On the State of the Nigerian State

WHAT is the state of Nigerian State? This tasking, delicate question was put to the four hundred (400) level students of the Department of Political Science, class of 2000, of the “Greatest” University of Ibadan, by the erudite scholar per excellence, Professor (then a Doctor) Eghosa Osaghae. I was a very active member of that class and can vividly recall how we rummaged through our memories to come up with satisfactory answers to this highly technical question. Professor Osaghae is a man after my heart – an academic mentor – whose penchant for startling his students with thought provoking questions made my class one of the best drilled (to the best of my knowledge) in the history of that great department. This same question popped up in my mind’s eye as I pondered on the current sorry conditions of the Nigerian state. What is really the state of the Nigerian state?

For starters, the current state of the Nigerian State can be likened to the Babel like scenario that obtained in France prior to the tornado of 1789. Everywhere you look there seems to be a modern replication of the horrible spectacles in France, before the scorching inferno that blazed through the country, smoldering the enemies of the people – the Monarchy and nobility – in its paths. From heart-wrenching forms of poverty, an unrepresentative political system, an impassive political class, endemic corruption, a pandemic of ignorance and superstitious accretions, cyclical unemployment, a regime of hunger and disease, insecurity of lives and properties, to sundry other man-made vices, Nigeria fits the classic case of a Pandora box delicately perched on the edge of a slippery cliff.

A state of anomie pervades the whole country, akin to the “state of nature” depicted in Thomas Hobbes’ version of the social contract theory; a continual state of war of all against all; a Philistine state of crude censors; a condition in which the “real” enemies of Nigeria have turned her into a solitary confinement. Conditions on the ground have created a state of hopelessness in which the people have lost faith in the national mansion and are scrambling into tribal gazebos, searching for answers to national questions that have continued to defy reason; questions which like malignant ailments, have continued to resist therapy. The Nigerian State swims in tempestuous waters infested with bloodthirsty Piranhas, and like a woman experiencing maddening birth pangs, needs urgent attention. These spasms, put together, constitute the true condition of the Nigerian state, which plays out in the form of violence.

Concerning violence, a cursory look at the Nigerian tragedy, reveals a worrisome, but obvious reality: the fact that our country is a “violent state” which has created a “state of violence” within its confines. (Violence within the context of this discourse refers to all acts of omission and commission by the Nigerian state, in the discharge of its duties to the citizenry, which are inimical to their common good) The Nigerian state is defined by labyrinths of brutality. This conundrum of hostility is double-pronged: the first emanates from the state itself, while the second is a logical consequence of the first. The Nigerian state perpetrates Violence against its citizens through the operations of its institutions, and through the actions and inactions of its operators.

Ours is a country where force in its latent and manifest ramifications have become the currency of social, political and economic exchange; where the state forcefully confronts the citizenry physically, structurally, psychologically, mentally, (even spiritually) and in other ramifications.

Most Nigerians are oblivious of these violent dispositions of the state because they are not easily amenable to casual observation, but are embedded within the routines of daily societal relations; and also because most of my hapless fellow compatriots are preoccupied with merely striving to eke out a living, rather than fighting to transcend the piteous state they currently subsist in by demanding for change. But a closer scrutiny of the domineering character of the Nigerian state in its relations with its citizens reveals a very horrible spectacle: “We are living in a state that has launched a war of attrition against us”; a state that is carrying out a silent pogrom against its own people actively and passively.

Political corruption – or criminality, to put it more appropriately – constitutes the chief source of violence in Nigeria. (Corruption within the context of this discourse refers to the use of public office for private enrichment). The wielders of political power in Nigeria, together with their financiers, operate her as a business conglomerate – as earlier stated – and having invested their capital in acquiring multiple directorships of this business enterprise, go to extreme lengths in obtaining as much return on their investments as they can once they are in office. Political office ultimately becomes a means to the financial paradise of these people. This has been the standard practice by members of the various administrations that have run the affairs of this country since independence.

The several criminal cases of ex-presidents (military and civilian), ministers, commissioners and other top government officials at the various cadres of government, under the searchlight of the country’s anti-graft agencies, such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independence Corrupt practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and other investigative governmental and non-government organizations (NGOs), in the current dispensation, speaks volume of the high level of corruption ravaging this country. Not forgetting several other higher level cases in the past involving some sacred cows that have been swept under the carpet due to the exigencies of politics. The several cases of stolen billions in the past and present dispensations are pointers to the continued merciless pillaging of the resources of the country by its operators. The harsh consequences of this regime of graft on the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians cannot be overemphasized.

