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On the brink of a failed state, three scenarios – outgoing military chiefs; incoming army chief; our wealthiest politician-tycoons


By near unanimous agreement among pundits, here are the truly failed African states at the present time: Central African Republic (CAR); Chad; Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Somalia; South Sudan.

In the opinion of the pundits, technically, two conditions are deemed necessary in order for a state to be declared and universally regarded as a failed state: the state in question can no longer enforce or project authority over the entirety of its territory; and it can no longer protect its boundaries with other states. We should spell what this means in social and human terms: as rulers of a failed state continue to plunder the nation’s resources and assets, bands of militias, bandits and marauders plague all parts of the country, both in the urban and rural areas; declared and undeclared warfare breaks out, between the central authority and various insurrectionary militias, and/or between belligerent groups and communities; acute insecurity of life, property and movement worsens relentlessly and uncontrollably. We could add more to this broad sketch of the failed state in the modern world system, but let this profile suffice for our purposes in this piece.

In the light of these manifestations of the failed state, how close are we in this country to the profile? Deliberately, I leave it to you, the reader, to judge for yourself. In this piece, I lay out the outlines of three scenarios, all of which took place this month of February 2021. If you were looking for indications, or more subliminally, intimations, of how close we are to a failed state, you couldn’t have found anything more telling than the first two of the following three scenarios. Indeed, precisely because the scenarios were totally unplanned and unexpected, Nigerians at home and abroad are still trying to catch their breath from the shock that they caused. Of the third and final scenario, because it came to light in the same month as the other scenarios, I ask the reader to take it a sort of Godsent revelation of how, even as the country is teetering on the brink of a failed state, our wealthiest politicians are still brazenly and unconscionably milking the national cow dry]

Outgoing Service Chiefs’ Voluntary Confessions

The first “confession” was made early in the month by Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi (Rtd), the incumbent Defence Minister. Since the incident and the outrage that it caused are still very fresh in the minds of Nigerians, we can quickly deal with it. In essence, the Minster said it is only Nigerians themselves who can and should defend themselves from the scourge of armed robbers, kidnappers and bandits. I quote one of his most offensive sentences: “We shouldn’t be cowards. Sometimes bandits come with about three rounds of ammunition and when they fire shots everybody will run. In our younger days, we stand to fight any form of aggression. Why should people run away from minor, minor aggressions?” At first, most people were simply outraged by Magashi’s suggestion that unarmed people could repel the menace of bandits armed with AK 47s. But when the Minister very awkwardly and unsuccessfully tried to take back his statement, people came to realize that what Magashi was really and rather inadvertently saying was this: in the final analysis, it is you, Nigerians, not the government, not the police, not the army, who can protect yourself from the menace of armed bandits, kidnappers and extortionists.

•Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Atahiru
•Chief of Army Staff, Major General Ibrahim Atahiru
Barely one week after the Magashi blunder, an even more bewildering spate of completely voluntary “confessions” that our armed forces cannot rid Nigeria of crippling insecurity came from the topmost echelons of our military establishment. The occasion was the so-called “screening” exercise by the Senate of the recently retired Defence and Army Chiefs of Staff for appointment to non-career ambassadorial posts. Beyond the fact that it surprised and irked many Nigerians that these army chiefs were about to be given ambassadorial posts within only a few months after their retirement, people also felt that it seemed that they were being rewarded for failure, given the appalling failure of the military to end the Boko Haram insurgency as well as other rampaging armed bandit operations across many states of the country. The two service chiefs involved were Lieutenant Generals Abayomi Olonisakin and Tukur Buratai respectively.

It is difficult to decide whose “confession” was more devastating, Olonisakin’s or Buratai’s. Buratai’s “confession” was more blunt, more chilly. It will take Nigeria at least 20 years to defeat the Boko Haram insurgency, he said, almost as if he wished to drive fear and terror into the hearts of his Senate audience and, beyond them, the Nigerian nation as a whole. Listen to him in his own words: “Unless certain things are done, this insecurity will continue because the truth must be told (that) it may take another 20 years for the country to surmount the problem of insurgency and that is the truth.”

Olonisakin, the retired Chief of Defence Staff, chose the more absurd style of redundancy and inanity in making his own “confession”. The problem, he said, was “forests” – we have too many forests, he declared, and the insurgents and bandits are using them to evade capture and defeat. Indeed, Olonisakin’s “confession” is best savored in his own words: “Three years ago, I conducted research on the forests in the country. I realized we have over 1,000 forest reserves. I sent the team to Kenya and brought out a paper and I said then, three years ago, that our next crisis will be in the forest.” And to clinch the impeccable “scientistic” pedigree of his “forest” thesis, Olonisakin added the following bizarre jargon-riddled conclusion to his “confession”: “I want to say that the solution to insecurity is multi-pronged. We talk about conventional warfare and asymmetric warfare. We are talking about hybrid warfare where everyone is involved. It is not about kinetics. Kinetics gives only a 35% success rate in any war we are fighting. It is a national approach that must be properly galvanized for us to actually surmount the insecurity”.

