The Failure Of A State



The prevalence of poverty, corruption, and general insecurity of life and property will naturally lead a critical mind to arrive at some conclusions of a kind. One of such conclusions will be that the country has failed. Even though there is a clear indication of a failure, opinions will certainly differ on the kind of failure. This necessitates, in my view, the need to look at the matter of a failed state.  The word “state” was not initially used to describe an independent political community. Machiavelli has been identified as the one who established this modern usage in which state may be used to refer to political organisations and political relations. For Weldon, state has the sort of organising control which corresponds to the central nervous system of the body. According to Weldon, the state uses government to determine the behaviour of the parts which make it. Without government, Weldon observes, a community degenerates into a crowd. Burgess John considers the community or political society to be the whole, while for him, the state is a part, at the summit of this whole. State, so conceived, is that part of the body politic especially concerned with the maintenance of law, the promotion of the common welfare and public order, and the administration of public affairs. This led to the thesis that the state is the juridical personification of the nation.

Hegel talks of the state as the march of God on earth. He tries to demonstrate that the state ensures all the legitimate claims of human freedom and, he denies the individual all right to challenge its authority. For Marx, if the state is to have any meaning at all, it should be an instrument for realising the egalitarian structure of human societies. From the foregoing, it may be important to realise that the only relevance of the form which a state takes to come into existence is on how to classify it. Whichever way we view it, a state can be considered a political organisation which exercises authority over a defined territory. What may be distinctive of a state in this regard would be sovereignty, otherwise referred to as the recognition which the state enjoys both within it and by other states that its governing authority is supreme.

The relevant question now is, How can an entity with these attributes, as already summarised, be said to have failed or be failing? While there may not be just one way of looking at a failed state, the failure of a state can be apparent when some conditions are present. The failure of a state can be detected when a central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little or no practical control over much of its territory. Many scholars think that the most important indicator of the failure of a state is its inability, in spite of the enormity of its power, to monopolise the legitimate use of physical force within its territory to quell any upheaval or insurgency. However, there are such other indicators as non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality, sharp economic decline, as well as unabated emigration and easy acquisition of refugee status by the citizens.

The question now is whether the Nigerian state can pass the test of a solid and prosperous state. The first indicator of the failure of a state is the inability to use the available legitimate force at its disposal to maintain law and order uniformly within the territory under its jurisdiction as a result of overriding power or influence of warlords, paramilitary groups, high level of criminality, or ethnic and religious militancy. Clearly, the earlier problem of the Niger Delta insurgency which was finally laid to partial rest through the resort to begging and amnesty for that part of the state may not be too far away from the inability of the state to resolve the insurgency on its own terms.  The most glaring and painful index of the failure of the Nigerian state is the recurrent bloodbath carried out by an Islamic sect, Boko Haram.

It is no longer uncommon for Nigerians and the entire world to wake up to hear that tens of human lives have been sent to the world beyond, while those in whose custody rests the coercive power of state watch helplessly only to shamelessly claim to be on top of the situation after some time. Such releases have become ridiculous music to people’s ears. Failure in this regard cannot be better demonstrated than the submission of the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan to the effect that his government is already infiltrated by the Boko Haram members. The irony is that the same government which can readily and heavily descend on the unarmed civil populace cannot descend on Boko Haram with tremendous force. The ease with which members of Boko Haram now succeed in carrying out their attacks on their targets, including state security outfits, is humiliating and worrisome.  Events keep on showing the weakness of the state and the invincibility of the sect. While the state is perpetually on the defensive, the sect is always on the offensive. This is really pathetic.

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In addition to the mindless decimation of the population by Boko Haram, kidnappers and abductors fearlessly insist on ransoms before their captives are liberated. In fact, one man said jocularly that daylight abduction is now the most lucrative and money-spinning engagement in Nigeria. Men and women of influence and opulence are targeted and abducted anywhere and any time in Nigeria. The activities of these two groups in addition to the spate of armed robbery and assassination in the country gradually make the Nigerian state to look like the Hobbesian state of nature, which is nasty and brutish, and in which life is short.

Apart from the failure of the Nigerian state to protect against Boko Haram-induced fatalities and abductions, there is the problem of non-provision of public services, widespread corruption and criminality and the attendant endless emigration on the part of the citizens who think that their lives and interests would be better protected outside the shores of Nigeria.

Indeed, the situation in Nigeria is that in which the rulers do what pleases them. They swim in the wealth that they used their positions in government to illegally acquire without thinking of what and how the populace feel. Our own rulers, most of the time, decide to celebrate corruption in the open glare of the suffering and highly pauperised masses.

In the face of these glaring failures of the Nigerian state, those who think a better Nigeria is possible, or those who have no means of getting out of the shores of Nigeria, have decided to remain in Nigeria. Many of those unable to bear the excruciating poverty amidst an ocean of opulence have decided to get out of Nigeria, not bothered about the uncertainty that awaits them outside.

It is so sad that Nigerians are now increasingly becoming objects of ridicule and exploitation even in neighbouring African nations, not to talk of the developed world which ordinarily should be appreciative of the presence of Nigerians within their territories. They now see Nigerians as refugees unentitled to basic rights. The Nigerian state is more of a failed state. To get out of this, there should be a lot of efforts from both the rulers and the ruled. After all, it is said that a people deserve the kind of rulers they have.

• Dr. Salami  of the Department of Philosophy, OAU, Ile-Ife, wrote this article for TheNEWS.

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