This post fulfills a promise I made to my military advisory council of ghosts a few weeks back. So I guess we’re in quite the pessimistic mood lately. We destroyed Israel a few days ago, now we’ll move on to Nigeria.
1) You can rob a country until it dies
The world’s greatest thieves don’t live in London or work on Wall Street. They reside in mansions outside Lagos and Abuja. Every year they steal more from one of the world’s poorest nations than bankers pilfer from the richest. They siphon off billions each month. Everybody knows they’re doing it. Everybody knows who’s doing it. Everybody knows they’re getting away with it. The greatest mark of a successful crook is when you can rob at will and never get punished. You can count the number of people convicted and jailed for capital corruption in Nigeria on one hand.
The breadth of corruption in Nigeria is hard to describe. It’s beyond comprehension how vast and ingrained the evil is within the state and business community. Generally people want to believe that folks will do the right thing. How does this work when corruption is not part of the system, but is the system. As currently configured, Nigeria’s government is not in place to govern, but to plunder. It serves no other reasonable purpose. Just ask your Nigerian neighbor who pays bribes, has no reliable electricity supply, is not safe, and drives over terrible roads. What little filters down to the people is to appease them just enough so the government can continue to extract cash. This trait is common within many countries but in Nigeria they’ve got it to an art.
Oil is often blamed for both creating and greasing this structure. Yet oil is just the method, not the source, or the end. Without oil this would still occur, the bandits would just be poorer. So why do they get away with it? They are in complete control. In many nations those who govern and those who carry guns are two different aspects of the elite. This causes competition and strife. Nigeria’s gun carriers and pen pushers are the same people. They work together to keep it going. They compete with each other to reach and maintain their positions at the top, but are very good at understanding that you can’t push too hard against one another. Push too hard and you overturn the table. And everybody wants to sit at the table.
Why do the people put up with it? There are no people of Nigeria.
2) You weren’t meant to be
Nigeria’s army, government, and elite are local but also essentially national. The people of Nigeria are local only. This country does not exist. Its borders were drawn by colonials who had an understanding of what they were doing, but did not care. Independence made the problem worse. Even the British were smart enough to realize they had to keep the north and south separate. Pulled together, they make no sense as one country. Some African nations must deal with dozens of disparate ethnic groups to make one people. Nigeria has hundreds.
The elite prey upon this division. To some people, they are the champions of their tribes and ethnic kin. When your head man has a seat at the table, he can funnel what little cash the people get to your people. If you desire to speak up, fight the power, the elite don’t have to tear gas you. Your neighbors will take care of that for them. Why are you ruining things? Without our man at the table, we’ll all be poorer.
Occasionally it becomes too much. The thievery, poverty, and desperation boils ever as in the Delta States. Not a problem, for the very few times where people actually take up arms there is one of Africa’s largest armies to assist. The sons of hundreds of tribes against a few that don’t know enough to play the game. If killing them doesn’t work, try and buy them off. Just get them to calm down so the robbery can resume. You don’t need to please people, or even get them to obey, you just need them to do nothing.
On the horizon, a hint of what might be. In Lagos or Abuja where everybody is mixed together you could get there. Where were you born, friend? In Lagos, Nigeria. What tribe, friend? What do you mean? My grandfather was born in Lagos too. Except that this isn’t going to work either. A united Lagos or Abuja alone cannot overturn a system so widespread. The country is too big and complicated, even for a city the size of Lagos. In a construct of 36 states, Lagos is one. Lagos has a lot of people, but only 5-10% of the country’s population. Lagos dominates the economy, but economic power is irrelevant to change when the genesis of the arrangement is not growth but the removal of wealth.
And how can a united Nigerian people in Lagos fix the country, when they’re fighting for their own survival.
3) You can’t take care of yourself
One day, the largest city by population on the planet will be Lagos. In most aspects it is already the economic and cultural engine of the continent as a whole. If you want to see the picture of Africa’s bright future, spend a week in Lagos. Observe the energy, the speed, the intensity; millions of people grinding their way forward. If you’re here, you can do anything. You can make it.
But most aren’t going to make it. Depending on your view of the planet, you could call Lagos a slum before a city. When this urban entity is the largest on the planet the majority will likely live in it without running water, functioning sewers, reliable electricity, or effective government. The planet has never seen anything like it. Even the worst caldrons in the world today cannot compare with what’s coming. It is common in science fiction to portray the apocalypse and armageddon right before our eyes. Where the very richest perfect specimens of humanity live within eyesight of folks still caught in the year 300. This vision will reach its truest form in Lagos, and probably several other cities worldwide by 2090.
Even the purest government on Earth is incapable of solving these problems. Surely one of the world’s worst will flail at the challenges this reality will produce. Corruption is an awful thing, but when you don’t know where your next drink of clean water is coming from, you’re not ready to take a tear gas salvo. You apparently live in a country called Nigeria, but couldn’t care less when your defecating in a plastic bucket. You’re part of a bright future, but on your way there, you’ll pay two bribes, risk a mugging, car accident, or fatal disease all before you reach your first hour of dreary, toiling work. If you’re lucky to have a job at all.
This is insanity, the human condition made outside knowledge. And where madness reigns, so lunacy is born.
4) If you can’t beat these guys, you’re finished
How many dedicated individuals does it take to ruin a country of 200 million? When you’re as fragile as Nigeria the answer is ten-thousand. Nobody knows how many militants serve Boko Haram and its more radical affiliates like Ansaru. I’m just going to guess ten-thousand, although I’m sure the number is far lower. All that I’ve described as the future of much of Lagos is already present in the north. Once the world’s richest economic zone, it is now reduced to decay and desperation by a crippled Saharan trade and a collapsed textile industry.
And so born from this sad story is a group capable of executing children on a regular basis. Even worse is it’s done without a purpose. There appear no reasonable goals from Boko Haram or Ansaru. They are different from the Delta States militias in that they want nothing from the state. Claims for an Islamic future or overturning the existing order are not realistic or achievable. If a million in Lagos could not destroy the state, what chance do the ten-thousand have? None, and they don’t care. What have they got to lose? What great life awaits them if they come in off the battlefield?
And pitted against them is what was once considered the largest and best trained army in Africa. Except that it no longer exists, if it ever did. You cannot ask a burglar with a gun to become a soldier with a gun overnight. Any halfway competent army can defend schools, whole towns, the very life of its country. This army can’t. Boko Haram is not brutalizing the population with advanced weaponry or the backing of a world power. They conduct their work up close and personal with light firearms, blades, and flame.
Like many times in human history, cruel, never-ending violence shall expose in the most glaring way what actually exists. The state cannot protect let alone serve the people. Nigeria cannot defeat Boko Haram because this government, this leadership, is incapable of it. It is not who they are. It is not the organism they built. And of course, worst of all, they don’t care either. Boko Haram is up there. We’re down here behind mansion walls.
Thus it’ll go on. It’s not going to stop. Any part of it all.
5) It adds up
So how does this end? With the collapse of the country? Shall Nigeria divide into dozens of small nations? No actually, the country will survive. It’s not going to come apart. It will endure. Maybe even slowly improve. We’re only human, sometimes it’s all just too much. We cannot function, but quitting is not our way. We have to try, we have to try because mass suicide or dejection isn’t in us. Nigeria’s not going to make it. But they’re certainly going to try.
Perhaps the most tragic fact is that given all these circumstances, Nigeria still won’t be destroyed. If obliterated, it could at least be rebuilt better. Nigeria’s not going to make it. But it will go on. And I will pray that I am wrong. So very wrong.
Setting or rising?