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Is Nigeria a failed state?

By Uchenna Ekwo

Is Nigeria a failed state? This was the central question that dominated discussion at this week’s Africa Policy Breakfast Series hosted by the United States Congress in Washington with the theme: “Instability in Northern Nigeria and the Ongoing Threat of Boko Haram Terrorists”.

As expected, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US, Professor Ade Adefuye, provided a spirited defense for his country and denounced critics who consider Nigeria to be a failed state and pointing accusing fingers to the Western media for always providing negative news reports about Nigeria.

Convened by California Democrat, Representative Karen Bass and Co-hosted by Representative Elliot Engel, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Senator Chris Coons, Chairman of Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs and Representative Chris Smith, Chairman of House African Subcommittee, the event was moderated by Ambassador Robin N Sanders, former US Ambassador to Nigeria.

Ambassador Adefuye , who was on the panel of three fielded questions from visibly angry Nigerian students and residents in the US as well as top ranking members from Nigeria’s four neighboring countries who filled one of the rooms of the Cannon Building of the House of Representatives.

Nigeria’s top diplomat unequivocally stated that Nigeria is not a failed state and compared the country’s current situation to that faced by the US in the wake of 9/11 and its aftermath.

“Should we now say because three states in the US are affected by an insurgency of this type, therefore US is a failed state, Adefuye asked?  Most of you Nigerians here sit back condemning your country without coming home to see things for yourselves. Many American investors visit Nigeria regularly and they have not been scared of Boko Haram. Robin Sanders is here to tell you what she knows about Nigeria just like many congress men and women seated here.”

Boko Haram, Adefuye said, had been effectively contained, adding that for every Boko Haram attack that was carried out, 10 of such potential attacks were nipped in the bud, adding that sadly, the foreign media sees only the negative.

Adefuye assured the audience that Nigeria remained Africa’s leading investment destination and that comparing a country that has produced some of the finest soldiers fighting alongside the United States soldiers was akin to comparing Great Britain fighting the Irish Republican Army as a failed country.

He described the US as a failed state when Osama Bin-Laden bombed the twin towers or when the same US was battling Iran over the detention of American citizens under Ronald Reagan.

According to Adefuye, “The Nigerian people and government feel excessively and unfairly treated.  The foreign media here promotes bad stories because it is good for the press. So there is the tendency to emphasize the negative.

“Other positive things are happening in the largest economy in the continent; a country that has for decades been championing the cause of democracy in Africa, but the media is keener on promoting the negative about it.

There are three issues raised by Nigeria’s ambassador at the Washington Breakfast event that I find troubling.

First, that the kidnapped girls have been found and the delay in releasing them to their parents is to ensure the safety of the girls. This is the second time a top Nigerian official acknowledged that the authorities in Abuja know where the girls are being held. Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff, Alex Badeh had boasted in early May that the government has located the whereabouts of the girls. I’m not sure how such bolster helps the public perception of the Jonathan administration which unfortunately is seen to be very weak. The most likely public reaction would be: if you knew the location of the girls, then secure their release. The parents of the children will not like to be hearing such boastful claims that government knows where the girls are and yet incapable of securing their release. The best thing for government to do is to keep quiet and continue working behind the scenes until the girls are delivered to their parents.

Cross section of the audience at the Africa Policy Breakfast Series in Washington DC
Cross section of the audience at the Africa Policy Breakfast Series in Washington DC

Second, Ambassador Adefuye did the traditional blame game: the Western media is responsible for Nigeria’s problems because it portrays the country in a negative light. While it is true that the Western media focuses more on ugly developments in most emerging countries, Nigeria’s diplomat must also concede that Nigerians and their government engage in practices that are nauseating and consequently attract adverse media publicity. It is not the fault of the Western media that Nigeria is almost synonymous with corruption while the teeming youth population has lost hope in the country due to massive unemployment, very poor healthcare, and destroyed educational system.

The ambassador and others who complain about negative portrayal of Nigeria by the western media have probably done nothing to change the situation. What efforts have wealthy Nigerians made towards investing in the media that can advocate Nigerian views internationally? All that government and giant corporations in Nigeria do is to hire New York and Washington DC public relations firms to massage their message in the United States at the expense of investing in indigenously –owned media outfits that can genuinely canvass for Nigeria. Last month the federal government hired a Washington DC public relations firm Levich for $1.2 million to lubricate the image of Nigeria in the United States on the heels of jaded public view of the Jonathan administration in the wake of the abducted Nigerian girls. Such kneejerk reactions are not only temporary and counterproductive but also a channel for corruption and denial of employment opportunity to Nigerians who honestly should be better and more informed about addressing the country’s public relations needs.

Third, Adefuye’s assertion that “Most of you Nigerians here sit back condemning your country without coming home to see things for yourselves” is not accurate. Many Nigerians travel often to the country and get more depressed on successive visits. The level of insecurity in the country is troubling to average Nigerian-American who visits to the extent that some claim that they hire personal security at a very high cost. The option of sleeping in hotels does not even guarantee safety neither is engaging police protection.

Obviously, the insecurity situation in Nigeria discourages investors to the country contrary to Adefuye’s claims. I have lost count of many people that I encountered over the past year or two who wanted to do one thing or another in Nigeria but are discouraged or skeptical because of the Boko Haram phenomenon.

