Debate: Is Nigeria a failed state?


Ogaga Ifowodo is a lawyer and a poet whose book, The Oil Lamp, is about the Niger Delta crisis. He is currently completing a PhD at Cornell University in New York.

Most, if not all of the indices of failed states, declare Nigeria well on its way to joining that disreputable club.

Nigeria boasts a government unable to deliver basic social services.

It is plagued by corruption so endemic and monumental it is hard to separate it from state policy.

It lacks the capability or discipline to prevent threats to public safety and national integrity and is assailed by active challenges to its legitimacy.

The latest disaster of a re-run election in Ekiti state, meant to correct the errors of the first, proved an even greater show of shame.

While Nigerians, notoriously prickly in their nationalism, may loudly denounce any suggestions from abroad of the imminent disintegration of their country, they nonetheless admit the unflattering truth of this possibility to themselves and each other.

'Critically weak'
The inflammable Niger Delta, for long the booty of successive bands of political pirates and now also a seething swamp of untameable angst, points clearly to the dangerously frayed social fabric.
in 1999
Is Sierra Leone now a stronger state than its one-time saviour Nigeria?

The Brookings Institution's index of state weakness ranks Nigeria 28 out of 141 developing countries and was co-authored by Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's top diplomat at the United Nations.

It places the self-styled "giant of Africa" in the honoured company of Somalia, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Looking on the bright side, Nigeria happily sits on the cusp for countries termed "critically weak" as opposed to the merely "weak" states.

But if the Brookings Institution takes a kind view of Nigeria, the American Fund for Peace, a research body, thinks otherwise.

In its 2008 index of failed states, Nigeria is only two short rungs away from being in the same category as Somalia and Zimbabwe.

Ironically, Nigeria has to look up the ladder at Sierra Leone and Liberia, two countries she spared no expense of life, limb and hard currency to bring out of civil wars to restore to democracy.

Yet none of this goes to the heart of the problem. For to speak of Nigeria as a failed state is, in a sense, to put the cart before the horse.

'Geographical expression'
Never having been a nation to start with, the question of a legitimate state to handle her affairs proves redundant.

We must therefore, open the dusty pages of history for the radical cause of Nigeria's state of distress and there we will find that what we have grown accustomed to calling a nation deserving of a state is, to quote one of her "founding fathers", "a mere geographical expression."

Nigeria is not a nation, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo declared with characteristic forthrightness more than a decade before nominal independence from Britain.

For saying the unsaid and for championing constitutional federalism along the lines of Nigeria's multitude of ethnic groups, Mr Awolowo was labelled a tribalist and unjustly maligned until his death in 1987.

The unwillingness to grapple with the trauma of Nigeria's stillbirth as a nation is the great political unconscious - the implacable repressed - that returns at will to haunt and mock the state of denial.

This repressed truth, being political, hides as it were in the open. It can be seen in the headlines and by-lines of our newspapers.

It is volubly declaimed in bars and every public forum where two or more Nigerians are gathered.

It defines the so-called "national question", so cacophonous that the prodigious expense of political and psychological energy needed by Nigeria's self-appointed rulers to repress it produces such frightful spectacles as compel the verdict of a failed or rapidly failing state.

A mere geographical expression indeed, or, as another "founding father" preferred to put it, "the mistake of 1914."

That was the fateful year the British colonial administrator, Lord Frederick Lugard, merged by colonial fiat northern and southern protectorates and the colony of Lagos to form Nigeria.

Meaning, "people of the [lower] Niger area", it was as if the hallowed river possessed the magic to transform disparate denizens within its acceptable radius into nationhood by mere eponymous naming.

This would be deemed superstitious in any other context but the colonial.

Unfortunately, this mistake has yet to be acknowledged, for if nations are "imagined communities" as Professor Benedict Anderson said in his book of the same name, Nigeria was clearly unimagined by its would-be citizens and perhaps unimaginable for very long in its current state of existence.

