THE TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS
A CONVERSATION WITH DR. OBADIAH MAILAFIA, PART 4
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 can meritocracy 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 institutions, 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 fate.
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. Mailafia 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.
READ ALSO: Is Nigeria A Failing State?
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 how long it takes. But, that as a man of peace, he advocates that this should be pursued in non-violent ways.
(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).
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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Don’t Rule Out Possibility Of Military Coups In Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Others – Panelists Warn
Want Medicines, Food Blockage In Niger Lifted
African governments have been warned of the possibility of being upset by military coups similar to the ones that have taken place in some countries on the continent.
The warning came from some panelists at a session of the Toyin Falola Interviews entitled “Coups in Africa: Geo-Politics, Legitimacies, and Resource Management” which was held on Sunday.
At the virtual session which was organised by Prof. Toyin Falola, the panelists spoke on the problems of governance in Africa and how to stop military coups from occurring in African countries that are not already being ruled by military coupists.
The panelists included King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo.
They warned that it is an illusion to think that the recent military coups in Niger, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea will be the last ones in Africa.
The panelists raised the alarm that as long as the practices of democracy in Africa are plagued by Western influences and corruption that results in the impoverishment of the citizens, the military will always find excuses to make incursions into governance.
They also warned that countries where their leaders arbitrarily change their constitutions so that they can have third or fourth terms instead of two terms are prone to military takeovers.
The panelists also expressed the need to exercise caution in unleashing sanctions on Niger Republic because of the military coup.
They urged that regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS) , the African Union (AU) and political leaders in Africa should have a common template for defining coups.
According to them, there are military coups just as there are civilian coups. Thus, to them, if military coups are sanctioned, civilian coups which are fomented through the rigging of electoral processes should also be sanctioned.
They urged that ECOWAS, AU and political leaders in Africa should have a better way of sanctioning military coupists and their governments. They urged that the blockage of medicines and food in Niger Republic should be lifted since it is the masses and vulnerable people who are the worst hit by such a sanction.
Coups In Africa: Historical Antecedents, Root Causes, And The Systemic Way Out
By Toyin Falola
Military coup — and its sister-act, usurpation — have existed for centuries. Seventeenth-century England had its fair share of attempted and successful military coups. Eighteenth-century France suffered military coups. Even the eighteenth-century Oyo Empire, despite the ingenious move of having the war generals — Are — lived in a city far away from Oyo-Ile to avoid usurpations, still suffered deposition and military coups at the hands of Basorun Gaa. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, several countries of the world faced at least one attempted or successful military coup, from Asia to Europe to Africa. However, military coups have either fully become non-existent or significantly subsided worldwide, except in Africa, where there has been a fresh batch of military takeovers.
Truly, military coups have historically served several purposes. First, they have been an integral part of the growth and evolution of several countries of the world. Humans, by design, are curious experimenters. Therefore, it is only expected that several countries would have attempted military coups and the subsequent military rule that resulted from such coups as an alternative to the type of government they were practicing.
At its basest form, the motivating factor for military coups is a simple attempt to try something new, to see if there is a better alternative to how the country is being run. For this, military coups have served as the beginning of a learning curve for several countries, many of which have adjusted to find a system that works for them and will help them thrive — China finding solace in a communist dictatorship, the United Kingdom has opted for a constitutional monarchy, and for France, it is a semi-presidential government. These countries have gone through the proverbial fire of military disruptions and rules to become what they are today.
Furthermore, military coups result from a failing or failed system of government. Historically, military coups happen in countries experiencing turbulence — whether the turbulence results from a leader clenching on to power at the country’s detriment or widespread corruption running aground. We have also seen cases of coups due to the high-handedness and excesses of those in power. For every country that has experienced a coup, there is a backstory of oppression, corruption, dictatorship, stagnancy, and the suffering of citizens.
Africa is not the only place in the world where coups have happened. But Africa is currently home to the highest number of countries with recent military coups and takeovers. When the rest of the world aims for advancement and development, Africa is battling recurrent news of military coups and takeovers. There is something fundamentally wrong on the continent. While it is not out of place to blame the role colonization — and its resultant mambo-jumbling of people of differing races, cultures, and approaches — played in the disruption of the continent, it is important to note that Africa is not the only home of former colonies. India has never for once experienced a military coup. That is not to say India is perfect, but India is growing, evolving and learning.
Military coups have registered themselves as the transitional bridge in African politics. The poor leadership, country-wrecking corruption, mass abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, constitution, and citizens contribute massively to the military’s self-justification of military coups in these African countries. Ironically, the military that has often positioned itself as the restorer of law and order and the savior of the people is also notorious for committing the same or far worse offenses and abuse of power during their regimes. In West Africa, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo experienced their first military coup less than 10 years after their independence. That speaks more to a fundamental problem or mentality that transcends political failure.