Whether Nigeria is a failed state or failing state is open for debate. Adefuye and most patriotic Nigerians will argue that their country is not a failed state, but it will be disingenuous for anyone to deny the helpless security situation in the country. Another reality is that a collapse of Nigeria will have widespread repercussion for Africa and the world. Congressman, Gregory Nicks from New York recognizes this reality when he demanded that: “this is a critical time demanding a focus in a bipartisan way for the US to do more to help Nigeria contain the terrorist organization”.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Lawrence Ekechi

    WHAT IS A FAILED STATE? If the present day Nigeria is not a failed state, what is! Perhaps we will be informed by the Nigerian Spring in greater detail when the army of youngsters who are well educated, have left school and without work say, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, TO YOUR TENTS OH NIGERIA,WE HAVE NO HOPE IN JONATHAN NEITHER DO WE INHERITANCE IN THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF SENATORS AND THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES" Boko Haram flourishes because they believe Nigeria is a failed state. The General Gowon led Nigeria war versus General Ojukwu led Biafra was the first war came to a halt in 1970. Since then Nigeria have at war with itself - the second war. The external exhibition of this war is CORRUPTION & BOKO HARAM. Corruption as the invisible and the visible.


    Unfortunately now, President Jonathan the nowadays likes of General in the Nigeria's military and west (facilitators of Nigeria;s corruptive tendencies have projected weakness. The perception of inaction to stop corruption and Boko Haram is equal to weakness. After abduction of over 200 young innocent young girls, Boko Haram have struck and struck and struck again-- And you ask whether NIGERIA IS A FAILED STATE? Give me break! Your guess is as good as mine. They say, When the head of a fish is rotten, the rest is over." This is just my opinion and perhaps an opinion of fact.

  2. Monte McMurchy

    The Failed State Conundrum--the Nigerian perspective

    The history of Nigeria cannot be fully understood and nuance appreciated external to this matrix of volatile contradictory forces which entail the internal dialectic of modernization and reaction as well as the external role of the international big imperial powers. This current popular characterization of Nigeria as a 'failed state' makes marginal sense in abstraction from the legacy of colonialism, the impact of the Cold War, the surge in class struggle including internal ethnic polarity strife in the 1970's and 1980's, and the role and process of Western Imperialism in funding and supporting the the Nigerian post colonial struggle in advancing strong institution building which as of yet has not 'grafted' in a prescriptive sense. State formation in Nigeria is the outcome of complex multi-varied processes of outside external intervention and domestic social tribal ethnic religious conflict. I believe such a dialectic is still operative in Nigeria today ensuring that this country continues to remain in a 'state' of acute fragility which does not bode well in long term institution strengthening essential for a 'proper state' functionality.

  3. Femi Ibrahim

    Looking at the current security challenges, the corruption index and almost the total lawlessness pervading Nigeria, one might be tempted to advance the same conversations that Nigeria is a "Failed State". However if we should subject Nigeria into rigorous critical assessment using all the tools for analysis of failed state, one would see that Nigeria Federal Government still exercises her monopoly of violence over the greater percentage of the Federation. However I think Nigeria is a failing state considering the challenges is facing, the challenges which I think respectable Prof Adefuye wrongfully compared with the 9/11 debacle. Yes, the insurgents were able to carryout their act of terror, but that didn't lead to control of NY by the insurgent. The case in Nigeria is that which the insurgent are physically in control of parts of the territory of Nigeria without the military being able to take that part back. This is the position of thing as at today. Based on this, it will be a fair assessment to say that Nigeria is a failing state but not yet a failed one.

  4. Monte McMurchy

    Paul Collier and Acha Leke in their article "Don't overlook the other Nigeria" published in the Globe and Mail July 28/14 express clearly, succinctly and correctly that Nigeria and many Nigerians are indeed improving their economic social situation. However, and most unfortunately, there is utterly lacking in Nigeria as well as in many of the other African Sub-Saharan Nations, 'Transformative Prescriptive Leadership' which for me cries out for the absolute critical urgent need for African Exceptionalism. Africa is indeed truly "exceptional" in its peoples who are bright alert engaged, "exceptional" in its natural and mineral resources which are vast, yet "we must always consider", as John Winthrop proclaimed in 1630 while still on his boat sailing to the New World, " that we shall be as a city upon a hill----the eyes of all people are upon us".
    Africa is exceptional in multi-generational decades of African National Citizens being grounded down into almost depraved despondent oblivion by their respective elected African National Oligarchs who care not a 'wit' in both appreciating and understanding their respective national citizen social civic wellbeing---an egregious fundamental breach in the essential civic social contract binding together both the governed and those Africans in privilege who govern.
    The African governance leadership ethos is in gross, urgent need of 'exceptional transformative' leadership whose civic social governing matrix is grounded and constructed and inhabited by great [African] men/women most prescient in their fundamental most great moral trust and their most grave civil responsibility in being truly a servant of the people "as in a city upon a hill" where "the eyes of all people are upon us". Africa including Nigeria must transform in a manner, method most civic civil deferential to all citizens subject to governance as in normative governance.
    Next week will see me return to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country I adore. The DRC is a nation awesome edged blessed with potential both in human capital and in natural resources. When in DRC I will engage in academic intellectual civic civil social socratic participation with the students attending University affording me again the opportunity to enrich and strengthen my professional knowledge base insight as these students are not afraid to push the intellectual social boundaries in a manner most civic civil which in the long term will truly transform Africa in a manner most prescriptive positive!

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