February 3, 2018

Why ‘NIGERIA’ is now qualified as a failed state

Why ‘NIGERIA’ is now qualified as a failed state

Buhari, Saraki, Dogara and Adeosun

By Professor Ben Nwabueze


The motion of a state and the essential attributes that constitute it have evolved over several millennia. The history of that evolution has identified the basic attributes constituting a state as the ability to maintain peace, security and welfare of the people, without which a state may be said to have suffered an atrophy.

That the ability to maintain peace, security and welfare of the people is the basic indicia of the failure or otherwise of the state is attested by the history of the Roman state (founded in 753 B.C, collapsed in the West in 451 – 453 A.D. and in the East in 1453 A.D.) The peace, security and welfare provided by the Roman state by means of its laws and maintained by the Roman government within its borders and throughout its far-flung Empire, is acclaimed “the supreme achievement in the history of statesmanship”. Under the  Pax Romana, every part of the Empire had experienced unprecedented prosperity, advancement and contentment, so much so, it is said, that “today our highest labours seek to revive the  Pax Romana  for a disordered world”. (Foreign envoys in Rome had reportedly sought admission for their countries to the “boons of the Roman yoke” : Will Durant,  The Story of Civilisation, vol. iii, p. 232.

The verdict of history recognising inability to maintain peace, security and welfare for the people as the index of state failure is affirmed by the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, section 14(2)(b) of which provides : “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” The above provision is a shortened statement that leaves many things to be supplied by purposive interpretation. To begin with, the provision pre-supposes a framework of laws adequate for the regulation of social life and relations and which is consistently and uniformly enforced in the maintenance of order.

The word “security” is a wide term embracing not only the safety of life and property in a physical sense, but also peace, although peace is not specifically mentioned in the provision. Peace is an essential condition for security, in the sense that there can be no security in a situation of widespread and rampant social discord. In particular, the settlement of disputes between parties according to law by courts with compulsory jurisdiction, instead of by private force or feud vengeance, is an essential element of peace and therefore of security. Security also covers protection of the people against mass death caused by mass hunger and starvation (food security) or caused by mass unemployment (job security). And the word “welfare”, although it is not, in the context of the provision in section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution, intended to refer to the modern notion of the welfare state, embraces prosperity, advancement contentment and happiness of the people.

Speaking generally, based on the verdict of history and on the authority of section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999, as amplified above by purposive interpretation, it may be said that a state which is not able to secure and maintain peace, security and welfare for the people to a reasonably adequate extent is a failed state. It is by this criterion among others to be noted below, that Nigeria is to be judged.

It must be stated, however, that the above basic indicia of state failure are not exclusive in the sense of being the one and only criteria or factors determining state failure or vulnerability to failure. It is, since 2008, supplemented by Google’s Failed States Index 2008 edn, as revised in 2009, which is evolved from vigorous study and analysis, and has gained international recognition and acceptance. The index is, however, designed, not to forecast when states may experience collapse, but to measure a state’s vulnerability to collapse.


Google’s Failed State Index adopts the Crisis States Research Centre’s definition of a failed state as “a condition of ‘state collapse’, i.e. a state that can no longer perform its basic security and development functions and that has  no effective control over its territory”. Twelve indicators are used to measure a state’s vulnerability to collapse – four social, two economic and six political, viz:

  1. Social indicators:

(i) Demographic pressures resulting from drought, crop failure, etc: (ii) Incidence of massive movement of refugees and internally displaced persons; (iii) civil disorders caused by ethnic, racial or religious conflicts; (v) chronic and sustained human flight.

  1. Economic indicators:

(a) Uneven economic development along group lines as manifested in group-based inequality in opportunities for education, jobs, and economic advancement, and as measured by group-based poverty levels, infant mortality rates; (b) sharp and/or severe economic decline as measured by a progressive economic decline of the society as a whole (using per capita income, GNP, debt, child mortality rate, poverty levels, business failures) etc.

  1. Political indicators:

(a) Endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites and resistance to transparency, accountability and free election; widespread loss of popular confidence in state institutions and processes; (b) progressive deterioration of public services particularly basic state functions that serve the people, including failure to protect citizens from terrorism and violence and to provide essential services, such as health, education, sanitation, public transportation etc; (c) widespread violation of human rights etc; (d) private security apparatuses and “praetorian” guards operating with impunity more or less as a “state within a state”; (e) state-sponsored or state-supported private militias, operating as an “army” outside the regular army of the state, which terrorise political opponents, suspected “enemies”, or civilians seen to be sympathetic to the opposition in furtherance of the interests of the dominant political clique; (f) factionalisation of the ruling elite and state institutions along group lines, etc (g) incursion of other states or external factors into the national territory.

