Arts and Books

A Nation in the Orbit of Re-Invention: The Harvard School Report and the Failed State Stamp


The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Harvard Kennedy School in the United States have released a damning report that Nigeria as a nation is at a point of no return, with all the signs of a failed nation. The organisation made the disclosure in research findings it released recently through its senior fellow and former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. John Campbell and Mr. Robert Rotberg, who is the Founding Director, Harvard Kennedy School’s Programme on Intrastate Conflict and president emeritus, World Peace Foundation.

The report states that there are four kinds of nations: the strong, the weak, the failed, and the collapsed. It underpinned the notion that Nigeria has since moved from being a weak state to “a fully failed state,” having manifested all the signs of a failed country, including the inability of government to protect the citizens, large scale violence and festering insurgency.

The report will not come to many pessimists as a surprise; political groups, socio-cultural organisations, religious groups, social advocacy groups, independent watchdogs, and civil rights organisations have been sounding the alarm; warning of the inescapable implosion awaiting the country if nothing is done to address the precipitous threats that are capable of totally wrecking the nation’s existence.

In addition to the indices on insecurity provided by the report, a failed state has several attributes. Common indicators include a state whose central government is very weak or so ineffective that it has little control over much of its territory; non-provision of public services; widespread corruption and criminality; refugees and involuntary movement of populations; and sharp economic decline.

Popular political author and commentator, Henry Johnson Jr. once said:

“One thing we forget to know is that failed states once had civil and constitutional laws that were put in place. When these laws don’t work for all, that’s when dictatorship arises and injustice hugs the land, making prosperity become the luxury of a select few, not the masses.”

Categorised under three major groups of Social, Economic & Political parametres, a failed state, amongst other things, has the following distinct traits: mounting demographic pressures and tribal, ethnic and/or religious conflicts; massive internal and external displacement of refugees, creating severe humanitarian emergencies; widespread vengeance-seeking group grievances; chronic and sustained human flight; widespread corruption; high economic inequality; uneven economic development along group lines; severe economic decline; delegitimisation of the state; deterioration of public services; suspension or arbitrary application of law; widespread human rights abuses; security forces operating as a “state within a state” often with impunity; the rise of factionalised elites; and intervention of external political agents and foreign states.

It is undeniable that many of these characteristics of a failed state are present and rapidly rising in Nigeria. Indeed, the country seems to be gradually sliding into the deep abyss of a collapsed state.

The Failed States Index 2020 Report revealed that Nigeria currently occupies the fourteenth position among 178 countries. The index also shows that fourteen other African countries joined Nigeria to make it fifteen African countries in the top 20 of the failed states index.

In recent times, the country has witnessed a surging wave of secessionist campaigns coming from different parts of the country, who have expressed their angst and despair over the deteriorating state of affairs in the country. The sentiment of the agitators is that if the country separates, each zone will be able to devise means to amicably find permanent solutions to its individual challenges.

It is important to point out that these separatist agitations are borne out of claims of government’s failures in displaying the much-needed capacity to steer the nation’s ship from the horrid condition of a “collapsed state”. Some Nigerians feel that Nigeria has never been this divided politically, economically and socially since the civil war.

In addition to these separatist agenda, the decade-long battle against insurgency in the Northern region continues to grow exponentially. More radical fundamentalist groups pervade the region, with its attendant terror and insurrection and a galaxy of humanitarian crises.

The spate of kidnappings and banditry seem to have overwhelmed the nation’s security apparatus, with the herder-farmers conflict leaving a trail of ethno-religious tensions, strife and bloodletting in its wake. The phenomenon of unknown gunmen, especially in Southern Nigeria, is another worrisome lexicon in Nigeria’s endless security woes. The gale of assassinations is beginning to rear its ugly head again, while the societal discords and economic losses associated with sabotage and destruction of critical national infrastructures are also on the upsurge nationwide. All these culminate in the inevitable weakening of our social fabric, while the dire economic implications of our security and social failures continue to skyrocket. Even reports from media organisations in Nigeria are enough for any group of self-acclaimed scholars to cook up any report. It is one story of killings to another.

The country cannot afford to be continually indecisive in addressing her existential crisis. To prevent Nigeria from plunging into the ignoble class of a collapsed state should be something everyone is working towards. Most importantly, the country’s leadership must focally champion this agenda.

As pointed out in the report, the consequences of Nigeria becoming a collapsed state will be severe and it will reverberate across the country, the continent, and beyond. The peace and prosperity of Africa and preventing the spread of disorder and militancy around the globe depend on a stronger Nigeria. Our economy is usually estimated to be Africa’s largest or second-largest, after South Africa, and Nigeria plays an important role in promoting African peace and security.

The major way to halt this downward spiral towards a collapsed nation is to address these social, economic and political challenges holistically.

It is noteworthy that these three base factors are inter-connected and inextricably intertwined. Like in every other democracy, the role of political leaders in either setting a country on the path of social and economic progress or derailing it from the path is highly significant.

It is comforting to know that we are not in denial, as political leaders and other stakeholders have repeatedly admitted the severity of the challenges we face; and the high need for harmonised efforts to triumph together. Political office holders should abandon tribal and partisan ideas, and work together to rescue our dear nation.

The awareness and consciousness of the challenges stated in the President’s speech to mark the 2021 Democracy Day gives some hope that these problems will be tackled. It is equally heartwarming that the Nigerian Senate is currently undertaking a nationwide constitutional review exercise to dissect the myriads of issues that Nigerians want to be addressed to improve the quality of governance, make the country better, make citizens secure, and enhance the welfare of our people. With a national public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution holding from Thursday, June 3 to Friday, June 4, 2021 in Abuja, Nigerians are hopeful that the review will be a clear departure from the norm; with reports gathered from many of such previous constitutional review fora often abandoned and relegated to the archive cabinets. The numerous advantages a wholesome constitutional review will give to the country are imperative in these desperate times.

More should to be done to douse the palpable tensions already established nationwide. The agitators are emboldened by the recurring governance failures, and the concomitant security and economic hardships. The influence of state and local levels of government that are closer and relate more to Nigerians needs to be optimised. Most times, our problems are peculiar to each state and are better addressed through indigenous means of governance. Traditional rulers and socio-cultural groups must be carried along and encouraged to play the role of bridge-builders towards collective reparation of our fractured state.

While the verdict from the report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the Harvard Kennedy School is a damning reminder of the inevitable consequences of our actions and inaction, given the face value and the enormity of the challenges we face, saying that Nigeria is at the point of no return is not really true. The honesty of actions and unity of purpose can stem the raging tide and halt the turbulence we face as a nation.

Nigeria as a nation needs to urgently start putting in conscientious actions and dedicated efforts to aid her renaissance and recovery; knowing that the luck we are counting on to sustain us as a nation will not be available forever.