Few weeks before now, cautious optimism might have been the lot of many returnee IDPs of Baga communities and Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State. With the presence of 1,181 officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces backed by heavy tanks and artillery, the hope was that the semblance of normalcy would soon return to this fishing community in the shores of Lake Chad. Last week however, that fragile hope was thrown overboard. The governor’s heavily fortified convoy was met with the terrorist’s overwhelming firepower, unleashing mayhem that caused very significant human casualties. One news source counted up to 30 dead and the victims include twelve policemen, five soldiers, four members from the detachment of the government-backed militia, Joint Task Force (JTF), and nine civilians. The governor escaped by the skin of his teeth.
That Baga continues to suffer a barrage of attack in the hands of the terror group should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the region. Her waterways to neighboring countries are considered crucial to Boko Haram’s operations and inform the imperative to protect such a strategic territorial interest.
In January 2015, the town was attacked and burnt to the ground while the military base used by a multinational force set up to fight them was seized by the insurgents. The community suffered no less than 2,000 deaths from that one attack alone, forcing the survivors to flee in droves. Few decades earlier, no one could have predicted that a city that played host to Doron Baga, a thriving fish market and one of Borno’s largest of such enterprises would be a Bermuda Triangle of sorts.
Visibly shaken and highly distraught, Governor Zulum demanded answers from the military high command. Like many Nigerians, he may have come to terms that there may be very powerful elements within the Nigerian security apparatus that are shamelessly profiting from the insurgency in the northeast and would stop at nothing to sabotage every effort geared towards ending it. For those blood-thirsty cannibals, prosecuting such a war is their ticket to owning private jets and other earthly luxuries. The belief is that the current administration and the ones before it are either intimidated by these deadly non-state actors and their co-conspirators or are just worried about the political blow-back of coming after such people. That may explain why many Nigerians are deeply skeptical about their government’s sincerity and overall commitment to the war on terror. It may also be part of the reason why Governor Zulum was making the passionate appeal to call in Chadian troops for help.
The 2019 Fragile States Index, as yearly report by Fund for Peace, a Washington DC-based think tank ranked Nigeria 14th out of 178 countries surveyed across 12 indicators of vulnerabilities and risks faced by the individual nations. Some of the indicators include security, group grievances, economic decline and brain drain, human rights and rule of law and refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs).
When Jack Goldstone wrote his seminal paper titled “Pathways to State Failure”, you know for a fact that Nigeria was topmost on his mind throughout the entire time. Not only did Africa’s most populous nation check off most of the boxes but was actually cited in four out of the five categories listed.
The world famous academic defined State failure in the context of one that has lost both its effectiveness and legitimacy. Effectiveness defined as the ability to carry out state functions such as providing security while legitimacy hinges on the support of important groups of the population. One could certainly make the case that successive Nigerian administrations since return to civil rule in 1999 are to a certain extent, the product of a democratic process, but a government that has lost a swath of her land to terrorists and at the danger of loosing even more, is anything but effective.
According to the 2020 Global Conflict Tracker by the Council on Foreign Relations, the Boko Haram militancy in the northeast has led to about 37,500 deaths, 2.5 million displaced people and nearly 244,000 Nigerian refuges since 2011.
As Governor Zulum and the people of the northeast continue to nurse the festering wound of unending insurgency, it would be interesting to ask those victims of terror who they believe is in charge of the territory in places they once called home. That particular question is also pertinent to the situation in Southern Kaduna, Zamfara, thousands of people living in IDP camps and so many agrarian communities across the states of the southeast and southwest geo-political zones who are under constant attack by killer herdsmen. The 1999 Constitution explicitly states that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.
And so wherever you go, from the school system to civil service bureaucracies, you will find that every public institution in Nigeria has either collapsed or exist only as a counterfeit of what it’s meant to be. Not spared from this rot are religious organisations, the military and justice system, those sacred institutions once considered the last line of defence for any nation.
Nigeria didn’t fail Nigerians. Nigerians failed Nigeria and we have no reason to celebrate this lawless mix of tribal enclaves trapped in ignominy as the poverty capital of the world. We could continue to play the proverbial Ostrich but if Nigeria hasn’t failed then I have no idea how failure is defined. We all have clobbered this nation to a pulp, spit on her face and yet claim the victim. If we are serious about getting things right, then our discussion should start to focus on how to salvage it.
•Dr. Agbo is the coordinator of African Centre for Transparency and writes from USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org