Ambassador John Campbell has written an important book on Nigeria which demands the attention of every Nigerian and every American interested in Nigerian politics and Nigeria’s place in African and global affairs.
What I hope to achieve in this review is to highlight what I consider the most important arguments of this work; to engage those significant points, and to show their strengths and limitations. I will also offer some extended personal commentary on the state of Nigeria.
Let me state as a preliminary note that Campbell uses a political template to read Nigeria’s post-colonial history. The advantage of this approach is that it focuses and unifies his arguments around a common theme, that is, the strengths and weaknesses of the institutional framework and individual actors in the evolution of a constitutional democracy in Nigeria. It also gives him a strong comparative edge in relating and interpreting the present state of Nigeria’s democracy with regard to American democracy, and American foreign policies and objectives in Africa especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The weakness of his starting point is that the work largely ignores the socio-cultural and moral dimensions of Nigerian life all of which make Nigeria and Nigerians who they are today. Furthermore, the post-colonial Nigerian federation is very recent; there are still robust cultural, ethnic, religious, and social frameworks which are in existence in Nigeria without reference to the democratic institutions. Indeed, the argument to be made is whether reinforcing the neo-imperialist structural constitution of Nigeria is necessary for re-envisioning the Nigeria of the future or whether the main challenge of today is to raze the unjust structural bastions which continue to mimic even the least authentic pretension of true federalism.
Campbell develops his argument in nine chapters beginning with a short history of Nigeria, and concluding in chapter nine with why he thinks Nigeria is dancing on the brink. He concludes by identifying what Nigerians can do about it and how the international community especially the US could support Nigeria avoid state collapse. The central arguments of this book could be presented as follows: (1) Nigeria is (or should be) an important player in both global politics and in US foreign relations in Africa. As a result, successive governments in the US especially the present Obama regime should pay more attention to what is going on in Nigeria especially focusing on the forthcoming 2011 elections which promise to be both divisive on one hand and decisive for the future of Nigeria on the other hand. Campbell has legitimate doubts about the success of the 2011 elections given that the players in the sham elections of 2003 and 2007 are still the main actors today. Nigeria, he argues, is the Giant of Africa; its success or failure is a compelling example to other multi-ethnic, multi-religious African states. Nigeria is increasingly central to US energy security as well. In addition, Nigeria has the heft to be Washington’s partner on African security issues ranging from Darfur to Congo, to potentially Somalia. On the other hand, a failed Nigeria would likely unleash religious and ethnic conflicts generating refugee flows with the potential to destabilize its fragile neighbors.
(2) The fundamental issue in Nigeria today is governance. In page 17 he hits it right at the pack when he argues, “The fundamental issue is bad governance. The federal government’s economic policies reflect the special interest of those who control it. Accordingly, economic policy is focused on providing short-term benefits to the heads of the patronage networks that dominate Nigerian governance to the detriment of long-term economic development. This results in underinvestment in agriculture and the infrastructure to move agricultural products to the market, an overvalued currency, a dearth of energy production for domestic consumption, and often irrational and inconsistent trade and investment policies; in short, bad governance, crony capitalism, and spectacular levels of corruption impoverish the country.”Corruption in Nigeria is so pervasive and widespread at all levels and this explains why Nigeria is rich, but most Nigerians are living in abject poverty especially in the North and in the Niger Delta. Campbell’s verdict is simple but true: “Nigeria’s enormous oil and gas reserves have the theoretical potential to transform Nigeria’s economy. That opportunity, so far, has been lost, and most Nigerians are as poor as they were at independence” (21).
(3) Majority of Nigerians see themselves as powerless against the political class who run the country. Most of these ogas (Campbell borrows this common term which refers to ‘boss’ to capture the clientelism of Nigerian politics) belong to the military class or have some links to state security agencies. In chapter three, Campbell shows how this class runs Nigeria as a patron-client network, and how they protect the interest of their class, across ethnic, religious, and political divides. One senses a Marxist class conflict in this analysis, showing how the middle class in Nigeria has been wiped away. Majority of Nigerians are under-class, languishing in the lower rungs of economic progress, often holding on to effete religious platitudes which promise much but offer little at the end of the day. At the same time, the ruling class and their coterie of praise-singers and acolytes continue to milk Nigeria dry through their instrumental relationship with the state. It is obvious that for the majority of Nigerians who lack power and means, the only way to get by in the country is to fawn on the politicians. Rarely, do we find a Nigerian who is wealthy today who has no connection with the ruling government or the oil industry. It is not surprising as Campbell argues that most Nigerians are largely disconnected from the political process because the means of legitimizing the governance (elections) have become the very means for impoverishing the people’s will and disenfranchising them.