In Africa — especially with the recent military coups — there is more to it than military intervention. These coups and usurpation of power are beginning to look like the countries’ way of taking a stance devoid of the perceived cowardice of the deposed democratic leaders. There is a pattern to the military coups that have happened recently in Africa, as they have mostly been in countries that are former colonies of France.
Although it is being said that the days of colonization are far behind, there are indications of not-so-subtle neocolonialism by France within its former colonies, often aided by the French-state-backed elected leaders of those former colonies. In exchange for the pleasures of the French soil — akin to the resultant effect of the notorious model of assimilation and association — the leaders of these Francophone African states curry for the grace and favor of the French state, at the detriment of their countries and citizens.
There is also the hefty price for independence tied to the ridiculous agreements the French state has reached with its former colonies, including the enormous amount remitted to France annually for the use of the Francs CFA, the widespread exploitation of Nigeriens through mining done by French-state-backed Orano’s Somair, and the over-dependence of resources-rich Francophone African states on France are some reasons for these patterned military takeovers that have happened recently.
There is no denying that when the people are pushed to the wall, they would be left with no choice but to push back. This has been the case in Gabon, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. At this point, there is the need for introspection: are the African states that never experienced a coup better off? What systems of government do those states practice? Do they have a history of colonization? Are they multi-ethnic countries? How big are they by population? When we juxtapose the troubled countries with the ones that never had any coup using these metrics, we will then begin to see a clear path toward understanding the biggest root causes of military coups in Africa and whether they have been beneficial, and perhaps understanding the best way out.
Since the recent coups, there have been grand attempts by regional blocs like ECOWAS to resolve the issue, including opting to use a strong tone and attempting to strong-arm the putschists in Niger into returning power to the usurped president of the country. However, if historical antecedents are anything to go by, strong-arming the putschists is not the way to go, and opting for a full-blown-war or military operation can only result in a victory with two downsides: the emergence of rebels in the state or civilians becoming the victims in a case where the military intervention blows out of proportion. In both cases, the result does not spell good for the average citizen of the countries where the governments have been overthrown. What then needs to be addressed?
There is a need to address the root causes of these military coups, rechristened as interventions in African states. There is a need for holistic approaches that will result in proactive measures to mitigate the issues and usher Africa into a new era of evolution and growth that will banish military coups and regimes as relics of history.
At the Toyin Falola Interviews, our next panel session will focus on coups in Africa, drawing on the expertise of analysts invited from African states. King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo will be sharing insights and expanding on the root causes of coups in Africa, how the coups tie back to geopolitics, the legitimacies of these coups, and resource management at a time like this. Furthermore, there will be a focus on discussing the true and systemic way out of the myriad of coup-inciting problems within countries on the African continent. Join us on Sunday, September 24, as our panelists discuss this time-sensitive and vital topic.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Mauritius and Seychelles Time (UTC/GMT+4): 8 PM
East Africa Time (UTC/GMT+3): 7 PM
Central Africa Time (UTC/GMT+2): 6 PM
West Africa Time (UTC/GMT+1): 5 PM
Greenwich Mean Time (UTC/GMT): 4 PM
Cape Verde Time (UTC-1): 3 PM
Austin, Texas (CST): 11 AM
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How To Stop Military Coups In Africa – Bolaji Akinyemi
A former External Affairs Minister , Prof.Bolaji Akinyemi , has proffered an antidote to the rising spate of military coups in Africa.
Prof. Akinyemi who was a minister in the government of former Military President Ibrahim Babangida spoke against the background of a military coup that has removed a democratic government in Niger Republic.
Military coups which were a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades after independence have become resurgent recently.
The takeover in Niger, led by soldiers belonging to the presidential guard, is just the latest in a string of coups that have taken place in recent years.
There were two in Burkina Faso in 2022 as well as failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful.
Akinyemi said during a session of the Prof.Toyin Falola Interviews on Sunday that there should be a charter on democracy that would be binding on members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He said that such a charter should be endorsed by the African Union and even the United Nations.
Akinyemi said that such a charter had become necessary because democracies are not only truncated in Africa by military coups. According to him, democracies are also truncated through civilian coups. This entails elected presidents changing their nations’ constitutions in order to get more tenures beyond the terms as stipulated in their constitutions.
He explained that ECOWAS leaders are opposed to the military coup in Niger as a way of protecting their own democracies.
But he condemned a development that he referred to as the ethnicisation of foreign policy. He referred to the opposition by a region of Nigeria to the plan of President Bola Tinubu to deploy the military in Niger in order to return to democracy. He said such ethnic and religious considerations in deciding foreign policies were non-existent in the past. He said this was why he supported the then Nigerian government’s decisions as regards military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The interviewers who included Prof. Jide Osuntokun, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Ambassador Jaiyeola Joseph Lewu and Prof.Richard Joseph asked Prof.Akinyemi questions about his family background, the university system, his career and national and international developments.
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