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

Follow Sam Amadi

View Profile

Subjects of Interest

  • Commercial Policy
  • Economic Governance
  • Electric Power
  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

Still on state capacity 12 Feb 2024

Nigeria was well represented at the two most important international events in the last few weeks: the United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP28) and the 2024 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. At the COP28, President Bola Tinubu went with a large party comprising government officials and some social media influencers. The bill was outrageous and generated a national outcry about the lack of frugality of the Tinubu administration. At the WEF, the Vice President led the Minister of Finance and other senior government officials in a more sombre participation. At these events, Nigeria reiterated its readiness to do business with the rest of the world. In the words of the Vice President, “Nigeria is open to business.” But how ready is the country?

Speaking at Davos, the Vice President reinforced the message of trust and assured that the new administration was going to solve the problem of insecurity and make Nigeria the place of choice for foreign investment. His principal had toured a few countries where he repeated the message of foreign investment. After the Davos show, the Vice President came back to meet the federal capital city overrun by kidnappers and bandits. In an unusual show of dare-devilry, terrorists attacked housing estates in Abuja suburbs and took families into the forests, demanding hundreds of millions of naira as ransom. In a pathetic instance of the Nabeeha family, the kidnappers killed one of six kidnapped daughters to put pressure on the family to raise N500 million ransom. Several families were similarly kidnapped a few kilometres from the presidential villa.

The bigger distress is that it took more than two weeks before the government could offer a response to the gross insecurity in the capital city. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nyesom Wike, was away in Port Harcourt dancing on a campaign ground where he is fighting hard to control affairs in Rivers State where he just finished an 8-year tenure as Governor. The President of the Federal Republic was holidaying in Paris even as residents of Abuja froze under fear of terrorists freely kidnapping and killing them. Police officers could not chase the terrorists into the forests because they do not have torchlights. The elite military force that needed to respond didn’t have petrol for their utility vehicles. It took days for the Bwari council chairman to transfer N800,000 to mobilise the force. Days later, the terrorists were rounded up, indicating that they were low-tech, but for the lack of state capacity.

The weeks of terrorist attack in Abuja make a statement about the lack of capacity of the Nigerian state. As events later showed, these kidnaps are avoidable if there was a security arrangement proactive and professional enough to protect citizens. A video clip that has gone viral shows a Nigerian soldier lamenting that they are paid mere N50,000.00 as salaries and expected to fight terrorists and violent criminals. Meanwhile, federal legislators are entitled to N160 million vehicle allowance. During the stand-off with terrorists, police officers were paid a paltry N4,000.00 as hazard allowance to combat violent bandits. Little wonder criminals and terrorists face little resistance.

The Nigerian state is a very weak one. In spite of its pretence, it lacks adequate coercive and extractive capabilities. Much of Nigeria is becoming ungoverned territory, especially in the north of the country. We have also seen ungovernability creep into some part of the south where insurgents have destroyed economic and civil transactions through uncontrolled violence. Apart from being authoritarian, Nigeria’s lack of coercive and extractive capacities stems from its structural and conceptual incoherence. The Nigerian state’s ambivalence on religious neutrality has weakened its resolve to fight religious violence. It is noteworthy that Burkina Faso easily destroys the same Islamic terrorists that Nigeria cuddles. Nigeria is hobbled in this sense because it lacks the ideological resource of state neutrality. Its leaders continue to flirt with religious fundamentalism. Ideological orientation is part of state capacity.

The fact that Nigeria remains the biggest economy in Africa and is rich in natural resources masks its terrible condition of state incapacity. Nigeria lacks another aspect of state capacity: administrative capacity. This manifests in the inefficiency of its state institutions. It is difficult for Nigerian security agencies to track and apprehend criminals. They also lack the ability to plan ahead and thwart criminal activities. The country is also caught flat-footed because it lacks efficient state institutions that are proactive and pre-emptive.

Nigeria is not just a weak state. it is also a dysfunctional state. Whereas the Nigeria state is recycling religious terrorists into its security forces in the name of rehabilitation, other countries in the Sahel and Gulf of Guinea are fiercely dealing with religious fundamentalism. These same recycled terrorists work within the bureaucracy to undermine strategic state interests. There are credible anecdotes of retired and serving soldier narrating how their attacks against terrorists have been undermined by colleagues who expose their strategy to the terrorists. Under President Jonathan, high-ranking public officials confessed their fear that many sympathisers of Boko Haram sat as ministers during discussion about how to fight their terrorist group. Little wonder the failure of the government to rout the terrorists.

So, it may not matter how many COPs and WEF Nigerian leaders attend if the country continues to lack critical state capacity to conceive and implement the fundamentals of development. It is nice to be part of global conversations about globalization and disinformation. But we need to emulate East Asian leaders and first pay attention to the more basic issue of state capacity. We need to have a strong state before we can profit from developments on global pollical economy.

First thing first.  Build a strong and coherent state.

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