The return to the state of nature

In the last few years, and particularly in the last couple of weeks, the Nigerian media has published countless reports of violence, banditry, kidnapping and gruesome murders.  The entire country is filled with acts of lawlessness that have made life “solitary, nasty brutish and short.”  It is as if certain forces have united to enact the Hobbesian state of nature described above: the country has sunk deeply into the Hobbesian state of nature.  From Zamfara to Oyo, bewildering and wicked tales of ransom-seeking kidnappers fill the airwaves. Videos of interviews with fiery-looking bandits  in masks threatening government officials and expressing grievances that they have sworn to avenge are circulating on social media.

Violence and lawlessness have descended upon the Nigerian state with the purpose of collapsing it.  Criminal elements now operate at will everywhere and at any time.  Law enforcement agents seem to be helpless.  In many instances, they are themselves victims of criminal violence. There seems to be no solution in sight as government officials are at their wits’ end. Many have resigned to fate.  It is difficult to keep track of Nigerians who have had to pay ransoms for their loved ones that have been kidnapped. Many of these victims are not necessarily rich. Some were kidnapped in the safety of their homes and taken to faraway forests.  Many died of exhaustion from the inhuman and wild treatment they received from their abductors. Others were killed because their relatives did not respond well or in a timely manner to the demands of the kidnappers. The new kings of the forests wield sophisticated weapons but live in the wild and travel across many rivers to hold their victims and keep away from the security forces.

Farmers in many parts of the country are unable to go to their farms, as farmlands have become risk zones. Schools, especially those with boarding facilities, have also become prime targets of these kidnappers as witnessed recently in Kagara, Niger State.  This is an extension of the abduction of school children by Boko Haram, which had kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok, Dapchi and similar places.  Displacement, which has been ascribed to the activities of Boko Haram in the North-East, has spread to virtually all parts of the country. Migrant criminals wielding AK-47 and other dangerous weapons have not only been  marauding the countryside, they have left many maimed or dead.

The resulting suspicion of outsiders by locals has deepened distrust and resentment.  It has fanned the embers of inter-ethnic hatred.  Public disturbances and violence have occurred in several cities, heightening ethnic and religious tensions. The gory tales of the violent clash between northerners and locals in Sasa market in Ibadan, Oyo State, epitomizes the spread of the tendency towards anarchy to southern Nigeria.  Outbursts of pain by victims and the hopelessness exhibited by concerned leaders  have made fear a major variable in the life of the average Nigerian. Many have been traumatized.

While  the Presidency has been mute and inactive as many of these developments unfold, there is apparent confusion and conflicts among state governors regarding what should be done to arrest the situation. There have been accusations and counter-accusations about migrant criminality and threat to the migratory and residency rights of Nigerians across the country. Most of these have been driven by anxiety and clannishness rather than sound judgment and well-thought-out policy measures. Little wonder, then, that in many places, self-help and lawlessness, which are no solutions,  have led to greater pain, including costly human and material losses, and disruption of the social order, pushing the desired peace farther away.

We call on leaders at various levels to activate the institutions of governance that can be used to restore peace, order and trust in society.  These include the various intergovernmental forums, such as the various governors’ forums and relevant national councils. Traditional rulers, local government institutions, opinion leaders and leaders of the various faith organisations  must be mobilised to support the quest for peace and order.  On their part, the state governors must not act antagonistically or at cross purposes.  Working in concert will  help in addressing areas of conflict and in impressing it on the Presidency to take agreed steps to address the security challenges, instead of the current divisive tendencies.  The situation must not be allowed to degenerate into complete anarchy.

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