(Being the 7th Anniversary Convocation Lecture of Oduduwa University, Ipetumodu, Ile Ife, delivered by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, retired Federal Permanent Secretary and Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy – ISGPP – on the 27th of November, 2019)
The university, and the entire higher education system, for me, is significant to shaping Nigeria’s future and her development aspiration. I therefore like to set the tone for this lecture with a bit of reflection on the concept of the university. The university as we know it today, has evolved significantly from the Greek and ancient understanding of its fundamental essence. The university emerged like every other institution in the society, as a response to the perceived need for order, development and progress. It is indeed significant that the Greeks saw the relationship between the proto-university, like Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum, and the search for wisdom.
The university was conceived to be an ivory tower within which intellectuals, scholars, researchers and students are secluded in order to reflect deeply on the issues, concerns and circumstances around which the human society revolve. This makes the university a laboratory of ideas and experimentations that ought to instigate a flurry of developments in society. The watershed for this understanding was the 13th century that marked a critical intersection between the medieval definition of the university and the emergence of modernity. After the 13th century, and with the commencement of the Renaissance in the 17th century, there was a paradigm shift in the understanding of the medieval universities. The medieval period gave the universities its general meaning of the universitas, a body or association of teachers and students gathered together, by collective legal rights and deriving its Charter from either a King or a town where the guilds or corporations came from. Universities as at the renaissance period had transformed to autonomous degree-awarding institutions offering tuition in non-vocational subjects and in fact, all knowledge domain.
The point therefore is that the university system did not evolve in a vacuum. It’s emergence was a response to unique sociological need of human beings to make sense of their environment with innovativeness and learning. The implication is therefore that the university has a responsibility to respond to variables and factors that gave birth to it. While, for instance, the University of Bologna, Italy, founded in 1088 was founded on the desire to help individuals in society through instrumentalities of mutual aids societies, the University of Timbuktu, founded in the 13 BC, came into existence at the juncture of culture, religion and trade in Mali. The University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in Morocco in 859, as well as many others including Cambridge and Oxford, were founded to facilitate the training and emergence of a new set of administrators who would be able to assist in the urgent tasks of governance.
The private universities’ emergence in Nigeria also places a unique role on the shoulders of Oduduwa University and other private universities. You would recall that, hitherto, it was the federal and state governments that owned universities in Nigeria. Over time however, the public universities became victims of the development and governance predicament that has engulfed Nigeria. The public university system in Nigeria has been compromised in a way that undermines its capacity to service Nigeria’s development and nation building challenges. So, when we explore the link between the University and national development. We are forced to ask a series of questions. What is the role of the university, for instance, in mediating a nation’s development efforts? How does a university affect and influence a nation’s industrialization and productivity profile in manner that inserts the nation into the global industrial map.
So, the critical issue for us in this lecture is this: if the university is the source of research and learning that serves as the recruiting ground for critical ideas about any society? And, how are the primary concerns and researches of Oduduwa University focusing the most pressing challenges of the Nigeria Project? It is not the concern of this lecture to attempt to answer all of these questions. They were posed to simply set us on a reflective mode as I proceed to dwell on the specific charge that I was assigned. The sense therefore is this, that Oduduwa University cannot afford to just be a university in the normal sense of the degree awarding institution that simply graduates students. The university cannot afford to lose its sense of the ‘universe of the university’. It must be seen also to intervene through research and discourse that generate original ideas that are integral to facilitating the rehabilitation of the national project.
Governance, Development and Security
There cannot be any governance breakthrough without the achievement of the state’s minimal responsibility to its citizens. The existence of the state everywhere is founded on the assurance of law and order. This security imperative is the sine qua non for the possibility of every other governance initiatives and innovation. Once a political community becomes a conflict zone, then the first casualty of such insecurity is good governance. The experiences of Sudan, DR Congo, Somalia, Liberia and Sierra Leone are sufficient to ground the hypothesis about the disequilibrium that insecurity and lawlessness inflict on governance.
