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Flailing giant state of Nigeria: Reassessing problems of human security – Observer Research Foundation

Nigeria is at the risk of becoming a failed state as it faces multiple challenges such as terrorism, secessionist movements, political violence, and widespread diseases
President Muhammadu Buhari, considering the deteriorating human security conditions, told his fresh team of the security chiefs on 27 January, 2021 that there is a ‘state of emergency’ in Nigeria. Indeed, the primary responsibility of any state is to offer human security to individuals as well as communities. Unlike the traditional notion of security, human security is an all-encompassing concept that includes physical, economic, political, sociological, environmental, and health-related aspects. In this context, the broader security-related issues such as human and drug trafficking, piracy, banditry, porous borders that are open to alien infiltration and smuggling of arms and ammunition, ethno-religious and  political violence, and spread of diverse diseases have already weakened Nigeria from within. In May 2021, John Campbell and Robert I Rotberg in their scathing appraisal of Nigeria’s polity concluded in Foreign Affairs that “The Giant of Africa is Failing”. Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa with over 212 million people. Besides its vast size, abundant crude oil reserves, preeminent position amongst the 15-member regional organisation such as the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) certainly make Nigeria a giant state. Moreover, factors including Nigeria’s role in anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles, in the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), in conflict resolution as well as peacebuilding endeavours in the West African region through the ECOWAS, African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN) has made it a crucial state for the regional stability. In addition, Nigeria’s closer association with the United States (US) since its independence in 1960, the presence of Nigerian embassies worldwide, and Nigeria’s attempts to build rapports with China have only enhanced its stature. Although Nigeria and South Africa are the two largest economies of Africa, according to one calculation of March 2020, Nigeria tops South Africa as Africa’s biggest economy.
Nigeria is the most populous state in Africa with over 212 million people. Besides its vast size, abundant crude oil reserves, preeminent position amongst the 15-member regional organisation such as the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) certainly make Nigeria a giant state.
Irrespective of these manifestations of a giant state/regional power, the Nigerian state continues to struggle to maintain sovereignty and territorial integrity by keeping its diverse people united. From managing 36 units that constitute the Nigerian federation to handling the problems of economy at the macro level, the leadership has had to struggle to protect the state in Nigeria. For instance, during 2020, COVID-19 pandemic and its adverse impact on oil industry had affected oil production and caused the collapse of oil prices that had adverse impact on the Nigerian economy. In June 2020, the GDP of Nigeria witnessed a decline by 5.4 percent which affected livelihoods, state finances as well as different developmental programmes. Consequently, the poverty has almost enveloped half of the population in Nigeria. What is more, Nigeria is a home to the second largest population of HIV/AIDS patients in the world which poses challenges to its fragile health infrastructure. In view of the on-going crisis of the state, it would be worth probing the genesis, nature, and dimensions of security that keep threatening the very existence of the state in Nigeria.
Being a mono-cultural economy, Nigeria earns 70 percent of government revenue and 90 percent foreign exchange earnings from the sale of crude oil.
Multiple challenges on multiple fronts
In fact, the perennial existential crisis of Nigeria could be attributed to several complex but constant factors. To start with, being a mono-cultural economy, Nigeria earns 70 percent of government revenue and 90 percent foreign exchange earnings from the sale of crude oil. Fluctuations in oil prices severely affect the performance of its economy. Second, Nigeria has 500 distinct languages and 250 ethnic groups but predominant amongst them are Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo from the northern, western and eastern parts of Nigeria, respectively, that make up for 60 percent of the total population. Third, Nigeria’ Muslim population, which is roughly half of the total population, resides in the north while the other half is Christian that lives in the south. Nigeria has broadly fifth largest Muslim and the sixth largest Christian population in the world. In essence, bringing about integration amongst the multiple diversities of its population by weaving them into a nation or an effective multi-ethnic state has proved to be a Herculean task in Nigeria. So far, Nigeria has been unable to work out stable federal or quasi-federal arrangements to accommodate varying ethnic, regional, religious, and linguistic diversities in its socially-plural population under a suitable mode of governance. The lack of political stability, corruption and chaos has prompted army to intervene, at least seven times, through coup d’état in the Nigerian polity from 1960-1999. However, the army has toppled democratic as well as non-democratic regimes. Keeping the above realities in sight, it is feasible to identify and shed light on a few major threats to human security in Nigeria.To start with, Jihadi terrorism of radical Islam espoused by organisations such as Boko Haram, which is active in northeast Nigeria, and its breakaway group, namely, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) which is active in the Lake Chad region, have been posing recurrent security challenges to Nigerian security agencies. The members of Boko Haram are being trained by al-Qaeda in the Lands of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Apart from al-Qaeda, the Boko Haram is also connected to other national and transnational terrorist networks such as Al Shabab and the Islamic State (IS). It has relied on mass kidnapping of school children for ransom, raids on cache of arms and ammunition, and levying of taxes on farms and agricultural produce to generate funds. The booming international fish market of Nigeria is also being controlled by Boko Haram. Owing to Boko Haram’s activities, during the past 10 years, over 38,000 people have lost their lives and in the Lake Chad region, comprising Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, 3.2 million people have been displaced, in which 2.9 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs) from northeast Nigeria. There are over 684,000 IDPs in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger and 304,000 refugees in these four countries. The ISWAP intensified its activities after breaking away from Boko Haram in 2016. After the death Boko Haram leader, namely, Abubakar Shekau, in May 2021, the ISWAP has emerged as the prominent rival of the Boko Haram in a short time owing to its size and capacity. Its activities are posing a threat to the entire Lake Chad region. Neither the Nigerian army nor the AU-backed Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) constituted by Niger, Benin, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria have been able to handle the terrorist challenge, effectively. Besides, in August, 2020, the US Special Operation Command -Africa stated that al-Qaeda is making inroads in the Middle Belt region as well.
