Nigeria Goes Into Strategic International Receivership


By Osuolale Alalade 

Nigeria has reached the nadir of its tragic fall and has gone into strategic international receivership. In the most dispassionate understanding of the state, it is a contrived monstrosity that has acquired the attribute of a concrete reality. A state is preeminently characterized by its capacity to use force to dominate its territory. Today’s Nigeria, wallowing in tacit international receivership, is what happens when a state is hopelessly incapable of asserting the integrity of its claim to the control of the totality of its territory. When the stakes are high enough as a state dilapidates, international forces may intervene to protect the larger interest of the international community or the specific strategic interests of the leading or the concerned states of the world. Given national sensibilities, rationalizations are often provided to explain the intrusion of external agents in the policy making process of the state and or policy articulation to soothe national pride. Even in collapsed states, the motions still take place to suggest the acquiescence of the state residue in explicit international interventions in its affairs.  International opinion, especially among elite states, is evolving more towards a controversial unilateral interventions in particular on humanitarian grounds. More importantly, because of the danger that the degraded capacity of the state to secure its boundaries from internal revolutionary forces, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Lords Resistance Army in Uganda or Al Shabab in Somalia that challenge the fundamental premises on which the state is founded, poses to the international community, elite forces are inclined to, in various ways, intervene to protect the international community from anticipated or real harm. In all cases, these developments represent a diminution of the sovereignty of the affected state. In a way, strategic international receivership, though more enduring, is one step away from the time limited robust interventionist role that Nigeria had only in the recent past played in the failed states of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In both cases, there was nothing to receive because the states had in fact died. What remained were the fiction of the state and the carcasses of their withered sovereignty.

Nigeria, tottering on the brink of collapse, belongs to a class on its own. Its military, the ultimate instrument for the affirmation of the state’s final sway over clearly delineated territorial expanse and peoples within that space, is unable to subdue internal revolutionary forces that are contesting the legitimacy of the foundations of the Nigeria state. Instead, the radical blood thirsty Islamists who, so far, seem to be winning the contest, are prescribing an alternative worldview in seeking to reconfigure the Nigerian social and political space. This, by itself, is not a unique challenge. The same scenario is playing out in Somalia under the sword of Al Shabab with still uncertain outcomes at this point in time. The situation in northern Mali partly replicates this in the sub region. Museveni’s Uganda faced the rampaging Lord’s Resistance Army and won a long drawn bloody war with some help from powerful elite forces. Museveni’s army is a product of insurgency and knows its onions in dealing with like situations. But by the end of 2013 the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which launched its uprising two decades earlier, had moved from Uganda to the border region of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR). Like Boko Haram, it continued to kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians, virtually enslaving numerous children. The Kenya scenario is different because Al Shabab is not an endogenous force. The extension of the war in Somalia to Kenya is the result of the intermestic character of relations that pervade informal interaction among transnational communities across state boundaries in Africa. Somalia buckled after attempts at strategic international receivership collapsed with the Americans abandoning what essentially began as humanitarian gesture that went catastrophically wrong.

Nigeria’s status and circumstances are much more complex. The acute revolutionary methods of Boko Haram seems copied from the standard operational guidelines of Al Shabab and the LRA. This  has instigated not only repugnance at the unmediated scale of its inhuman brutality, but has brought to the fore and to the consciousness of the international community the humanitarian catastrophe consequent to the inability of the Nigerian state to protect the integrity of the Nigerian space.  Meanwhile, the threatening implosion of Nigeria, including the carving out of a space under the control of Boko Haram, is not exactly simply a Nigerian affair. It is a potential nightmare for the sub-region, has serious implications for the stability of the African space; in the social, political and economic realms, and opens a new front for anarchic elements with terroristic objectives to launch against the elite states of Western Europe and North America. Accordingly, the international community, led by the ever opportunistic France, the United States of America clearly contemptuous of the rulership, past and present, of the Nigerian state , a bewildered United Kingdom, leading other global players, have become or have been forced to be very intrusive in Nigeria’s national life on a scale and in a manner that is unprecedented. From now on, Nigeria, the aspiring permanent member of the reformed Security Council of the United Nations, would be a mere pawn on the chess board of the strategic calculus of its international benefactors. That is the name of the game. Shorn of the convenient narratives of the dividends of international engagement in a nation’s affairs, the undeniable fact is that it is a tragic reality for any nation to be under the thumb of powerful forces ever calculating to advance their strategic interests at the expense of the distressed states in receivership.  The emerging symbolisms of Nigeria in receivership have kept keen and discerning Africanist observers of the unfolding unraveling of the Nigerian myth at the international level respectively in outrage, anger and mourning.

