A YORUBA ADAGE HAS IT THAT even in our tears our vision is not impaired.  And so, while we exchange pleasantries this season, we must be in sober reflection.  Our country, Nigeria, has broken down, and the evidence is abundant and incontrovertible. 

Millions of able-bodied Nigerians are out of jobs.  Those who are employed are not paid their salaries.  There is insecurity everywhere, from the violence of herdsmen to the antics of abductors.  As I write this on Christmas morning, three sisters of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and three young women aspiring to join them remain in captivity having been abducted from their convent by gunmen since November 14, 2017. 

There is generalized lawlessness and mind-boggling impunity on the part of leaders of government and on the part of those they govern.  Laws are broken and law-breakers get away with it in a land where-across party lines-political leaders are at the vanguard of lawlessness.  And now, fuel scarcity has become a recurring decimal in a leading oil producing country.  

Reality stares us in the face.  There is a painful and lamentable discrepancy between the hope of December 2014 and the experience of December 2017.  We can no longer deny it that government is not working in this country.  We can no longer deny that, since May 29, 2015, the Buhari presidency has been unable to run the affairs of this country.  The economy is very sick. The political situation has not been this volatile since the build-up to the 1967-70 war.  We have just learnt that we need one billion dollars to fight a Boko Haram that we have been repeatedly told is "technically defeated". 

With virtually no exception, state governors, members of national and state houses of assembly, federal ministers and state commissioners are more worried about their political fortunes and their ego than they are about their performance in office.  How else can one explain the fact that while there is indubitable evidence that this country has broken down under the watch of the two leading political parties, our political leaders are more interested in getting "re-elected" than they are interested in fixing this country?  Government is not working.  But politicians are working.  They are busy plotting strategies of conquest at the polls.  It is a curious situation in which there is government but there is no governance.

Nigeria has broken down because she is being run to the advantage of her oligarchy but to the utter disadvantage of her people.  Membership of that oligarchy cuts across ethnic and religious boundaries.  Its members whip up religious and ethnic sentiments to get into office.  But they are not working in the interests of their religious and ethnic communities.  They are not even seen to be faithful to the tenets of their religion.

Our country has broken down because she operates a dangerously defective constitution. But a faction of the Nigerian oligarchy has obstinately refused to allow any modification.  In fact, built into this constitution is a notorious section 9 which makes it almost impossible to effect needed modification.

Nigeria has broken down because this "unchangeable" constitution does not serve the interests of the citizen.  This constitution places the land, all its mineral resources, and indeed the life of the Nigerian in the hands of government.  This constitution places government in the hands of a few, in one city called Abuja. 

A defective constitution cannot establish institutions that protect the citizen.  So, we live in a country where there are no institutions to protect the Nigerian.  The legislature in Nigeria, at the three levels of government, is weak.  The function of the legislature is to make good laws to protect the citizen.  But that is not what we are getting.  Security agencies fail to protect us from those who would act in ways that are inimical to the common good.  It is a well-known fact that operatives of our security agencies lead in breaking the law.  Kidnapping has become a national pastime.  We are no longer abducted on the streets and highways, abductors come knocking on our doors, like armed robbers did in the past.  The police has become so unreliable, even reportedly complicit with abductors, that, when abducted, Nigerians find it convenient to negotiate with abductors and pay a ransom rather than rely on the police.  The judiciary is not a place to run. Justice has been banished from her palace.  Only an infinitesimal few would vouch for the integrity of our judges.  Religious institutions in Nigeria are not insulated from corruption.  Religion has itself been turned into a tool in the hands of power mongers, a means of accumulating wealth and maximizing pleasure.

Nigeria has broken down because our life is being controlled by Abuja.  If you want a driver's licence, it comes from Abuja.  If you want a university licence, Abuja must consent.  If you want to be admitted into a tertiary institution in the remotest corner of Nigeria, a government parastatal in Abuja must consent.  If you want police protection, the police, in a country as vast as Nigeria, is itself controlled from Abuja.  Pricing of petroleum product is determined by Abuja.  So, if Abuja does not work nothing else works in Nigeria.  We must ask: is Nigeria run as a federation or as an empire?

An empire is subject to a humongous, pretentiously omniscient and ubiquitous government.  But such government is known for inefficiency, corruption and lack of accountability.  Such big government has been the lot of Nigeria, especially since the unfortunate interventions of the military in Nigeria's political life.  With military rule, and its unitary command and control system, Nigeria became an empire.  In history, empires rise when a city emerges, and, with its military, imposes its rule on surrounding cities.  We have an imperialistic government in the city of Abuja.  And our constitution provides for just that.

But empires also fall when the central government is no longer able to be present and effective in the peripheries.  When peripheries no longer feel the presence of imperialist government centrifugal forces occasion the disintegration of its empire.  Such was the case of medieval empires of western Sudan.  Ancient Ghana rose in the 8th century and fell in the 12th.  Ancient Mali succeeded it as the superpower in the region in the first half of the 13th century before its disintegration in the late 14th century.  Then came the Songhai Empire whose sun rose in the second half of the 15th century until its eclipse in 1591. In each instance, the government at the center became too powerful, but also, ironically, too weak to subjugate peoples of vastly ethnic and linguistic identities who saw the weakness as invitation to assert their independence.

Restructuring is about the need to free ourselves from the grips of imperial Abuja.  But in our desire for freedom from federal imperialism-a contradiction in terms-we must beware of the local despotism of little tyrants in our regions and states.  Fundamentally, we need a system of regulating our common life that does not make our governments-federal, regional, state or local-more powerful than the citizen.  For a dictatorship is the rule of a polity whose leader is more powerful than the citizen.

Empires degenerate and disintegrate gradually and imperceptibly.  We may not see it now.  But Nigeria has broken down.  We can and we must fix it.  But  if we don't, Nigeria may, like the medieval empires of western Sudan, disintegrate or, even worse, become too difficult and too harsh for habitation. 

Post scriptum

I ask the reader to bear in mind that today is the 34th anniversary of the military coup that brought Gen. Buhari into power as military head of state.  

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