Nigeria has hit another milestone. It has graduated into a hybrid state, a distinction it shares with very few other nations.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Simultaneously, Nigeria is at war and in peace. The United Nations has observed that literally the entire northern half of the country is a virtual war zone and is likely to remain so for the better part of 2024.
Sporadic violence is likely to rule the reality of states like Borno, Yobe, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Nasarawa, Benue and Plateau states for the foreseeable future. Add to this the incidents of gangster killings in Anambra, Imo and Enugu states.
The Pope has joined the United Nations in calling Nigeria a befitting name: a nation at war with itself with hints of ugly unprintable dimensions of the ensuing war! As it is, the Nigerian reality has become something that no one has the courage to correctly call a name even though everyone knows the sad truth and fears that the worst is ahead of us. As a result, in the last decade, no one is certain whether Nigeria has been at war or at peace. But one thing is certain: Nigeria has maintained the appearance of a democratic state, sustaining the façade of democratic illusion; rituals of elections, results, inaugurations and political speech making. At least in the minds of our vast succession of noisy politicians, the nation is at peace. What it has on the side is ‘internal security challenges’.
Government insists we are at peace. To reaffirm this, handlers of presidential power seem to have created a Department of Condolences. Since people die in droves nearly everyday, the presidency must send out condolence messages to state governments, community leaders and the deceased in the many places where the nation witnesses war like casualties. There seems to be an unstated assumption that bandits, terrorists, badly trained soldiers and other bad people will kill many people either deliberately or by accident on a regular basis. Therefore, a ready pile of condolence letters seem to be ready for dispatch to governors and traditional rulers in whose territories where bandits and terrorists unleash casualties. Just wait for news or field reports of casualties from an attack or operational error. Then date and insert location and send the condolence messages. Soon afterwards, send a delegation of ready officialdom to condole the affected and wait for the next outbreak of blood letting in a national festival of violence that seems endless. In spite of the industrial scale of these casualties, however, Abuja still believes we are a nation at peace. The production of condolence messages is after all a peace time industry in the government of nations at peace . We may as well measure the index of peace in a nation by the number of condolence messages the seat of power sends out annually.
For a nation that pretends to be at peace, the daily casualty figures from Nigeria’s decade long insecurity tempts one to group us side by side with nations fighting openly declared wars. In 2023, the Syrian civil war claimed 4,360 lives, both combatants and civilians. In Sudan, 9000-10,000 died last year in the raging civil war. By October 2023, civilian deaths in Ukraine was 9,700. In Nigeria about 5,000 died in 2023 in several insecurity attacks. The decade long statistics is somewhere between 85,000 and 120,000 civilian deaths which for a nation at peace would frighten some war ravaged nations,
The conduct of Nigeria’s security forces confirms the reality of a war time reality. In Tudun Bari, Kaduna state, over 100 innocent people died in one day recently from the accidental use of guns of an army in full combat formation sent to protect the people from bad people. A yet to be explained drone accident killed droves of innocent civilians who were not out to hurt anyone. In that ‘accident’, the military literally failed in executing its most elementary protocol. When you are in a zone of security presence and line of likely fire, you have to answer this simple question: ‘Who goes there? Enemy or friend? Your answer determines your fate. But in this case, the people had no chance to identify themselves. They were what they were: innocent people living life! All hell was let loose on them. An instrument of war meant for their protection was unleashed on innocent people because no one seems to know who is a friend or enemy anymore in present day Nigeria. The state cannot even make up its mind as to whether it is at peace or war. The army called it an ‘accident’, but more than 150 innocent people are dead. They may not be the last in this endless body count in our hybrid nation.
While we wrote this, no less than another 200 have been killed in bandit attacks in more than 23 villages and communities in Plateau state. It turns out that the bandit and terror squads had been occupying schools in these communities for years according to the newly installed governor of the state. Again, there is no certainly about anything in this place. No one is sure where the boundaries between a peaceful community and a theatre of war lies.
