon the country that they are capable of handling matters of state when they are in power and keeping tabs on conditions when they lapse into opposition. That degree of mutual respect and tolerance has unfortunately not been inculcated in our political classes. There is then little surprise that the nation is left wondering, always, about the long-term future of the country.
Politicians in this country are yet to convince themselves that denigrating one another, through calling one another names of the most disturbing kind can only undermine their own position in the eyes of the nation. We are not about to point fingers as a way of suggesting which personalities or parties have been responsible for the growth of such a situation.
Suffice it to say that everyone, or almost everyone, in the political arena must bear responsibility for what has not gone right with national politics. Incendiary language and insinuations have been part of the pattern, all of which have again gone into causing an enhanced degree of divisiveness in society. It is time for the politicians and the parties they swear fealty to reconsider their attitudes to democracy. And democracy is a whole lot more than a holding of elections and the swearing in of a new government. It means a slow but sure inculcating of civility and etiquette among the political classes, towards one another and towards the country.
In most cases, these loyalists getting political support of the ruling party indulge in unlawful and even sometimes illegal practices. This entente between the ruling party and the loyalists is almost akin to a Faustian agreement. There are many other such misdeeds of the ruling party of the day that earn us the unenviable epithet of a failed state.
Nigeria is an emerging nation and the proverbial growing pains are a part of the process. Granted, we have been undergoing this pain for longer than usual or permitted, one should remember Professor Higgins and Eliza. Changes do happen when everyone wants to change. Instead of calling this a failed state, if we only worked together to make it a successful one, those malefic critics would not have any chance to write anything about. We have to clean up our act first; otherwise, we have to live with such criticism until we truly become a failed state.