Beyond the historic fiasco of national domestic processes revolving around rent seeking, Nigeria’s current challenges also reveal the unmitigated failure of its foreign and security policy even in its own immediate neighborhood and Africa. These developments have eroded national confidence and pride.  Worse of all, the accretions of a very deleterious national life are coming to the fore as they constitute the sub-currents of the dangerous conundrum of the Nigerian state. The north is waking up to its own denial but is yet to acknowledge its primary responsibility for the current a state of affairs. In a most unusual visit of the collectivity of northern governors that defied international protocol and norms governing inter-state relations to the White House, they sought to blame the federal government. At the on-going national conference, their concerns are more about consolidating the hand out from the South. They seem oblivious of the clear signs on the walls. These undercurrents have informed part of the rationale of international responses to the emergence of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Bankrupt on all fronts, Nigeria has coaxed itself into a willing international receivership like any desperate corporate entity gasping for life.  It is a failing state with a difference, because the crash of the gargantuan promise of the Nigerian project has historic implications for world history and for the integrity of black humanity.

For France, Nigeria’s current prostrate profile was bound to be the moment it has sought since the 1960s. France failed despite strenuous efforts through its policy and the instigation of its local proxies, Cote d’Ivoire and Gabon, to achieve the dismemberment of Nigeria during the Biafra war. Its policy had nothing to do with the love of Biafrans. It was a coldly calculated strategic posture. The break up of Nigeria was cardinal policy of France in West Africa. Nigeria’s potential to balance France’s power in West Africa and also eclipse any potential claim by either Senegal or Cote d’Ivoire as the preeminent West African voice at the international level were a source of significant worry. Nigeria lived up to this challenge and was deft in its policy foot works to secure the critical support, with the legendary Bakassi quid pro quo, of Cameroon to win its civil war. Nigeria also led in laying the foundations of the Economic Commission of West African States, that transformed into todays Economic Community of West African States. These were achieved against stout manipulation of francophone states by France to frustrate. The common currency project in West Africa, to which Nigeria has strenuously worked is seen as a critical launch of pax Nigeriana.

Much water has passed under the bridge since then. It is however instructive that Nigeria’s potential leadership role is fizzling into thin air. Its policy in the conflict in Cote d’Ivoire revealed embarrassing dearth of understanding of the facts, poor analysis and a policy framework that, to be charitable, could be described as emanating from purely amateurish players with no appreciation of the nuances and complexity of playing on a sophisticated plane. In the end, we failed to align with a natural ally and are now stuck with a caged and unrepentant stooge of France in Abidjan.  There are numerous strategic challenges posed by Boko Haram to French geo-strategic interests in West Africa. The inability of Nigeria’s large and well-funded army to contain and defeat Boko Haram, poses a direct threat to impoverished Niger and portends destabilization of northern Cameroon. It would also complicate life for Mali that is also struggling to defeat an Islamic insurgency that is also mired in a secessionist bid in northern Mali. This is of great concern to France. Yet, Nigeria seemingly had no cards to play on the chess board in relating to France on Boko Haram. Beyond tenuous influence in Niamey, Nigeria was not speaking to Cameroon even as Cameroon seemed oblivious or indifferent to the impact of Boko Haram’s activity on its stability. So a meeting in Paris, said to have been at the request of Goodluck Jonathan, was required for West African brothers to agree to a common approach to fight the scourge of Boko Haram- a major failure for Nigeria. Despite the big concession made to French supported Cameroon on Bakassi, the lesson is to watch Cameroon and its ageless leader closely.

