State foreclosure in Nigeria
Foreclosure stares the Nigerian state grimly in the face. It is a terrible irony that our endlessly squabbling politicians do not yet appreciate the dangers to the nation. Their attention is completely fixated on the elections coming next year and in 2015, even as the object of their fixation is slowly yielding to the forces of internal strangulation.
At no point in its history, either colonial or post-colonial, and certainly not even during the civil war, has the Nigerian state appeared more fragile and vulnerable. Trapped between two extreme and extremist cultures of political violence, the Boko Haram insurgency in the north and the MEND insurrection in the Southern creeks, strafed by a thousand armed gangs bent on bringing to heel its remaining emblems of power and authority, the state appears powerless and paralysed.
Like a solitary schoolboy ambushed by bigger bullies, the state offers its drink to one and its victuals to the other, hoping that they will go away and leave it in peace. But they are not about to. Inflation is the natural law and logic of bullies. When you appease, you must be ready to yield more appeasement. This is because the more you try to give, the more they demand. Appeasement without a demonstration of strength and resolve, and without compelling evidence of your own minatory deterrence, is a voluntary suicide mission usually dead on arrival.
This week even as the Boko Haram sect continues its routine devastation of the north despite the prospects of amnesty dangled before it, the MEND opened a new front by threatening and actually carrying out its threat despite the substantial economic and political pacification from the government. The decomposing bodies of 11 policemen must speak volumes for the dire straits in which the state has found itself..
The powerful Nigerian military has battled valiantly and heroically to confront and contain these nation-destroying demons, but it is also beginning to show signs of weariness and demoralisation. As this column has repeatedly cautioned, this kind of well-heeled insurgency fired and inspired by ideological zealotry and operating in an economically blighted region suffering from political disorientation, is not in the conventional military manual.
Without a conventional order of battle (ORBAT), the military will have to learn its lesson on the hoof, and as the war without defined fronts progresses. In addition, the military is hobbled by overriding political considerations and the inconsistency and feeble-minded opportunism of government policies. Saying one thing today and doing the very opposite the next day, Goodluck Jonathan himself comes across as a tragic comedian in a perplexing political tragicomedy.
But it is not a funny matter when the state becomes a big joke despite its awesome powers of enforcement and coercion and when the bully finally becomes the bullied and the tormentor the tormented The problem of the post-colonial state in Nigeria is compounded by its vanishing legitimacy and authority even in the areas where it holds unchallenged sway.
For many Nigerians, the state is seen as incapable of projecting itself as a true defender of national interests. It is so grotesquely corrupt and inefficient that its moral authority over its own citizens has evaporated. This is in addition to its military incapacitation in the face of armed critiques of its existence. Although this did not begin with Goodluck Jonathan, he seems bent and destined to drive the logic to its ultimate summit and summation.
When a state loses its power of moral and ethical suasion over its citizens and when the power of its apparatus of coercion has dramatically diminished in addition, that is state failure looming. It is now too late in the day to begin to suggest measures to shore up the authority and legitimacy of the government. This will involve a drastic self-purgation, and with its eyes fixed on the election of 2015, the Jonathan administration cannot even afford to toy with these measures.
Unfortunately, it is not a problem that can be wholly redressed or addressed by elections. As it has been demonstrated so many times in the history of post-colonial Africa and Nigeria, elections superimposed on seething national contradictions do not solve or resolve anything. In most cases, they worsen the contradictions and exacerbate the national fault lines.
It is the business of recreating the Nigerian state and nation which the political elite shy away from that is the hardest task. Yet without this fundamental shift in the paradigm of state-making and nation-building, there is nothing to stop this embattled nation from eventually dissolving into anarchic bloodletting the like of which has never been seen before.
The old African pre-colonial political elites seemed to have managed the contradictions of society-building and state-making very well. This was because the old African state was an organic outgrowth of pre-colonial African society and there was therefore a uniformity and homogeneity of political culture which allowed for faster consensus building, the odd tension and political dissonance notwithstanding.