Based on the twelve indicators noted above, Google then categorises Nigeria as a failed state, and ranks it as the 15th(having moved from its previous ranking of 18th) “out of the 15  most failed nations  surveyed, ten of which were African nations. These include Somalia (1st), Zimbabwe (2nd), Sudan (3rd), Chad (4th), Democratic Republic of Congo (5th), Central African Republic (8th), Guinea (9th), Ivory Coast (11th), Kenya (14th), and Nigeria (15th).

The best five nations, which were described as having the most sustainable state include Norway (177), Finland (176), Sweden (175), Switzerland (174), and Ireland (173). Ghana emerged the best state in Africa, ranked 124 and classified as moderate state, while USA was 159th  and UK 161 on the survey list.”

Whether the categorisation of Nigeria as a failed state is justified by the reality on the ground, as attested by credible sources

A credible testimony of the reality on the ground has come from T.Y. Danjuma, a highly respected retired army general and former Minister of Defence under former President Obasanjo. In a speech at the special convocation ceremony of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, on March 2, 2013, he was reported in the  Sunday Vanguard  of March 3, 2013 to have said: “the nation is today in  total anarchy. Human life is very cheap and impunity has become the norm….. We are in the middle of a civil war in Northern Nigeria. There is no defined frontier in this particular war and, worse still, the enemy is faceless and unknown.

There is no immunity for anyone.” (emphasis supplied). Gen Danjuma had likened the situation in the North to “the failed state of Somalia” which, says a  Punch  newspaper editorial,  “was his own way of drawing attention to the descent of the North into a state of anomie, where a near total collapse of order reigns.” Anarchy is defined by the  New Webster Dictionary of the English Language  as “lack of government; a state of society when there is no law or supreme power.”

Buhari, Saraki, Dogara and Adeosun

General Danjuma’s statement was considered to have sufficiently expressed the true state of things in the country to inspire and provoke an editorial entirely devoted to it in the  Punch newspaper  of March 10, 2013. Parts of the editorial are so telling as to merit quoting here:

“What better way could one have captured the deterioration of conditions in the northern part of the country where groups of terrorists and government forces are locked in bloody contest for territorial control? How else could one have described a situation where a group of terrorists attempted an invasion of a well-fortified military barracks as was the case recently at Monguno in Borno State. This could only have happened in a war situation…..Boko Haram members…..have attacked prisons and released hundreds of inmates. They have bombed churches and invaded police stations, with an eye on boosting their arsenal. Mass murder and suicide bombings, hitherto strange to Nigeria, have become a way of life, leading to a mass exodus of people from that part of the country”.

No more conclusive testimony is needed to corroborate Google’s categorisation of Nigeria as a failed state than the statement of President Goodluck Jonathan himself. In a nation-wide broadcast on May 14, 2013 announcing the declaration of emergency rule in the three North-East States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, he said that the terrorist activities of the Boko Haram insurgents have now engulfed eight other States – “Gombe, Bauchi, Kano, Plateau, Bayelsa, Taraba, Benue and Nasarawa” – and that their activities have included “burning of public buildings and  the Nigerian flag…..and complete take-over of some part of the country in the North and amount to a declaration of war” (emphasis supplied).

A  Daily Independent editorial  of May 17, 2013 asserts as “an indisputable fact that law and order have almost broken down completely in the affected states”, and that “the lawlessness is even fast spreading to other states with the killing in Nasarawa State of more than 56 policemen and State Security Services (SSS) officers in the last one week. Former Governor, Dr Chris Ngige, also decried the hoisting of foreign flags in some of the affected areas.

It is gratifying that the Boko Haram insurgents have been dislodged from the areas over which they took control, but it is equally sad that they still continue to kill, maim and brutalise large numbers of people and to destroy properties, resulting in the displacement of thousands from their homes.

Following on the heels of the Boko Haram atrocities is the Fulani herdsmen menace. “It started in the form of farmers’ herdsmen clashes but has now developed into a scaring dimension” known to be as bloody and murderous and atrocious as Boko Haram insurgency. In Benue State, in particular, according to an AIT news commentary report, “it has been a long chain of killings dating back to 2013. In that year alone Benue recorded 8 attacks in villages resulting in deaths. There were 16 attacks in 2014, 8 in 2015, the same number in 2016, and 5 in 2017. The number of deaths is put at about 3,000 across the country.

