Abbiba Ivy Princewill: State Decline in Nigeria

by on April 3, 2016

BT COLUMNIST: Cold Facts With Abbiba Ivy Princewill

Nigerians are very impatient and rightly so as we carry the burden of the failure of our institutions. However, this impatience can very often lead us to make rash decisions as if the world where shades of black and white, rather than grey areas. Our impatience to see development and prosperity has made us lose a vital thing – ‘Nuance’. So today, we celebrate that the supposed clueless one, Goodluck Jonathan is gone, now we have chosen a sensible and intelligent leadership that will ‘ Change’ Nigeria. This sentiment might be true, but what it hides is a failure of our imaginations as Nigerians to look at some of the structural problems that have hindered the growth of Nigeria.

I will pick out some of the reasons why Nigeria has failed to deliver the kind of nation we have in our dreams.

  1. We underestimate the lack of qualified people we had at independence. A nation of 40,000,000 people and yet according to a 1960 Time Magazine Article at the time of independence Nigeria had only- 532 qualified doctors, 644 lawyers, 20 graduate engineers with the exception of one all of them were from the South. Yet the North held the reins of political power.
  1. In 1976, young and vibrant Murtala Muhammed in his zeal to fight corruption fired 10,000 civil servants without any benefits. The effect of this mass firing was two fold – One, 10,000 people and their dependants lost their livelihood, but even more dire was the fact that the Nigerian Civil Service lost a huge number of skilled and talented people. The effect of this mass sacking is still been felt today. Our Young and Brightest minds no longer found the civil service attractive enough for them to join. So today we are left with not very bright civil servants, who are underpaid and so are forced to make up their pay through corrupt means. Some of you might ask why I think the Civil Service is so important. Well, no nation can rise above the quality of its Civil Service, as they are responsible for the implementation of government policy. A government can have all the great ideas on paper, but with the caliber of people we have in the Civil Service. We are going nowhere unless we reform the Civil Service.
  1. Security Cluster:

Military – The state must have the monopoly of violence. In Nigeria today, there are competing centers that wield the monopoly of violence – Boko Haram in the North East, Kidnappers in the South East, Niger Delta militants and the list is endless. Successive Governments since the Civil War ended have systematically weakened the military because of a fear of coups. This might have been understandable 17 years ago but it is no longer an effective strategy. We need to reform the military, make it a professional army that protects the territorial integrity of the country from internal insurrection and external aggression and performs its duty with the highest regards for Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Non Partisanship.

Police – The duty of the police is to protect and serve us based on the consent of the community they serve. The history of policing in Nigeria is not a good story. In fact, the police was a key part of the colonial project. The colonialist used the police as a tactic of divide and rule and containment. They brought Hausa Policemen to the South, who did not understand the local customs and traditions and could therefore not empathize with the people they were serving rather they became a key part of the oppressive colonial enterprise. Today, our centralized policing system still reflects this oppressive system. An Ijaw/Igbo man is sent to Police the Far North, he does not speak the language, and neither does he understand the cultural norms and nuances of the place he is sent to. How then can he protect and serve the people, properly? This is why we must decentralize the Police force and Introduce state or, as I prefer to call it community policing. Where the people that police us live in the community that they Police.

At this point I would like to use real life examples of what happens when we fail to decolonize our security cluster – Military and Police from being a tool of oppression used to contain the people.

  • ODI in Bayelsa 1999 – Villagers and especially Young men where protesting the abuse of the environment by oil companies. In the ensuing protest 12 policemen where murdered and so the reaction to their murder was to send 10,000 soldiers to wipe out all the young men and rape all the females. In all 2,500 people were killed in a few days.

Consequence – The Largely peaceful Niger Delta struggle became an armed struggle that almost brought our country to its knees.

