Dr. Obadiah Mailafia on the Parameters of a Failing State
(This is the second report on the interview with Dr. Obadiah Mailafia on August 15, 2021. Well-attended, the number of live audiences was 1.3 million on six platforms. For part of the transcript, see Facebook https://fb.watch/7q9qf8tqEd/ Or YouTube: https://youtu.be/vskrSktBGJY).
By Toyin Falola
This occasion of the Toyin Falola Interviews featured as a guest of honor, the erudite scholar and accomplished development economist, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, to field questions on whether or not Nigeria is a failing state. We might agree that this is one query that sits securely in the minds of many a Nigerian, no thanks to the poor state of affairs in the nation’s economic, security, and governance aspects, which has won it the label of a failed state in some intelligent circles.
As it stands, even the very notion of Nigeria as a nation continues to generate dispute given the rising instances of crises developing along ethnic and religious fault-lines. According to some people, the rising expressions of loyalty to sub-national identities over any national sentiment that has characterized Nigeria’s slow but sure decline into utter chaos and predictable disintegration can be blamed on the nation’s arbitrary origins. Nevertheless, whatever problems Lugard might have visited on Nigeria through the 1914 amalgamation, there were periods in the nation’s development history when it showed great promise and competed favorably with the best economies of the world. How then has Nigeria fallen to such depths of socio-economic crises and severe insecurity?
The recent Toyin Falola Interviews provided the platform for stakeholders and concerned citizenry—in very uncertain and unsettling times—to participate in a discussion aimed at adequately identifying the Nigerian situation, how it developed, and the possible ways to come out of it. Thus, the interview opened with a welcome address and introductions delivered by the chief host and moderator, who also set the agenda for the day’s interview by presenting its theme: “Is Nigeria a failed state?”
Ms. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, an accomplished media personality and the first interviewer, set the ball rolling with questions on why Dr. Mailafia would refer to Nigeria as a failing state when many others might call it a failed state; whether Nigeria as a corporate entity will survive, and if it deserves to; why the naira is failing so “precipitously,” and what can be done to bolster it; and how meritocracy can be taken seriously in the country to make it count?
In his response, Dr. Mailafia noted that the development of the concept of “failed states” has not yet been fully concluded, surrounded as it still was by controversy. He, however, went ahead, after some description of the deplorable state of affairs in the country, to elucidate that, as it were, Nigeria exhibits most of the identified symptoms of a failed state, including long periods of violence and the lack of state monopoly of the instruments of violence, the collapse of the economy and state intuitions, widespread poverty, the failure of the state to deliver public goods, civil liberty, the rule of law, protection of human rights, and administration of justice. And that his decision to use the phrase “failing state” in describing Nigeria’s current situation was only due to his optimistic nature and some “residual nationalism.”
According to Dr. Mailafia, Nigeria cannot survive as a corporate entity based on the current trajectories of decaying infrastructures, poor governance, grand corruption, climatic changes, and lack of government capacity. And on whether the nation deserves to, he accedes that given the number of atrocities and bloodletting committed against innocents across the country, it ordinarily should not. However, the teachings and injunctions of his Christian faith make provisions for grace and redemption, but with one caveat: Nigeria must not continue to tempt faith.
Speaking on the falling value of the naira, Dr. Mailafia provided a historical account of the currency’s decline, from its days of advantage over the dollar till the present, where it is fast losing its value as a legal tender. These progressive stages of decline, he said, started perceptibly with the Structural Adjustment and currency devaluation of the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime and have been maintained by high inflation, the deficit in the balance of trade, lack of faith in the Nigerian system, misguided policies, and what he called “the dollarization of the economy.” He also alleged that vested interests have captured the country’s apex bank (CBN). To reverse this trend, a development strategy is needed, likewise a genuine interest in saving Nigeria.
Concerning the restoration of meritocracy, Dr. Mailafia talked about the difference in the standards set for educational performance (cut-off marks) across the country’s regions. He claims that not only does this undermine the entire purpose of education, but it also affects service performance where underdeveloped and unqualified personnel occupy positions of public service. For him, instead of engaging in nepotism, the regions affected should invest in mid-way schools to help struggling students come up to par.
The next set of questions were posed by Dr. Lasisi Olagunju, a distinguished scholar and editor with The Tribune. These touched on Dr. Mailafia’s thoughts on the North exporting crises to other parts of the country, the reintegration of “repentant” terrorists into society; why as a contestant to the country’s top position he felt Nigeria deserved him and vice versa; what the next president of Nigeria should do regarding the country’s designation as the “poverty capital of the world,” the role of the North in the situation, and whether Nigeria should be restructured, dissolved, or if it should just be business as usual. In response, Dr. Mailafia conceded that the North is plagued by insecurity, featuring rampant killings by insurgents and terrorist groups like the Boko Haram and ISWAP.
Furthermore, he pointed out the extent of social decay in the country, especially in Kano State, the high divorce rates, rampant drug addiction, large number of out-of-school children (Almajirai), and high levels of deprivation. According to Dr. Mailafia, the morally bankrupt elites have intentionally turned a blind eye to all of these social evils, choosing instead to perpetuate ignorance among the masses while attempting to drag other regions down to their level. However, he requests that the North must be looked upon with compassion and that any (new) administration intent on resolving these issues must first endeavor to look at the North with objectivity as the North is “deprived.” Additionally, such an administration must also reconcile the warring parties, return the out-of-school children to class, and employ more teachers to cater for their education, as the former has the potential of becoming a ready army in the hands of mischief-makers.
