The interview with Dr. Mailafia during the Toyin Falola Interviews furnishes the audience with much information that helps to grasp the idea of failed leadership and state and problematize the concept of a failing state. The truth is laid bare for anyone confident enough to accept that the conversation around a failed state is a byproduct of the narrative of us versus them, civilized versus uncivilized, barbaric and modern, dated back to the 19th century as a prelude to the colonization of the less technologically advanced groups of people in Africa and other victims of colonialism. The binary prism generated around this characterization found the expansionist imperialists on the side of the coin where they are associated with modernity, civilization, and greatness, which, therefore, became the motivation for their expeditious colonialism embarkations on all of their colonies.
As it was then, the measures for civilizations and others did not have a universal appeal because it appeared that the moral and political requirements for being civilized represented a jaundiced view of the colonizers. Although this would help to drive an objective conversation when dealing with the mountainous challenges that have gripped the African, especially Nigerian, leadership by its jugular, it does not by any means undermine the importance of having common denominating factors with which it can be decisively concluded that a country is failing or has failed. In essence, one needs to address the issues of a failed state not exclusively by considering the factors erected by the Western world but by definitions given by the rational members of colonized societies who are impartial in their evaluation and examination of events.
One of the most compelling characteristics of a failing or failed state is a collapsed economy that is immediately trailed by widespread poverty. These two factors define the current topic of engagement because no civilization can claim modernization in its remote sense if its economy has collapsed. Therefore, it is challenging to avail Nigeria of this quagmire tagged “failed state” when one realizes that its economy has declined in recent years for reasons that are not unconnected to its excessive concentration on a single source of revenue. Such dependence, among other things, has killed the nation’s urge for creativity and diversification. And because the government has refused to be pluralistic in its economic approach, the political structure has been facing constant declination of values and worth.
It is difficult to compare the Nigeria of today and that of four or five decades ago. The declining economy has become the source of many existential challenges in which the country is currently circumscribed. Essentially, this has weakened its importance in the region of West Africa and Africa generally because not only has the country become the proverbial leaches of the international organizations that oversee the financial rescue of less economically viable countries and then serve donor countries that contribute to face-save them in time of crisis, the citizens have also been reduced to a diminished group of people who would retain no particular regard outside of their political and geographical outreach.
Various countries have emerged in recent years because they diversified their economies and concentrated intensely on ways to redeem their financial status in the comity of nations. However, Nigeria is stuck in the pit of economic debauchery because the government is too reliant on mono-economic sources of financial and economic income. This would not have been a problem if people’s economy does not affect their cultural and social systems. As Karl Marx argued in the past, when the economy, which is the basis for political engagement, collapses, there are usually devastating consequences that would be felt in other areas; hence the widespread poverty that Dr. Mailafia talked about in the Toyin Falola Interview Series.
Widespread poverty is one social problem that has faced Nigeria currently because its economy is in decline. The country’s economy is so weak that it cannot provide the necessary job security for the people, and the lack of employment opportunities has invariably increased the poverty level of Nigerians. Nigerians are embattled with the multiple problems of economic decline and poverty, which have inevitably increased the challenges they face day in and day out. Malnutrition and the inadequate health systems pervasive in the country are evidence that it has crossed the line and sunk into an abyss of terror. A few years ago, Nigeria was dubbed the world’s poverty capital because its citizens are said to live on a dollar per day. Such statistics are dumbfounding, not mainly because many people suffer from poverty, but also because Nigeria, which used to be the beacon of hope for the African continent, especially at the economic front, has now been labelled the poverty headquarters of the world in just four to five decades. This speaks to the lack of foresight in the political domain. The lack of visionary leaders at the echelon of power is a strong reason behind the accelerated increase in poverty and deprivation.
A failed state does not stop with these challenges. A famous proverb among the Yoruba people says that when big challenges overcome individuals, smaller ones would feast on them; the rising level of insecurity in the country is another signal of its serious condition. Nearly in all the corners of the country, there is no safe place for individuals to conduct their activities freely without nursing the fear that they may be rounded up by groups of criminals who believe in their guns as the decider of people’s fate. Insecurity is so widespread that people cannot be absolutely confident of their safety whenever they step outside their confines. Even in the comfort of their homes, there are growing instances of attacks on people. Insecurity in Nigeria is pervasive and deadly, and this is one of the reasons the country cannot escape the profiling it has experienced in recent times.
