The sovereignty of any state as a political unit is a fundamental factor in the international system. It presupposes the power of a state to, through a defined set of laws, control or govern both human and materials resources in its territory without external intervention. Though sovereignty has much more restricted meaning today than in the past, due to the interdependent nature of the global world, its meaning is not lost on world actors and scholars alike.
The implication of this is that a nation-state should utilize all the resources within its jurisdiction to make life meaningful for its citizens. This can be done by ensuring security of lives and property, provision of basic infrastructure and enthronement of good governance with a legitimate government as a driving force.
In the light of this, a failed state presents a situation where the state is incapable of meeting the above-stated responsibilities. Robert Rotberg opines that states start to fail when they cannot control their own territories, when they cease providing basic political goods like security, education and health services; when their Gross Domestic Product and the United Nations Human Development Standard of living index falls precipitously, when corruption is rampant and leadership legitimacy fades, and, especially, when sporadic violence turns into full-scale civil war.
In the recent past, failed and conflict-ridden states have been classified in some works to include Haiti, Liberia, the Congo, Angola, Somalia and Afghanistan. At the same time, Nigeria and Pakistan are in the class of failing states. Government apologists might want to adduce western bias to some of the indices employed, but one thing that is certain is that there is an ominous absence of good governance in these mentioned states.
This factor of bad governance, in most cases, is the cause of failure in these states. In today’s Nigeria, this is the reality that stares everybody in the face. State resources are not effectively utilized to generate public good but for private accumulation of the few individuals at the corridors of power. As a result of this, public institutions, despite efforts at privatization, are in a total shambles such that over 80 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to standard education, safe water, qualitative medical services and the likes.
The absolute disenchant state, which perpetually entangles Nigerian citizens, has given rise to exploration of other means of survival as manifested in many flash-points, this threatens national stability, particularly in the much-dreaded Niger Delta area where the central government appeared helpless for years, now temporarily put on hold by the amnesty programme. The Boko Haram menace, which has taken local terrorism to a higher abominable realm, appears to be capable of shaking the foundation of the country. Every unit of the federation with substantial mineral resources seems to be agitating for self-government or economic autonomy. Violence of different dimensions is daily cropping up as a response to the conservative stand of an unresponsive and indecisive government. Their manifestation in ethnic, religious and communal colourations is evident in the fragile polity.
Larry Diamond tends to corroborate this by submitting rather pathetically thus: from Nigeria to the Congo, from Colombia to Kosovo, Serbia to Sudan, ethnic violence, nationalist bloodletting, and civil war have flowed from this content of corrupt, cynical, exploitative governance. Such violence and instability only deepen poverty, sometimes to the point of humanitarian crisis.
Like many of the failed or failing states, elections in Nigeria do not provide a just and veritable platform for its teeming masses to change an abysmally bad system of governance. This makes the concept of popular participation an illusion, moreso when the nation has a very rich minority that takes advantage of its failed system. It is not surprising, therefore, that Nigeria was ranked twenty-second among the 60 most vulnerable states of the 148 countries examined in the second annual “Failed States Index” of Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace.
We may not have a condition of “state collapse” where a state has no effective control of its territory and borders, as Crisis States Research Centre partly defines it or a polity with a complete vacuum of authority as a failed state was somewhere else referred to, but all other astonishing indices are our avoidable companions today in Nigeria. One would have been tempted to think that the President Jonathan-led government will take us back from this brink of state collapse, only that research has not adequately convinced me that good governance and political stability can be products of mere goodluck and wishful thinking. To millions of Nigerians who are daily seeking greener pastures abroad, ridiculously in other lesser African countries, the Nigerian state has failed them already!