The method of attack, which is not any different from the one applied by Boko Haram insurgents, includes cutting open the stomach, beheading, slitting the throat, suicide bombing, surrounding villages and opening fire on them while asleep, etc. The method of attack is so barbaric, so much so as to be unimaginable in the 21st  century Nigeria. What is shocking is the lethargic posture of the Federal Government, especially as the perpetrators of the dastardly acts are identifiable. Some States like Ekiti, Abia and even Borno have taken their faith and destiny in their own hands by enacting domestic laws. In resolute posture the herdsmen have defied the laws particularly in Benue . On January 11, 2018, 73 victims of Fulani herdsmen killings in Benue were given mass burial and it triggered emotional outcries and condemnations across the country”.

Lamenting the killing of 73 people in Benue State between the 1st  and 9th  of January, 2018, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, said the incident has “painted Nigeria red with blood”. Also lamenting the killings, Simon Lalong, the current Governor of Plateau State, has put the number of persons killed in Fulani herdsmen attacks throughout the country in the past couple of years at 14,500.

The character of the killings and destruction by the Fulani herdsmen militia as an insurgency comparable to the Boko Haram insurgency means that Nigeria is at war on two fronts. As Wole Soyinka has said, the Fulani herdsmen killings and destructions which have now engulfed most of the States of the Federation, both in the North and South, amount to a declaration of war on the country.

The Fulani herdsmen insurgency may also be rightly characterised, like the Boko Haram insurgency, as a state of anarchy, defined again as meaning “lack of government”, a state of society where people can kill and main and destroy properties with impunity and without any sanctions being applied against them in accordance with law or as stipulated by law.

The killings, maimings, destruction of properties and displacement of thousands and thousands of people by the Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen insurgents are not the only elements of the security challenges gnawing at the fabric of the Nigerian society. There is the widespread and rampart incidence of kidnapping, armed robbery and other acts of criminality involving the use of armed violence. There is also the incidence of mass death caused by hunger or starvation (food insecurity) and mass death caused by mass unemployment (job insecurity), which have forced thousands of people to leave the country since the inception of the Buhari Administration. These people left, not in search of greener pastures abroad, but because they found life in Nigeria as much fraught with the prospects of death by hunger and starvation as life walking across the Sahara Desert, not to mention the peril of the Mediterranean crossing. For them, death looms on both sides; leaving offered a better prospect of survival – they must have so reasoned. Only the deepest depth of frustration, disillusion and despair could have driven them to embark on such hazardous journey, which is like defying the almighty death to a combat, an encounter requiring the grace of God Himself for survival. This may also be said of the score or so of people who chose to end the unbearable hardship and suffering by committing suicide.

The various ordeals of life in Nigeria under President Buhari – the Boko Haram insurgency, the Fulani herdsmen attacks, the incidence of kidnapping, armed robbery and other acts of criminality involving armed violence, the incidence of mass death caused by hunger or starvation (food insecurity) and the incidence of mass death caused by mass unemployment (job insecurity), have given rise to a situation described as  general insecurity  by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. In his own words :

“I must confess that I am very sad about the  general insecurity  in the country. We seem, as a society, to be getting inured to loss of human lives,……In the Nigerian society, it seems we are gradually losing consciousness of the sanctity of human life, because every day, we read in the newspapers about so many people killed either by Boko Haram or by marauding herdsmen or by kidnappers or by cultists.

There is  general insecurity  and the value placed on human life seems to be going down and down. It saddens me because most of my working life was in societies where if one human being dies under questionable circumstances, the government, the law enforcement agencies will rise to action.”

One other aspect of the matter remains to be considered, viz the lethargic posture of the Federal Government in regard to the killings and destruction of farms and properties by Fulani herdsmen across the country. This raises the important question as to whether the Government is fully alive to its constitutional obligation not to discriminate unfairly between its citizens in the provision of security for their lives and properties. The Federal Government lethargic posture in the matter goes beyond just lethargy, defined shortly as inaction; its lethargy is pregnant with many connotations and interpretations beside inaction. It connotes, at the very least, connivance, acquiescence and condonation; it may also connote something positive, such as the endorsement, encouragement and back-up of the atrocious actions.