Undoubtedly, if the situation of a country mirrors that of Nigeria, its challenges would grow in leaps and bounds. For example, the security crisis has taken a comfortable seat in the country, which scares potential investors away for obvious reasons. Business investors worldwide are known to pick interest in places where they are confident of financial returns. When this is threatened, they will look elsewhere to invest. To this extent, insecurity is a disease that silently kills people and provides them with no actual possibility of an antidote that may give them the relief needed from time to time. Candidly, there are limitless opportunities in Nigeria so much that if they had been confronted with increased unemployment, there would be an opportunity to turn the situation into something desirable through investments in the economy. But when insecurity is added to the challenges facing the people, they have little chance of attracting the right business people who would elevate their status by investing in their moribund economy.
READ ALSO: Is Nigeria A Failing State?
One would think that Nigeria has demonstrated the highest of its shortcomings in its failure to function as a great country until one realizes that it is embroiled in many struggles. In essence, Nigerian problems are interwoven and interconnected. Apart from the fact that attracting the right people is problematic where the security challenges are pervasive, the realization that individuals are too psychologically weak to pursue any economic dream adds to the said problems. Sadly, the combination of these factors is grossly affecting Nigerian citizens in the contemporary world.
More appalling is that the Nigerian state cannot deliver the essential public goods expected of a state. One of the public services expected of a functional government is protecting human rights; however, it is more benumbing that the Nigerian government has been unable to protect these fundamental human rights. Now the country seemed to have slipped into anarchy in some states, notably in Zamfara and Borno. The freedom of communication, on which mandate the government of the day rode to power, has been carefully and methodically infringed upon so much that the people exercise conscious restraint in discussing issues that affect them in public or social spaces. The gross disrespect for human rights and the abuse that comes from such attitudes give the impression that the protection of the citizens no longer takes a particular interest in the hearts of emerging political leaders.
Positions of power have been ambushed by individuals using power to enhance their selfish interests. The media houses responsible for the government’s victory are now feeling the heat of totalitarian policies targeted at their operations. For example, the ban placed on Twitter reflects only one thing–the absolute disregard for human rights. Including, but not limited to this, is the clampdown on the freedom of association that is getting to the heart of the political system. Free association with others has experienced similar treatment. One cannot associate with groups without feeling insecure because the ongoing security challenges that have engulfed the country continue to scare people from being involved with others on issues that affect their social networking. If these are part of the indices used to measure a failing state, Nigeria cannot be exempted from the list. The country has failed to protect its citizens, which is a major contribution to the pervasive insecurities in the land. While the government continues to increase the level of funding dedicated to the procurement of arms and ammunition, the results do not complement the monies spent. Budgetary allocation for security increases annually with little or no results to show for it. In other words, people have taken the insecurities pervasive in the country as an opportunity to perpetuate corruption on a larger scale. Meanwhile, the administration of justice has equally been complex.
At the interview session, Dr. Mailafia hinted that although everyone believes that peace can follow the absence of all violent activities and criminal engagements, the fact remains that when there is no justice, there can be no claim to peace, primarily as the current state of affair in the country does not support justice. For instance, it is readily impossible to have justice in situations where security operatives have constituted themselves as a parallel government where they carry out activities that naturally defy the ethics of their calling. On an occasion where the representatives at the political system are siphoning the public resources for their provincial gains, displaying an opulence got from the sweat of the public, it is difficult to ascribe any form of justice to such a political behaviour. Thus, there would be problems in collectively advancing the objectives and goals of such a country. In a recent exposition by the United States of America, the scandalous involvement of Nigeria’s Deputy Commissioner of Police with a popular cybercriminal, Hushpuppi, demonstrates how institutions in the country have been taken over by overzealous individuals who would pursue their ambition even at the expense of the state. This is corroborated by the actions of Nigerian politicians with unexplainable wealth, who gallivant the globe on the citizens’ wealth.
It gets exciting when we realize that Nigeria is a heterogeneous country with different people and varying cultural orientations who, upon the understanding that there is a perceived lopsided nationalist treatment, could consider seceding from the country to become independent. When Ms. Bamidele Ademola-Olateju asked Dr. Mailafia if the country truly deserves to remain a corporate entity or has the potential to remain one in the nearest future, we should understand more about the political possibilities of the country remaining indivisible. Dr. Mailafia considered the question a two-fold one, and he approached them differently yet educatively. He answered the first part of the question in the negative, not being preposterous in his prediction but by considering several trends that have become synonymous with the country. The first is the country’s demographic which doubles its numbers every thirty years. Coupled with the diminishing social and infrastructural services, pervasive insecurities, rising injustice, and widespread corruption, the possibility of the country surviving the next phase of its national identity is uncertain. Nearly all the countries that have dissolved their colonial identities have experienced what Nigeria is going through in the current time. The fact that they eventually broke up to form new states explains why a similar condition awaits Nigeria.