In 2007, when Kenyans felt that their elections were rigged they took to the streets in their numbers and brought the country to a standstill. In the same year, national elections (or selections as Nigerians prefer to call them) were rigged in Nigeria, but there was no reaction from the Nigerian public. According to Campbell, this was evidence that Nigerians are divorced from their formal institutions of government (109). In the public perception, the Nigerian government was now as ‘colonial’, irrelevant, and exploitative as the British regime had ever been.
Many Nigerians who lived in the colonial era like my father will tell you that comparatively speaking the colonial government was better than successive Nigerian governments. The total collapse of security in Nigeria, the decay of basic social infrastructures, the failure of the government to meet the basic needs of the people were never present in the colonial era. The colonial lords took care of infrastructures, provided security, and maintained essential services. Even though many will say that these were unintended consequences or by-products of imperialist exploitation, no one can deny that successive Nigerian governments have been worse than the most insensitive colonial government. In a sense, Campbell is, therefore, generous in comparing Nigeria’s government to the colonialists; there is no basis for comparison. Most past and present Nigerian rulers (excluding a few) have blood in their hands. Unfortunately, these are the blood of their own brothers and sisters. The coping strategy for most Nigerians faced with this unfortunate scenario is to have as little as possible to do with the government and to migrate internally into the worlds of family, ethnic group, and religion or in many cases to die silently in quiet and frustrating desperation. This, according to Campell, represents a new low in the rupture in the social contract between the government and the governed, and presents the likely possibility of state failure.
(4) Obasanjo’s two terms in office, in the opinion of Campbell, were very deplorable in that the state machinery was misused at all steps along the way. Obasanjo carried much promise, and the international community gave him much mileage. Sadly, at the end he left Nigeria more corrupt than ever. He worked hard to undermine the institutional base for democracy in the country in his effort to perpetuate himself in power. In page 80 Campbell argues, “Obasanjo’s effort to retain the presidency, and, when that failed, some of the substance of presidential power exercised from a party position, distorted the political process and played a primary role in the failure of the elections of 2007.”
(5) American priorities in Nigeria need to be clearly articulated and consistently followed in many ways, namely: (i) being unambiguous in making its judgment and opposition to election rigging or unjust government policies in Nigeria (94); (ii) maintaining institutional and personnel coherence between those in the State Department and leadership of State Department’s African bureau; (116); (iii) appointing high level officers and ambassadors to Nigeria who could stay longer in the country and be able to establish strong partnership and bond with both the civil society, governmental agencies, and third sector organizations (119-121); (iv) improving immigration services with Nigerians especially addressing the rejection of visa application of many Muslims from Northern Nigeria; (v) and changing the US focus from regional security to democracy and governance in Nigeria, that means prioritizing long-term planning over short-term planning; (vi) focusing on Nigeria as a peculiar nation with a peculiar history and working with Nigeria’s democratic institutions and the three arms of government in strengthening them for the task ahead. (vii) Even though there is glaring collapse of security in Nigeria, any attempt by America to have a military presence in Nigeria through her AFRICOM will be very unpopular. However, there are other levels of partnership in security matters which could be mutually worked out between the two friendly nations. This is even more important because there are real dangers that a terrorist nest could grow in Nigeria, because failed and failing states provide the alchemy for the asymmetrical warfare of terrorists and radical Islamists.
