Monday, 21 December 2015

The ‘Failed State’ as a Doubly False Categorisation of Nigerian Statehood

Nigeria has often been described by scholars, commentators, journalists and some statesmen as a ‘failed state’. This designation is based on a faulty appreciation of the understanding of what a state is in international law and what it means for a state to fail within international politics. This paper will examine the concept of failed states and explain why there is a conceptual error in categorisation and suggest further steps that need to be taken by Nigeria – its people and its leaders.
The Argument for Nigeria as a Failed State
Because states were ostensibly created for the complete security of those who live within that state, when its peoples’ security is not observed the state would be said to have failed; for example, the failure to protect human rights is a malfunction of state.

According to Kaufmann and Kraay the crux of good governance is ‘a capable state that is accountable to citizens and operating under the rule of law.’[1] The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank encourage good governance that can be achieved through accountability, political stability, adherence to the rule of law, government effectiveness, ability to promote private sector development, transparency and eradication of corruption.[2] Therefore, if we conclude that Nigeria has the opposite of good governance as defined by Kaufmann and Kraay, we mean that the government is incapable or failed; the government is not accountable to its people and does not operate under the rule of law. There have been several instances of this in Nigerian history. Firstly, there is the high number of unconstitutional changes in government which contravene the rule of law. Secondly, a state is said to fail or be collapsed ‘when it no longer performs the functions attributed to it.’[3] Nigeria is a failed state according to the Failed States Index 2014; it is ranked 17th on the list of failed states.[4]

The concept of state failure is a matter of functional collapse, i.e. state malfunction or non-function, when a state is not able to perform the fundamental functions attributed to it by scholars like Hobbes. According to the Failed States Index, Nigeria states suffers mostly from factors such as delegitimization of the state, demographic pressures, insecurity, human rights abuses, inadequate public services, group grievance, factionalized elites, external intervention and uneven development. This argument, however, fails to take account the nature of the post-colonial state in Africa, of which Nigeria fits the general profile. It is on the basis of state criteria that some may suggest that Nigeria is ‘failed’.[5]  ‘A state, defined as the authoritative political institution that is sovereign over a recognized territory, fails when it no longer performs the functions normally attributed to it.’[6]  

What is not addressed, based on the same criteria, is whether Nigeria is a ‘state.’ Coupled with what could be seen as a relaxation of the traditional criteria for statehood at decolonization, the emergence of the additional criteria has resulted in some post-colonial states to be classified as failed states.[7] What that means is while failure is clearly proven, statehood is not.

The Creation of States in International Law
Initially humanity existed in communities which later evolved into kingdoms and empires. The complexity of human existence occasioned the move of world society from existing in stateless forms to requiring a sovereign state for security.

The classical criteria for statehood is listed in Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention 1933 as follows: permanent population; defined territory; government; capacity to enter into relations, i.e. independence.[8]  Some additional suggested criteria include: the protection of human rights; external recognition; and effectiveness.[9]

In fact of the classical criteria of statehood, recognition and territory are the only conditions clearly attained by Nigeria;[10] in the case of territory, even though it is clearly defined it is not completely accepted by those within those territories.[11] According to Kreijen[12] state attainment in sub-Saharan African was achieved by a ‘legal trick’ which involved the abandonment of ‘effectiveness.’ Therefore according to his theory, Nigeria was created and recognised outside the classical method of creating states which led to inefficient pseudo-states which inevitably failed.  Somewhere between the fleeting transition from colonies to states, there was a legal and political mishap.[13]  The disintegration of governmental control reduces the strength of the peoples’ allegiance to a state, and in fact the belief in citizenship and the rights and duties it entails become a hollow confidence forcing people to re-align along religious or ethnic lines.[14] In actuality, a state never really existed and there was nothing to pledge allegiance to.

Even though Kreijen’s theory works from logical historical premises to achieve a seemingly rational conclusion, nevertheless he accepts African states as states, though inevitably failed. It posits therefore that what was not in existence can be created by relaxed rules and engendered by recognition. Therefore, while it asserts that the states are not states stricto sensu, it suggests that they were created as ineffective states doomed to failure. This theory operates from the conception that state failure induced the reduced allegiance to the state,[15] it does not consider the fact that there was lack of allegiance to the state by the citizens and the government; that by attributing that same allegiance to the ethno-linguistic or ethno-religious group rather than to the state, the state disintegrated immediately it was integrated. Furthermore, from Langford’s definition[16] a state is failed when it, as a sovereign entity, can no longer perform the functions of statehood. The problem is that the states never performed the functions of statehood prior to decolonisation, and have had difficulty in doing so thereafter. The classification becomes increasingly problematic.
The classification problems arise from using a hybrid of circular reasoning and definition. ‘An argument is circular if it couldn't possibly convince someone that the conclusion is true if they didn't believe the conclusion already.’[17] The definition of failed state is only convincing because we all accept, at a very fundamental level that Nigeria is a state. Conceptually and logically, we have no reason to do so.