On the second question about if Dr. Mailafia would want the country to collapse so that different nations would emerge from its decay, he responded that it is not his wish to see the collapse of Nigeria. He argued that one of the reasons for his position is that apart from his nationalist spirit, he has grown so fond of the country and believes it can achieve an incredible potential if only the leaders take very decisive steps to salvage it. Whether the country deserves to survive or not is another thing entirely. Dr. Mailafia was unpretentious when he said he does not, in good conscience, think that the country deserves to survive, considering the numerous evils that have been perpetrated by the people in whose hands the country’s management is kept. This evil persisted beyond the corridors of power. The people who are nudged on by the leaders’ silence committed grave crimes and misgivings that are naturally irreconcilable and incompatible with progress. Civil strife in the 1960s and 1970s led people to kill others who were considered different from their ethnic identity. This civil war in the country between 1966 and 1970 was another offence against humanity. The fact that the blood of the innocent was used as the sacrifice to keep the country as one contradicts natural order, and for this reason, it is difficult to say if the country is deserving of remaining indivisible. Ethnic cleansing, religious killings, banditry, among others, characterize the Nigeria of the current time, making it difficult to say it deserves to remain one.
Security challenges and the political theatre that prepared the stage for the proliferation of violence cannot be dissociated from the socioeconomic conditions that necessitated the horrible development in the first instance. Suppose by luck, a country is given a pass mark of credibility irrespective of the pervasive and constant violence and hostilities. In that case, there cannot be redemption for countries that have failed in their economic prosperity, for they would be vulnerable to all manner of threats that would potentially come their way. The Nigerian situation is exemplary of this condition strictly because the decline of its economy in recent years has reached an unprecedented scale.
To understand the relationship between a failing state and those whose financial oxygen has been infiltrated by particles and pebbles that are disastrous to the country’s health, a question was raised about the causes and effects of the continually reduced value of the country’s currency. By his age and experience, Dr. Mailafia qualifies as a historian on issues that border on Nigeria’s past events, especially from the 1960s onwards. His mind-opening input would enthuse us. According to him, the devaluation of the Nigerian currency is a product of many factors that need to be studied or appropriately contextualized for us to grab the knowledge of its status. For a currency that was far ahead of the American dollars in the 1960s and that was giving the British pounds a run for its money in the same period, one needs to address emerging situations that suddenly led to the surprising displacement of the values less than seven decades after.
However, the point of waterloo to the Nigerian Naira came in 1985 during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, under whom the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) sapped the values that the currency had managed to enjoy for a considerable number of years. As argued by a technocrat, the program was geared towards the de-industrialization of the country and the despoliation of their economic systems. The Nigerian currency began to drastically lose its values against the European and American currencies from that period. As if it was in a self-competition to outdo itself in the areas of value erosion, the Naira has been witnessing rapid declination from that period to the current time. This, according to Dr. Mailafia, is caused by several factors.
First, the high inflation rate in the country has predominantly affected the way the Naira presently stands, among other currencies. Also, the excessive dependence on importation accounts for the devaluation of the Nigerian currency. This particular variable resulted in a deficit in the country’s account balance and a trade deficit. Misguided economic and financial policies created by people unaware of how their government’s activities influence the Naira and thus act rashly also harm the country in this area. It is nauseous to be educated on the devaluation of the currency and then know the people who brought the calamity on their people. For example, the dollarization of the Nigerian economy, apart from the oil industry that was not covered by the sanction of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), also contributes to the devaluation of the nation’s currency. Coupled with the fact that some top politicians in the country have also been engrossed in the cultural tradition of using dollars above their currency, the devaluation of the country’s money does not always concern them. They have made a substantial amount of money through their deliberate act of disobedience to the standard regulations by the government. As such, they have more purchasing power when the Naira loses value.
All these factors combine to tell us that Nigeria is failing the test of being a solid state. To Dr. Mailafia, Nigeria lacks the power to control its profound contradictions and infractions. Where does Nigeria go from here?