The relationship between bad governance and insecurity is directly proportional. Bad governance makes it almost inevitable to undermine the security dynamics of any state. When a government is under-performing, then the near absence of infrastructural development and the high unemployment statistics that is bound to result will lead to a high risk in the breakdown of law and order as the youths, especially, tries to make sense of their lives and future. We have the commencement of the Arab Spring in Tanzania as a plausible evidence for how bad governance leads to a breakdown of law and order. On the other hand, insecurity already also compromises the governance framework. When conflict intrudes into governance, it undermines and necessitates simultaneously the urgent need for critical infrastructures. Indeed, one of the objectives of war and other such violent conflicts is the breakdown of infrastructures that will facilitate the capitulation of the enemies. And once the conflict is over, the most crucial demand is for the reconstruction of those infrastructures.
Nigeria has had her fair share of conflict that threatened the breakdown of social order and governance. The most violent since independence was the Nigeria Civil War that led to the death of over three million Nigerians. Since then, the threat of insecurity has been on and off until recently when the Boko Haram insurgents ignited the most challenging insecurity dynamics in Nigeria since independence. In a 2018 collaborative study of conflict and violence in Nigeria, between the World Bank and the Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics, a study of the three geopolitical zones where conflict is rampant—North East, North Central and South South—was conducted between 2010 and 2016. Between the three geopolitical zone, five causes of conflict were identified: terrorism, ethnicity/religion/politics, land or resource access, cultism or criminality, and personal disputes. And four fundamental insights came to light: Overall levels of conflict have risen between 2010 and 2016. Sustained conflict is known to be both caused by and contribute to poverty; however, according to our findings wealth does not protect households from exposure to conflict and violence in Nigeria. Many conflict events are never reported to authorities; engaging community and religious leaders in surveillance may improve rates of reporting events and improve overall understanding of the changing context of conflict and violence across Nigeria. Only a small minority of conflict-affected households receive any type of assistance in support of their recovery – increased reporting and a stronger response system may aid in post-conflict rehabilitation
Nigeria has been stigmatized in global media by recurring incidences of insecurity and insurgency that puts her under global watch as one of the states perceived to be sliding into state failure. Indeed, according to the fifth edition of the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), a report that provides a comprehensive summary of the key global trends and patterns in terrorism over the last 17 years, Nigeria is ranked 3rd, behind Iraq and Afghanistan (GTI 2017). Beyond the Boko Haram and Herdsmen’s terrorism that account for this rating, Nigeria has been plagued for a while now by the notoriety of kidnapping. The terrible act has indeed become a highly lucrative business as ransoms are demanded from families of kidnapped victims. It should also be noted, quite unfortunately, that there exists a gross under-reportage and a statistical understatement of the kidnappings in Nigeria. As The Economist (2014) claims, the actual number of kidnappings is much higher than available in police records.
Several studies have interrogated this phenomenon of insecurity in Nigeria over time. From terrorism to kidnapping, there seems to be a sort of consensus on a set of variables that makes these acts almost inevitable today. These range from the all-pervasive poverty and income inequality deriving from the economic deprivation thesis, high level of corruption, and the reaction to the high-handedness of the Nigerian state against nonstate actors that challenges its governance dynamics, to the incidence of religion and theological motivation (which promises a heaven to those who are pauperized) and even the elite mobilization of the impoverished masses for diabolical purposes. Ladan (2012), for instance, argued that there is an ineffectiveness in government action because of an undue emphasis on the pursuit of national and state security actions which often jeopardizes human security. This is because human and national securities cannot be taken as automatically always mutually reinforcing. In most cases, what has been called the “insupportable gap” creates a gulf between what people expect of government and what they get. Thus, when the government plays the security game against those perceived to be insurgents, terrorists and kidnappers, it fails to put into serious consideration the human dimension to security. Most of us have seen videos and heard news reports of over-zealous security personnel who arrest and maltreat innocent citizens all in the name of national security.
