In Nigeria the mortal conflict between an imperial colonial state and the inchoate nation it has spawned is taking an eventful turn. Beginning with the decolonization struggle in Africa, the colonial nation has been rising against the colonial state which has been forcibly coupled to it by the colonial authorities.
In many of these African nations, it has led to a brisk overwhelming of so called national armies. In Nigeria right from independence, the state has never been a site for the mediation of competing elite interests. Rather, it has been a theatre of blood and extraordinary human suffering with coups, counter-coups, wars, civil upheavals and a religious insurgency which has lasted eleven years.
But it is in the last six years of post-military rule that things appear to be heading for a violent decoupling of the state from the nation. This is precipitated by a forcible takeover of the state by hegemonic extremists bent on bending the entire nation to their anarchic and anachronistic will. It is in keeping with the final working out of an organic crisis that different factions try their hand in imposing a solution on the crisis.
The right wing solution of autocratic intolerance and purblind arrogance of power by the Buhari faction of the APC has led the country once again down a narrow alley of self-immolation. The result is freewheeling disorder and ungovernability. It should now be obvious to other factions in the ruling coalition that they are mere accessories after the fact of feudal coronation or at best surplus to requirements.
But it does not really matter. Consensus, conciliation and compromise are jaded virtues of liberal democracy. What matters is holding on to the levers of power and deploying its malevolent apparatus for the suppression of the will of the nation. There are enough mercenary collaborators and “progressive” traitors strewn all over the country to sustain this cruel hoax.
In both military and civilian despotism, the illusion of order is required to perpetuate the order of illusion. Unfortunately, this is not the picture available to the outside world. Fake organs of news dissemination abound and so do organs of state misinformation. An entire generation is growing up not knowing what to believe and not believing what they know. Welcome to Orwellian dystopia.
While the tomfoolery about turn by turn succession is going on as seen in the recent defection to the ruling party by David Umahi, the governor of Ebonyi State, a former United States envoy is dismissing Nigeria as “a prebendal archipelago” run by a criminal cartel.
Almost at the same time, the CNN carried a report which was a stinging repudiation of the Nigerian official version what happened at the Lekki tollgate. Contrary to the state deodorized version, the CNN footage was dripping with gore in a terrifying carnage which cannot do Nigeria’s international image any good.
The government of General Mohammadu Buhari is at the lowest ebb of its national and international credibility. How do we begin to pick our way through the pieces? Unfortunately, the government does not appear to see how it is mired in dire straits. It is even oblivious of the fact that it has very weak economic cards to play as a result of the dramatic economic decline of the nation under its watch.
Rather than going for a rapid de-escalation of the pervasive tension in the nation, the government appears to have convinced itself that it is time for a massive clampdown in a show of force which betrays panic more than confidence. While vowing that it would never allow the EndSARS protest to repeat itself, it has gone ahead decimating the ranks of the protesters’ leadership, suborning their bank accounts through a dubious court order while imposing travel restrictions on them.
This is not the mind-set of somebody suing for peace but the mind-set of a military Caesar going for pacification, the mental conditioning of an Ottoman presidency going for broke in its last throes. It is the final desperate dice of medieval tyranny. It is the last sigh of the Moor, as Salman Rushdie would have put it.
Yet the administration appears to have forgotten that the EndSARS imbroglio stole completely upon it, like a creeping coup to which it has no answer. The protest completely outsmarted the combined force of the entire national security apparatus. Because of their deployment of counter-hegemonic savvy, there is no guarantee that they will not do it all over again.
So what we have on hand is a classic confrontation between the colonial state and the emergent postcolonial youth of Nigeria. The colonial state has kept the old people of Nigeria weak and divided, employing all sorts of divide and rule tactics and turn-by-turn feeding frenzy to prevent them from acting in a pan-Nigerian concert.
But while the post-colonial nation remains inchoate and incoherent, unable to transform into a true nation for itself, the colonial state appears to have met its match in the emergent post-colonial multitude; the educated youth and the uneducated hoodlums whose experience has imbued them with the right historical consciousness to leapfrog ethnicity, cultural and religious divides.
It is possible that the hegemonic faction of the Nigerian ruling class, in an intervening moment of lucidity, has come to recognize the dangers that this emergent pan-Nigerian armada pose to its continuing incompetence and misrule. Hence the panic-driven frenzy of repression and authoritarian muscle-flexing. These are not the type of people they can cajole or hoodwink with the promise of presidential ticket. They do not want to rule Nigeria under its current configuration.