(This is the first report on the interview with Dr. Obadiah Mailafia on August 15, 2021. Well attended, the number of a live audience was 1.3 million on six platforms. For part of the transcript, see Facebook https://fb.watch/7q9qf8tqEd/ Or YouTube:
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano On Wiseman Festus Keyamo
By Tony Afejuku
I present today two out of the numerous responses that found me after the essay on Festus Keyamo appeared here last Friday. The responses are particularly electrifying in different ways as you shortly shall find out – dear, dear readers. The first response gracing the column now is from a reader in the South East geo-political territory who wishes to remain anonymous. I endorse the code of anonymity which I hereby oblige him – even though his account is in no way irritating. The second reader I am also quoting word-for-word has appeared here in the past. He is a highly radical Professor of Bayero University, Kano, who suffers no fools gladly – and treats no one he disagrees with strongly with kid gloves. I hope Minister Festus Keyamo, the junior minister of our central labour ministry, and you my readers, our ever-watchful compatriots, will find today’s contributions positive. Of course, you will find interesting why Professor IBK’s stands as it stands in the title. His sharp submission is a certain and surely useful shorthand for what many patriotic compatriots will call Fine man and Boy Fine Festus Keyamo’s new identity as the column adumbrated last Friday. We hope Festus Keyamo will soon become Wiseman Festus Keyamo after reading us today. I say: easy, helpful and happy reading.
Reader Anonymous: Sir Afejuku, a very good day to you. I wish I could control my emotions to avoid expressing how deeply I was touched emotionally by your words of wisdom and piece of advice of naked truth undiluted to Festus Keyamo in your “Festus Keyamo: A hole of an argument.” I wish Keyamo has the wisdom and ability to understand what you meant and mean still by that, not just literally.
My brother, I did not know you before now, and I still don’t know you, but I call you a brother because you have what it takes to be called a brother and that is “wisdom and passion for truth that bears integrity.”
Can you see the reason we are where we are today as a nation? This is just how Nigeria is being run by the government and virtually everybody in it. Personal interest matters and nothing else is to the government and those in it. Our problems are not natural because the country is naturally blessed. Sometimes, yes, sometimes …. I cry for Nigeria. It’s very unfortunate what we are doing to ourselves in the name of politics.
Truth is sweet and heavier than any object, and anywhere it drops darkness shakes uncontrollably and in disarray… I want this country to work for all of us the people as we have no other one to call our own. Nigeria is our home, and no one else can build this country for us if we the people don’t build it and make it work for us. Keep speaking the objective truth. Only the truth shall set us free, my brother.
Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano: Thank you for your masterly demolition job of Festus Keyamo’s petty and infantile attacks on ASUU members and the Nigerian lecturership. Keyamo, the ex-radical activist, the guy from a back-water village in Delta State, a village which, I read somewhere, still doesn’t have a decent main street, a modern drainage or sewage system. Keyamo is just one out of many fine radicals who, once they joined the state machine, became servile functionaries of it. The academic psychological literature is full of “analyses” of hitherto radical activists who are now willing tools of the corrupt and unaccountable state machine or an insensitive political administration. If he ever went to university and got a first law degree and still found it expedient to denigrate his former lecturers, one would wonder how he could so easily forget that he was the product of the university system. Little wonder that he could or did, in fact, forget that he would never have held a high office in or been functionally useful to, the Buhari Administration or the APC itself had he never attended a university or had never got an academic degree. Thus people like Keyamo are the typical infantile state-idol worshippers, the willing tools of mischief against good or noble causes once those causes threaten state privilege or those of its parasitic officials who routinely and conveniently forget their humble origins.
READ ALSO: Festus Keyamo: A Hole Of An Argument
The historical literature is full of the tragic stories of old state psychophants who ended up either being ditched by the very state machinery they served or were swept away by their own very hubris. As Henry Thoreau once said, an intelligent and independent-minded person does not willingly do the bidding of a corrupt Prince. Keyamo has sold his soul to the Devil, the one at the head of a lazy, unwilling, incompetent, and insensitive Dinner Table. Of course, Keyamo hopes to keep his subordinate seat at that Table come June 2023. But he’s yet to learn the tragic lesson of betrayal from an un-impressed state machine which has no logic other than that of its own self-aggrandizement. Hubris, arrogant over-simplification, infantile political bootlicking and selective amnesia have not yet helped anyone (in the long run). Nor would all this help Mr. Fetus Keyamo, the ridiculous petty official who hopes to keep his allegedly cool corrupt privileges induced by malignantly decent men and women, the hypocritical, debased and devilish cream of Nigeria’s intellectual resources.