  • Zaki Biam in Benue 2001 – There were protests by the Tiv people and in that protest 19 soldiers were murdered. Soldiers invaded the place and murdered over a 100 people.
  • Boko Haram Massacre in Maidugiri in 2009- Up till then Boko Haram was a fanatical but largely non -violent group. A few of their members had disagreements with the police and so the police decided to murder 800 Boko Haram members and extra judicially murdered their leader Mohammed Yusuf.

Consequence – Boko Haram has metamorphosed into a full-blown insurgency that has taken the lives of 11,000 – 35,000 Nigerians and abducted over 2,000 women and children.

Suggestion – The Police officers that murdered Boko Haram members must be brought to book and we must reform the security cluster to better reflect the values of respect for the sanctity of life and protect, defend and serve.

  1. Education – Our Literacy rate is an abominable 65% and we have 10 million out of school children. In comparison, Angola a country that was ravaged by war after its independence in 1975- 2002 has a literacy rate of 71%. Only 30% of Nigerian children pass WAEC with 5 credits including Mathematics and English. We are the most populous country, the largest Oil producer, largest democracy and the largest economy on the African continent. But, none of our Universities makes the top 10 of African universities. Smaller countries like Kenya, Uganda have Universities that rank higher than ours. All we seem to be good at is exporting students to the UK, US, Malaysia, Singapore and Canada spending an immense fortune to educate a privileged few whose parents can afford to send them abroad.

Suggestion – reform the educational system by focusing on the three R’s in the first 3 years of Nursery School – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. Secondly, we need to utilize our NYSC program properly. We can do that by Mapping out all the Government owned Primary and Secondary Schools in Nigeria. Scrapping out the three weeks of camp and turning it into a six-week intensive teaching boot camp where corpers are taught in six weeks how to make a lesson note and how to teach. After the boot camp, send the Corpers to the government Schools to teach the children Reading, WRiting and ARithmetic. If we measure this program accurately, it can be a great way to solve our educational problem without spending too much money.

  1. Health – The state of health in Nigeria is abysmal but there is something we can do about it without spending a lot of money. We can train what I will call community health workers who will be the primary contact person when people are ill. Train them on how to give advise to new mothers on nutrition, vaccine, post-natal care and how to diagnose basic health issues like fever, malaria and diarrhea. Rwanda is the pioneer of this community health system and they have succeeded in reducing infant and maternal mortality by the largest margin in history.
  1. Gender – We must realize and accept that there is a gender element to our state decline. In a country where women make up 50% of the population but only 2% of the National Assembly, the lowest in Africa. This is a big issue because it means that more than half of the population is not involved in decision-making and that a country is running on only half of its brains. Our Education level also has a gender component, male literacy rate is 75% while it is 60% for women. This is a globally competitive world where you must use your best minds regardless of what genitalia they possess. We must carry the other half along and use all our brains and resources as a nation for us to succeed. Suggestion – We must break down cultural barriers and practices that hinder women from achieving their full potential. Introduce a conditional cash transfer system that pays money to parents in certain communities to encourage them to send girls to school.

Finally, the major factor of state decline in Nigeria is the Law itself. The Law is too complicated and far from the people. A simple land case can spend years in the judiciary. We must reform our systems of justice to be swifter and more accessible to people. We do not necessarily need to follow just the western model of justice. We can train traditional rulers and chiefs in the language of the law and give them licenses to serve as what I call community arbitrators that can decide on simple cases like land disputes, tenant and landlord issues. This is why community policing is important, as they will help enforce the decisions of the community arbitrators. Also, we must strengthen property rights, the land use decree of 1975 must be amended, and we need to introduce a modern land registry system that will give title deeds to people in rural areas so they can use their land as assets to raise capital for their businesses. Also, Victoria Island should be given special jurisdiction to handle matters of Business Law. To encourage investors that their investments in Nigeria would be protected and the sanctity of their contracts upheld.

About Abbiba Ivy Princewill:

She has an LLB from King’s College London and is currently studying for an LLM in Securities Regulation at University of California, Los Angeles. She has deep interest in Finance, African Politics and the state of STEM education in Nigeria. Connect with her on Twitter here.


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