Last week’s addition of Nigeria by the United States of America to a list of six countries slammed with visa restriction shows how the world views us. Many Nigerians still assume that Nigeria is the giant of Africa, but the world sees us as “a failed state” or “a rapidly failing state,” which is a liability to other countries. For example, there are few countries of the world where fundamentalists kidnap civilians who are not in any contest with them, behead them and publicise the video. The few countries of the world where such things happen are known over the world as failed states. Even in some of such countries, the fundamentalists have been defeated.
In Nigeria, there is a rise in acts of terror and criminality. The North-East is besieged by Boko Haram. Bandits are lords in the North-West where state governors do everything possible to woo them to reduce the attacks. The North-Central is at the mercy of murderous herdsmen. These three groups all abduct people at will across these three zones, murder them, convert them to sex slaves or fighters, or collect huge ransoms from their relatives.
The South is relatively safe but not near what it should look like. Murderous herdsmen still operate in different parts of the South. The highways are still not safe from kidnappers. Then, there are gangs of cultists that periodically unleash mayhem on one another or their community. But most times, they limit their attacks to their members or some specific group. In addition to all these, the age-long criminals like armed robbers, ritual killers and the rest still exist in both the North and the South.
The semblance of stability in the South is what deceives many people into thinking that Nigeria is like other countries. But Nigeria is not. The number of people killed every week points to the fact that Nigeria is at war. The impunity with which the criminal elements operate and the way the government appeals to them or condemn their actions without having any solution points to the fact that criminal elements have taken the upper hand in the control of the coercive force. And that is a sign that a country is failing.
Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a failed state thus:
“A state that is unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state in the modern world system: it cannot project authority over its territory and peoples, and it cannot protect its national boundaries. The governing capacity of a failed state is attenuated such that it is unable to fulfil the administrative and organisational tasks required to control people and resources and can provide only minimal public services. Its citizens no longer believe that their government is legitimate, and the state becomes illegitimate in the eyes of the international community.”
While insecurity has created a terrible image for Nigeria and Nigerians internationally, making every Nigerian presumed a terrorist until proved otherwise, Nigeria is facing the lowest level of patriotism since the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970. The feeling of detachment is high. The feeling of not wanting to belong to Nigeria is also high. The desire to leave Nigeria and relocate to other countries, especially Europe and North America, and acquire citizenship of such countries, is also high.
Poverty rate is also at its worst levels, and still growing at an alarming rate. Even though Nigeria does not have the highest population in the world, it was declared the country with the highest number of people in extreme poverty in the world. There is no sign that there are measures in place to check the growth of poverty in Nigeria.
Poverty in Nigeria is caused by the poor economy. Nigeria’s economy has been performing poorly in recent years, with the country emerging from a recession in 2018, with the fear that it may fall back into recession. The economy is still struggling, with inflation rate rising from 11.9 per cent in November 2019 to 12.0 per cent in December 2019, the highest reading since April 2018, according to Focus Economics. The regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) has also resorted to heavy borrowing as the answer to lack of funds. There is fear that Nigeria’s future is being mortgaged with debts.
On January 16 this year, The PUNCH published a story with the headline: “FG borrows N6.16tn from N8.499tn pension fund.” The story explained that the pension commission said that 72.5 per cent of the fund had been borrowed by the Federal Government and invested in the FGN securities totalling N6.16tn between December 1, 2017 and November 30, 2018. But anytime Nigerians see a story on borrowing by the FG, they are worried. And in the case of the pension fund, the question was: “Is the pension fund safe for people to retire and have access to it?”
Another issue that has not made the situation in Nigeria lighter is the news about highly infectious and deadly diseases like Lassa fever and the novel coronavirus. Lassa fever is already in Nigeria, spreading from state to state and killing people. By last week, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control announced that 41 people had died from the disease so far. The NCDC added that between January 1 and 26, a total of 689 suspected cases with 258 confirmed cases were reported. These cases were reported from 19 states, namely Ondo, Edo, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kano, Borno, Nasarawa, Kogi, Rivers, Abia, Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Delta, Taraba, Plateau, Bauchi, Osun and Ogun.
Meanwhile, there are fears about Nigeria’s preparedness for the coronavirus if it finds its way into Nigeria. By Sunday evening, over 360 people had died in China with over 17,000 people infected. Just in one day – between Saturday and Sunday – over 2,800 people were added to the list of infected people. In 2014, Nigeria quickly and effectively stopped the spread of Ebola virus within Nigeria to the applause of the world. But there is today some fear about Nigeria’s capacity to combat coronavirus the same way it did to Ebola, if it finds its way in.
In all this, the government of Nigeria has not taken actions that boost confidence. Rather than being concerned about transparency and honesty in its dealing with Nigeria, the administration of Buhari has been more concerned about saying and doing things that will create the image of an effective administration. This has led in covering information and down-playing issues of importance. In its bid to prove that it was right when it said years ago that Boko Haram has been technically defeated, it has continued to pass the information that all is well with the fight against Boko Haram, herdsmen’s killings and bandits’ actions. One of the points the United States raised about the six countries listed on the list of those to face visa restriction was that most of them did not comply with identity-verification and information-sharing rules.
The action of the FG in the so-called de-radicalisation of Boko Haram’s fighters and release also gives cause for concern. What is the proof or guaranty that a de-radicalised Boko Haram member will not return to the group or act as an informant to the group in his community?
There is also the issue of fake patriotism displayed by Nigerian political leaders. How can a leader always go abroad to treat the least of illnesses, send his or her children abroad for education, go abroad on holidays, and yet preach to Nigerians about patriotism and patronising locally made products?
There is no doubt that there is despair in Nigeria. There is a feeling of uncertainty about the future of Nigeria. Hope is what sustains Nigerians. How far that hope can go is what is uncertain.
Written by Banatope Babalobi from The Punch