Due to the classification inadequacies of post-colonial African states in conflict as failed states, the opinion of some is that there are rather quasi-states having not been states abinitio.[18] Because Nigeria was the creation of colonialism and decolonisation, as a post-colonial state Nigeria lacks the same impetus for being a state that kept the same territory adhered as a colonial entity. Note that the functions of colonies differ from the function of states. The administrative system in place in Nigeria pre-1960 was to fulfil colonial functions. These colonies were run by experienced colonial administrators prior to decolonisation, as post-colonial states, governance was handed over to those who had not been leaders of pre-colonial entities and who had little experience in administration.[19] 

Furthermore, the speed of decolonisation resulted in chaotic state administration,[20] this led to what may be called the failure of quasi-states or non-states. This failure is due to the inherent imitation of post-colonial states of other non-colonial states with little or no resort to indigenous methods or needs of government or politics.[21] The lack of effectiveness that Kreijen adduced to sub-Saharan states is exhibited by the following signs:
  1. The central government’s authority is weak and doubtful,
  2. Government is ineffectual and riddled with corruption,
  3. There is segmentation of the community and society into various publics and political allegiance is divided along those segments.[22]
Mazrui described the failure of the African state as being characterised by lack of sovereign control over territory; ineffective revenue extraction, inability to maintain national infrastructure or provide social services or maintain law and order.[23]

Jackson has related the corruption of government to the perpetuation of the legacy of colonisation whereby state resources were colonial resources; in the post-colony they become private resources. This is why government in Nigeria became a source of privilege and power for a select portion of the populace rather than the means by which the people of the state access ‘law, order, security, justice, or welfare.’[24] The interpretation and meaning of sovereignty, classical or modern, has little impact on this type of state structure, internal conflict seems inevitable and development and positive peace is dependent on restructuring Nigeria’s political systems.

Nigeria’s Future?
Nevertheless, despite the theoretical and/or overt ineffectiveness of Nigeria as a state, any attempt to effectively and legally question its statehood would be met with opposition internally and externally. The state has been extant for 55 years and has been recognised by other states in Africa and in the world. Nigeria has been admitted into the UN and has completed treaties of various sorts with other states, institutions and organisations. In other words Nigeria is externally functioning as a state.  On the other hand, the inherent problems of questionable statehood are exhibited by the inadequacy of internal functioning which results in underdevelopment, instability and insecurity. Nigeria exists in sufferance and while not possessed of effectiveness, the state has title to territory that suffices and was an expedient step in decolonisation.[25] Title to territory enables the sale of petroleum and other natural resources.

Nevertheless, Nigeria is unable to secure its people, it therefore cannot provide ‘political goods’ to its people, most specifically, economic and physical security.[26] The problem with Nigeria as a sovereign state is that its nature lends it easily to internal failure and volatility. Ironically, a state which is completely effective but was created by means unaccepted by international law would not be recognised as a state,[27] conversely, because Nigeria was created by an acceptable means – decolonisation – though largely ineffective, it is protected by the cloak of sovereignty.

Because a government should derive its legitimacy from the people as a cohesive whole and be accountable to the people as an indivisible unit, a skewed relationship between people and government, in a properly functioning state, should affect the relationship between the government and the international community. Due to the tenuous nature of international community especially the equality of states at the UN, any attempt to alter the standard of relations is frowned upon as an attack on sovereignty and quickly shuffled into the background. The conception of state has become rigid in policy and theory while it remains fluid in actuality.

Therefore, the responsibility for the creating the Nigerian state, ideologically lies with the people. The people need to take charge of their own destiny. The state has to be built from the grassroots.[28] Ultimately, it is for the people to take back their identity and hold the government to account when it fails to protect their dignity. At present the international community through the conceptualisation of states in international law is impeding this process. While encouraging people to vote is commendable, a populace whose understanding of democracy is limited to political participation as only achievable by voting, will not ensure a credible democratic process. Governments that only have to convince the international community that elections were ‘free and fair’, will not be constrained to ensure the security of the people is protected.