The summit which opened on Saturday, 17 May, 2014 at the Elysée, France’s State House, brought together leaders of countries that share common borders with the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The summiteers included President Goodluck Jonathan, as well as the presidents of Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Benin.  Besides France, the host country, the United States of America, Great Britain and the European Union were represented at the meeting. If Nigeria were its old self, a meeting with Niger, Chad and Benin should require no self serving intermediary in Paris. This gathering in Paris, whatever the internal circumstances of Nigeria, in effect was one of the symbolic demonstration of the capitulation of Nigeria’s leadership of West Africa. For French leaders, revelling in their self imposed historic role in Africa, holding the Summit in Paris was indeed a laudable step because of, in the perspective of France, the horrible things that are going on in Africa. Paris is therefore cast in a dubious messianic role. Further, a French diplomat revealed that it was France that pushed Nigeria, which currently sits on the 15-member United Nations Security Council, to ask for Boko Haram and its key members to be placed on a U.N. sanctions list, and be declared as a terrorist organization. Nigeria’s future, as with the future of many of France’s micro states in Africa, would now be subject of mini summits in Paris. Had Nigeria managed its domestic affairs and its foreign security policy well, President Goodluck Jonathan should not have been in Paris.

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The United States is concerned in a more comprehensive manner about Nigeria. A report  authored for the United States Army War College in 2013, “Nigerian Unity in the Balance”, warned of another possible civil war or an outright break-up given observed divisive trends in the country. The report highlighted that parochial interests created by religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, regional, and political secessionist tendencies are endemic in Nigeria and warned that under such stresses, Nigerian unity may fail.  If Nigeria’s leaders continued to mismanage the political economy and reinforce centrifugal forces in Nigeria, the breaks to create autonomous regions or independent countries would likely occur along its previously identified fault lines. America’s role in shaping Nigeria’s future is to help to tip the scales in favor of the survival of the Nigerian federation. In so doing, America’s engagement in Nigeria has been holistic in scope.

Against this background, peace and security in Nigeria is one of United States highest foreign policy priorities in Africa and the United States is sparing no effort in this regard. The diplomatic  narratives of US engagement is Nigeria are cast around democratic consolidation. In a statement to Congress, the US administration observed that it was of course concerned about the northeast, where Boko Haram operates, and where it will be critical for the government to ensure security so that Nigerians in the Northeast, including in three states of emergency can vote in 2015. The United States is also working to help address instability in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, where complex conflicts over land have pitted communities against one another, and the Niger Delta, where tensions over the allocation of oil revenues remain high and a long-running insurgency is yet to be fully settled. As Nigerians prepare to vote against this backdrop of corruption, tension, and uncertainty, the United States is looking at more than the kidnapping at Chibok to understand and help Nigeria address the full range of challenges to its future. The USA engagement in managing the domestic challenges of Nigeria is put in the context of pervasive corruption that undermines the Nigerian government’s fight against Boko Haram. The US administration notes that the Nigerian government has one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest security budgets, with $5.8 billion dedicated to security in its proposed 2014 budget. Yet corruption prevents supplies as basic as bullets and transport vehicles from reaching the front lines of the struggle against Boko Haram. It highlights that morale is low and desertions are common among soldiers in Nigeria’s 7th Army Division. Nigeria will need to seriously tackle corruption if it is to succeed in stamping out Boko Haram.

When a state is delinquent on its basic attributes of statehood, the international community may often act to protect perceived interests. In Nigeria, the United States is leading to shore up the survival of the federation. It is doing this in collaboration with the United Kingdom. It has a good platform to advance AFRICOM that Nigeria had opposed. The historic role of France is more related to strengthening perception and reality of being the leading power in Africa. Beyond converging interest in fighting terrorism, the strategic interests of the United States and France may not always be seamless. These would translate into some politics of handling the international feeding bottle of Nigeria as they struggle to advance their respective national interests in their receivership of a delinquent Nigerian state.

Like many others, President Yoweri Museveni is appalled and puts this in scathing terms when he says:

I have never called the United Nations to guard us. Me, Yoweri Museveni to say that I have failed to protect my people and I call on the UN: I would rather hang myself. We prioritized national security by developing a strong Army, otherwise our Uganda would be like DRC, South Sudan, Somalia or Nigeria where militias have disappeared with school children.

“It would be a vote of no confidence in our country and citizens if we cannot guarantee our security? What kind of persons would we be?”

Unlike other more robust and explicit international interventions, strategic international receivership may be quiet and muted, but it has real and serious consequences. As currently expressed and with fossilized deleterious mindsets and attitudes that have driven it into strategic international receivership, Nigerian statehood, has been a monumental and tragic embarrassment to black humanity. Nigeria has the opportunity now to go back to the drawing board to design a new future for itself.