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Opinions of Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Columnist: Nigerian Tribune

Is Nigeria failing?

Two-time President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, last Friday, stoked a fresh political fire when he declared that the country he had ruled twice, was becoming a failed state in the hands of another two-timer and incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. He was speaking to a diverse crowd of ethnic champions from geo-political zones of the country.

Since his submission, the political temperature of the country has risen sharply. It has strictly been either lauding the former President for speaking what is considered the bitter truth or knocking him for crying wolf and trying to divide the nation along fault-lines, instead of being a statesman. So far, the man who nurtured the running Republic, which has been the country’s longest-running democratic experience in history, appears to have received more applause than criticism, as Nigerians grapple with the daily realities of the challenges confronting their land.

Obasanjo, never the one to observe the unwritten code of Presidents not criticising one another, in and out of office, had taken umbrage at the incumbent in the past and his main grouse has been the alleged poor handling of the country’s diversity, including religious, ethnic and partisan differences. Though his outbursts have been consistently criticised as decked to the hilt, with political biases and agenda, the former president’s critics have also not denied the challenges confronting the country under the watch of the current President.

In 2015, Obasanjo is on record, endorsing Buhari against then-President Goodluck Jonathan and since he began criticising his anointed of five years back, the retired General has consistently alleged mismanagement of the goodwill that gave the incumbent a historic victory in 2015, defeating an incumbent, for allegedly being unable to rise above primordial ethnic sentiments. The two presidents managed their relationship until the 2019 poll, when the former president anointed his former deputy Atiku Abubakar against Buhari, the incumbent. While the incumbent was declared the winner of the poll, the relationship between him and Obasanjo deteriorated completely. The poll cast the former president as a partisan interest against the political interest of the President, which is why the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), representing the interest of the North, the political base of the President, dismissed the outburst as political mischief, packaged in nationalism. Since the back and forth began, the main issues have remained in contention. One, without doubt, there are countries already in that failed state column and two, is the unanswered question of if Nigeria is officially there.

A report published by Statista Research Department, on June 17 on the 20 most unstable countries around the world was based on the Fragile States Index in 2020. According to, the index assigns each country a score based on a range of social, economic, and political indicators. A higher score on the index suggests the state is more fragile. In 2020, Yemen was considered the world’s most fragile state with a score of 112.4. The report explained that a higher score on the index suggests the state is more unstable. It stated identified the indicators to include: security apparatus; factionalized elites; group grievance; economic decline and poverty; uneven development; human flight and brain drain; state legitimacy; public services; human rights and rule of law; demographic pressures; refugees and IDPs; external intervention.

With an estimate combined population of 350.6 million people, 14 countries of the world are officially regarded as failed states. They are Yemen in Asia, with total population of 28 million, Somalia, a country in Africa with 16 million people, Syria also in Asia with a population of 18 million, Lebanon, another Asian with 6.9 people, South Sudan, Africa’s latest nation with 13 million people, Afghanistan, in Asia, which connects the Middle East to Central Asia, with 32 million people and former Burma, now known as Myanmar also in Asia with 53 million people.

Others are Chad in Africa with 14 million population, Iraq in Asia with 38 million people, Rwanda in Africa with 12 million people, Liberia also in Africa with 5.1 million people, Sudan, another African with 42 million population, with another two African countries of Central African Republic, 4.6 million people and Democratic republic of Congo with a whopping 68 million people, rounding off the number.

In all, two continents of Asia and Africa shared the list on almost equally basis, with Africa slightly tipping the scale at eight failed counties to Asia’s six. If Nigeria is eventually held as another African country officially fulfilling the parameters, it would take Africa’s number to nine, with a total population of 374.7 million, from the current 174.7 million people.

The parameters

What constitutes a failed state has no general acceptance though the concept is accepted as a reality, which possibly accounts for the divergent opinions trailing the characterisation of the current realities of the nation, by the former president.

However, a failed state is taken as a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly. A state can also fail if the government loses its legitimacy even if it is performing its functions properly. Likewise, when a nation weakens and its standard of living declines, it introduces the possibility of total governmental collapse, according to Wikipedia.

Global peace initiative known as The Fund for Peace listed a failed state as having the following characteristics: *Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein, *Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, *Inability to provide public services, and *Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

When the factors above are prevalent, the resultant effects are listed as widespread corruption and criminality, the intervention of state and non-state actors, the appearance of refugees, the involuntary movement of populations, sharp economic decline, and foreign military intervention.

Max Weber adds that once a state can no longer maintain a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force within its borders, through the dominant presence of warlords, paramilitary groups, corrupt policing, armed gangs, or terrorism, “the very existence of the state becomes dubious, and the state becomes a failed state.”

Maybe Wole Soyinka, the famed Nobel Laureate is viewing the Nigerian nation from Weber’s prism, in agreeing with his perennial foe, Obasanjo, that the country in Buhari’s hand, has failed.

