Failed State! Now you know - By Garba Deen Muhammad


A University of Massachusetts scholar, Darren Brew was asked on ALJAZEERA TV to offer an opinion on this exclusively Nigerian paradox: while bullets and bombs were exploding in various parts of the country, the Nigerian President was off to Brazil for a two-day State visit. Professor Brew responded: “It is a perfect barometer on the lack of interest of the overall Nigerian elite in addressing the problem”

Most Nigerians are still reeling from the multiple shocks of the last few weeks. We were first jolted by the attack on the Atlas cove jetty in Lagos which was carried out by the Niger Delta criminal elements in the name of fighting for the emancipation of the Niger Delta. Hitherto nobody can say for sure what the Lagos attack was meant to achieve beyond the obvious, which is to create conducive atmosphere for criminality of all types, ranging from oil bunkering in the Niger Delta to armed robbery and political crisis everywhere else.

Who knows, perhaps the attack on the Atlas cove jetty by MEND was just the sort of catalyst that the Boko Haram militants were waiting for as a signal that it was their turn to thumb their nose at the government. And thumb their nose they did because they sure proved more than anything and more than at any other time that our country is on auto pilot.

When the news began to spread last Sunday that a group of demented fanatics whose brains were probably half-destroyed by hunger and hopelessness had attacked a police station in the north eastern city of Bauchi, most people thought that it was an isolated problem; that perhaps the over-stretched political situation out there had snapped and imploded into a violent, tragic mess. But when the body count started rising, from 30 to 150 depending on whether it was the government or other sources speaking; and television cameras, tasteless and tactless as ever started beaming piles and piles of horrible images of mangled bodies, it began to down on the nation that this was no ordinary problem.

And then all hell broke lose, at least in that part of Nigeria. The nearby states of Kano, Yobe, Borno; and Katsina in the North West also went up in flames, with varying degrees of intensity. One unofficial report even said that in Potiskum, Yobe State, a suicide bomber strapped an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) to his motor cycle and crashed it into a police station, killing himself and two policemen. But the bloodiest theatre was Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, which is also the pre-eminent city in the North East. There a 39-year old man, Mohammed Yusuf, whose ancestry (i.e. whether his madness was home grown or an export from the nearby Chad or Cameroon) has not yet been established, had built a cult following that was thousands of fanatics strong. At his command, his followers in Maiduguri and in all those other cities dropped whatever they were doing and launched an attack on the rest of the normal society. The rest as they say is history. Alas, a bloody one.

At the moment there are all sorts of theories about what could have happened; but they are all likely to be wrong. Only one thing could have happened for sure: our security services have failed us. Again. Professor Brew, whose observations were quoted above, was right that Nigerian leaders are not interested in solving Nigeria's problems. The level of indifference from the leadership class at such a critical period is shocking. The Nigerian Army of course has again proved to be the last thread that holds the country together. But the brave efforts of the army must never be mistaken for the badly needed security surveillance which ought to have prevented such ugly developments in the first place. Where were the police and the SSS all these years that Mohammed Yusuf, leader of Boko Haram took to build his shrine? Where were they while he was recruiting and setting up cells all over the place? Did the police read a Daily Trust story which reported a family that was abducted in Katsina was later on located in Maiduguri? If the police and the SSS had read that story, did it require rocket science to make the connection especially since the Daily Trust story and the Boko Haram attacks happened barely a week apart?

The simple answer to all these questions and many more similar ones is very obvious: these are the practical manifestations of the Failed State. When the United States National Intelligence Council predicted in a 2005 report that Nigeria could disintegrate in about 15 years, even they didn't know how fast the symptoms could begin to manifest. But now whoever had any doubt—including former President Obasanjo who was president at the time of the report—about the 'Intelligence' in that report now has enough evidence that should compel them to do a rethink. If we didn't know what they were talking about then, now we know. The real meaning of a failed state is that there is no central authority, as in Somalia; the absence of a central authority means that when things go wrong, as they are currently going wrong in Nigeria, there is nobody to take responsibility: GSM companies, Internet Service Providers, deadly fake drugs peddlers and the woman selling food in the buka can rape and kill; and generally do as they please with the citizenry.

I wonder how Professor Achebe would have paraphrased himself, if he would care to do so: 'Things fall apart/Anarchy loose upon the land/ And nobody left to care/ They're all running away; to Saudi Arabia, Brazil and beyond.

In the meantime the governors and the leadership class especially in the vulnerable areas would do well to take note that even a failed state can get worse; it can slide further down to a doomed state. The governors seemed to have found temporary distraction from their ineptitude, belatedly and annoyingly giving assurances that Boko Haram would be wipe out. That is opportunistic, to say the least. Boko Haram, whether the governors know this or not or whether they admit it or not, is a direct consequence of the woeful leadership they and their predecessors have impacted on the region over the years. Their inability to provide quality education and a reasonable future for the millions of youth in the region is what had given rise to deadly, ignorance-based cult leaders like Mohammed Yusuf. The governments at the state and federal level may want to see what has just happened as a victory of sorts; that would be a big, even criminal mistake, if you would excuse the contradiction. The only victor here is not even the military, brave as it has been; the victor is the U.S. National Intelligence Council, whose members Obasanjo once dismissed as “Prophets of Doom”. Now we know.

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