It is too late in the day. The genie is already out of the bottle and there is no human force that can put it back. But the question must now be posed. Why has the colonial state in Nigeria find it impossible to ally and align itself with the hectic stirrings of a new nation and what is promising to be a turbulent transformation to modernity from an inchoate nation to a nation for itself ?
The colonial state was born into imperial and imperialist predation and bred by predatory extraction of resources and open rent-seeking. It is an army of occupation which has retained fidelity to its originating summons and has kept faith with looting and plundering as its fundamental preoccupation. It has reached the zenith of its aspiration in presiding over plunder and can neither develop nor transform a nation unless it is transformed itself.
This is the Nigerian conundrum and it shows in the abysmal economic and political decline of the nation in the last six years. Beyond the charade of periodic elections in which choice is already overridden by selection, nobody can argue that democracy has been deepened or advanced in the last twenty one years of post-military rule.
But why it has not occurred to us that without effective modernization of the country the military itself would remain in colonial demobilization, without innovative nous and cutting edge awareness of the society it is ordered to garrison remains a source of mystery. The state is better surveilled by non-state actors than it is capable of surveillance of the entire nation.
Rebel groups seem to have access to superior weaponry and technology. The military authorities have themselves cried out that the army is involved in internal security operation in about thirty three states in the nation. This only leaves out three states. If the last combustion in Lagos is anything to go by, no one can be sure when and where the next eruption will occur. The situation is dire. The nation is bleeding on all fronts.
Large swathes remain ungoverned and ungovernable. In a situation reminiscent of Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the state has completely disappeared in these anarchic redoubts leaving the local people at the mercy of wild warlords who kill without any compunction.
Nothing can beat the description of the former American envoy. An archipelago is a chain of islands surrounded by vast open seas. In other words, the state in Nigeria only maintains fitful presence in some parts of the nation leaving vast open stretches in a state of nature. With so many country homes abandoned a man’s castle is no longer his home.
But the fitful presence is just enough to give the illusion of order if only to facilitate rent collection and extractive predation. In other words although the state has lost its power of superior coercion, its capacity to provide security for the people and hence its fundamental raison d’etre, it is kept barely alive enough to fulfil its founding mission.
The colonial state in Nigeria now resembles a living apparition with enough residual capacity to strike terror into the heart of the living dead. Once the operators retain enough presence of mind and ability to anticipate untoward social convulsions, the show can go on for a long time because there is nothing actually beyond the horizon except anarchy, chaos and unproductive bloodletting.
The collapse of the EndSARS protest and the ensuing carnage gave us a glimpse of what lies behind the horizon. But what is more astonishing is the lack of governmental clarity of mind and the inability to anticipate unusual social trends despite all the warning signals and shouting from the rooftop by concerned patriots and other well-wishers. It presages more violent eruptions around the corner.
Despite all the hype and hoopla, EndSARS could only have acted as a great disruptive force. It lacked the fundamental capacity for regime termination and could only have prompted more potent forces in that direction. For all its techno-savvy and organizational bravura the movement lacked mission clarity, political gravitas, ideological cujones and ethical acumen. Revolutions and revolutionists are made of sterner stuff.
But they have succeeded in punching a big hole in governmental confidence and self-belief. It can no longer be politics as usual in the country. Politics is in urgent need of renewal and the nation itself is in more urgent need of the constant reconfiguration which renews national faith and self-confidence. The EndSARS debacle showed how badly politics has been delegitimized with massive popular bypass of traditional and modern authority.
Unfortunately, the ruling party has woefully failed itself and the nation in its own self-declared bid to give the country a befitting structural make-over. What is playing out is the gargantuan mess occasioned by that historic dereliction of duty. Had the country been peacefully reconfigured to allow for greater devolution of power and responsibility, we would have been talking of taking the next steps in the modernist transformation of the polity.
Social forces do not remain static and stagnant. The equilibrium of social forces which allows for peaceful restructuring of the country may no longer subsist. Depending on what the government does or refuses to do in the coming months, we may begin to hear increasingly strident calls for a total repeal of the 1999 Constitution or demands for a national referendum which will allow the people of Nigeria to determine their individual destiny.