(6) Campbell believes that the strengthening of democratic institutions in Nigeria will go a long way in bridging the current gap between the Nigerian people and those who rule them. This he argues (142) will open the door to redressing the consequences of generations of bad government and lack of development. Indeed, just one genuinely free and fair election in Nigeria could result in a credible new federal government and build up the confidence of Nigerians in democracy and its identification with the Nigerian state. His concluding argument in the book is very optimistic: “A democratic Nigeria characterized by the rule of law would promote economic development, encourage alleviation of poverty, and address the people’s alienation from their government. The Giant would have freed itself from its hobble, and the dance would be moved back from the brink. Nigeria indeed would become for the international community that African example of progress and peace that was the hope of the visionaries of the ‘Nigerian project.’ The shadow of state failure would fade like the smile of Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire cat. Nigeria would become a nation rather than merely Awolowo’s ‘geographic expression’ and would shine as the beacon for African democracy.” (147)
Is Nigeria A Failed State or a Failing State? Concluding Analysis
Ambassador Campbell’s work is a tour de force in every sense of the word. It makes for interesting reading and shows some sympathy for the lame giant of Africa. It is a book which sometimes drew tears from my eyes as I follow the well-crafted narrative of the painful road of poverty, insecurity, failed government, inexcusable suffering which most Nigerians trek every day. This is a bold work which challenges Nigeria to rise up to her true destiny for the good of Nigerians, Africans, Americans and the global community. The idea of Nigeria being on the brink is a warning rather than a prediction of an ineluctable path to perdition. I see Campbell as a prophet crying out: Nigeria, return to the values of true federalism to save your nation and your future. Nigerians, quit corruption for no nation ever survived on the shaky platform of greed and selfishness which spurn corruption, decadence, and ineptitude.
I am impressed with the rich and adequate narrative Campbell gives of Nigeria’s political history since 1999. The work offers helpful information to anyone who wishes to understand the internal dialectics of Nigeria’s political evolution since the dawn of the 21st century. It is also a work which is important for understanding why America’s foreign policy should change with regard to Nigeria. The work is also very objective, something that is often rare among many Western writers who tend to vilify Africa without any grounding on the social context, and without any scientific engagement with the historical data or any ethnographic immersion in Africa’s political history. Campbell writes with the expertise of a good historian, taking care to relate the historical facts to the wider picture, and applying a broader analytical compass to reveal a fuller picture of the Nigerian reality. In all, he has taken great pains to be objective, balanced, and factual with Nigeria’s political history. The writer shows a magisterial understanding of Nigeria’s troubled political terrain, which only an insider could accomplish.
One could raise doubts as to why Campbell gave a passing reference to the Nigerian civil war, or why he fails to address the question of globalization and ecological degradation in the Niger Delta all of which in one way or another are fueled by American interest in Nigeria’s oil. Oil exploration in the Niger Delta and the environmental issues involved, and the corruption in that sector and Nigeria’s energy sectors involve many actors including American companies. These must be addressed in recalibrating Nigerian-American relations at governmental and non-governmental levels; it is also fundamental for assembling the basic architecture for true federalism in Nigeria. One immediately remembers the recent indictment of Halliburton and Vice President Dick Cheney for corruption by the Nigerian anti-fraud bureau. I also wondered why Campbell did not mention the contrasting roles of Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and Ambassador Carrington during the dark days of IBB and Abacha when the political cup of horror in Nigeria overflew with these two dictators’ unspeakable misfeasance. Both dictators stand out as representing the twin peak of Nigeria’s rise to ignominy. That Nigerians stood up against these two evil men, and were so compliant to Obasanjo’s eight years of misrule and exploitation, is something that needs to be investigated.
One will also wonder why the author ignored the agency of religion in transforming Nigeria given the fact that the institutional and personal failures of Nigeria’s politicians arise from a failed moral and ethical standpoint. In Nigeria, there is a disconnection between religious grandstanding, and visible and buoyant religious sentiments and concrete application of religious values to one’s personal life and service. Almost everyone in Nigeria, like Campbell points out, claims God for himself or herself. The 2002 Pew Global attitudes Project placed Nigeria (92%) second to Indonesia in how religion is important to the people. If a nation with such a high religious sentiment is basking and swimming in a cesspool of corruption and moral failure, then there is something fundamentally flawed about Nigeria’s brand of religion.