Waziri Haruna Ahmadu, a former Health and Agriculture Secretary, is an agribusiness consultant working with the chief economic adviser to Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua

It is obvious, all the signs of a state heading for failure - where a constitutional authority increasingly shows an inability to provide basic services like guaranteeing security to life and property, maintenance of economic and social services, infrastructure and food security - are not evident.

On the contrary, for the first time in the country's history, Nigeria is attempting to address its economic and social infrastructure inadequacies.

The economy has never been more open to new investors and the government recognises the imperative for private-sector investments in critical infrastructure such as power, transportation and energy.

Public anxiety is understandable when, after two years of taking over from the previous administration, little appears to have been achieved in fulfilling campaign promises.

But it has also to be understood that this administration had to start from scratch when it took office.

Rising income
Parliamentary investigations and discoveries by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have recently revealed that the previous administration had wasted a substantial part of its eight years in power doing little while the country's critical infrastructure continued to decay.

Owing to the current administration's new economic management style, a gross domestic product growth of 6.41% in 2008 compares well with other economies around the world.

The current drivers of growth in the Nigerian economy are from the non-oil and gas sector.

Even before, expected benefits from ongoing efforts at transforming the power and transportation sectors come to fruition, per-capita income of Nigerians has begun to increase, rising by 25% this past year.

Meanwhile, the country's foreign reserves have grown from $42.3 billion in 2006 to $53 billion by the end of 2008.

This in spite of the crisis in the international price of crude oil, the country's major foreign-exchange earner.

To increase power generation and enhance industry and domestic consumption, $1.6 billion has been set aside by the government in its 2009 budget.

This will complement private-sector investments in constructing a nationwide gas grid for provision to new power plants across the country, as well as to industries that consume gas as raw material.

Food supply in Nigeria has remained resilient, and the government has strengthened the sector through the provision of $1.6 billion for the establishment of infrastructure that would attract new investments.

It has also given considerable funding to provide concessionary credit to increase output and the create new jobs.

Nigeria's health and social services sector may be suffering from infrastructure inadequacies, but it remains functional, providing services to the country's huge population.

Nigeria's medical schools train some of the best personnel on the continent and in numbers that guarantee sustainable development of the system for decades to come.

There are more functional tertiary institutions in Nigeria than in any other African country, and the country participates in the highest levels of international research.

There are inadequacies, of course, but not at the levels found in most developing countries.

Democratic governance
Lately, there has been a lot in the Nigerian media about operations by the Federal Military Joint Task Force to check the increasingly serious criminal activity in the creeks of the Niger Delta, akin to a low-level insurgency.

The federal government earlier frowned at the prospect of dealing with the mercenary "militants" through purely military means because of the inevitable collateral impact on the civilian population.
A health worker gives a child an oral polio vaccine in Kano, Nigeria
Nigeria health service works, Mr Ahmadu says

However, current damage to oil production infrastructure and the threat to people's security living and working in the area necessitated resorting to military action.

In just a few days government resolved to remove the threat.

The consequent capture and destruction of several militant camps with minimal effort laid to rest the question hanging over the government's ability to deal with criminality and the threat to security anywhere in the country.

Contrary to expectations of local critics, an electoral reform bill is with the National Assembly for its debate and passage into law.

The fact that political opponents from both within and outside the ruling People's Democratic Party continue to criticise government-sponsored electoral reforms as either not enough or gone too far is an indication of how alive and well the system of democratic governance is in the country.

The spate of reversals of electoral mandates by courts all over the country also shows that the country's justice system remains strong and functional.

Nigeria is an active member of the international community and participates in all matters that concern her.

The country continues to play an active part in international peacekeeping, and Nigeria's leadership role in several multilateral organisations makes us an important partner for many countries.

The significance of constructive criticism of its efforts and performance has not been lost on the current federal government, as evidenced by the recent presidential directive for ministers and heads of government agencies to open up to the press on their work.

Nigeria is, therefore, far from being a failed state.