Political Science and the sickness of the Nigerian state -By Jubrin Ibrahim

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Political Science and the sickness of the Nigerian state -By Jubrin Ibrahim


The state of the Nigerian State is serious and each day we appear to be sinking deeper into the abyss. There is mounting evidence that we are not being governed and the traditional task of running the State is not a priority concern for the ruling class. Indeed, strictly speaking, the usage of the term ruling class is questionable because although we have occupants of the offices that embody State power, the tenants of such offices are not engaged in running the State. The principal work they engage in is mega looting.

When the State is sick, the name of the doctor that prescribes treatment is called political scientist. I am not sure what our political scientists today are saying about the prognosis of the disease and the necessary treatment that should be applied. The State as we know it from political science literature does three things. First, it extracts resources from citizens through various forms of taxation. This assumes that the State knows all those who reside in its territory and is able to track them and make them fulfil their fiduciary obligations. Many within the younger generation will be surprised to learn that there was a time when the Nigerian State tracked and monitored each adult to ensure they pay their tax. They also tracked each nomad and made them pay tax, jangali as it was called, on every cow they own. In addition, people were made to produce cash crops – cocoa, palm oil and groundnuts, and State institutions called marketing boards bought the produce cheaply, sold it abroad and put the profit in State coffers. The whole structure of native administration from the ward head to First class Emir, Oba and Obi was moulded into an efficient system of monitoring, tracking and extracting taxes from people. That was the State that we inherited from the colonial powers.

The second role the State plays is that of using the resources it has extracted from residents and citizens to provide public goods such as security, social services and infrastructure for the welfare of inhabitants. There were demands and pressure on the State to deliver because citizens have paid their taxes and expect their resources to be used for their benefit. The available resources were not very much but they were used more effectively to deliver public goods. There was corruption but the percentage was low. There was a time when stealing 10% of a project allocation was considered a terrible thing. Today, billions can be picked from the NNPC and simply pocketed.

Then the military took over power and thereafter the oil boom, now known as the oil doom came. The State was getting enormous inflows from petroleum rent and did not need the people any more. The immediate result was the loss of the tradition and know how of monitoring the people and extracting resources from them. Agriculture lost its significance. Former Head of State General Gowon could even say that our problem was not money but how to spend it. We ran from the Gambia to Jamaica looking for small nations to give money to. We neglected agricultural production and started massive importation of rice, flour, frozen Argentinian beef and mortuary fish. To crown it all, we became the top importer and consumer of champagne in the world. We thought we had become a great nation not knowing we had lost our State, our, Nation, our Country.

The third role the Sate plays is that of regulation, making laws for the good governance of the country and sanctioning those who breach the laws through the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Thanks to thirty years of military rule, the objective of the laws was to oppress and control the people. The laws however did not apply to the ruling class, as impunity became the order of the day. Mega corruption by the ruling class was fine but it became criminal for journalists to expose what the ruling class was doing.

By the time a certain Goodluck Jonathan occupied Aso Rock, the Nigerian State had decayed sufficiently for it to consciously abdicate its responsibility of providing security for Nigerians. The protection of the very oil pipelines that transported the resources that are allocated was given to militants that had antagonised the State, engaged in insurgency and were massively stealing the oil meant for export. A major insurgency developed in the North East and over the last five years has been allowed to grow and conquer and keep significant territory that had hitherto belonged to the Nigerian State. In other words, the State lost its sovereignty as the Islamic State flag was hoisted in more and more locations.

In his definition of the State, Max Weber teaches us that the first rule is that thing called the State must have the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in society. We find ourselves in a situation in Nigeria in which private citizens have access to vast arsenals and use it against citizens and against security forces while for their part, security forces use their own arms in an illegitimate manner killing and maiming citizens in an extra-judicial manner. We know that there is no State in the world where you do not have illegal arms in the hands of private citizens but when the quantum of such arms goes beyond a certain level and such private armies are able to attack security forces at will and the response of the security forces is to turn on ordinary citizens, then the State is in question.

Our Constitution defines the purpose of the state as the protection of the security of Nigerians and the pursuit of their welfare. Nigerians however know that they have to pay for their own security guards and even the bulk of the Nigerian police personnel are used to provide security, not for the people, but for individuals who can afford to pay for their services. Nigerian citizens are forced to provide their own electricity with millions of generators they purchase to power their houses and pollute the atmosphere. Nigerians go to the stream to fetch water or buy it from water vendors. The water is not potable and poisons families through water borne diseases. The elite is able to pay for personal boreholes in their houses and the result is that they wipe out underground water sources for future generations while surface water is not captured and treated but is left to flow into the sea. Of course health and education have largely been private and the state is completely disdainful of Chapter Two of our Constitution that directs it to provide for the welfare of citizens.

Section 15(5) of our Constitution stipulates that: “the State shall abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.” What does this mean in a context in which those in control of state power use it to organise corruption. The State is supposed to be the guarantor of the rule of law and the equality of all citizens. Yet, we know that in Nigerian prisons today, there are thousands of people who are in jail because they have stolen a chicken or a goat. They are jail because they have committed a crime against the State. Although their theft was petty and most likely due to extreme poverty, they must suffer the punishment because they have committed a crime against the State. The paradox however is that those who steal in billions are always protected by the same state.

Yes indeed, the state of the Nigerian State is serious. The State is crumbling before our eyes and it is clear that a rescue mission is necessary. The community of political science has a duty at this time to work on a cure for the sickness of the State before we are all consumed by its breakdown which Thomas Hobbes had assured us will make or life “nasty, brutish and short”. That rescue must take the form of a new approach based on good governance in which there is effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens. If those who exercise State power cannot use it to improve the lives and livelihoods of citizens, then they would have to be replaced. It may be a good omen that the price of petroleum is collapsing and governance has to turn to that difficult but necessary task of extracting resources from the people and using it for the good of the people.