My conclusion is that the abuse of religion whether in Christianity or Islam has been the saddest aspect of the decaying moral and spiritual platform on which Nigeria stands. Many Nigerian religious leaders for instance receive gifts of SUVs and huge monetary donations from governors, presidents and politicians without questioning the sources of such gifts. When I brought this matter up in a conversation with a leading Nigerian Catholic cleric, he told me; “The church is the custodian of stolen goods! (???)” Many Nigerian clerics from both faiths are friends of the president or governors without having any moral influence on them. Indeed, there appears to be no strong moral leadership in the country today because of the lack of integrity and credibility on the part of our religious leaders whose lifestyles and cozy relationship with the powers that be, have delegitimized their high spiritual leadership and undermined their prophetic calling. Materialism, dishonesty, false religious claims, and greed have become cankerworms eating deep into the fabric of our religious and political lives. Many Christian priests, men and women of God, imams and Muslim clerics are just as corrupt, greedy, and dishonest as the politicians if not worse.
Campbell’s analysis of the failed security in the country is very illuminating. The Nigerian state’s security apparatus is being increasingly emasculated by militant activity, the freedom fighters of the Niger Delta, the OPC, MOSOP, Muslim militants and radical Muslim underlings who are being used as tools for violence by political and some religious leaders in places like Jos, Maiduguri, Kano, Kaduna among others. However, the evisceration of the Nigerian state is being carried out consciously and consistently by her political class. These men and women have debauched the very traditional ethico-social morality on which the nation should stand. I agree with Campbell that state failure in Nigeria will arise from unchecked corruption and abuse of the powers of the state, and the increasing pauperization of the Nigerian masses who are like peons in the very buoyant luxurious terrain of the politicians. This is further highlighted by the patron-client relationship between the ogas and the rest of the folks who constantly are forced to eat off the crumbs that fall from the table of the oga. The criminality of Nigerian politics and the rampant corruption of the officials of state and politicians is a conclusion which many Nigerians can relate to and is often a major issue in Nigeria’s public discourse.
There are two points that I need to mention which I do not share with Campbell. The first is the argument on p.141 that “Nigeria has stayed together for almost fifty years, despite a bloody civil war, because that is what the ogas wanted.”I will reverse this claim by saying that “Nigeria has stayed together because ordinary Nigerians want to stay together.” However, the cost of ‘staying together’ appears to me to be unjustified. But that is not the concern of this review, even though it should be an essential point in any serious resolution of the Nigerian conundrum: Must Nigeria stay together? Don’t we need to interrogate the very foundation of our staying together if what it has brought to many Nigerians is the progressive hemorrhaging of our human, cultural, and natural resources? However, it is the politicians who are fighting each other and upping the tension level whenever their interests are not amicably resolved. The political actors and religious leaders are the ones who are destroying Nigeria. Ordinary Nigerians are only struggling to get by through any means possible and will work hard and play fair if the obstacles are removed along their path.
What is actually important for peace and stability of the country is for the ordinary people who wish to stay together, who relate with each other as brothers and sisters to rally together and insist that political mandates are sacred trusts. But this is where the problem lies: Many ordinary Nigerians believe that the apparatus of state in Nigeria is too unwieldy, that we need a true federalism which will reduce the complex structure of governance to manageable levels, and address specific regional needs. A nation which spends 25% of her GNP feeding the insatiable appetite of indolent members of the National Assembly for cash, perks and privileges is an unworkable contraption. The Nigerian state is not indissoluble and every item should be on the table in addressing the structural basis of Nigeria’s shaking political platform.
This is where I make a second point: I do not think Campbell has made a strong defense for why Nigeria is on the brink. Every Nigerian will tell you ‘trouble dey for Naija’ but most Nigerians do not see their country on the brink. This is not to say that Campbell is a prophet of doom. His argument for why Nigeria is tottering on the brink in chapter nine should be studied by Nigerian political historians. Is it that Nigerians have a blind spot when it comes to telling each other the truth about their nation? I will propose that the framing of the state of Nigeria as being on the brink will demand a broader level of argumentation which integrates multiple narratives beyond a limited political theorization. The challenges of the Nigerian nation are much more convoluted, much fluid, and constantly mutating that they require a multi-disciplinary approach. Such approaches will fully give account of the religio-cultural currents and worldviews which are constantly interlocking in the shaping of the Nigerian political imagination.