Now the columnist cannot but appreciate IBK, an unblemished ultra-radical critic and commentator of Kano, and Mr. Anonymous of “Biafra” who believes in one Nigeria. If Disputant Festus Kayamo wants us to label or re-label him as Wiseman Festus Keyamo he should retrace his steps and re-learn to walk, fly, glide and travel with us as you my good readers “catch the pulse of wisdom that flows around you and it becomes a part of your consciousness like a dance of perfection.” Festus Keyamo should become a wise man by jettisoning now this regime of darkness in your country my country our country where Alas! wings of birds are powerless and dead. But the chopping minister will not hearken to any wise counsel. He will not. He is too far gone. Yes, he is too far gone. He is no more a masses-man. But that is not my problem or yours. His new cross is his new cross. Let him carry it as he chooses. Thunder!!!
Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.
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“Cut Soap For Me!”
By Toyin Falola
Yams do not sprout in amulets.
It is important to foreground that Nigerian society is still widely laced with traditional beliefs, practices, and other locally influenced religious practices like those seen in churches that use religious paraphernalia in their worship system. Spiritual symbolism and materials cannot be entirely separated from these practices, as different items are often administered to serve certain purposes. When one understands this, the genesis of the statement “Cut Soap for Me” becomes clear. There is a practice of voodoo baptism or head washing in traditional and other religious circles to either attract good tidings to a person or shield them from evil spirits and attacks.
In Nigeria, juju baptism became prominent among the supposed “modern youths” to attract luck. However, it became a practice among Yahoo Boys who defraud Nigerians and foreigners, especially through social media platforms. The average aspiring Yahoo Boy patronizes religious institutions to get “soap” for voodoo baptism, with the intent to hypnotize or curse victims into doing their biddings. This is one of the many spiritual steps they take to progress from “Yahoo Yahoo” to “Yahoo Plus.”
Defrauding strangers of their hard-earned money is fast becoming a culture and a normalized trade in society. There is evidence of some security personnel corroborating these practices in the name of hunting down “scammers,” as these fraudsters are locally called. In 2021, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ranked Nigeria as the 16th affected by the menace of cybercrime. The international community was thrown into the pool of surprise when the case of Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, dominated the public discussion. Hushpuppi was accused of defrauding his ignorant victims of about $24 million. Unfortunately, Nigeria is fast becoming a discothèque of thousands of Hushpuppies flaunting their ill-fated wealth at every instance they get and buying items at outrageous prices.
READ ALSO: God When?
Without effective measures to curb it, the public display of unexplained wealth has become normalized. Sadly, instead of condemning this act, the public applauds it, creating a euphoria that drives the perpetrators to progress in their malicious acts and advance their manner of display. To cause “oppression,” they intentionally take up their “E Choke” and “Who Dey Breathe” behaviours and rub their regrettable idiosyncrasies on the face of all that form the fabric of Nigerian society, subjecting young and hardworking citizens to self-doubt. The matter is made worse by uncensored musical and video content that glorify fraudulent activities by proliferating the usage of their registers.
“Cut Soap for Me” has literally become a slang to request that these perpetrators share their diabolic magic. However, the statement has progressed from requests for the secrets to voodoo to the general space whereby people jokingly ask to be taught the process or secret of one’s success. A Nigerian professor has accused me of using juju to write, begging me to lead him to my so-called voodoo man at Iwo to make the same potent magic. Eighteen hours of work a day was reduced to juju power! “Cut Soap for Me” could be an honest expression, sarcasm, or a retort to one’s failure and attempt to find a lasting solution. Whichever way, the underlying factor is that there is a representation that some have and some do not.
Despite knowing the criminality of an act, what would make a person resort to it? If a fraudulent act is criminal and socially unwelcomed, what would make one ask another, “Cut Soap for Me?” Greed, failure, and the realization of the impossibility of fruitful efforts are tormentors that plague the mind and push people to seek a way out. They are the demons capable of fraying social norms indoctrinated in the consciousness of an average person through their process of maturity. Unfortunately, no one needs a hunt to find where the nation has failed its citizens and sentenced its youth to the valley of helplessness.
The nation has failed in almost all ramifications, leaving the people’s hope bare in the cold of poverty, insecurity, and a corrupt system. When the child of a supposed affluent father begs to join the mendicant’s trail, it means that either the father is no longer in affluence or the child has been abandoned. Regretfully, Nigerians are in the two situations; therefore, they must find escape routes. In a nation with only a 33 percent employment rate and only 40 percent employed youths, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics and Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of African Development Bank, one should not be surprised at the increasing number of “soap” users and those aspiring to do the same. It is pitiful, but it should be expected from a failing system that has refused to “cut soap” for its citizens, leaving both old and young in despair.