Failure to arrest and prosecute any of the persons involved in the heinous acts, either as direct perpetrators, masterminds, accessories or in any other way, despite calls by individuals and groups for enforcement actions, seems clearly to suggest one or the other of these things. What especially is the relationship between the Federal Government and the cattle breeders Association, the Miyetti Allah (the Association has just publicly announced its endorsement of President Buhari for a second term in office, and its legal adviser, Mohammed Bello Tukur, is the person appointed by the President as the Secretary of the Federal Character Commission)? Is the Federal Government patronising the Association by way of special protection from arrest and prosecution, thus making its directors and managers sacred cows? The public deserves to be told.

The Federal Government’s support and backing for the Fulani herdsmen against the Nigerians killed or whose farms and properties were destroyed by the herdsmen may be inferred from the statement by the Minister of Defence,

Gen. Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali (rtd), as reported in the  Vanguard  of January 26, 2018, giving as the reasons for the actions of the herdsmen, “the promulgation of anti-open grazing laws and the blockade of grazing routes.” The Hon Minister added, displaying, unabashedly, undisguised bias and favouritism for the Fulani herdsmen.

“Since the nation’s independence, we know there used to be a route which the cattle rearers take…..If these routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen? These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going to block shoreline, does that make sense to you?”

This is a stunning and provocative statement coming from a minister of the Government of the Federation in a matter involving two groups of Nigerians in a conflictual relationship. It suggests that, as far as Fulani herdsmen are concerned, there is nothing like trespass, nothing like the right to  exclusive  possession as a vital incident of ownership of land under the law of Nigeria. The law of Nigeria bestows on Fulani herdsmen no right to roam over other people’s land at their own pleasure and in derogation of or to the detriment of the rights of the owners of the land, destroying farms and properties as they roam about. The right to roam over other people’s land for grazing or for any other purpose is totally unknown to our laws, unless the law is re-written to suit the Fulani herdsmen. The law of easements confers no such right. The minister’s statement is simply an invitation to anarchy.

Asked whether, assuming such a right exists, as it certainly does not, the blockage of grazing routes and the enactment of the anti-open grazing laws justify the massacre of 73 people between January 1 – 9, 2018, and over 1400 since 2013, the minister, obviously trapped, evaded the question by saying that that was not what he came there for, and that the question concerns internal security.

The minister thus admits inability or failure by the Federal Government to discharge its essential basic function of providing security for the lives and properties of a sizeable population of its citizens, which is an acknowledgment that the Nigerian state is justifiably categorised as a failed state by the international agency, Google. The minister made another admission that bears fatally on the issue of the Federal Government’s ability or otherwise to secure the lives and properties of its citizens. He said that many of the herdsmen killers are not Nigerians, but foreigners who entered Nigeria illegally through the more than 1000 entry points. What this means is that the country has a porous border which makes it open to infiltration or incursion by outsiders. Inability to police its borders effectively to prevent such incursions by outsiders is one of the accepted indices or indicators of state failure.


Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC) under Mobutu is my classic example of a failed state – now ranked 5th  among the failed states in the world. It seems that a description of the condition of things in that country at that time will be a fitting way to end this piece. The description will also serve as a warning to ourselves about the prospects staring us in the face if President Buhari is given a second term in office.

The privatisation of the state, as in Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah and Malawi under Kamuzu Banda, inevitably results in the society decaying intellectually, ideologically, morally and politically, but, with a ruler like Mobutu who is not endowed, as Nkrumah and Banda were, with outstanding capabilities to an extent enabling him to attempt, with a measure of success, the near impossible tasks of governing a country alone, the decay accompanying the privatization of the state goes beyond intellectual, ideological, moral and political decay and becomes general, permeating the state and the entire fabric of society, in the sense, not just of its malfunction, or deterioration in its ability to discharge its functions effectively, but of its atrophy through an inability to maintain its existence in a recognizable form necessary to fulfill its essential purposes, namely, maximal utilisation of national resources for the welfare of the people, provision of adequate security for life and property, securing its territory against armed incursion from outside and effective execution of its policies, so as to thereby command public confidence in its guardianship of the overall interests of the citizenry.

For, though weakened and diminished by the malfunctioning of its instrumentalities – the government and its institutions – the state in the hands of a capable sole personal ruler still continues to exist and to function tolerably well; with a ruler not so outstandingly endowed or a kleptomaniac, it still continues to exist but only more or less as a mere verbal expression; it continues to exist only in name or on the map as a mere geographical entity, or what John Ayoade aptly calls a “state without citizens”.