I do not believe that a free and fair election which sees Jonathan elected as president (for argument sake) will answer the legitimate concerns of Nigerians. This is because many Nigerians including myself do not know what Jonathan represents besides (1) the general platitudes about his being God’s gift to Nigeria, and (2) his not wanting power, but having power trust upon him by divine providence. (3) There is also the emotionally charged quaint logic on the power of incumbency. How Jonathan will meet the challenges of the messy political waters of Nigeria and the injustice in this land, and the violence, anger, and aggression in Nigeria remains an unanswered question. The same could be said of a Northern candidate: Is being a Northerner enough credential for having the rocket science answer to the questions most Nigerians are asking: When will our suffering be over in this richly blessed land? The problem, therefore, is not simply about our political actors, but our value system which has mortally wounded the Nigerian state and other levels of activities in the land. I agree that Nigeria is on the brink but the unanswered question is on the brink of what?
For Campbell, Nigeria is on the brink of state failure; for me Nigeria is on the brink of moral collapse because of her dysfunctional value. Consequently, one can argue that Nigeria has failed because she is tumbling in a decaying moral universe and lacking the social and political values which should hold the country and the people together in pursuing a common national goal. I think that reading Nigeria through the lenses of political history places Campbell’s analysis at a very limited level because that is not the level where Nigerians are operating today; they have lost faith in the political process and rightly so. We should place the problem squarely at the level of value: What value and loyalty do Nigerians have towards the Nigerian state? Do Nigerians agree as a people in the value of this kind of federal structure where one man and one party appear to hold the key to the life and survival of millions of people? How many Nigerians are willing to die for this country? What are the moral values which govern our interaction with one another, and with the state and the political actors? If corruption is the bane of our land, as well as dishonesty, sharp practices, violence, kidnapping, inefficient organs of state, poor work ethics, religious intolerance, aggression, and some empty national hubris about our exalted place in Africa etc, then we must address the values which are being eroded by these negative social ills.
In a sense, the biblical injunction (Proverb 13:44) is true for all time: righteousness upholds a nation and sin is a disgrace to any society. This is not simply a biblical truth. Many years ago, the great Greek philosopher Socrates warned the Greeks: “The brilliant statesman had enriched and embellished the city; had created protective walls around it; had built ports and dockyards; had launched navies; had eternalized the glory of the city by the temples of undying grandeur and beauty; has multiplied in Attica the feasts of arts and reason; but he did not occupy himself with the problem of how to make Athenians better men and women. As a result his work has remained incomplete and his creation cadulous.” It is only better Nigerians with character and integrity who cherish the value of hard work and honesty who can create better political structures. Political structures are not a gift which Nigerians will receive from the US or any other Western power for that matter or from their political leaders. Better societies are not the fruit of prayers, or religiously borne false expectations and hope; it is the result of commitment to values and fidelity to all that is noble and true in the human person, and the body politic. It is something that the Nigerian value system will generate. In a sense, therefore, our precarious state is the result of our unfortunately flawed morality and skewed sense of right and wrong, good and evil and how to attain them. So the question which Ambassador Campbell raises in chapter three, ‘Who runs Nigeria?’ hits at the core of the challenge we face today: the values Nigerians embrace will run Nigeria. Every nation will stand or fall by the kind of values which it embraces. Campbell’s work is a battle cry for Nigerians to look at themselves in the mirror and determine if they like what they see. He merits the gratitude and respect of every Nigerian who wishes to embrace the truth about Nigeria. This book, will no doubt, provide a good reference point for political discourse about Nigeria for many years to come.
Stan Chu Ilo is a Catholic priest and Assistant Professor of Religion and Education at St Michael’s College, Toronto School of Theology, and University of Toronto, Canada. He is the author of two forthcoming books, Aid and Development in Africa and the Role of Christians and Christian Charities in Africa’s Social Context (Wipf and Stock Publishers); The Changing Faces of Africa: An Afro-Christian Vision of Hope for a Struggling Continent. He has also co-edited another volume, The Church in Africa as Salt and Light: Path To an African Ecclesiology of Abundant Life (Pickwick Books, Eugene, Oregon). All three books will be released in fall 2011. His collection of essays, public lectures and commentaries is being edited as Beyond the Valleys: Transformative Essays on Religion, Politics, and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa.