54 YEARS ON: STILL IN SEARCH OF A NIGERIAN STATE
While it is convenient to talk of an American state as a conceptual reality, it is however not an easy task to speak the same of a Nigerian state. The difference is underlined by therelevance of each state in its respective society and in demonstrating the real qualities and properties of a state. Even though it can be historically sustained that the Nigerian state started out as a colonial state under British imperial rule, the Nigerian state is yet to grapple with the realities of statehood having been independent for the past fifty-four years.
At independence and beyond the Nigerian state was saddled with crucial obligations and responsibilities to its citizenry primarily security and welfare but a balance sheet of state actions for the past fifty-four years convincingly shows a deficit in terms of efficient and effective service delivery. This is simply a product of the disconnect between the state and the people and /or society. We should be reminded that at some point in the crucial life of this country, the raison d’ eter of the colonial Nigerian state was extensively propagated by the successive indigenous political elites, civilian and military, who continued with the alienating nature of the colonial state from the Nigerian people. The state assumed no responsibility to the citizens hence the conclusion of many people that the Nigerian state does not infact emerge from the Nigerian society. Again, this is historically incontrovertible.
Advanced democracies ensure that there is a persuasive interaction between the state and the society, with the state represented by the institutional and administrative apparatuses of government developed from within the society, reflecting in whole the political, economic and social desires of the inhabitants. But in Nigeria, the state lacks the internal dynamicsthat can propel it to the status of a real state. The absence of these internal dynamics defined in terms of efficient and effective institutional arrangements has constantly exposed the state to the rule of man as against the rule of law and many abuses since the institutions of governance have not been appropriately arranged in such a manner that would mitigate abuses against the state which supposedly is the highest social formation in a society. This scenario has tactically redefined the notion of statehood in the Nigerian context. The theory of state as a politically organized community of people formed for specific purposes seems to have been displaced in Nigeria.
Frankly speaking, the federal state of Nigeria would not translate to anything more than a mere geographical expression as once contended by the late sage Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Arguably, this is true because the properties of a stateincluding territory, population, sovereignty and monopoly of force have constantly been shared with the Nigerian state by the centrifugal forces inherent within the different Socio-political and ethno-religious groups in the society always looking for how “things will eventually fall apart”. One theory that has held sway since the enthronement of the current transitional democracy in 1999 is the systematic transfer of the ultimate powers and responsibilities of the state to the individuals. The management of the affairs of this country both economically and politically has tremendously moved away from the statist nature to that of individualism. The serious implication of this trend is the fact that individuals and groups now assume the position of the state by ensuring their security and promoting their welfare since the raison d’ eter of the Nigerian state as stipulated in Section 14(2)b of the 1999 constitution has long been defeated.
This is the sense in which one speaks of the individual’s resort to the use of generating plants as alternatives to electricity supply since it appears apparent that the epileptic power syndrome in Nigeria has defiled all experimental solutions. This is also another sense in which one speaks of the duopoly of force as shared by the Nigerian state and any group that feels aggrieved over any sectional or national issue. It is therefore not surprising that the much-appeased Niger-Delta Militants and the now dreaded Islamic sect Boko Haram chose to confront the supremacy of the state since they know quite well that the state lacks the capacity to demonstrate its real stuff. Instructively, the recent killings in the Niger-Delta and the sporadic spate of bombings in Nigeria are symptoms of a state that is fast loosing its hegemony.
Hypothetically, how can such a state launch itself into global reckoning first as Africa’s voice and a regional power and second as intending permanent member of theUnited Nations Security Council? Let me say that it would be difficult to achieve these objectives if the country continues to be managed in this manner. It remains unresolved how to reconcile the economic potentials and the development trajectory of Nigeria. May be these staggering revelations would buttress the contradictions. The United Nations Development Programmes, Human Development Index (HDI), ratings placed Nigeria at 158th position out of 177 countries; Nigeria is the only OPEC member that is ranked among the 10 poorest nations and the 13th least viable country in the world; over half of Nigeria’s 172million population are poor; no Nigerian University is ranked among the best 1,000 in the world; Nigeria is potentially Africa’s largest economy; every year the nation produces over 200,000 graduates of tertiary institutions; the nation has the 6th largest Gas Reserves in the world, tenth largest Oil producer with abundant but largely untapped natural resources and 60 percent of its arable land lying fallow. This is incredibly incomprehensible. Indeed,“it is wants amidst plenty, scarcity amidst abundance”. What a paradox of the Nigerian state! The only industry that is thriving and flourishing in Nigeria churning out graduates is the crime industry forcing citizens to resort to self-defense as the state has almost failed in its constitutional obligation of protecting lives and property of the citizenry.
A summation of democratic governance in Nigeria since 1999 abysmally exposed the facts that the Nigerian economy has been hijacked by a few bourgeoisies who have monopolized the means of production, exchange and distribution through a daylight robbery calledprivatization, usurped the powers of the state and exercise such against it. Fundamentally, the Nigerian state is not conditioning the economy as the country has not moved away from being a rentier state hence the deepening of poverty and underdevelopment in the land. The state and its apparatuses have been personalized by few individual political gladiators and economic merchants thereby making a supposedly strong state weak, irrelevant and incapacitated from discharging the real functions of a state.
Nigerians in this era need a state that can through its institutional and administrative structures make government responsible and accountable for its actions and inactions. Conclusively, it is imperative to adapt the thoughts of William Shakespeare that ‘TO BE THUS IS NOTHING, BUT TO BE TRULY THUS’ meaning ‘to be a state is nothing, but to be truly a state’. The Nigerian state that is desired is such that can homogenize and hegemonies the fragmented Nigerian society, one that can only be acceptable by the people as conceptually real when it ‘effects and affects’.
The search indeed continues!
Oni teaches at the department of Political Science & International Relations, Crescent University, Abeokuta