Abdullahi, et al (2014), examined the emergence of insurgency across the geo-political zones in Nigeria within the context of social movement theories. He therefore advocates the need to interrogate the efficacy of ethnic militia in Nigeria in order to unravel their socio-cultural and political undertone. The role that religious fundamentalism and ethnic politics play also requires nuanced interrogation in a bid to provide a holistic and multifaceted knowledge on the motivation for the Boko Haram bloodiness and scope of operation. Variety of research findings have suggested that perhaps Boko Haram is an Islamic army of inquisition, designed as offensive to achieve capture of state power in the dynamics of Nigeria’s politics of succession by taking advantage of the deep poverty in Northern Nigeria and people’s vulnerability.
From these key lessons, it becomes clear how governance failure has facilitated the breakdown of law and order in Nigeria. The Eight Report on Violence of the Nigeria Watch (2018) adds other troubling statistics. There was a 1.4% increase in the statistics of violent deaths in Nigeria in 2018; 2331 victims were killed in over 350 lethal incidents involving security operatives; insurgency, banditry and pastoral conflicts makes the following states very dangerous: Borno, Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Zamfara, Kaduna and Adamawa; and, land issues, cattle grazing and road accidents contributed 2106, 1867 and 1302 fatalities respectively. Crime contributed 3425 fatalities.
All these statistics point at a significant dent in the security profile of the Nigerian state. It also points at the significant relationship between the governance low performance and the blooming violent conflict in the region highlighted. The Boko Haram insurgency has usually been explained in terms of poverty, mal-development and governance failure. And in proportionality terms, the more violent conflict increases, the more the government finds it difficult to put a hold on the declining security situation. On the other hand, the more government gets a firm policy hold on governance and infrastructural development, the more conflict will reduce significantly. Throw into this delicate and seriously inflammable situation the incidence of political and bureaucratic corruption, and we have a most dangerous governance and security problem. The reason why corruption is a game changer is essentially because it by its debilitating influence that governance intentions are undercut in ways that prevents good policies from morphing into good infrastructures. Nigerian refineries, small and medium scale enterprises, electricity framework, and so many others can become functional because there are several huge elite interests that are willing to sabotage their functionality to service elite egoism. The generator contractors will definitely not want the electricity sector achieve optimal functionality. The same goes for those holding significant oil blocs in Nigeria’s petroleum sector whose interest would keep clashing with the public interest of bringing the refineries to full capacity. Corruption increases to the extent that private interests undercut public interest.
The fundamental question then is: does the Nigerian government’s inability to achieve infrastructural development, as the major objective of good governance; coupled with the increasing security breakdown points to the failure of the Nigerian state?
Is Nigeria a Failed State?
In other words: Can we therefore deduce that the disequilibrium between good governance, development and security in Nigeria maker the state a failed one? In answering this question, a bit of theoretical caution is asked for. This is because theory must always be matched with reality in arriving at a valid theoretical deduction. There are three cogent indices that points at state failure. The first is the total absence of the state in governance matters. This simply means that everything called governance has totally collapsed, and there is nothing to point at in terms of infrastructural functionality. The second is breakdown of law and order. This immediately follows from the absence of government in infrastructural issues. This implies that such a state has degenerated turned into a state of nature defined by absolute anarchy. The third index also follows from the other two: there is a loss of internal and external sovereignty. When nonstate actors begin to challenge the territorial sovereignty of a state, then we can say that such a state has lost its capacity to police its territories.
A failed or failing state is also categorized in terms of social, political and economic characteristics. The social indicators concerns demographic issues of employment/unemployment, brain drain and migrational patterns. The economic indicators concern inequality and the decline in economic performances. The political indicators include the decline in the performances of the public services, widespread corruption, abuse of human rights, and so on. On these indicators, several countries can perform in varying degrees. And therefore, it becomes very difficult to rate whether a country is failed or failing, except in cases, like Yemen where almost everything has broken down.
It is at this point that we arrive at a fundamental theoretical distinction—between a “failed state” and a “failed government”—that enable us to get a good grasp of the statistics and theories around a failed or failing state, domiciled within a holistic assessment of the state’s performance within a timeline, based on established indicators. Nigeria as a project has not collapsed, although some structures and institutions might be showing signs of strains and incapacity that they are at the brink of collapse. Viewpoints such as this are shaped by prevailing realities of kidnappings and insurgency that together reflect a form of regression tending to failure. Indeed, more than ever, Nigeria is portrayed and seen as a theatre of war resulting from occurrences of ethno-religious conflicts, farmers and herdsmen clashes and political conflicts which may have left thousands of people dead. These are unarguably, indicators of weak internal security, defiled law and order, hence a perceived failing state.
