Nigeria: A Failed State?

The above title and decision this piece weren’t unconnected with former President Obasanjo’s recent outburst, sermonizing that Nigeria is drifting to a failed state. In his words, “Today, Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state, economically our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country”.


By Abdullateef Ishowo


In our usual character, many Nigerians have come out to condemn the former president and the presidency in its response referred to him as the “Divider-in-Chief”. This response on its own is an acknowledgement and an admittance of Obasanjo’s assertion. The president’s handlers didn’t refute the statement but rather placed Obasanjo as a better divider than their boss. Interesting!

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Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has always been living in contradictions—from autocrat to a democrat, from a politician to a ‘theologian’, from a ‘conservative’ to a modernist, from an idealist to a realist, from a socialist to a capitalist and to so many other contradictions that would make it pretty difficult for an analyst to lucidly analyse the man without running into contradictions. But like or hate him, he has always been very strong on his views and one of the few Nigerians that usually speak up even at precarious moments.

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Obasanjo might be failing to speak truth to self or work on his image damaged by his own funny character, but he has a fantastic record when it comes to fighting governments failing to deliver good governance to Nigerians. We will recall how he excoriated Shagari’s government for its nepotism and gross mismanagement of the nation’s resources.


This is in spite of his role in the man’s emergence as the first elected president of the country in 1979. That the government was toppled by General Buhari three months into its second term in 1983 was a confirmation of Obasanjo’s foresightedness. Buhari had hardly spent a year in office when Obasanjo dismissed his government as having nothing tangible to offer the country. Few months later, Babangida toppled the draconian government of Buhari. Babangida received Obasanjo’s bashings throughout his eight years of mesmerizing the country and as dangerous as Abacha was, he didn’t spare him of his tong-lashing. When he kept harassing Abacha by asking when he would vacate power and gave democracy a chance, the ruthless ruler provided a free accommodation for the troublesome Obasanjo in the prison. He was lucky to be released by Abdulsalam Abubakar shortly after Abacha’s sudden death.


He was eventually elected and became Nigeria’s president 20 years after voluntarily relinquishing power to a democratically elected president. He spent a two-term of eight years in office and boasted to have fixed the economy, fought insecurity, created employment opportunities, stabilized the country by uniting the peoples and fought corruption to a standstill. Nigerians however know better. They are the judge. In the same way Obasanjo advises and sermonises Buhari now, he did same to late Yar’adua and Jonathan who were his god-sons. In fact, his letter to Buhari on March 31, 2015, Obasanjo advised his former junior in the army to embark on institutional reform. So, it has become his trade-mark.


With this rich experience of his, I would’ve been disappointed if he had referred to Nigeria as a failed state (as wrongly reported in some quarters), because the country is not and Obasanjo is well informed on this; which I’m sure informed his choice of words. He’s right by referring to the country as a failing state. For a country to be categorized a failed state, it must be unable to perform the two fundamental functions of the sovereign nation-state: inability project authority over its territory and peoples, and inability to protect its national boundaries against external aggressions.

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Some of the countries in the typology of failed states are: Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, etc. But that the 2019 edition of the Fragile States Index ranked Nigeria as the 14th most fragile state in the world and the ninth in Africa testifies to Obasanjo’s position on Nigeria being a failing state. His message did not only resonate with the external image of the country among the committee of nations, it represents the opinions of majority of Nigerians who’re becoming pessimistic on the perpetual uninspiring status of the crippled giant of Africa.

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Now let’s excuse the messenger and focus on the content of the former president’s message to see if the message worth being debated. While delivering a speech titled, “Moving Nigeria away from Tipping Over” on Thursday September 10 at a consultative dialogue attended by various socio-cultural groups including Afenifere, Middle Belt Forum, Northern Elders Forum, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo and Pan Niger Delta Forum in Abuja, Obasanjo warned that Nigeria is slowly becoming a failed state (not a failed state yet) and a basket case that urgently needs to be pulled from the brink of collapse. Apart from the fact that the contextual environment where the statement was made called for it, the assertion is full of truth.

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As a Nigerian, is Obasanjo not within the confine of his freedom of expression to comment on the situation of his country? If the presidency and some Nigerians now say the statement shouldn’t have come from Obasanjo because he equally divided Nigeria and a misfit to advise on Nigerian economy as a failure on the subject matter too, who is in a better position to advise a failure than someone who has experienced failure too? Besides, was Nigeria not better under Obasanjo in terms of his swift actions on economic policies and security matters? Is Obasanjo not more of a nationalist in his approach to national issues than many who appear and act like ethnic jingoists even when saddled with national responsibilities?

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Didn’t Awolowo refer to Nigeria as a mere geographical expression? Didn’t Ahmadu Bello refer to the amalgamation of 1914 as historical mistake?  Didn’t Tafawa Balewa refer to Nigeria as a mere British experiment? Has Wole Soyinka, Obasanjo’s arch enemy, not come out to support the latter’s assertion in spite of their differences? Is Soyinka wrong too?

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Is Nigeria not more divided under Buhari than ever before? Has President Buhari made concerted efforts to unite the nation? Is the country not drifting towards an abyss under Buhari? Haven’t well-meaning Nigerians complained bitterly on his lopsided appointments of security chiefs, indicating nepotism and division?

Truth is sacrosanct, no matter when and where it is stated.

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It is quite unfortunate that whenever President Buhari’s spokesmen are offered the ample opportunity to polish the image of their boss, they end up rubbishing him the more. Instead of calling the thick-skin Obasanjo names, they would’ve done well by ignoring the messenger, focus on the message and roll out the positive areas of Buhari’s administration.

In all, no matter the amount of letters Obasanjo writes now or may pen in the future, he is equally culpable in the basket case Nigeria has become.

  • Ishowo, author and public affairs analyst, writes from Ilorin.
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