Robert Kaplan’s February 1994 essay in the Atlantic Monthly, “The Coming Anarchy: How Scarcity, Overpopulation, Tribalism and Disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet,” used West Africa as its point of departure. Twenty-four years after that essay was published it seems now weirdly prescient. It is more so given the backdrop of recent events in Nigeria, with our “episodic experiment in democracy,” and the collapse very clearly of the institutional fabric that once could contain what seems very likely to be by the corner: a conclusive relapse into anomie in Nigeria.
As at 1994, even at the height of the military dictatorship, Kaplan’s prognosis and prediction seemed futuristic. In spite of the buffets of despotism and its internal contradictions, Nigeria seemed nearly indestructible. It had survived a civil war. The 1993 elections had come, and though it was annulled, the people, particularly in the South of Nigeria had risen in defiance of the soldiers and were insisting on the revocation of the order of annulment, and the installation of the Peoples right to vote. Nigeria had proved itself militarily capable of leading a West African force, ECOMOG, entirely organized and paid for by Nigeria, to contain the anarchy in West Africa, with the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Nigerian forces were tested, and Nigeria had established a clear military capacity that could secure West Africa, provide cross border security, and stabilize the frontiers of the West African states. The rest of the world saw Nigeria, not only as a regional leader but the continental leader of nations in Africa with its enormous human and material resources. But then twenty-four years is the future, and Nigeria today is unravelling. But the problem with Nigeria is not over-population. It is under-performance. And it is not “tribalism” – for even tribalism may have its salutary points – and we should all go back and read Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s sagely convocation lecture, “Tribalism: A Pragmatic Instrument for National Unity,” delivered at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium on May 15th, 1964 for the convocations of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Dr. Azikiwe wrote: “From our studies in history we learn that many tribes which came into contact with each other had discovered a way of living conterminously.
In some cases, they preserved their identity. In other cases, they amalgamated to produce an offspring, which evolved into a new prototype. No matter what may be the nature of the development of these tribes, the aim has been always to create a society where there is a reign of law and order…Simply stated, my thesis is to the effect that when numbers of the human race congregate in an environment to build a community, they tend to be parochial at the initial stage only to become cosmopolitan later.
The factors responsible for their parochialism are mainly ethnic but those responsible for their cosmopolitanism are ethical and sociological. I deduce from this the following position: that human beings, will attach less importance to their racial, linguistic and cultural origins, so long as their individual liberties are insulated from tyranny and their group attachment is insured from want, provided that the environment in which they live is conducive to human happiness.” Zik’s conclusions are prescient, relevant, and remain as fresh as they were first uttered on the national question fifty-five years to the day he delivered this lecture. So, tribalism is not the problem, per se, it is that public leadership has not created the common environment “conducive to the human happiness” of Nigerians, and Nigerians have not felt their “individual liberties insulated from tyranny.” The decline of Nigeria can even be measured in small things. Even the quality of pidgin spoken in Nigeria in its past is far superior to the quality of pidgin spoken in its present. It is a sad fact of history that today, a lightweight like Buhari could sit on the same desk as president of Nigeria as did a giant like Azikiwe, and that is the problem.
One was a man of ideas, a philosopher-statesman, a giant of his age who could conceive of the nuance of nation-building, and who led the fight to secure the human dignity of Africans from the imperial powers in the 20th century; the other, a provincial, inarticulate ex-soldier, for whom Iqbal, Wiredu, Schopenhauer, or Kant will be too much “turenchi.” The decay of Nigeria is reflected as much in the quality of its ideas, as in the quality of its public leadership. Nigeria has therefore arrived at its final contradiction. The looming anarchy feels inevitable. Let me alert Nigerians to a most dangerous trend: it is called fatalism. There is a very fatalistic mood in Nigeria, and it is expressed first in the rash of suicides at a rate of which was never heard before among Nigerians.
