Nigeria state failure

How seriously should Nigeria be taking herself as a country? What really is the state of her health as a successful, failed, succeeding or failing state? Are there signs to show how far a country has plummeted or risen on the success ramp?

It is easy to embrace Max Weber’s controversial political theory which states that a country should maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders. Thus, when this is not the absolute case, especially with the dominant presence of warlords, paramilitary groups, corrupt policing, armed gangs, or terrorism, mess up the security apparatus of a country, as they have done in Nigeria, the very existence of the state becomes dubious, and the state appears like a failed state.

Yet, how does one arrive at the threshold where it becomes really obvious that a government no longer maintains “a monopoly on the legitimate use of force”? What even is “legitimate”? Such vexing issues make it difficult to say when exactly the threshold is reached, and unfortunately once that threshold is crossed, it is difficult for normalcy to return.  Social scientists focus on three gaps that the state is not able to plug when it is in the process of “state failure.”

The first is about capacity; the ability to effectively deliver basic goods and services to its populations. The second is security; when the state is unable to provide security to its population under the threat of armed groups. The third is legitimacy, when a “significant portion of its political elites and society reject the ruler’s regulating power and the accumulation and distribution of wealth.

Insecurity has traumatized Nigeria for decades now, and high levels of internal violence are associated directly with failure and the propensity to fail

Perhaps the best approach to this matter is to remember that states exist to focus on and answer to the concerns and demands of the citizenry. States succeed or fail across all or some of these dimensions. But it based on how well they do these that strong states may be distinguished from weak ones, and weak states from failed or collapsed states.

If we take human security as the apex demand and expectation of any citizen, the state’s prime function is to provide to prevent cross-border invasions and infiltrations, to eliminate domestic threats to or attacks upon citizens, to prevent crimes and to enable citizens to resolve their disputes with the state and with their fellow inhabitants without recourse to arms or other forms of physical coercion.

So, what happens when some villagers would be asleep and some herdsmen, perhaps foreign as we are often told, steal into a peaceful village and open gunfire on everyone? Then there has been a failure of the state to protect the attacked or killed citizens and that country that has so failed its citizens is on a quick march on the famished road of state failure.

Robert I. Rotberg (of World Peace Foundation and Harvard University’s Programme on Intrastate Conflict On All Aspects of State Failure) said in his book: Failed States, Collapsed States, Weak States: Causes and Indicators, “there is a predictable measure of such security breach, when a government can no longer provide predictable, recognizable, systematized methods of adjudicating disputes and regulating both the norms and the prevailing mores of a particular society or polity.


The essence of that political good usually implies codes and procedures that together constitute an enforceable rule of law, security of property and inviolable contracts, a judicial system, and a set of values that legitimize and validate the local version of fair play.”

So, how stands Nigeria? He said: “Strong states obviously perform well across the mentioned categories. Weak states show a mixed profile. And this what really scares me: The more poorly weak states grow weaker and weaker because their leaders are unable to stem the tide of degeneration.

Insecurity has traumatized Nigeria for decades now, and high levels of internal violence are associated directly with failure and the propensity to fail. Thus, violence, such as has hobbled Nigeria, is the key ingredient for state failure.” 

Rotberg said:“Strong states unquestionably control their territories and deliver a full range and a high quality of political goods to their citizens. They perform well according to indicators like GDP per capita, the UNDP Human Development Index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, and Freedom House’s Freedom of the World Report.

Strong states offer high levels of security from political and criminal violence, ensure political freedom and civil liberties, and create environments conducive to the growth of economic opportunity.

The rule of law prevails. Judges are independent. Road networks are well maintained. Telephones work. Snail mail and e-mail both arrive quickly. Schools, universities, and students flourish. Hospitals and clinics serve patients effectively. And so on. Overall, strong states are places of enviable peace and order.

Weak states include a broad continuum of states that are: inherently weak because of geographical, physical, or fundamental economic constraints; basically strong, but temporarily or situationally weak because of internal antagonisms, management flaws, greed, despotism, or external attacks; and a mixture of the two.

Weak states typically harbor ethnic, religious, linguistic, or other intercommunal tensions that have not yet, or not yet thoroughly, become overtly violent. Urban crime rates tend to be higher and increasing. In weak states, the ability to provide adequate measures of other political goods is diminished or diminishing.

Physical infrastructural networks have deteriorated. Schools and hospitals show signs of neglect, particularly outside the main cities. GDP per capita and other critical economic indicators have fallen or are falling, sometimes dramatically; levels of venal corruption are embarrassingly high and escalating. Weak states usually honor rule of law precepts in the breach. They harass civil society. Weak states are often ruled by despots, elected or not.”

I have nothing more to add.

Vanguard News Nigeria

Subscribe to our youtube channel


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.