What this means, in more explicit terms, is that, of the three component elements of the state – people, government and territory – the first two are largely denuded of all practical meaning as functional entities. Divorced and alienated from the state, the people exist, not as citizens with a claim against the state for protection and to be catered for, matched by reciprocal duties to it, but simply as individuals struggling for survival on their own. A state without citizens is like a disembowelled person hanging precariously to life or, to borrow John Ayoade’s other metaphors, a “bed-ridden state” functioning by “fits and starts” on the way to becoming an “expired state” or a “morbid state”.

Government too ceases to exist as an organisation whose activities are “systematised, co-ordinated, predictable, machinelike and impersonal”, and is absorbed in the person of the ruler and subjected to all his personal whims and caprices, his misperceptions and miscalculations. “State agencies become involuted mechanisms, mainly preoccupied with their own reproduction.

Their formal activity tends to become symbolic and ritualistic” and so arises the tragic phenomenon of a state existing only as “an idea without an existential content”. Even territory is not effectively policed and controlled, making possible incursions by exiled insurgents operating from neighbouring countries as well as mass movement of refugees across the porous borders from or into the state and its boundaries are often disputed.

Yet, as an idea, the state remains very much part of the social order in Africa. “So deeply rooted is this notion that the state is taken for granted both as empirical fact and normative expectation. The idea of state is ritualised in innumerable ceremonies, small and large…..The banal artifacts of everyday life – coins, banknotes, stamps, party buttons worn by officials – still image the state”, but they are all that remains as physical emblems symbolising the existence of the state. It has thoroughly been denuded of its existential contents. Its principal existential content is of course its citizens who, at some point in Mobutu’s 32-year rule, consisted of “a kinship or extended-family network” and a small band of a politico-commercial bourgeois class, “predators upon civil society”, reckoned to number just about 300,000, who fed themselves fat upon the wealth of the nation and the spoils of the Zaireanisation measure.

Such was the state to which the Zairean state was reduced by its privatisation under President Mobutu’s absolutist one-man rule. It was bled to near-death by his unbridled kleptomania, his repressions and oppressions, and by the sheer ineptitude of his one-man rule in the management of public affairs. From all accounts, Mobutu was a clever, intelligent man, with an “unusual combination of psychic energy and personal resources.” Yet he did not belong in the same class with Nkrumah or Banda either in terms of ability to govern a complex modern state or integrity and probity.

His conception of the state seemed to have derived from the early beginnings of the colonial state when the Congo was a personal fiefdom of the Belgian king and his notion of government was entirely in terms of patrimonialism, a primitive system in which public office is bestowed in return for personal service to the ruler, and is held on condition of continued personal loyalty to him in a patron-client relationship determinable at the pleasure of the ruler.

Patrimonialism went hand-in-hand with the cult of personality – “Mobutism” – which was elevated to a height that stifled rationality, initiative, creativity and the exercise of critical faculty by the people. Yet, the infallibility with which Mobutu was invested in popular belief and by his active prompting and unremitting urging was a complete farce totally unrelated to his actual intellectual capability.

In the result, most government policies and decisions were based on Mobutu’s misperceptions, miscalculations, whims and caprices, and his personal political and economic interests, giving rise to incessant errors of judgment – such as his Zaireanisation, “authenticity” and radicalization measures – and to disastrous failures.

All Mobutu could offer Zaire by way of ideological leadership was the vague, superficial concept of “authenticity” in the name of which Zaireans were compelled by law in 1972 to discard their Christian names in favour of Zairean ones, and the ban on Western-style suits with tie in favour of collarless safari suits without ties called abacus; when both measures were later abrogated in 1990, Zaireans quickly and joyfully reverted to their Christian forenames and to Western-style suits, which demonstrates the silliness of the measures. (Mobutu’s wife had defiantly refused to drop her Christian forename, and no action was taken against her).

But worse still was Mobutu’s utter lack of public probity, of a sense of rectitude in public life. He was simply a charming rogue, a downright kleptomaniac, whose formal education stopped at the level of junior secondary in a mission school from which he was expelled for burglary of the mission library. His piratical misappropriations of public money were so colossal as to be mind-boggling and unbelievable.

After 32 years of his one-man rule, Mobutu was finally chased out by invading exiled insurgents led by Laurent Kabila, and died of cancer shortly after. The new regime refused to allow his body to be brought home for burial.


By all internationally relevant and accepted indices and indicators, and judged by the reality on the ground, as analysed above, Nigeria is justifiably categorised as a failed state, now ranked 15th  among the “worst failed” states in the world. I believe, however, that the country can be made to work again, as it was doing before, and to become a great Nation it is destined to be, and a leading star in the affairs of the African Continent and indeed the world. But for that to happen, there has to be a change of leadership.