In view of Nigeria’s Sunni majority, there is also Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) led by Zakzaky and inspired by Iran that is working to protect the rights of Shias.
In the Middle Belt/ Central Zone comprising the north-eastern and the north-western parts of Nigeria, there have been constant clashes between sedentary farmers and livestock herders leading to substantial loss of human lives, crop damages, threats to livestock, and ultimately ecology of the area. There are ethnic and religious cleavages amongst the warring groups , for e.g., Christian farmers of various ethnicities versus Fulani Muslim groups. In the northwest, as the clashes escalated owing to banditry, ethnic vigilantism, and intercommunal conflicts from 2011 to 2020, roughly 8,000 people were killed and 200,000 people were displaced. The Middle Belt region is also witnessing Sunni-Shia tensions. In view of Nigeria’s Sunni majority, there is also Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) led by Zakzaky and inspired by Iran that is working to protect the rights of Shias. Thus, the complex problems in the Middle Belt could be solved by the state only through deft handling of military and politics in the region.
In contrast to the Middle Belt, the Niger delta which is a store house of Nigeria’s crude oil has been vulnerable to ecological destruction and violation of human rights of the indigenous people. The western oil firms such as Chevron, Mobil, Shell, Elf Aquitaine (currently Total Fina Elf) have worked in collaboration with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), a state-owned firm. Military dictatorships in Nigeria such as those of Ibrahim Babangida (1985-93) and Sani Abacha (1993-98) collaborated with transnational firms and suppressed the dissent in the region ruthlessly. For instance, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was fighting peacefully for the environmental rights of the people of Ogoniland in Niger delta. However, Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the MOSOP, along with his fellow protestors were executed by the Nigerian state in 1995. Besides, during 2009-10, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) had emerged as a prominent militant organisation that was committed to crippling oil production in Niger delta to contain environmental degradation, corruption, economic disparities, and the expansionist role oil firms in the region. In fact, environmental degradation in the Niger Delta has destroyed sources of livelihood. Oil and human security challenges in the Niger delta have undermined human development as well as peace. Oil spills, oil thefts, and sustained attacks on oil infrastructure including pipelines from the militants after 2016, have made the entire region tension prone. To add fuel to fire, Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists are involved in looting weaponry in the region and the security forces have done extrajudicial killings in their bid to carry counter terrorist offensive after 2019. This has led to execution of hundreds of civilians.
Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) had emerged as a prominent militant organisation that was committed to crippling oil production in Niger delta to contain environmental degradation, corruption, economic disparities, and the expansionist role oil firms in the region.
Predictably, the secessionist movements have continued to undermine the sovereignty of the Nigerian state. As a result, Nigeria witnessed the Biafran civil war from 1967-70 where its oil rich south-eastern part populated by Igbos  struggled to secede from Nigeria. The military suppressed the secessionist movement brutally as 1 million people lost their lives. However, the short-lived Republic of Biafra (1967-1970) was offered de jure recognition by states such as the Ivory Coast, Gabon, Tanzania, and Zambia. Thereafter, the Igbos have recurrently attempted to secede from the Nigerian federation, albeit, without success. Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra led by Ralph Uwazuruike, a lawyer, that was established in 1999 is a case in point. In 2005, the movement was banned and its leaders were jailed for treason. Currently, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPB) led by Nnamdi Kanu, has been fighting relentlessly for the secession of Biafra since 2012. In 2017, the Nigerian government declared it as a terrorist group and proscribed it. The other forerunners of the IGP are the Biafran Zionist Movement and the Voice of Biafra International, a radio station managed and financed by the Igbo diaspora. Furthermore, the demand of self-determination, emanating from the south-western and south eastern regions, from Yoruba and Igbo people, to establish Oduduwa Republic and the Republic of Biafra, respectively, is also steadily gaining ground.
To conclude, the state of Nigeria is constrained to encounter Jihadi terrorism, problems emanating from clashes of farmers and herders, unrest in Niger delta and incipient secessionist movements. Owing to its weak institutions plagued by corruption, sagging economy, and fragile infrastructure handling such problems appears like an uphill task. Under the circumstances, whether President Buhari during his second term, that ends in 2023, will be able to handle these multiple human security challenges in Nigeria’s flailing ‘giant state’ remains to be seen!
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).
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Rajen Harshé  is a founder and former Vice Chancellor of the  Central University of Allahabad, Prayagraj and former President of the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, A Constituent Institute of the University of Allahabad, Prayagraj.
Set up in 1990, ORF seeks to lead and aid policy thinking towards building a strong and prosperous India in a fair and equitable world. It helps discover and inform India’s choices, and carries Indian voices and ideas to forums shaping global debates. ORF provides non-partisan, independent analyses and inputs on matters of security, strategy, economy, development, energy, resources and global governance to diverse decision-makers (governments, business communities, academia, civil society). ORF’s mandate is to conduct in-depth research, provide inclusive platforms and invest in tomorrow’s thought leaders today.

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