A state well-defined is where law and order reign. And it is not difficult to have a country of degraded, disappearing statehood. We already have it. We say when the roots of a tree begin to decay, they spread death up the stem to the branches. Across the south west where I live, the police are on work-to-rule. If you travel from the coasts to the northernmost part of Southern Nigeria, you are not likely to see a single presence of law enforcement. Everyone has been in charge of their lives since the EndSARS protest made the police withdraw their services. We have outsourced our country to criminals and they are not disappointing themselves. Street gangs are in their season of boom. They man ‘police’ road blocks, they control traffic, they mend roads and demand their pay. A robbery happened, daylight and on a busy road, at Lekki, Lagos state last week. The only people who “sleep peaceably in their beds at night” today are those who can afford George Orwell’s “rough men (who) stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” The Hobbesian state of nature has no other definition; it is a state without law – or a state with law without enforcement; it is where life is nasty, brutish and short. It is almost here.
In the far north where I do not live, we read that criminals levy farmers before allowing them to farm and to harvest their crops. “Bandits are collecting the sum of N800,000 as tax from local farmers in Ɗan Kurmi under Maru local government area of Zamfara,” one AM Saleem tweeted last week. Ibrahim Umar Rufai, also on Twitter added his own voice: “Exactly, that’s what happened to us in Damari village under Sabuwa LG, Katsina state. We have to negotiate with the bandits before they allow us to harvest our crops.” Still on Twitter, Aminu Yaro said: “Same with Yankara community under Faskari LG of Katsina state. Before they allow you harvest your crops, you’ve to negotiate with them and pay a minimum of N300,000. The bigger the farm, the higher the price. If you refuse to pay the ransom, they’ll burn the crops. #SecureNorth.” Senator Shehu Sani lent his strong voice to those speaking out against the tragedy going on. He did not write his usual satires with their twisted contours; his outrage bellowed straight on Twitter: “Bandits in Zamfara and some North Western states reportedly collecting Tax or VAT from peasant farmers to permit them to farm should be seriously tackled.” Two days later, he widened the scope of his worries. He pointed at “the eastern part of Niger State that shares borders with Kaduna state and the FCT.” Here, he said, “bandits determine who lives, who dies and who moves…there is virtually no state control there.”
There is no state control anywhere. As the elite focus on the benefits derivable from the state, they have left the state to drift into the control of non-state actors. Today, wherever you go, you meet zones of lawlessness and ‘forests of failure’ dotting the landscape. You have this north and south. The difference is that while the south historically has an army of noisemakers, the north enjoys the ‘peace’ of conformist silence. But for Twitter and Facebook with their unmediated impudence, these tragedies in the north would just go unnoticed, hidden even from (or by) the mainstream media. I understand each time bad incidents there are reported, the power elite get irritated and angry. Our north is uncomfortable with anything that exposes its ugliness. That explains the current anger at the social media and its irreverent behaviours. It also explains a recent distribution of 1,650 transistor radio sets to rural women in a state there. In slave camps, iPhones and Androids are subversive chatter engines; radio sets are perfect tools for the opposite of subversion.
We elected the president so that he would give us security. Do you secure the people by withdrawing the police from the state? There is a reason why airports have control towers. Imagine having persons in your tower who do not believe in controlling any traffic. Before you doubt my drift, ask yourself why the Inspector General of Police and the Police Service Commission are forever in court over who has the powers to recruit 10,000 policemen. They first tested might cross firing in the media. But when they saw there was no one holding the gavel against their show of shame, they went to court leaving the job undone and the nation gravely under-policed.
We are in gridlocks which have become a metaphor for Nigeria. Everyone is stuck in the intersection of Nigeria’s incompetence – or tragedy. There used to be an unmanned street junction without official traffic controllers. A madman saw that loophole and filled the void. He became the lord there, controlling the flow of cars and lorries and their human contents. And drivers learnt to obey his command. Sometimes he did it well, some other time his lunacy took control. Like all nameless actors on our stage in Nigeria, no one can tell what eventually became his fate. But beyond our insane traffic situation and its control, take a look also at the abandoned roads and those filling the potholes. How many of them can you read? But these are the people serving us where governments have failed.
Regardless of where you live, the only place of relative safety today is the home. The street is the new rogue poaching its livelihood from every unlucky wayfarer. The Nigerian state stopped working for the people a long time ago. That is why the police won’t be at work, every junction becomes a crime scene and all the Federal Government does is hold its weekly FEC meeting (eating), award contracts and issue threats. Three weeks ago, the Police Service Commission pleaded with its “officers to, in the spirit of nationalism, return to work while government works out enough protective programs for them.” We, of course, know that lawlessness cohere perfectly wherever there is no firm political control. We also have law enforcement commanders ordering their officers and men to go back to work. But in vain were those orders given.
The Black Lives Matter protests happened to the United States earlier this year but the US government did not abandon the state to abolitionists. Lack of an effective, functioning central government is a very loud symptom of state collapse. When a country cedes its mandate to warlords and client groups, it is no longer a state. That has been the lot of that failed country called Somalia since January 1991. It has been without a central government. The vacuum in its life is effectively filled with (and by) anarchy. History says in the absence of competent leadership, society degenerates to anarchy. May Nigeria not drag its wobble into that hole of fire with its present cluelessness. Honest people know that we are a country on autopilot – even the pilots themselves know this. Except they are worse than we think, they must be surprised that the plane has not crashed. We have the law but there is no one to enforce it. Plato, in his ‘Eleventh Letter,’ argues that having a constitution or enacting laws is not enough. He said there must be “some authority in the city to look after the daily life of the citizens and to insure that both free men and slaves live in a temperate and manly fashion.” This precisely informed my question: Where is our president in all this? Shouldn’t anyone who applied for a job, and got it, and draws benefits from it do the job? We should not allow President Muhammadu Buhari close his eyes as bandits reign north to south. He has been very loudly absent, turning our executive presidency to a ceremonial office.
“Every ship needs a captain. The crew is important but the captain steers everything. You need to have a clear vision to lead.” That is one of my favorite leadership quotes, the author is unknown. Each time Nigeria drifts, the quote comes to my mind and I cast a glance at Abuja and the wreck the deck has become. A good captain is not made from calm seas; it is in a time of crisis as we are that we know the leader we have. We should just thank our governors for holding the forte. They may not have scored As, but they have individually shown leadership when it mattered. They run when running is recommended; they walk when walking is the presumed solution. They speak when it is necessary to talk to us. They do not ignore us as Abuja does us and our problems. Imagine having our governors copy Abuja and also adopt the toothpick approach to the existential problems in their states. The governors, warts and all, are the reason we still have not defeated Somalia in the championship among the ungoverned.
Dr. Lasisi Olagunju is an Editor and Columnist with the Nigerian Tribune