Sam Amadi, Former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, and Director, Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts

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  • Electric Power
  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

Genocide on the Plateau and state failure 11 Jan 2024

On the eve of last Christmas, about 160 members of communities in Plateau State were brutally murdered in their homes by Fulani jihadists. This is not the first time such has happened during the Christmas festivities. But this massacre had a different bloody ring. It happened months after a divisive election where the ruling party fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket to the chagrin of northern Christians who protested that they ought to provide the deputy to the APC president to balance the religious and ethnic configuration of presidential power. The attack plays into the narrative of ethnic and religious conspiracy to plunder northern Christians and occupied their land, a continuation of Islamic jihad.

The killing of minority Christian tribes in northern Nigeria has become something of an epidemic. The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) reports that more than 5,000 Christians were killed by Islamists in Nigeria between January 2021 to March 2022. The President of Hungary has condemned the attack as a genocide against Christians in Plateau. Influential new outlets like Fox News and Al Jazeera have reported the attack.

Beyond the politics of the attack, it raises the specter of increased collapse of the Nigerian state. Nigeria’s state failure has been growing with the rise of terrorism and banditry across larger part of the country. Since the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, declared that it intends to establish a caliphate in northern Nigeria, the country has been engaged in a battle of survival with Islamic terrorists. But the sad reality is that the government does not seem to take conflict as seriously as it ought, and cares less about what it means for its statehood. This lack of serious attention manifests in the growing sense of impunity and helplessness of the Nigerian state in the matter of upholding its secularity and authority as a democratic nation-state. It is arguable that Nigeria now looks more like a theocratic, ethnic state than a modern secular democracy.

This configuration of the Nigerian states is not a new development. Many could date its bold manifestation to 2000, a year after President Olusegun Obasanjo, a Christian southerner, became President. That year, Zamfara State declared itself an Islamic republic. More precisely, the Zamfara State House of Assembly enacted Sharia into its criminal code and created sharia public law system that required its high courts to convict citizens of crimes based on the authority of the Koran. This negates the 1959 settlement that formed the core of Nigeria’s independence and constitutional republic. At the 1959 Independence Conference, Nigerian leaders agreed to leave Sharia outside the domain of public law to regulate private affairs of a Muslim. There will be no criminal Sharia. This agreement became a cornerstone of Nigeria’s constitutional order as a prohibition against criminal prosecution for any offence not written in law. This means religious and customary offences cannot be crimes.

But with one stroke of legislation, Zamfara State transgressed the constitutional boundary and instituted a religious state in Nigeria’s secular federation. Eleven Northern states followed suit shortly after; and we now have two legal systems entrenched in the north. Nigeria’s leading constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, described the Zamfara constitutional intransigence as the creation of an Islamic republic within Nigerian democratic republic.

This historic disruption of constitutional order has a bigger instigation and a more destructive implication. It builds back to the incoherence of the Nigerian state order. Right from colonial rule, Nigeria’s colonial founders were halfhearted about founding a true nation-state based on common legality and citizenship. The indirect rule system is not just a light-touch administrative system but also an institutionalisation of ethnic conflicts of a nature that detracts from nationalism. In the end, the colonialists institutionalised two virulent forms of conflictual incoherence. First, is the incoherence of nationality. Nigerian citizenship and nationality were hindered whilst Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, etc., nationalities were promoted. They bequeathed a crisis of nationality. The second incoherence is the relationship between state and religion. The colonial order created several religious exceptions to democratic citizenship, and religious exceptionalism negatively conditions constitutional democracy today.

Nigeria is yet to overcome these incoherences. The implication is that the country lacks the coherence required to be an effective state that can drive development and social stability. These incoherences drain Nigeria of the ability to moderate conflicts and implement a development agenda. Peter Evans attributes the success of the East Asian economies to how political authority was embedded in society. The state-society relationship, otherwise called ‘political settlement’, is one of the most critical determinants of economic development. A state like Nigeria where its institutions are captured by sectional interest – whether ethnic, religious or social – to the point that it cannot protect its citizens from genocidal attack or targeted killing of the sort that took place in Plateau, lacks effectiveness.
Nigeria is showing strong signs of failure. The inability to impose the rule of law in the sense of democratic citizenship that consists foremost in the protection of lives of Nigerian citizens from external and internal threats is its gravest signs of state failure. A state where religious and ethnic brigands can easily massacre other citizens and never get restrained or punished is at the lowest rump of the descent to state failure. It is time to draw Nigeria back by resolving its two incoherences of citizenship and state and religion.

Sam Amadi, PhD, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.