According to the firs Black Literature Laureate, “The nation is divided as never before, and this ripping division has taken place under the policies and conduct of none other than President Buhari. Does that claim belong in the realms of speculation? Does anyone deny that it was this president who went to sleep while communities were consistently ravaged by cattle marauders, were raped and displaced in their thousands and turned into beggars all over the landscape?

“Was it a different president who, on being finally persuaded to visit a scene of carnage, had nothing more authoritative to offer than to advice the traumatised victims to learn to live peacefully with their violators? And what happened to the Police chief who had defied orders from his commander-in-chief to relocate fully to the trouble spot – he came, saw, and bolted, leaving the ‘natives’ to their own devices. Any disciplinary action taken against ‘countryman’?

“Was it a spokesman for some ghost president who chortled in those early, yet controllable stages of the now systematised mayhem, gleefully dismissed the mass burial of victims in Benue State as a “staged show” for international entertainment? Did the other half of the presidential megaphone system not follow up – or was it, precede? – with the wisdom that they, the brutalised citizenry, should learn to bow under the yoke and negotiate, since “only the living” can enjoy the dividends of legal rights?”


In replying Obasanjo, the Presidency, through spokesman Garba Shehu, denied that the actions or inactions of the current administration are dividing the country and pushing it to the precipice.

Goldstone’s Pathways to State Failure possibly situates where the nation stands today, using the five possible pathways he identified. Of the five, the only pathway which didn’t include Nigeria is “Succession or reform crisis in authoritarian states.”In “Escalation of communal group (ethnic or religious) conflicts” which is the first Pathway, Nigeria tops his list which includes Syria, Somalia, Myanmar, Chad, Iraq, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Liberia, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan.

Practically all of nations that share the spot with Nigeria, are officially deemed failed states.

Under “State predation (corrupt or crony corralling of resources at the expense of other groups)” Pathway, Nigeria is listed after Ukraine and followed by Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil, Philippines, Croatia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, South Africa, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Russian Federation.In this group, a couple of registered failed states, are included.

Under the Pathway of “Regional or guerrilla rebellion, Nigeria featured prominently for obvious reasons. For more than a decade, the nation has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency in the North, particularly the North East, as well as other regional agitations and militias across board. Other countries listed in this class are Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Congo, Colombia and Vietnam.

For the pathway described as “Democratic collapse (leading to civil war or coup d’état),” Nigeria is also mentioned alongside Liberia, Madagascar and Nepal. This is one pathway that could be easily disclaimed by the authorities, considering the relative stability of the current democratic experience of the last 21 years, despite the deficits and deficiencies.

Soyinka was however certain in his intervention that whatever is regarded as democratic stability in the country is closing to giving way.

According to him, “Across this nation, there is profound distrust, indeed abandonment of hope in this government as one that is genuinely committed to the survival of the nation as one, or that indeed understands the minimal requirements for positioning it as a modern, functional space of productive occupancy.”

Failing or fragile

The 2019 Fragile States Index which replaced the Failed States Index, ranked Nigeria as the 14 most fragile state in the world and the ninth in Africa. According to the Index, Yemen is the “most failed” state, followed closely by Somalia, while Finland emerged the most sustainable state on earth. The Index for Nigeria was 98.5, increasing from 84.3 Index in 2005 and growing at an average annual rate of 1.17%.

12 indicators, grouped into social, economic and political, were adopted for the rating. The social indicators include, demographic pressures, refugees or internally displaced persons, group grievance, human flight and brain-drain. For economic indicators, uneven economic development, poverty and economic decline were used, while political and military indicators include, state legitimacy, public services, human rights and rule of law, security apparatus, Factionalizsed elites and external intervention. Each indicator carries 10 marks, making a total of 120.

Engaging in comparative analysis, Goldstone said a state cannot be said to have failed, manifesting just one of the core pathways of legitimacy and absolute control on territories but, “it is in great danger of failing soon if nothing is done.”

Matthew Gault also has this to say about the concept, “It’s hard to define a failed state. Countries can continue for decades after outside observers declare them functionally dead. There’s no single thing that constitutes a failed state, merely indicators.”

Charles Fiertz, a Programs Manager who works on the Failed States Index, explains that “state collapse happens slowly and then suddenly. The former happens as vulnerabilities build up and pressures increase which can include widening inequality; the hollowing out of public institutions; the erosion of popular legitimacy of key actors, both public and private; underfunded public services; crumbling infrastructure; increasing polarization along political, ethnic, or religious lines etc.

“There is no mirror image of the sudden part of state collapse. Additionally, recovery has the best chance of succeeding when that effort is inclusive. It is extremely difficult for a single actor or group to pull it off on their own.

The debate on the status of Nigeria on this list would definitely draw out but it seems Charles has provided a roadmap.

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