On the reintegration of alleged “repentant” insurgents, the guest of honor pointed out that there is nowhere in the world where that is obtainable, especially where such insurgents are integrated into the armed forces after just two weeks of rehabilitation. He alluded that this has adversely affected counter-insurgency efforts, with hostages being privy to sensitive information before they are executed. He also spoke against the practice of giving all such intervention attention to “repentant” terrorists while their victims are left to all manner of hardships. This, he said, was in very bad faith.
Addressing the question of his ambition to become president, Dr. Mailafia revealed that he tried to serve the nation and that it was up to the Nigerian people to decide if he was whom they wanted. He remarked that he was ill-prepared for the last elections he contested and also failed to gain the backing of certain “elders,” without whom one would be “on his own.” Nevertheless, the 2019 Nigeria Presidential election candidate of the African Democratic Congress party promised not to victimize those who have attacked and killed his people should he be allowed to serve.
Reacting to the question on Nigeria’s designation as the poverty capital of the world, the former central banker and development economist agreed that with such levels—over 50 per cent of Nigerians (more than 100 million) living below the poverty line—of poverty, the situation truly deserves to be labelled so. He pointed out that this challenge has been exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread insecurity. Other contributory factors identified were those of prioritization and the failure to diversify the economy. Therefore, to turn the situation around would require a significant industrial revolution as the only way to employ the vast masses of unemployed citizens. There will also be the need for a comprehensive social transfer network to ensure resources get to those in need; empowerment of people, especially women; access to land and credit, with emphasis on agriculture; and support for Nigerian youths. He stressed support for the youths, explaining that “any nation that ignores its youths is digging its own grave.”
Coming to restructuring, dissolution, or “business as usual” for Nigeria, Dr. Mailafia stated that he stands for restructuring. Even if he does not subscribe to the idea of dissolution, he does not condemn secessionist voices. He explained that he believes Nigeria deserves another try because, despite the historical circumstances around its birth, the country was not a product of chance. He recalled that the peoples of the region had a long history of interaction before any British creation. According to him, Nigeria is worth fighting for because of what it represents to all long-suffering African people worldwide and for black people everywhere. For those who suggest business as usual, Dr. Mailaia called this a mistake.
The third interviewer, Prof. Iheduru Okechukwu, an experienced and widely published political scientist, asked a broad spectrum of questions that were anchored to Nigeria as a failed state and centered on Nigeria’s huge debt profile and who foots the bill; the condition of human rights and the place of the rule of law; if it were smart for the Nigerian diaspora to invest in the country; and if what happened to Jos was emblematic of a failing state, and whether it was reversible. Reacting, Dr. Mailafia noted that the issue calls for sobriety and retrospection. For him, he cannot tell what the loans are used for, citing the 1.3 billion USD loan President Buhari took in 2015 in the guise of rehabilitating the North-East, whereas there is no evidence of rehabilitation. He pointed out that if loans must be taken, measures must be put in place to ensure that such loans have a “calculated guaranteed return on investment;” otherwise, as he pointed out, these loans would be paid for by our children. He also highlighted the condemnable practice of project inflation.
On diaspora investment, Dr. Mailafia said this was critical to Nigeria’s survival and prosperity, given the delicate nature of its economy and the role such substantial amounts of remitted funds have played in the success of the world’s fastest and best economies, e.g., China and Singapore. He also explained that the Nigerian diaspora cannot help but send these monies as they all have dependents at home; moreover, about 70 per cent of the funds remitted are for family use and not direct financial investments. He, however, reiterated the importance of such remittances to the Nigerian economy and the need to devise better means of investing these funds to gain maximum social returns.
Reacting to the infringement of human rights and other freedoms, and why he should not be prosecuted for making unsubstantiated claims. Dr. Mailafia noted that “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.” He pointed out that the Nigerian National Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC), which was dishing out rules, was embroiled in a corruption issue. He also stated that those concerned about “hate speech” mainly were against voices that contradict their opinions and interests.
Moving on to the human rights issue, the guest speaker avowed that though the human body can be killed, the truth cannot, and nobody can stop an idea whose time has come. As to why he should not be prosecuted for his earlier comments on the nation’s state, Dr. Mailafia responded that his comments were not made-up but were gotten from reliable sources he refused to mention for their safety. He confirmed that he has never recanted any of his comments because it is not his character to peddle tales and falsehood. He added that he only spoke up as a concerned citizen who could not sit back and feign ignorance about the widespread and relentless killings.
About Jos, Dr. Mailafia described the city as pleasant, with a temperate climate and hospitable people. He stated that the change in the city’s temperament resulted from the aggression inflicted on the people. This, he explained, was perpetrated through strangers who were imported into Jos and who have killed, evacuated, settled, and renamed whole villages. Another reason identified for the change of attitude in Jos is the prevalent indigene discrimination around the country, which Dr. Mailafia said the people of the state have been victims of, especially in Hausa-Fulani dominated states like Kano, Katsina, and Sokoto. According to him, these instances of aggression and discrimination against the people of Jos have transformed a peaceful and almost docile community into a relatively harsh one.
Dr. Mailafia agreed that the Jos scenario is symbolic of Nigeria’s status as a failing state. He expanded that this is exemplified in the inability and possible lack of will by the state to check the widespread insecurity and killings in the country, emphasizing the cases of Benue, Southern Kaduna, and Niger State, where people have been killed, villages burnt, and vast chunks of land taken. The guest speaker closed with a prediction that the affected people will yet rise to reclaim their ancestral lands, no matter of long it takes. But, that as a man of peace, he advocates that this should be pursued in non-violent ways.