Again the condolence train of government big men has been all over Plateau state doing the predictable. It is a roll call of who is who in government. Big politicians, big soldiers with more medals and decorations for valour than their service years. Even the police has vowed to arrest the killers possibly because they dared disturb the president’s end of year working vacation of endless hosting in far away Lagos. In typical Nigerian ‘eye service’ showmanship, the police chief has vowed to relocate his high command to Plateau state until every bandit and killer is rounded up!
In other war like routines, the air force has occasionally bombed and strafed villages with its new American made combat aircraft, leaving behind many dead and habitations razed. No one knows what intelligence informs the targeting. One thing is certain: these bombardments are of doubtful precision. Forget human rights. Weapons must be sold to and bought by those who need it. In war, every casualty is an adversary dead. Those who write the news report give the dead a name or category so that history can move on: ‘some terrorists were killed by gallant troops!’ The dead have no spokesperson and cannot speak English! Government is wining the counter insurgency war!
Yet in the places where those who decide for Nigeria reside, an appearance of peace obtains. Over the Christmas festive season, endless parties and merriment were all over the place. People were going about the things that people living in a peaceful country do. Dancing, eating and getting drunk on booze paid for by others! To those for whom the Nigerian experience is limited to Abuja and Lagos, it is unfair to see Nigeria as a nation at war. The occasional armed robbery or kidnapping is merely an irritation to spoil the party hyped by headline hungry killjoy media.
Yet even in the few islands of peaceful appearance, a psychology of fear and trepidation is palpable. Party goers are suspicious of everyone else. The feeling that kidnappers and contract killers are lurking everywhere is pervasive in Lagos. Even more pervasive is the fear that neighborhood cults are real and on the prowl. And they frequently are. Therefore, even the peaceful parts of Nigeria are pervaded by a psychology of war and siege. Most sensible embassies leave a permanent travel advisory on their websites which simply say to their nationals: AVOID most of Nigeria!
Ordinarily, the hybrid reality of today’s Nigeria should compel a certain comportment on the part of leadership. A hybrid nation is both a theatre of undeclared war and a landscape of uncertain and precarious peace. The challenges for leadership can be daunting in this kind of place. To win the insecurity war and restore peace, the nation needs a war time president. To make peace universal and nationwide, we need a seasoned statesman who is loved because he inspires fear among bad people and love and respect among those who want to live in a peaceful and secure country.
The basic irreducible responsibility of leadership in a free state is to protect life, limbs and property and relentlessly pursue the good life for the majority. If politicians fail this basic test, all else is a drama of futility. If the Hobbesian state fails, the only option left is the self- help state of anarchy and nature. Everyman to himself in self-defence that entitles everyone to bear arms for self defense. That is perhaps why the Chief of Army Staff, a man with the suggestive name of Lagbaja ‘Everyman’-the masked man-recently averred that severe insecurity should not entitle every Nigerian to bear arms. The army man is right: his continued employment depends on the exclusive monopoly of violence which is conferred on the state by the constitution. The people are also right in seeking to take their self defense in their own hands since the state is failing: a state that cannot defend good people from bad armed bandits is useless and does not deserve anyone’s loyalty. The lawyers are also right. The law permits people to bear arms if only they get a license. They can use such arms for self-defensive action if the defensive action is proportionate to the offensive action of the assailant! If a bandit squad invades your locality, you wait and calibrate their targeted casualties before you use your licensed guns to defend yourself proportionately! Silly lawyers! Terrorists and bandits have no time for the niceties of legal shenanigans. They shoot to kill as many people as possible.
It all brings us back to where we began. The existence of the state oscillates between the two ancient poles of war and peace. The worst states are those at war. The best places are those at peace. The middle ground is at the brink and threshold of anarchy, the precarious place where you find Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Sudan. Nigeria only stands out in this fold in one sense: a pretension to democratic order in the midst of a war that has ranged for a decade.