Expectedly, there will be consequences in the face of all the social imbalance and hardship citizens face, social decadence, including fraudulent festivals of fraud that have gained international notoriety. Where there are discouraging situations like those faced by the Nigerian youth, there is a need to reenact social values to keep them in place. Unfortunately, the institutions in the best position to reenact these values are struggling to survive. The family institutions, which should serve as the primary forte of social values, are crumbling either in the face of modernity, distractions from the need for survival, or marital dissolutions, leaving children to make early adult decisions. Religious institutions auction God’s works and miracles, celebrating the rich without minding the source of their wealth. Institutions have been stricken by bribery and corruption, producing kleptomaniac politicians who become role models for potential fraudsters. The systems have refused to “cut soap,” and it is only logical that one looks elsewhere.
In a situation where it seems like the nation and social institutions gang against people’s success, one cannot help but become desperate. When desperation is the case, discretionary approaches potentially take three natures: legal, illegal, or both. For those taking a legitimate approach to success, the statement “cut soap for me” is an expression of amazement at how others have succeeded despite discouraging odds, and also serves as a request for pointers on how to successfully climb the ladder of progress. The illegal approach makes one ask to be trained in the trade of unscrupulousness to either succeed or remain uncaught or affected by the authorities and society.
Credence must be given to the culture of “we rise by lifting others” that is fast becoming the reasonable response to the honest requests of “cut soap for me.” Nigerian youths might be many things, but they value connectivity and spread the ropes of opportunities to one another. There is evidence that the youths have been able to project one another, especially when they are in need. A common example is the intentional creation of trends and crowdfunding for individuals who announce their talents, trade, or unemployment on social media and other means. The statement thus becomes a positive confession of readiness for honest toil projected at bringing good tidings.
It is important to know that despite the odds, the conditions of the nation, and the delay in results, there is dignity in labour. Spiced with consistency, the right strategies, and the creation and maintenance of connectivity, it is not rocket science that a developmental process would materialize, and when the world throws lemons, the youth must learn to turn them into lemonades. While “we rise by lifting others” has been a positive response to positive intentions, it is also a positive response to negative intentions. From the “cut soap for me” of fraudulent Yahoo Yahoo to that of Yahoo Plus, extending the circle of menace, cyber-fraud or whatever appellation used to describe it, is a mere pronouncement that one has lost faith in a possible future, escaping into an illusion of success without process. This explains the increasing rate of ritual killings in the country in an attempt to sacrifice one for the progress of others. These individuals have forgotten that “yams do not sprout in amulets,” thus no matter the soap or a bath serious enough to turn black to white, the strokes of luck would end, nemesis would catch up, and the pods of reality would soon be ripe to show helplessness and gnashing of teeth.
Like Wole Soyinka had stated, “Don’t take shadows too seriously. Reality is your only safety. Continue to reject illusion.” To say that the Nigerian government has been totally quiet about the predominance of cyber fraud that is taking notable international reputation is to subject oneself to unnecessary oblivion. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) arrests and activities of these perpetrators get reported, with a surprising number of suspects reported almost every week. On June 9, 2022, the EFCC was reported to have arrested 140 suspected Yahoo Boys in Ikorodu, Lagos. On August 14, 2022, two clerics were arrested alongside the fraudsters who had employed their services.
Despite these reports, the problem has not subsided. The best explanation for this is that either there is a wrong approach to solving it, or there is no full understanding of the situation.
The Nigerian government’s approach to this problem is like cutting the branches of an intruding tree; they will keep growing. Either the tree is cut off with its roots, or one settles for recurring growth that robs one of peace. Arresting perpetrators is attacking the problem from the surface; it only makes them smarter and more cautious. The Nigerian government and society must attack the issue from the source. The government must be ready to tackle social issues capable of neutralizing and frustrating the honest efforts of individuals, provide a friendly environment for small and medium-sized businesses to grow, reform government institutions that discourage attempts to succeed, salvage dwindling standards of living, and increase the nation’s employment rate. At this point, there will be enough “soap” to go around in society.