Failed/Fragile State Index is not designed to forecast when states might experience collapse, but to measure its vulnerability to collapse. The Fund for Peace (FFP) through which the Fragile State Index is powered acknowledges the fact that countries move at different paces. It said among other things that:
Naturally, there will always be setbacks, shocks, and pressures. Of course, around the world, there is still widespread fragility and vulnerability, plenty of poverty and inequality, and conflict and illiberalism. But broadly speaking, over the long-term, the world is becoming steadily less fragile. It often takes cold hard data like that produced by FSI to demonstrate that for all the negative press, there is significant progress occurring in the background (FFP, 2019)
With the existing trend of FSI data, the discourse is more nuanced. The FSI indeed divides states into four categories: “sustainable,” “stable,” “warning,” and “alert.” States are further subdivided as “very sustainable,” “very stable,” “more stable,” “warning,” “alert,” “high alert,” and “very high alert.” According to the FFI (2103), Nigeria under former president Goodluck Jonathan was ranked in the “high alert” category. In the 2019 Fragile States Index, Nigeria is scored 98.5 out of a maximum score of 120. And it is placed on a “alert” category, just three steps away from the “very high alert” category that signal utmost fragility and state failure. Nigeria is ranked 14th on the Index, out of 178 countries. Yet, the idea of state fragility or failure is more nuanced than a mere ranking exercise could explain.
We can state categorically that Nigeria is not doing well in terms of democratic governance and the management of its political and economic stability. Nigeria seems to have lost control over insurgents and bandits, particularly the Boko Haram group which has its own structure, organization, laws, security apparatus and flag, even within the Nigerian territory. Even though government efforts at suppressing these insurgencies have been relentless and significant, it is a dangerous signal for nonstate actors like the Niger Delta militants and the Boko Haram insurgents, to have the structural and organizational capacities that solidly challenge state power. Nevertheless, it would definitely be a conceptual overkill to conclude that by that fact, the Nigerian state has failed. Out of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria, violent conflicts, especially related to Boko Haram insurgency and banditry, are limited to just three zones. And fatalities due to crime has the highest statistics. These are bad in themselves, but they do not signal a country that has failed. It only provides adequate insight into the urgent actions required to put Nigeria back on a stable trajectory. This implies that critical labels like “fragile,” “failing” or “failed” state must be theorized with care since they often stifle measures to understand better what are in essence very complex social phenomena, some of which are rooted in global and regional, rather than in state-based processes of collapse (Berger, 2006). There is therefore the need for a more advanced theorization of state dynamics than what is projected in fragile state literature.
And the solution is simple: Nigeria requires a more determined reform focus that will first attend to the governance indecisiveness of the Nigerian state as the sole avenue of arresting the crumbling security framework that ultimately transition a state from stability to fragility. It should be pointed out that there is no absence of reform guidelines, programmes and documents in Nigeria. What has not happened yet is the marshaling of the political and the bureaucratic will to push this blueprint into radical implementation that will offset Nigeria’s infrastructural deficit, and consequently bring social empowerment to Nigerians. It is therefore to that extent that we can say that Nigeria is toying with state failure. This very possibility of regression into state failure is a tragic one for a state like Nigeria.
From Fragility to Institutional/Governance Reform
Nigeria’s present circumstances, and status on the Fragile State Index can then serve as a clarion call for Nigeria to put its house in order. The notion of failed state becomes tenuous if state failure could be halted with the proper policy dynamics, together with targeted international assistance and intervention (Rotberg, 2004). This would be achieved through deep-seated reforms to rebuild institutions, and ensure their capacitation through value-based parameters, as well as a firm re-professionalization effort that put more weight on competency-based human resource management practices even in the context of diversity management. This general reform necessity would now be inserted into the significant security and governance architecture of the Nigerian state. This is ebacuse, as we have earlier noted, governance and security are directly proportional.