One example of how the nation can be built by the people is in the area of law-making. Most laws in Nigeria are passed due to self-interest or external pressure, and the passage of significant bills is usually preceded by lack of consultation and the need to pass a quota of bills into law.[29] Very few of these bills originate, from pressure groups, or community leaders. This should change.

The immobility of ideology about Nigerian statehood and community allegiance needs to be confronted, but this can only be done efficiently, when the need for it is realised, from within. Constitution of political parties also needs to be taken out of the hands of the political elite. Presently, the creation of political parties either centres on ethno-linguistic groupings or concentrations of power.[30] In that sense, civil society needs to be reinvigorated from the grassroots, local government should also be receive more attention and the central government’s political importance to the people de-emphasized. On all spheres, local, national and international, there needs to be an attitudinal and paradigmatic alteration that eschews conceptual stagnation and focuses on human security. Human security involves a paradigm shift from the ‘focus of security to the ability of individuals to live, rather than states to exist.’[31] It is a mechanism ‘to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment.’[32] In other words, it does not matter what you call Nigeria, as long as her people are allowed to live free fulfilled lives.

[1] Kaufmann, Daniel, and Aart Kraay. "Governance Indicators: Where are we, where should we be going?." The World Bank Research Observer 23.1 (2008): 1-30, 1
[2] IMF Fact Sheet “The IMF and Good Governance” 1 – 3; World Bank Institute (2008) “Governance Matters 2008: Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996–2007” URL:
[3] Langford, Tonya. "Things fall apart: state failure and the politics of intervention." International Studies Review (1999): 59-79, 64; Ahluwalia, Pal. Politics and Post-Colonial Theory: African inflections. Routledge, 2012, 53
[5] Bøås, Morten, and Kathleen M. Jennings. "‘Failed States’ And ‘State Failure’: Threats or opportunities?" Globalizations 4.4 (2007): 475-485, 476, 478, 482; Coyne, Christopher J. "Reconstructing Weak and Failed States: Foreign intervention and the nirvana fallacy." Foreign Policy Analysis 2.4 (2006): 343-360, 357; Rotberg, Robert I. "The New Nature of NationState Failure." Washington Quarterly 25.3 (2002): 83-96, 91
[6] Langford (1999) 64
[7] Kreijen, Gerard. State Failure, Sovereignty and Effectiveness: Legal lessons from the decolonization of sub-Saharan Africa. Vol. 50. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2004, 142-143
[8] Kreijen (2004) 18-23; Jackson, Robert H. "Quasi-states, Dual Regimes, and Neoclassical Theory: international jurisprudence and the Third World." International Organization41.04 (1987): 519-549, 529
[9] Crawford, James R. The Creation of States in International Law. Oxford University Press, 2006.
[10] Kreijen (2004) 147; even these could be doubtful considering the porosity of Nigeria’s borders
[11] For example - Bakassi
[12] Kreijen (2004) 148
[13] Kreijen (2004) 162
[14] Langford (1999) 62
[15] Rotberg (2002) 90
[16] Langford (1999) 64
[17] Sober, Elliott Core Questions in Philosophy: a text with readings. Macmillan, New York, 1991. 183
[18] Jackson (1987) 526
[19] Jackson (1987) 526; Langford (1999) 63
[20] Kreijen  (2004)167
[21] Langford (1999) 63
[22] Jackson (1987) 526-527
[23] Mazrui, Ali. "The African state as a political refugee." African Conflict Resolution (1995): 9-10.
[24] Jackson (1987) 527
[25] Jackson (1987) 531.
[26] Rotberg (2002) 91
[27] Okafor, Obiora Chinedu. Re-defining legitimate statehood: international law and state fragmentation in Africa. Vol. 36. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2000, 67; Somalia and Kosovo.
[28] Teffo, Joe. "Democracy, Kingship, and Consensus: A South African perspective." A Companion To African Philosophy (2004): 443-449, 445.
[29] Ewuim, N. C., D. O. Nnamani, and O. M. Eberinwa. "Legislative Oversight and Good Governance in Nigeria National Assembly: An Analysis of Obasanjo and Jonathan’s Administration." 147.
[30] Wamala, Edward. "Government by Consensus: An analysis of a traditional form of democracy." A Companion to African Philosophy (2006): 433-442, 440-441.
[31] Owen, Taylor. "The Critique That Doesn't Bite: A Response to David Chandler’s Human Security: The Dog That Didn't Bark'." Security dialogue 39.4 (2008): 445-453, 447
[32] Cited in Owen, Taylor. "The Uncertain Future of Human Security in the UN." International Social Science Journal 59.s1 (2008): 113-127.,118

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