Nigerians are contending with another prediction about chaos and collapse of their country. This time, it coming from the New York based risk consultants – Eurasia Group – which has listed Nigeria among top ten geopolitical risks for 2019.
Basically, Nigeria’s road to doomsday, according to Eurasia Group, lies in two sources. The first is the two leading presidential candidates at the moment. In the analysis of the risk consultants, none of them is trouble free. While re-electing President Buhari would mean contending with a physically exhausted president whose ill-health would trigger political in-fighting from within his camp, who will not be in a hurry to get on with reforms just as whose election would trigger war from the Niger Delta, Atiku Abubakar – the leading contender – is no less problematic. This is because, in its own words, Alhaji Abubakar would be no more than about enriching himself and allies. It adds that there would be policy uncertainty under the former Vice-President, whatever that could mean mean. So, by Eurasia Group’s profiling, none of the two candidates is unproblematic. The second source of threat it sees is an inconclusive election which, in its words, could lead to chaos.
The short risk prediction which is the tenth of the geopolitical risks reads:
Nigeria faces its most fiercely contested election since becoming a democracy in 1999. President Muhammadu Buhari lacks the energy and skill to meet Nigeria’s needs. His opponent, Atiku Abubakar, wants mainly to enrich himself and his allies. If Buhari wins, much-needed reforms must wait, and militant attacks on the oil industry will worsen. His failing health could add to political infighting. An opposition win would feed policy uncertainty. There’s also a wildcard risk: An inconclusive election result could create chaos.
The issue from this is how might anyone make sense of the risk prediction? Should Nigerians dismiss it or take it as an imagination of the country worth reflecting upon?
No straightforward answer to this poser is there to be provided. Geopolitical risk analysis or intelligence prediction or security scenarios on Nigeria today are difficult to dismiss. That is not because every such exercise is anything more than sophisticated guess works, being products of interpretation and cultural mapping projects, in the last instance. To the extent that no analysts involved in such exercises can successfully transcend his or her or their cultural lifeworld, such predictions can only be among contending narratives because the facts that were relied upon do not have one static, timeless meaning for everyone.
However, there are a number of markers of Nigeria today that make this prediction worrisome. The first of such markers is the persistence of the narrative of Nigeria in the image of breakdown or chaos over the years. They must now send a message to all interested parties that the reality of catastrophe may not be far in coming. Unless care is taken, there is no way these numerous narratives will not produce that very reality of meltdown: That image runs through, from ‘This House Has Fallen’ of a book to scenario projections such as outright collapse of Nigeria in 2015 which was later shifted to 2030; then The Coming Anarchy as it applies to Nigeria; the Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence analogy as well as the ‘Ungoverned Space’ thesis. The danger about narratives is that they are not about true or false but about producing a story line, a common sense view of the object about which they speak.
The second disturbing marker is the incongruent or irreconcilable interpretations of the state of the nation. The hottest four of such combustible theories of the trouble with Nigeria are the strong belief in the Buhari specificity in terms of bad governance; the notion of exponential corruption/corruption fighting back; the perceived Fulani/Islamic expansionism and lastly, the perceived disposition of the incumbent to rig the impending election. This is not to dismiss what some people see as the crumbling of Nigeria under the weight of globalization and its spread of forces for disintegration, especially externally informed subversion, terrorism and arms movement. For others, it is the cumulative effects of prolonged military rule. No, it is the very nature of the elite, says yet others. What is important about these divergent claims is that they, more than the multiplicity of violent conflicts across the country, will trigger the chaos. Again, we are back to narratives. It is the defence of narratives that brings out combatants, posing ‘we’ versus ‘them’. The violent conflicts across the country – North East, Islamic Movement of Nigeria crisis, Southern Kaduna, IPOB, herdsmen violence in the Middle Belt, Birnin Gwari banditry, Zamfara, Katsina and renewed threat of militancy in the Niger Delta – are not as dangerous as how people understand or interpret them. It is notions of who caused it, who is the aggressor/aggressed that trigger violence or make conflicts intractable.
There is a third marker in how the Nigerian project is literarily on the slaughter slab in most of these narratives. But for the fledging National Peace Committee, there are hardly any neutral actors. To be neutral now is to invite suspicion and categorization. Things could still have been hopeful if the key players were professional politicians rather than retired Generals obsessed with binary logic of friend or enemy, leaving no room for in-between-ness or reconciliation. Buhari is hoping to conquer his former commanders who are, on the other hand, saying he will continue to say Sir! to them till death do them part. That’s how the military psychology works.
Fourth marker is a citizenry individually and collectively jumping up and down under the narcotizing influence of one monocausal narrative of the crisis or another, on cue for whatever they interpret as a call to action. Such call to action could be very progressive mobilization just as it could be backward and chauvinistic.
The fifth and last marker is the election that could have been relied upon to resolve the crease is now a subject of feared rigging plans. Speculations of rigging can be dangerous to peace because it blocks the calculations of those who argue that the way out is for an opposition candidate who can defeat the incumbent and rescue the nation from what is seen as the Buhari stranglehold. Rated to be guilty of nepotism, suspected to have a hand in what is seen as Fulani expansionist campaign and linked to perceived agenda of rigging, it is common to hear people arguing that way. Great argument but, barely a month to the D-Day, the strongest contender is nowhere winning the election by acclamation which would then have left the incumbent with no options than bowing out. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has just simply not risen to the historical challenge he confronts. The candidate has simply not been able to develop a hair- raising narrative of Nigeria fascinating across the board to make people change position in a sufficiently critical mass in favour of his overwhelming victory. Yet, only an overwhelming victory of the contender can unmake an incumbent. Though rated to sure to bring more energy to day – day governance, more liberal in terms of managing diversity and potentially capable of running an efficient government, Atiku Abubakar has, however, been more successful in sending frightening signals about his business model by making statements that suggests he either doesn’t know what he is talking about or does but doesn’t care. Either possibility is alarming. Sell a conglomerate like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC) in a ‘Third World’ country? Is a structure like the NNPC just about profit and loss or cash flow? Who might be the experts he talks to?
Nobody doubts that he can run a better campaign and must do better, whatever challenges he is facing. If that were to happen, then he must be capable of original thinking about the economy while also cracking how to re-narrate himself against the image of corruption that has been pinned on him. What might be a model of original thinking on the economy? There is a ready example from a book the former Vice-President is already familiar with: Lee Kuan Yew’s From Third to the First World, especially page 94 of the book.
Since the president is stuck with a narrative of economy, security and corruption at a time every of those items have worsened by popular consent, a striking narrative promises to help in accomplishing an overwhelming defeat of the incumbent as the way out. In the absence of that, the fears of the Eurasian Group could materialize. Although key players such as Chief Obasanjo, former spy chief, Afakriya Gadzama and the president himself are saying there would be no violence in the aftermath of the election, many equally important players are saying we are already in slow motion to a stalemate.
In this sort of circumstance, even risk analysts relying on secondary data synthesized on the basis of realist assumptions cannot be dismissed simply because all the factors for implosion are on the ground: a General Election foregrounded by a multiplicity of violent conflict sites; crisis of state legitimacy, deep fragmentation of the elite, dysfunctional state institutions for production of peace. To that list would be added the domestic entanglements of the great powers who exercise veto power in international security. This is compounded by China’s disinclination to intrusive show of power, even if an African powerhouse might be burning. The Africans cannot help themselves. Nigeria that used to be in a position to send gallant troops to quell bushfires anywhere on the continent if it wanted has itself fallen into bad hours in the hands of a national elite that is still locked in an embarrassing crisis of mission.