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Media report that, in the Birni Gwari Local Council of Kaduna State, members of the Ansaru terrorist group openly preached their religious beliefs and distributed handbills to this end during the last Eid-el- Kabir festival is outrageous and unacceptable in a country with three levels of government, an array of covert and overt security apparatus and government ministries, departments and agencies charged one way or other, to deploy technology to monitor the Nigerian land, sea and air spaces.
The details of the activities of the terrorists in broad daylight read like a story from fantasyland. The report quotes various sources to say ‘‘During their propagation, the terrorists, who are mostly young men, moved on dozens of motorcycles decked with flags with Arabic inscriptions,’’ they urged people in Damari, Unguwar Gajere, Kakini, Kuyello and Kwasa Kwasa villages to take up arms against government because it has failed to protect them.
“They talked to people openly and without any fear;’’ ‘‘they didn’t even cover their faces,’’ wore military gear and carried high-calibre weapons like AK47 and anti-aircraft missiles; ‘‘They were so confident in themselves that they move in broad daylight,’’ they even settle marital and business disputes and jail the ‘‘guilty’’. ‘‘You will not be wrong if you say they are the landlords here and because of the fear of the unknown, our people are willing to listen to them any time.’’
Terrorists roaming and ruling unchallenged in the Nigerian land space have almost become a norm. At the fourth quarter, 2020 meeting of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) in Abuja, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar complained that ‘‘bandits …walk into houses to kidnap…they go about in the villages with their AK-47 and nobody challenges them; they stop at markets and buy things and even collect change with their weapons.’’
This ‘‘new face and phase’’ of terrorist tactics, whereby they employ “soft power” and moral suasion to win people to their side, challenges both government and the governed in a way that calls for critical, deeper thinking. The ‘‘enemy” seems to be strategically thinking faster and better than the government and people of Nigeria. A sympathy-seeking Ansaru reportedly promised to protect the villagers against other groups of bandits since their government has failed in this regard. And truth be told since the first desire of a man is safety, it takes little persuasion to win over people who go through the terrible experiences of terrorist attacks in Kaduna and other states.
The reported brazenness of Ansaru is clearly indicative of a complete failure of government to live up to its “primary purpose,” as well as the duty to the people so succinctly, and unequivocally stated in Section 14 (2)(b) of the Constitution. What happened in the Birni Gwari Local Council of Kaduna State was a slap on the faces of the three levels of constituted authority; it was a confidently arrogant non-state actor thumbing its nose at local, state and federal governments- and so far with impunity. Indeed, the governors of Kaduna and Katsina states had, at different times, negotiated with and paid ransoms to terrorists. They eventually discovered that they were outsmarted and disappointed. By demonstrating such an abject lack of capacity to secure life and territory, the government sends a wrong and dangerous signal to the citizens.
It is not an exaggeration that a failed government is instrumental to a failed state. Economist and Senior Fellow at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) Tayo Aduloju quotes Robert I. Rotberg of the Kennedy School of Government to posit that ‘‘wherever there has been stating failure or collapse, human agency has engineered the slide from strength or weakness and willfully presided over profound and destabilising resource shifts from the state to the ruling few. As those resource transfers accelerated and human rights abuses mounted, countervailing violence signified the extent to which states in question had broken fundamental social contracts and become hollow receptacles of personalist privilege, personalist rule, and national impoverishment. Inhabitants of failed states understand what it means for life to be brutish and short.’’
By many social, political, social, economic and cohesion indicators, the Nigerian state is failing. Wikipedia defines a failed state as ‘‘a condition of ‘state collapse’ whereby a state …can no longer perform its basic security and development functions and …has no effective control over its territory and borders.’’ Thoughtco.com states that ‘‘common characteristics of failed states include ongoing civil violence, corruption, crime, poverty, illiteracy, and crumbling infrastructure.’’ Other indicators cited include the existence of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), economic decline, increasing income inequality, brain drain and human flights, and the weak response of security apparatus to threats and attacks.
Worldpopulationreview.com states that two characteristics of a failed state are first, that ‘‘government cannot project authority over the people and the territory’’ and second that the state is ‘‘unable to protect its boundaries…control its people or resources.’’ The organisation’s Failed States 2022 Report ranks Nigeria (with a score of 98.5 of 120), 14th of 152 countries assessed. The higher the score, the more likely the state failure. Norway (18), Finland (16.9) and Kuwait (3.2) are ranked the least likely states to fail.
A sober and objective consideration of the current condition of Nigeria will agree with Worldpopulationreview.com that Nigeria is a country ‘‘at risk of failing…because of democratic collapse.’’ The failure of democracy as practised in Nigeria is an important point which John Cardinal Onaiyekan also hinted at in a September 2020 press interview. He noted that the clamour for zoning is ‘‘an admission that we have failed in democracy; that we have organised our democratic process in such a way that some people have been clearly excluded.’’ The blame can only be laid firmly upon the political actors whose immature, self-seeking, and comprehensively unpatriotic approach to democratic governance is, in a manner of speaking, ‘‘doing their country in.’’
It bears repeating that the legitimacy of government is increasingly eroded by terrorists and other pockets of aggrieved groups nationwide. The dangerous consequence is the increasing lack of trust in constituted authority and in turn, citizens’ recourse to self-help. These constitute a perfect recipe for anarchy. Indeed, late last month, the government of a badly terrorised Zamfara State advised its citizens to avail themselves of arms for self-protection. A statement by the Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Ibrahim Dosara said that ‘‘the government has henceforth, directed individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits.’’ Furthermore, ‘‘Government has directed the state Commissioner of Police to issue a licence to all those who qualify and are wishing to obtain such guns to defend themselves and “government is ready to facilitate for people, especially our farmers, to secure basic weapons for defending themselves.’’
Nigeria, by several indicators, is not a failed state yet. But it is a weak state at risk of failing unless its elite groups move quickly to save their country –and themselves. The first step to take is a comprehensive constitutional overhaul to create a truly federalist structure for this diverse, multi-nation country. The All Progressives Congress (APC) party promised this in the first article of its manifesto. The APC failed so dishonourably to keep its promise.