Part of the urgent institutional reform required is the reassessment of the security dynamics of Nigeria. One of the uncanny experiences Nigerians have is their daily confrontations with security personnel who have no idea of what “law enforcement” connotes in a democratic society. Security agents are not only mobilized arbitrarily by politicians and the elites, they also arbitrarily shoot and arrest with impunity. The security agencies therefore need to be not only better equipped to deliver their mandates effectively, but also adequately re-professionalized in ways that hammer the democratic mandate of law and order into their professional consciousness. Reform is also required in the criminal justice system which, to state it mildly, is anachronistic. More creativity is therefore required in tackling and dispelling the criminogenic social conditions and the prosecution of offenders, among others, without compromise.
Furthermore, extant realities draw attention to the imperative of community policing. This is justified by problem of insurgency in the North-East where the criminals live within the local communities and, in some cases, operate from within the same community. This will need to be complemented by a wide-ranging reform of the criminal judicial system. Nigeria’s extensive and porous borders covering over 4000 kilometers with illegal entry points and routes totaling 1500 points, through which criminal gangs and insurgents easily smuggle weapons into the country should be checked.
In this lecture, we attempted to contribute to the conversation regarding how bad governance, state underperformance, which account for infrastructural deficit and, high unemployment statistics, combine with such other factors as politics of succession, ethno-religious crises, endemic corruption that detract from returns on investment in the national security infrastructure to compound insecurity and insurgency as a Nigerian phenomenon. While making a case for the strengthening of the response capability readiness of security agencies through more efficient investment to better equip them and reprofessionalize security personnel, we advocated for a balance in counter-insurgency measures between current emphasis on state security and human security. This will entail broadening the scope of security policy from territorial security and enforcement of law and order to the security of the people. The framework for this has incidentally been significantly elaborated since the UNDP introduced the human security approach in the 1994 global Human Development Report (HDR).
Following this trend of analysis, we also made a case for community policing to strengthen the local neighborhoods watch systems within an integrated framework of strategy that is backstopped with a security information management system that not only deploys technology to gather intelligence, but provides real time security alerts. This of course will be complemented by wide-ranging reform of the criminal judicial system and better manning and check of Nigeria’s porous borders and illegal entry routes.
Besides, we did argue that whereas Nigeria has since 2013 been ranked by The Fund for Peace report in the ‘high alert’ category of failed/fragile state that is vulnerable to collapse, it is definitely a conceptual overkill to conclude that by this fact, especially related to book Haram insurgency and Herdsmen menace, that Nigerian state has failed. To drive home this point, we drew a conceptual distinction between a ‘failed government’ and a ‘failed state’. Consequently, we argued that the Failed/Fragile State Index is not designed to forecast when states might experience collapse and that Nigeria as a project has not collapsed and whatever might be the structural fragility accounting for its current crisis can be sorted with deep-seated sustained reforms and committed leadership.
On this note I like to once again congratulate the Oduduwa University 2019 graduating set. I like to advise the graduates that as you go into the world out there, go with the eyes that reads the signs of the time with knowledge and introspection. And that reading comes with the understanding that whatever certificates you hold must be continually upgraded vocationally, creatively and through sustained self-development. While, therefore, our nation is struggling to get her acts together, as young graduates, we must rise up to the personal responsibility of surviving by making sense of the environment and breaking down the walls of limitations in spite of all the odds that you would inescapably confront, day to day. In doing this, you might really need to think outside the box and sometimes without the box.
And as the American actor, Denzel Washington, admonished, in spite of how difficult the world out there may be, when you eventually get an initial handle on the path to go, you must nevertheless dream big, set goals for yourself, and to achieve these goals, you must plan your life and must come to the realization that hard work and discipline counts. Anything you dream of and want that is good you can have. So claim it and continue to strive with hard work, determination and confidence in yourself to achieve it. And in the words of Denzel Washington, “don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference”.
Prof. Tunji Olaopa, a retired Federal Permanent Secretary & Executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Bodija, Ibadan, writes via firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com