It is, indeed, an issue for any African scholar to publish in any peer reviewed journal in the metropolitan academic space because many of what passes for journals in much of contemporary Africa are rub-my-back and I reciprocate stuff. Or what one of Nigeria’s Vice-Chancellors derisively refer to as ‘Bwari Journal of this or that’. He has in mind the dominance of rural journals and Festschrift opportunistically put together by promotion-desperate academics who can hardly get published where peer-review is taken seriously. This is not to dismiss absolutely credible outlets, based especially in South Africa but such are not common place, especially in Nigeria where the collapse of academia has a journal dimension.
It is against this background that Dr. Chris Kwaja’s journal piece in the current edition of the African Studies Quarterly (released October 2021) is worth the reckoning. One, it is a joint piece with his collaborator, Aly Verjee of the US Institute of Peace. In the age of collaborative scholarship, there is a point in this. The second justification for celebratory account is the topicality. The tension and trauma that comes with the phenomenon of kidnapping in recent Nigeria makes “An epidemic of kidnapping: Interpreting school abductions and insecurity in Nigeria” inviting.
The third point about the essay must be the nuance that structures it in the argument of the authors against thinking that a militarised offense-defence response can solve the problem. It is an important point to stress in a country with so many security analysts but who rarely say much beyond what the authors call the spectacle of the audacity of the kidnapping phenomenon and those perpetrating it. In other words, the question about the larger context within which that audacious contestation of the state goes on in Nigeria is largely ignored. Understood almost in itself, kidnapping keeps enveloping Nigeria, aggravated the more by elite disagreement that has robbed its containment of elite consensus.
Lastly, the text is a critique of governmentality. The authors did not conceptualise the problem as such but have a thoroughgoing exemplification of how it plays out. This comes in the reference to the accusatory verbiage that oozes from the executive branch of the Nigerian State every now and then. Each kidnapping is framed as an act aimed at embarrassing the government. The authors drew down on what Lai Mohammed and even President Buhari himself said or did in the wake of the Kankara abduction, for example, to make this point. They also cited the standpoint of the Defence Minister’s poorly informed advisory against fleeing when bandits and/or terrorists are on the march. So, part of the problem is the technology of power approach to security on the part of the government of the day.
An outcome of the combination of the above factors is the ‘trust deficit’ the piece stresses. It didn’t seem to come out that clear if by trust deficit is meant a successful criminalisation and delegitimation of the Nigerian State, especially by direct and associate victims of kidnap. Should that be what they mean, then they have also touched on what many would regard as the core of the problem. A successful delegitimation of any state has implications because the way people perceive any entity is the way they act in response to it. A delegitimised state is a finished state, just waiting to explode one way or the other. In other words, should this interpretation of that key conceptual kernel of the piece be a ‘correct’ reading of the text, then there is trouble ahead and unless the Nigerian elite can quickly overcome the current fragmentation towards a new grand consensus, they could become stateless and bystanders in world affairs. The question is whether that is what is going on across the broad flanks and across Nigeria and quickly enough?
Lest we ignore the merit of statistics which fills the essay, that is good because Nigeria is a statistics-phobic entity. Credible statistic, that is.
No one reading of any text can be referential or conclusive. We look forward to competing reading of Kwaja and Verjee’s piece. It cannot be an over-celebration of a relatively short piece as Kwaja and Verjee’s at a time when large chunk of academia from Nigeria has become hagiographic or exercises in regurgitation of stuff, compelling regretful memories of the great debates that litter the landscape of academia in the days when the universities were universities.