Nigerians surfer violence on different fronts; in standards of living, opportunities for health care and education etc, they are at the receiving end :from the man who is constantly ravaged by hunger and manages to squeeze out a miserly existence on a daily basis, but does not know where the next meal ticket is coming from; the graduate who after having spent several years in the university, serves his country for one compulsory calendar year afterwards, and spends another seven years or more scavenging for an elusive job; the poor who are denied access to justice whenever their rights are trampled upon by the rich just because they lack the funds to engage the services of legal representatives; the several victims of accidental discharge and other forms of extra-judicial killings by the police and other overzealous law enforcement agencies of the state, who are easily forgotten without any form of redress; the civil servant who is denied minimum wage despite slaving all his life for an ungrateful state; communities which lack basic amenities and infrastructures because their elected representatives have embezzled the funds meant for the provision of these dividends of democracy; the pensioner who has to struggle to receive his dues after retirement from active service to his father land… the ones that die in the process are even worse off; all Nigerians who have been subjected to relentless barrages of lies by their elected leaders; all who have been subjected to the horrors of election rigging and military takeovers; the man with the intellect, but not the financial wherewithal to educate himself; Nigerians for whom the basic necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter etc – have become luxuries, which only the rich can access; the man who is driven into crime because he cannot sustain himself, including the victims of his actions; to several other categories of Nigerians, not included in this list, who are subjected to one form of ill-treatment or the other by the state.

The truth is that whatever threatens our corporate existence as Nigerians is an instrument of violence. Whatever petrifies us is violent to our psyche and general well being. Anything that causes any form of injury to us is a tool of violence; for when a serving governor prefers buying a private jet rather than building an airport that will create jobs for his people, he commits violence against them; when politicians fretter millions away on a regular basis paying for the services of their retinue of lazy personal assistants, special advisers and other hangers-on, who are mostly without portfolios, they commit violence against the ordinary man on the street who would benefit from a more judicious use of such funds; when politicians use funds stolen from the country’s coffers to set up world-class hospitals, hotels, oil refineries, universities and other capital intensive, economically viable and employment-generating industries abroad, causing the flight of much-needed capital in the process, they commit extreme violence against the country and its people who would have benefited immensely from these projects had they been cited in their constituencies. In fact, any dereliction of duty by any political office holder or public servant is an act of violence.

I cannot recognize that aggressive fiend as my state, which is the butcher’s state; a state that constantly attacks its own people on all fronts, snuffing out the lives of many in the process; a state that chastises its people with whips and scorpions; a state that is unmoved by its people’s deplorable conditions and ignores their entreaties for help; a state that is driven by a compulsive bloodlust fuelled by its dislike of opposition of any kind; a state that demands acquiescence to all its insidious inventions, good or bad; a state where dogs eat dogs; for when over eighty percent of my fellow countrymen live like lepers in the land of their fathers, the beast in me threatens to come to full glare. When I see all the sufferings, rejections, maltreatments and other inhumanities meted out to my people by their own kind, I feel like exploding. This art of war against us must stop. These unprovoked, undeserved attacks must end. Why are we so blest in this country? Why have the powerful refrained from empowering the powerless? Why do our oppressors rage? Why do they imagine vain things? Why do the kings of this country plot evil against their own people? Why do they prefer us conquered rather than free? Why are they so passionate in their morbid hatred of us? Is there something we don’t know that they do? But what could that be?

Above all other fiduciary duties, it behooves the Nigerian state to feed its citizens when they are hungry; to clothe them when they are naked; to give them water to drink when they are thirsty; to give them hope in their moments of despair; to house them when they are homeless; to keep them warm when they are cold; to protect them when they are in danger; to empathize with them when they are troubled; to treat them as humanely as it treats its operators and their associates; to provide them with reasonable sources of livelihood; to respect their dignity and other basic rights, first as human beings, and as Nigerian citizens; and to perform all its primary responsibilities to every Nigerians who has sworn to “uphold her honour and glory”. Desisting from performing these fundamental duties constitutes violence against Nigerians; violence that is likely to be resisted by further violence; for when people are hungry, they become angry; when they are angry, they become unreasonable; and when they are unreasonable, they are most likely to turn violent.

I am formally calling on the operators of the Nigerian state to do a rethink of their bellicose dispositions towards the citizenry; calling on those who authoritatively allocate values in this country to repent of their heinous crimes against the Nigerian people and move to redress the current unsavory conditions in which the citizens of one of the most extravagantly blessed countries on planet earth have been forced to live like serfs and Eskimos in the land of their ancestors. This war of attrition against the people must stop for positive peace – not the negative peace of the grave yard that is currently the order of the day – to reign in this country? That is the only way to prevent a possible deluge of catastrophic proportions; an all-out circle of violence that might never end once it starts. There is a limit to human tolerance. A word is enough for the truly wise!

Written by
Jude Obuseh
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