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Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje: Man, Mentor, Monument
By Tunji Olaopa
This is my fourth essay on Prof. Akin Mabogunje. And it is the only one to be written posthumously. When he became a nonagenarian ten months ago in October 2021, I published the last celebratory article to honor his birthday. After a long trajectory of relating with this larger-than-life personality, this is how I prefigured that birthday celebration: “It is better to celebrate life than death. Life, for me, does not consist in the length of existence but in the depth of the life’s worth measured in other-regarding capacities. In other words, it is better to celebrate the lives of those whose very existence constitutes a symbolic stretch of significant influences that a person has exerted on the collectivity. A hero is one whose life transformed the way we see life itself, and makes indelible contributions to our conceptual, intellectual and national infrastructures. This is the essential way in which I conceive of the fulsome life of Prof. Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, the grandfather of disciplinary geography in Africa, an intellectual, global scholar and patriotic exemplar extraordinaire.”
Now, the man and patriot has joined the ancestors. He lived for nine solid decades, more than seven of which have been spent serving in various capacities, from the personal and the state to the national and international. Now, he has been translated. And contrary to the Yoruba adage that we become deified after death, Mabogunje was revered when he was alive; he was a colossus. And now in death, he has become a monument.
It is ever so difficult to quantify the measure of any life; and definitely not a life that carried a full measure of providential grace, as Mabogunje’s autobiography proclaimed. “The purpose of life,” according to Robert Byrne, “is a life of purpose.” Martin Luther King, Jr. caps it: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Prof. Mabogunje surpassed this question with his devotion not only to others but also to his family. I am one of the few, I think, that straddled family and others. And that long relationship I had with him speaks a lot about the passion that defined his entire life of achievement, from scholarship to public life. My mentor-mentee relationship with Papa began many years ago when, with his late friend, Ojetunji Aboyade, they made a conceptual and practical success of reengineering thoughts about grassroots development with the optimum community – OPTICOM experiment, that exploits the principle of social capital and subsidiarity in the rural areas, especially at Aáwé, my home town. My mentorship at the feet of Prof. Mabogunje had started as shared responsibility with Prof. Ojetunji Aboyade as at late 1993 when the latter passed on. As part of Aboyade’s programme for my induction into policy professionalism which was perhaps the most rigorous mentor-mentee learning arrangement anyone could imagine, I would also consult Prof. Mabogunje on those issues of policies that touched on his expertise. I was animated with his indescribable capacity to unravel the stories behind the stories and their philosophical underpinnings as education to embellish the policy analytics dimensions. So, I developed the practice of approaching him as sounding board cum unofficial source of knowledge and teacher, and he gladly obliged throughout my career years in the Federal service and after. In the process, I got enlisted into some of his networks. This, apart from his introducing me to distinguished statesmen like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (as president, which grace brought my public administration scholarship to bear on the national public service reform process); Chief Emeka Anyaoku (who delivered the keynote at the inaugural conference of the ISGPP); to dozens of global scholars and personalities around the world, and to many development projects like the Ijebu Development Initiative on Poverty Reduction (IDIPR), championed by the Awujale of Ijebuland, HRM Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, to name just a few.
But my most significant learning experience came with the conceptual and administrative trajectories that led to the establishment of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP). Throughout all the brainstorming sessions in that experiment in institution building, Prof. Mabogunje would patiently hear you out. And you will know he is very interested in your most earnest ideas and arguments. And like a modern-day Socrates, when he noticed the gap or limitations, as your knowledge of issues played out, he would stretch the necessity of closing that gap by recommending available materials and authorities. And only then would you begin to enjoy the moments of critical engagement with him. Some of those moments led to the sharpening of the ISGPP. Indeed, over many review meetings and technical sessions, Mummy, Justice Titilola Mabogunje, would call to say, “Akin, it is enough. Do you think you are still a young man?” And then, he would check his wrist watch and exclaim, “Do you mean I have been sitting here for these many hours?” That was how dedicated he was to the matters of the mind.
That unflinching discipline is what led from the providential love for geography to an even more uncanny love for Nigeria. This is not a trajectory that anyone can claim to understand; how Mabogunje came to love Nigeria and dedicated himself to her national development and search for greatness. From transforming the study of an “arid” discipline like geography into a truly developmental one, to making Nigeria the centerpiece of his globally sound and locally relevant scholarship, Akinlawon Mabogunje defined the template of patriotic scholarship and socially relevant intellectualism. So, for Mabogunje, geography was not just a discipline, human or physical. It was essentially national—a theoretical articulation of cartographic manipulation to the understanding of Nigerian spaces and places. This becomes even more cogent within the context of Nigeria’s colonial and postcolonial dynamics. As a colonial creation, Nigeria’s amalgamation was an oddity that required postcolonial unraveling. And Mabogunje was right on hand. From his assignment with the 1962 census to the survey of the Kainji region to the delineation and mapping of Abuja as Nigeria Federal Capital Territory, Prof. Mabogunje’s ingenious understanding of geographical dimensions came to the fore in charting a path of development for Nigeria.