The incoming army chief’s order to destroy Boko Haram in 48 hours!

In their testimonies, their inadvertent “confessions” that the federal government cannot or will not win the war against the many insurgencies and security challenges that we face, Olonisakin and Buratai left their Senate audience, in the idiom of the popular saying, gasping for breath. Particularly galling was General Buratai’s brutal assertion that it will take no less than 20 years for Nigeria to be rid of its security crises. As far as I am aware, this is the first instance in which a highly placed defence and security functionary of the Nigerian state has openly admitted that our country has more or less met the first of the two essential conditions for being a failed state, this being the inability of a state to enforce or project its authority throughout its territory. But before we come to any conclusions here, there is another person who we should discursively summon to our conversation in this piece and that is no less an august personage than Buratai’s successor as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) the newly appointed Major General Ibrahim Atahiru. Barely one week after Buratai addressed the Senate, Atahiru gave an order which more or less amounted to calling for resolute and overwhelming military action to destroy Boko Haram in Bornu State within 48 hours! Here is the new COAS in his own words:

“You must not let this nation down. Go back and do the needful and I will be right behind you. You should be rest assured of all support you require in this very onerous task. You are aware of the recent attack on Dikwa and Marte; you should not allow this to happen again, go after them and clear these bastards. Areas around Marte, Chikingudo, Wulgo, Kirenowa and Kirta must be cleared in the next 48 hours.”

We do not know if the new COAS had the 20 years doomsday prophecy of the old COAS in mind when he gave this order. All the same, we must not resist the temptation to juxtapose Buratai’s 20 years to Atahiru’s 48 hours. On the basis of this juxtaposition, we are forced to wonder, to ask why our military and defence chiefs think in such starkly incredulous numbers, either on the upstream end of an imaginary pendulum or the downstream edge. This being the case, neither the old COAS’ “20 years” nor the young COAS’s “48 hours” offers Nigerians the hope, not to talk of the certainty that Buhari’s administration is up to the challenge of pulling our country away from the brink of a state that is almost forever close to joining the ranks of Africa’s failed states.

Meanwhile, the last bastions of state-owned resources and assets are about to fall

Whether in a fully failed state or one that is teetering on the brink of becoming one, life is extremely onerous, insecure and fragile for most of its citizens. But not for all or even most of the citizens. If you go to any of the African countries that have been formally declared to be failed states – CAR, Chad, Somalia or South Sudan – you will be surprised to see that there are hundreds of extremely wealthy people who continue to get very rich, very comfortable in the midst of the terrible misery that defines the human essence of what it entails to be a failed state. For the records, I wish to quote in full here the overjoyous words of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President, as he contemplates the immensity of wealth that will come to members of his class of the wealthiest politician-tycoons as Buhari’s administration finally yields to decades-old demands for total privatization and deregulation of our country’s public assets and resources:

“For decades, I have championed the privatisation of our economy and full deregulation of our oil and gas sector, amongst other sectors, for greater service delivery and efficiency.

“As chairman of the National Council on Privatisation, I advanced these policies which saw our economy achieve 6% GDP growth and created jobs for the masses of our people and amass the national wealth that enabled us to exit the debt trap and secure our financial independence.

“Even though my ideas were scorned by the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government over the years, I am nevertheless most fulfilled that an administration that once failed to see the wisdom in these sound economic policies, is now facing reality and has now embraced reason, by announcing the privatisation of our refineries and other assets, which have not always prospered under public management.

“It is always better late than never. And I commend the Federal Government for coming on board. I urge that the privatisation process be as transparent as possible, as that is the only way to ensure that Nigeria reaps the greatest economic benefits from this policy.

“It was never about me. My interest has always been the peace, prosperity, and progress of Nigeria, and I am happy to share these ideas, and others, with the government of the day, for the betterment of our nation and its people”.

In next week’s column, I shall delve much deeper into the implications and ramifications of this final, historic embrace of full-fledged neoliberalism by Buhari after his long holdout against the privatizing hawks in his administration and party. For now, all I wish to point out for notice is the fact that it is precisely at the moment of his administration’s closest nearness to a failed state that Buhari finally caves in to those poised to wrench ownership and control of our most prized natural assets and resources from us, the Nigerian peoples. In other words, it is more than merely fortuitous that it is in the same month that Buratai testifies to the Senate that it will take more than 20 years for Nigeria to crush Boko Haram and all the other security crises plaguing the country and that getting information that Buhari will finally sell off NNPC and our other prize assets, Atiku Abubakar breaks out in a song of praise of privatization and deregulation.


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