To those who fatten themselves on murder
And measure the stages of their reign by corpses
I say that days and men
That the sun and the stars
Will crush those who barter other’s patience
And the season allied with men’s bodies
Will see the enactment of triumphant exploits
David Diop (Certitude)
When Thomas Hobbes wrote the Leviathan in the 17th century, Nigeria as a State had not yet been born. To other philosophers of his time, the idea of a society without laws where life was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” and individual power or might of a small group ensured brief survival was too far-fetched. John Locke, Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, David Hume, John Calhoun and others argued in different treatises that Hobbes’ idea was a fantasy. An unlikely possibility. They argued that the social nature of man would make such a state as described by Hobbes impossible. They could not imagine that such a state could have existed in human history and the thought that such a state could one day emerge did not cross their minds.
Enter 1914, and Nigeria was born under the British rule. Nigeria was governed as a British appendage under British laws. Nigerians were considered servants of the crown. It was generally assumed that Thomas Hobbes and his Leviathan had disappeared for good; after all, his theory was an imagination of what life must have been immediately after Adam stepped out of Eden to live on his own. The agents of Britain in Nigeria and Nigerian citizens of the time never heard of Thomas Hobbes. Before the British, Nigerian citizens, grouped under different ethnic groups and kingdoms had their values, norms and codes of behavior that respected sanctity of human life, rights to property and collective protection against disruptive forces either of nature or man-made. In other words, the State of Nature never existed in our land.
Enter 1960, Nigeria was born again. The country obtained independence and the responsibility of creation of a modern state fell on the shoulders of Nigerian politicians. With independence came the ghost of Thomas Hobbes. The British left our shores but invoked the spirit of Hobbes, their compatriot to take their place. Thomas Hobbes came with two of his books (the Leviathan and On the Citizen) which were embraced and devoured by the Nigerian political class. The result was Operation weti e in the Southwest, pogroms of easterners in the North and ultimately the Nigerian civil war. One of Nigeria’s post war leaders boasted in the eighties that his favourite book was “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli. He added this book to Thomas Hobbes’ books as instruments of state management. In addition to these three books, Nigeria rulers cherish and rule by the tenets of a famous phase ascribed to Immanuel Kant, who famously wrote that “it is not the responsibility of the State to make people happy”.
Here in Nigeria, we live in a de-facto modern Hobbesian state. Violence is a way of life in Nigeria. Every day, it hangs like a dark cloud on the inhabitants of the country. No one really knows when and in what form or from which quarters violence will be unleashed on the hapless citizens. The Nigerian State has lost its monopoly of violence and the instruments of violence pervade the Nigerian space. There are organizations like MEND, Boko Haram, OPC, IPOB, Herdsmen under Miyetti Allah and others who rival the Nigerian State in violent armoury and are actively competing with the Nigerian State for territory.
As a true Hobbesian state, Nigeria looks like and behaves like a senseless and meaningless war zone. Nigerian rulers speak like they are anomic commanders of a lost war in which all strategies to manoeuvre out of their miserable situation of defeat have failed and counting of corpses is now their only task. To them, lives that are wasted in their absurd theatre of war do not have faces; they do not have loved ones and they are just numbers. Just bodies! Mere statistics to be compared with the number of corpses under a previous regime ! At the beginning of this year, Femi Adesina was reported to have said, “It was unfair for people to blame Fulani herdsmen killings on president Buhari as over 756 people were killed by herdsmen in two years under former President Goodluck Jonathan. I think that is very unkind.” Then he gloated…”and I will try to back my position with statistics. In 2013, particularly, there were nine cases of herdsmen invading communities in Benue state alone and more than 190 people were killed. In 2014, there were about 16 of such tragic developments with more than 231 people killed. And then there was a change of government in May 2015. But between January and May 2015, there were six attacks which left about 335 people dead.” Haba! These are human beings Mr. Adesina was referring to, not chickens, not cows. One hears of such morbid statistics only from the police when they compare figures to show their effectiveness in combatting crime or from the military engaged in a war.
And the President, Mr Buhari also reads from the same script as his aide. Just a couple of days ago, in Taraba State where he is visiting, hear him, as reported by Premium Times, “Taraba has had more bodies than Benue. The number of persons killed in herdsmen and farmers clashes and other violent attacks in Mambilla Plateau, Sardauna Local Government Area of Taraba State, is more than those killed in Zamfara and Benue states combined.” Mr. Buhari said he ”has a way of gathering his own information on all the crises and killings in the country.”
Nigeria is experiencing difficulties in functioning as a responsible modern state. This is not about any party in power – they are one and same. Our rulers are reading the wrong books; they are giving evidence to the reality of what was otherwise thought to be impossible. And we are their victims. This prehistoric State of Nature governance style will only lead to chaos; it is a dangerous social experiment that will ultimately consume the country.
Abimbola Lagunju – A Civil Society of One