His expertise became especially significant with regard to what he called “realistic urban planning” that could lead to regional and national development, and the land tenure predicament in Nigeria. Land reform was especially constrained by the pre-capitalist elements of primogeniture and kinship. Mabogunje’s understanding of the significance of land speaks immediately to Hernando de Soto’s question of why capitalism has not led to the generation of wealth in third world countries, the same way it did in western society. Soto’s answer is that these developing countries, like Nigeria, hold the crucial factors of production, especially land, in “defective forms”: “houses built on land whose ownership rights are not adequately recorded, unincorporated businesses with undefined liability, industries located where financiers and investors cannot see them.” This tallies with Mabogunje’s belief that true development can only come when access to the factors of production is transformed into modern dynamics, for instance, the security of tenure and the property rights of citizens. Land use in Nigeria demands engaging with the deficiencies in the Land Use Act of 1978.
The land reform assignment eventually and inevitably devolved into a fundamental concern with grassroots and rural development. For a plural country like Nigeria, focus on the grassroots is a significant dimension of the federal imperative. And Mabogunje saw it immediately. His argument, contrary to the efforts at capacitating individuals, is to strengthen the community cooperative structures that transform the entire grassroots on the basis of subsidiarity. The principle insists that the rural areas have the potential to not only transform its own developmental initiatives, but to also enhance Nigeria’s federal strength. And indeed, he insisted, there are four internal elements that are critical for transforming the rural areas: organization, technological innovations, credit institution and market access. And it should not be difficult to see why I read providential assistance to the choice of geography as the discipline that would make Akinlawon Mabogunje—from mapping to rural infrastructure to national development.
Unfortunately, the genius of Akinlawon Mabogunje was critically restricted by the formidable retrogressive forces in Nigerian politics. The bad politics that the Nigerian political class plays has a lot to do with how and why heroic patriotism in Nigeria is essentially crippled. There is a fundamental disjuncture between patriotism and development in Nigeria. Those who have the critical expertise, especially the non-politicians, like Prof. Mabogunje and a host of others, from Wole Soyinka to the Nigerian youths, do not have the means to break into the corridors where the core policies are made to affect Nigeria positively and transformation-ally. Mabogunje served his country to the best of his abilities and capacities. But he simply kept coming short against all the factors that have been restricting Nigeria’s growth and progress since independence. And he never relented, despite his advancing age. Now he has done his bit and has gone to the great beyond. He left his intellectual and scholarly footprints all over Nigeria’s policy mechanisms. He left his ideas and ideals all scattered deeply within the context of making Nigeria a great place; the context within which he maturated, and would want others to also benefit. But most significantly, he left his imprints on the many minds that he mentored in several ways.
Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje was not just another Nigerian. In his autobiography, he narrated how he met the late Umaru Yar’Adua who asked that he be a part of his resolve to achieve a land reform. This invitation came at a point when Mabogunje, at 75, was determined to take a much-deserved rest for his aging body. And yet he accepted to serve. For all his adult life, he could not resist serving and deploying his humongous intellect and capacities to thinking and rethinking possible resolutions of the Nigerian predicament. While still alive, Mabogunje was a deeply entrenched monument that reaches deep into the intellectual, administrative and political sides of Nigerian postcolonial life. And now in death, Professor Mabogunje has now transited into a monument that reminds us all, and the political class, about what is possible when realistic policy ideas and frames of actions meet undaunting and focused political resolve in making Nigeria better. Mabogunje, like so many other patriots, believed in Nigeria. The last chapter of his massive autobiography is dedicated to an alternative set of perspectives of what he called an “emerging vision” of Nigeria. Indeed, his last sentence in the narrative of his life declared that he had lived a most fulfilling life in being allowed to play a “modest part” in the emergence of that vision. Only a patriot, who loved and lived for Nigeria, could say that. And may the soul of this giant Iroko, emeritus professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, NNOM, CFR, CON, rest in peace.
.Olaopa is a retired Federal Permanent Secretary, and Professor, National Institute For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos .
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