This is quite unlike what obtains in colonial and post-colonial Africa where the state largely remains an alien and alienating contraption forcibly grafted on disparate and often mutually contradictory political, economic and religious cultures which makes national consensus very difficult except when it comes to stealing which wears a universal mask and does not require any mental rigour or highfalutin ethics.
Where the state-nation is lucky to have a visionary founding father who can skilfully weld and fuse the disparate ethnic strands together to achieve a homogeneous entity, it is easier to fashion and fabricate a national consensus. Unfortunately, most founding fathers in Africa left their nations writhing in the debris of political and economic chaos.
In its classical incarnation, the state was the most powerful embodiment of national aspirations surfeit with mystical notions as the ultimate guarantor and protector of the sacred destiny of the people and the society. This is true of any pre-colonial society. In royalties, monarchies, empires and fiefdoms, state actors are carefully groomed and nurtured through a rigorous and painstaking selection process.
When and where a mistake is made, it is left to other powerful countervailing institutions to correct the anomaly with speed and utmost discretion without destabilising the polity. This is unlike what obtains in post-colonial Africa where tyrannical and unjust rulers often manage to circumvent elections as the expression of the sovereign wish and will of the populace.
Africans must find some redemptive resources from the pre-colonial past. African elites, unlike the Chinese, the Indians, the Japanese and the Arabs, do not consider themselves modish and sophisticated until they have started casting aspersions on their pre-colonial culture. Yet as we demonstrated in this column last week, the continuing virility and potency of some of these institutions long after the subversion of their political and material base ought to serve as a cautionary reminder.
In a famous passage on Greek Art, Karl Marx, the grim materialist and patriarch of periodisation, wondered aloud why artistic products from ancient Greece have continued to please and intrigue us long after the superannuation of the material culture that supported them. “The difficulty is not that they pleased us but that they continue to do so”, Marx rued. It was surely an affront to materialist logic.
The same logic should now be extended to post-traditional societies. Why do certain institutions, rituals, emblems, sacred totems and tropes from the pre-colonial order have a lingering efficacy and potency long after the colonial amputation of the political and material basis of their existence? These are powerful ideological apparatuses of the old pre-colonial state and they will continue to be for a long time until they are overtaken by a combination of events. The death of material base does not automatically translate into the demise of superstructure.
However that may be, all of this must indicate to us why the Nigerian state faces grave problems. It is a state that has been unable to grow any authentic national institution with the possible exception of the military which has also had its misadventures. It is a stunted state suffering from pedological leprosy. Nothing will grow on nothing. The political elite are riven by primordial fissures. The national psyche is centrally fractured. The state preys and predates on the nation directly leading to armed objections to its existence. .
We have been careful to distinguish between state foreclosure and total state failure. Let no one at this point come up with the bogey, the blackmail and the buncombe that all this may lead to military intervention. In any case, military rule is preferable to the apocalyptic meltdown and the genocidal bloodletting looming. If the Boko Haram sect had succeeded in bringing down the Third Mainland Bridge, it would have taken some extra constitutional measure to restore parity to the nation. The mere threat, which is not over yet, brings the national tragedy to sharp relief.
Whereas state failure compels a drastic and radical re-composition of the state and reconfiguration of the nation, state foreclosure, like a foreclosed property, demands immediate change of ownership and perhaps ownership restructure. The revolutionary turmoil in the land ought to tell the PDP that it has nothing left to offer the nation. Despite payment rescheduling and mortgage modification, the ruling party has failed to meet its obligation to the nation. Urgent repossession is the only solution.
Since it has proved incapable of internally reforming itself, not to talk of coming up with the visionary policies to move the nation forward beyond the initial demilitarisation, all Nigerians, including patriotic members of the PDP driven by enlightened self interest, must rise up in one guise and under whatever national platform to see off this pernicious party before it sees off the nation.
When compared with other grave possibilities facing the nation at the moment, this is the equivalent of mild surgery and a compromise in favour liberal democracy. Otherwise, state failure will accelerate at full throttle. The hazy outlines of radical anarchy are already with us.