ANALYSIS: Is Nigeria our sub-regional superpower or a laughing stock? – By Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

The writer, Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor
Right in front of our eyes, Nigeria is slipping into chaos, threatened by agitations and plain terrorist acts that endanger life and property. There seems to be too many fault lines that are now cracking open to reveal a frightening truth—that after many years of mismanagement and maladministration, the country is at the brink of doom, fueled by an oil boom that has turned out to be the prime-mover for this doom.

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Whether it can cope with the pressure and remain on its feet is anybody’s guess. The immediate conclusion is that despite all the potential that the country has to be the West African regional super power, it is turning out to be a laughing stock and a classic example of a failed state.

For some time now, events happening there have given a clear indication that the country will sooner than later face serious problems on the scale of the crisis that precipitated the 1967–1970 civil war from which it still continues to suffer. Many crisis situations have occurred over the past few years and new ones are emerging to threaten national life. Nigeria is now face-to-face with what it dreads.

The bottom-line is that Nigeria is at the crossroads and needs decisive action to prevent it from slipping into total chaos and mayhem. At all fronts—economic, political, socio-ethnic, sectarian—the country faces threats. All these fault lines have been developing over the period but nothing concrete has been done to prevent what has begun destabilizing the country right in front of our eyes.

This crisis situation is troubling because of its immediate negative impact on every aspect of national life and its potential to degenerate into full-blown nationwide breakdown of discipline and order, which will bring the country down to its knees. That the government has imposed a state of emergency in some parts of the country is the clear confirmation of the seriousness of the threat.

The large scale terrorist acts unleashed by the dreaded Boko Haram have already caused enormous dislocation and devastation of infrastructure and human life. Boko Haram seems to be having an upper hand and is causing anarchy all over the place. Having turned its terrorist machine on the Christian community, it has added a new slice to the government that has been its target right from inception.

Let’s remember that its main modus operandus is selective sabotage (as we can tell from the bombing of the UN Headquarters in that country) with the view to creating panic and fear among the populace, cause wholesale anger and disaffection against the Establishment, and then push through its fundamentalist agenda of imposing Sharia law on new areas that it controls. Then, it will make the country ungovernable and eventually destabilize it.

Now that President Goodluck Jonathan claims that Boko Haram has allies in his government, the situation has assumed nasty dimensions. It means that the terrorist group has its feet firm on the ground and can strike from within at will. It won’t lack financial or material support.

In an earlier article discussing the Boko Haram menace, I underscored the need for the Nigerian government to use all available means to handle the threat but nothing seems to have been done apart from the meeting of force with force that has rather emboldened the group to intensify its terrorist activities.
In that article, I challenged leaders of the West African sub-region to step in to assist the Nigerian government solve the problem; but so far, nothing has been initiated. These leaders appear not to know the danger posed by Boko Haram to the sub-region and seem to leave the problem to Nigeria alone to solve. How short-sighted can they be!

We understand that the African Union’s principle of non-interference in a member-country’s internal affairs is paramount but don’t accept the current lukewarm attitude from the sub-regional leaders. Let’s remember that the Boko Haram menace is not restricted to the territorial integrity of Nigeria alone, although its impact is currently limited to that sphere alone. Boko Haram has the potential to extend its operations to other parts of the sub-region and must be tackled before it does so. Some questions arise.
What is there about Boko Haram to attract followers? Is it a general discontent against the Nigerian Establishment or the government’s inability to solve national problems? Let’s not restrict Boko Haram’s grievances to only those that border on religious fundamentalism or abhorrence for the West (especially its form of education or cultural evangelism that is the primary cause of the group’s anger). Something must be wrong in the Nigerian system to create this deep-seated hatred in it for the Establishment.

It is a home-grown terrorist organization that is likely being supported by allies in other parts of Africa (the Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb or the Al-Shabab of Somalia, for instance). It can’t be ruled out that other terrorist organizations are its allies. The issues being fought against by Boko Haram are the same grievances that motivate the terrorism that these groups have unleashed on many parts of the world.

If the Nigerian government fails to handle this Boko Haram threat properly, it will explode beyond its borders to worry the entire sub-region. Our leaders should be proactive enough to stem this tide, not wait till the problem gets out of hand before scrambling for ad hoc measures to attempt dealing with it. Such a menace cannot be eradicated with ad hoc measures. I suggest that some productive conflict-resolution mechanisms based on negotiation and peaceful means be initiated.

