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Nigeria: A failed state — reality or perception?

Nigerian refugees in Gagamari camp, Diffa region, Niger. They crossed the border to flee Boko Haram insurgents who attacked their town, Damassak, on November 24, 2014. Photo from Flickr user European Commission DG ECHO. CC BY-ND 2.0

The 2019 Fragile States Index ranked Nigeria as the 14th most fragile state in the world and the ninth in Africa.

According to the Index, Yemen is the “most failed” state, followed closely by Somalia, while Finland emerged the most sustainable state on Earth.

The Fragile States Index, a yearly report by Washington, DC-based think tank Fund for Peace, ranks 178 countries “across 12 indicators of the risks and vulnerabilities faced by individual nations.”

Out of the 15 most failed nations, 10 are African countries. These include Somalia (second), South Sudan (third), Democratic Republic of Congo (fifth), Central Africa Republic (sixth), Chad (seventh), Sudan (eighth), Zimbabwe (10th), Guinea (11th), Nigeria (14th), and Burundi (15th).

Some of the risk indicators include security, group grievances, economic decline and brain drain, state legitimacy/human rights and rule of law, demographic pressures, and internally displaced persons or refugees. These indicators assessed: “the vulnerability of states to collapse” by measuring “vulnerability in pre-conflict, active conflict and post-conflict situations.”

In angst, Nigerians have taken to Twitter to air their views on the failing status of the nation:

Insecurity in Nigeria

The 1999 Nigerian constitution states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” However, the loss of life and livelihood continues to afflict Nigeria with a state of insecurity.

Since 2011, attacks by Boko Haram, the Islamist jihadist militancy in northeast Nigeria, has led to about 37,500 deaths, 2.5 million displaced people and nearly 244,000 Nigerian refuges, according to the Council of Foreign Relations’ 2020 Global Conflict Tracker.

Total deaths in incidents involving Boko Haram. [Screen shot from the Council of Foreign Affairs, August 20, 2018].

Nigerian scholars Edidiong Oko, Henry Ufomba, and Washington Benjamin, from the University of Benue, northcentral Nigeria, analysed the Boko Haram violence in northern Nigeria from an “analytical lens of state failure.” The academics stated that the operational success of Boko Haram rests squarely on the “continuing inability of the Nigerian state” to provide adequate security that ensures “national prosperity.”

In December 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari said that Nigeria has “technically won the war” against Boko Haram militants, according to the BBC. But on January 20, Nigerian soldiers were killed by the Boko Haram militants in Monguno, Borno state, northeast Nigeria.

In addition to threats directly from Boko Haram, abductions and kidnapping in Nigeria have also become the norm.

Kidnapping in Nigeria since 2015 (Screenshot from the BBC)

Chief Jide Awe, a politician in an interview published in the Vanguard newspaper on January 18, 2020, throws a scathing light on Nigeria's designation as a failed state. Awe echoed the frustrations of residents of southwestern Nigeria over the failing security infrastructure:

I had been a victim of kidnapping because my brother was abducted by strange people here in Ekiti. We had to look for the money we didn’t have to pay ransom before he was released. Should we fold our arms and allow this to continue? They want to be kidnapping us so that we can be paying ransom to them, this will not happen.

Human rights and freedom of expression

In 2019, the failure of the Nigerian government to provide adequate employment and security for citizens unleashed condemnation by Nigerians online.

If that was not enough, the government initiated a social media bill in the National Assembly:

The proposed legislation — officially named the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation Bill 2019 — would allow Nigeria's government to cut off internet access or block specific social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter at its own discretion.

The bill is aimed at gagging freedom of speech online.

As expected, Nigerians came out en masse to resist it:

Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200 million and a gross domestic product of $376.284 billion United States dollars, is the largest economy in Africa. This means that this West African country cannot afford to succumb to insecurity because it will reverberate across the continent.

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