It is as though Nigerians have given up. And then, there is the rash of violence and banditry, when increasingly, more people turn prey on others, in that way that the great Zik himself described as “Man’s inhumanity to man.” The elected government feels powerless, and some even say complicit in the use of vicious terror against the citizens. When a nation arrives collectively at this juncture of hopelessness, when its own citizens begin to pray for its own demise, then indeed we might brace for the inevitable hard landing. And it might be bloody because of the ratcheting of bellicose language at both official and unofficial quarters. In the last three weeks, the factors of disintegration seem almost too real to ignore. It grew with the rumored offer of N100 billion allegedly to the Miyetti Allah by the Federal government presumably to buy them off further attacking and kidnapping Nigerians. The Buhari administration swiftly denied this transaction. But most Nigerians have remained skeptical about the government’s denial. It is skepticism compounded by the president’s spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu, who quite tactlessly, and unjustifiably compared Miyetti Allah to Ohaneze and Afenifere. Miyetti Allah may well be, but the Federal government has not offered such other groups their own “peace offerings” by way of N100 billion.
The controversy of the alleged Federal government payoff had not quite died down when it was followed by another scandal, that the Feds had approved a special Radio Station specifically targeted at the Fulani. The Buhari administration did not even try to put a sheen on this latest kerfuffle.
The National Broadcasting Commission trolled out something of a face-saving statement about approving the station as part of the Federal Government’s Nomadic Education program. It was a pretty damn sorry excuse because it did not answer important questions about who is funding the station. If it is a federal government initiative for nomadic education, why did it not use the already existing Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, reorganize its Education broadcasting Directorate to produce education broadcast material specifically in Fufulde, and allow it to do its job for which it was already established by an act of parliament? Again, the Buhari administration’s action has led Nigerians to speculate about a ploy to dedicate a Radio station specifically for the Fulani herdsmen, who also by the way, already listen to the numerous Radio stations broadcasting in Hausa. There is much more it seems than the administration is letting on.
The Buhari presidency has divided Nigeria as never before. Very few trust the Federal government under his administration. There is the very strange sense among a very significant swath of Nigerians that the president’s loyalty is not to the Republic of Nigeria, but that he is far more a soldier for his faith, and for some vain idea of a permanent Fulani ascendancy, with him leading the new Jihad for his version of Islam. Is Buhari at the head of ISIS in West Africa? Nigerians now say it, and it is not even hush-hush! And the president acts it, and it is no longer hush-hush. Everything he has done seems to be in support of an impending Jihad. His prosecution of Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen seems half-hearted and perfunctory. These groups operate without let.
The order by Buhari to free thousands of Boko Haram fighters, and absorb them into the Nigerian security forces makes no sense. Against the backdrop of these developments, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, just a week to Buhari’s second term inauguration revealed that there is a move to “Fulanize West Africa and Islamize Nigeria.” Coming alongside former General T.Y. Danjuma’s outcry about a Fulani movement to colonize the Middle Belt by force of arms. These are serious men not known for frivolity. And it gets worse. A series of meetings by various ethnic nationalities have basically ignited what every thoughtful Nigerian has long warned about.
Each group is now claiming their sovereign rights to self-defence given that the Federal security forces under Buhari can no longer be trusted to defend the Federation of Nigeria from a well-armed Fulani militia, partnering with the old Janjaweed fighters from Sudan in their bid to unite under a Mahdi. The Yoruba group Afenifere has basically ordered all Yoruba to arm themselves and defend the Yoruba. The Urhobo/Isoko alliance, the ethnic groups of the middle belt, across the country, sub-national groups are arming themselves, and preparing for war. The Igbo are presumably armed and ready.
Let no one deceive themselves: Nigeria is at war. And Nigerians are defiant of the order by the President to disarm. No Nigerian takes him seriously on this rather unenforceable order, and he might just trigger the very early stages of the resistance by using force to seize the private arm of Nigerians. One only feels sad, because the president has, by acts of commission or omission destroyed Nigeria, and above all, set the rest of Nigeria against the Fulani. I worry, as should every Nigerian, that we might ignite the kind of anarchy that would make Rwanda a walk in the park.
The trigger is on. And the president, rather than sit down and face his duties, jetted off, within hours of taking his oath to the OIC meeting. It is sad. It is a crying shame. And it is time for all those Generals, politicians, intellectuals, everybody who still has a stake in Nigeria to come together and take charge and defuse this balloon before it flies.