The negotiation should involve any institution or capable people in any part of the world whose efforts can be relied on to control the situation. In the circumstance, it is only when the parties are brought to the negotiation table that the issues can be laid bare and resolved. Any recourse to force at this stage will stoke the fire all the more. I remember the failed Aburi Summit that could have prevented the Nigerian civil war had the antagonists listened to reason early enough to give peace a chance.

Once Boko Haram has gained enough traction as a separatist group that is not only fighting a sectarian war with Christians but is also bent on confronting the Nigerian government and destroying life and property at will anywhere in the country, it must dawn on the authorities that its recklessness cannot be contained through force. Again, because it is operating clandestinely, it cannot be easily outmanouevred. That’s why the Nigerian government must look for assistance beyond its borders.

To worsen Nigeria’s plight, other unfavourable developments are adding to the Boko Haram menace. Why the Goodluck Jonathan government should remove subsidy from fuel to instigate public dissension is inconceivable. No matter what official explanation is given to justify the action, public anger will be difficult to soothe. The ongoing indefinite strike called by the Nigerian Labour Congress has already paralyzed the country and will likely cripple national life if not curtailed soon.

Apart from the death of protestors and the fact that productivity will suffer, this strike action has the potential to revive agitations at many fronts. It will become the fertile ground for Boko Haram to recruit followers or for it to hit where it will hurt the government. Then, the tension will rise sky-high and government will lose public trust and confidence, which its opponents will capitalize on. We hope that the military won’t do anything stupid in the interim if law and order break down. The fire is really burning!
The insurgency in the Niger Delta region may not be as active as it was about a few years ago but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be revived. The embers of the militancy are not fully dead and what is simmering now at the labour front in objection to the removal of fuel subsidy may be the spark needed to re-ignite the armed resistance. After all, it’s all about the oil that the country produces but which doesn’t serve the interests of the wider population. Anything connected with oil in Nigeria is explosive and must be expected to attract widespread interest.

I don’t want to suggest anything ominous for the country but will say it aboveboard here that the country’s leaders have not proved to be capable problem solvers. It seems they are more interested in presiding over a broken system than taking decisive action to stem the tide. What we see happening in the country today is the outcome of many years of ineptitude, negligence, and criminal laxity.

At 50 years and with a population of 160 million and over-abundant natural and human resources, Nigeria should have had more to its credit than what it is today. It is disturbing that a country that is the largest crude oil producer in Africa doesn’t have its own oil refinery and has to import fuel for domestic use. Of course, it is not as if it hasn’t had any refinery.

It used to have some (I hear 4) but because of massive corruption and mismanagement, they all collapsed many years ago and the country cannot rebuild any; hence, its reliance on other countries for refined fuel, which it imports at great cost to the economy only for much of it to be smuggled out. It is an open secret that this situation has created limitless opportunities for corruption.

Thus, in the midst of it all, the politicians are busily making all the hay they can while their political sun shines, leaving the vast majority of the people in the abyss of abject poverty, want, and disease. The military leaders did it just as the civilian ones are known for doing. Corruption is the hallmark of this hay-making. It is worse than an ineradicable curse. The truth is that this uncontrollable spate of corruption has so dented the country’s international image as to become the mark of identification for anything associated with Nigeria.

Beyond corruption being its bane, the current flashpoints threaten national life and must alarm everybody in the West African sub-region. Nigeria’s role in controlling the mayhem in Liberia (through ECOMOG) is laudable. One wishes that the zeal with which the country’s leaders tackle other people’s problems will be used in dealing with their own internal problems so that the country can continue to be a giant in the sub-region. From what is developing, it is likely that the country is steadily nearing the edge of the precipice.

Nigeria risks falling apart unless decisive action is taken to redeem it from itself. Its problems are self-created and need competent leaders to solve. But just like many countries, including Ghana, those problems can’t be solved expeditiously because the country’s leaders are incompetent, visionless, inward-looking, and unfit for the huge responsibilities that they’ve entered politics to thrust upon themselves. They have themselves become problems for the citizens to solve. That is the crux of the matter.

The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of