Happenings in Sudan and Algeria hold lessons for Nigeria, writes Iliyasu Gadu
Like a phoenix, the Arab spring rose from the brutal civil war in Syria to claim the thrones of two African Arab leaders: Omar El-Bashir of Sudan and Abdel Aziz Bouteflika of Algeria. In a twist of irony, Sudan’s El- Bashir was the first Arab leader to visit Syria after signalling a normalisation of relations with that country following the civil war that engulfed it in the attempt to oust its leader Bashir Al Assad from power by rebel forces.
The two leaders fell from power on account of two familiar factors of the African experience: rising prices of essential items, unemployment and corruption, as well self-perpetuation in power.
In the case of El-Bashir he had been in power for 30 years since 1989 after ousting the civilian administration of Sadiq Mahdi in a military coup led by him. In that period that he had been in office his country had been engulfed from one crisis after another, the two most prominent being the government sponsored genocide in Darfur region and the civil war in the country which led to the secession and creation of the republic of South Sudan. These two issues drew worldwide attention leading to declaration of El-Bashir as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
For Algeria’s Bouteflika, it was the issue of his seeking a fifth term in office, compounded by the fact that he was almost in a vegetative state and has to be confined to a wheelchair. In his own case, he was a compromise choice by the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) to rule the country following a leadership stalemate. Bouteflika, a popular veteran of the Algerian war of Independence from France was thus chosen by the leadership of the FLN to hold the fort as it were. But like El- Bashir of Sudan, he had outlived his welcome and coupled with the dire economic situation the people of Algeria felt he should go.
In the aftermath of the events in Sudan and Algeria, there have been discussions on whether same could happen here in Nigeria.
There are those who will argue that as a democracy where there are constitutional checks and balances against any ruler who would want to perpetuate himself in power, what happened in Sudan and Algeria will not happen here. They will also point out that unlike in Sudan where the issue of bread shortage was one of the serious grievances that led to El-Bashir’s downfall, we do not have a bread crisis here in Nigeria because bread is in plentiful and in affordable supply across the country.
There is also the argument that the existential issue of ethnic and religious differences among others which has eaten deep into the body politic of Nigeria will act as a draw back against any united front against underperforming rulers.
My submission is that notwithstanding the foregoing arguments, what happened in Sudan and Algeria could well happen here. In Nigeria today we are faced with very serious economic issues with rising poverty as the most prominent indicator. Indeed a recent report found Nigeria as the country with the poorest people in the world, overtaking India in that category. Another put Nigeria as the sixth most miserable country in the world.
While poverty could be termed as relative and not necessarily a factor to trigger the sort of events in Sudan and Nigeria, what should concern us more is that as the incidence of poverty is increasing in areas worse hit, the presence and authority of the state as a benevolent institution is seen to be receding in Nigeria. The average Nigerian sees very little of the state in his life. From his meagre earnings he provides his own health care needs, education, transportation, water, energy and power along with other basic needs. While those at the relatively higher strata of the social ladder can afford with some difficulty take care of those needs, those at the bottom strata who are finding it difficult to meet those needs are however resorting to extreme forms of self-help. Thus a combination of rising poverty and very little presence of benevolent state intervention has fawned the upsurge and seeming intractable incidences like kidnapping and other forms of criminal insurgencies.
In themselves, these developments are fundamentally more dangerous to the country than street demonstrations against certain policies. Criminal insurgencies have morphed from their petty forms to become an economic enterprise and way of life for its practitioners complete with gadgetries, division of labour hierarchical structure, and operational territories. In large parts of Nigeria today outside of state capitals, bandits of all descriptions rule the turf, kidnapping, robbing, extorting, maiming, looting, killing and destroying lives and livelihoods. These activities have proven to be devoid of any religious or ethnic sentiments. Those engaged are motivated by their own basic instincts of surviving in an increasingly desperate socio-economic society and they are taking advantage of the receding relevance of the state in their lives to operate.
While we may describe these activities as insecurity, it is in reality more fundamental than that. It is a reflection of the state of the state where people long used to being left out by the state as an institution have resorted to establish, assert and exact their own authority within a state that they feel is non-existent in their lives. The danger in all these is that those engaged in these activities in a bid to finance the cost will continue to expand the frontiers of the enterprise in the process, taxing the ability of the state to confront and neutralise them.
This is where we should draw the lessons of what occurred in Sudan and Algeria. In the case of those two countries the action of the populace in removing these two rulers had as its collective objective the strengthening and legitimising the state. In Nigeria however the activities which we see and term as criminal insurgency and insecurity are in reality existential symptoms of a rapidly failing state which if not fundamentally tackled may result in delegitimizing the state as happened in some African states. And what may result from that will even be worse than the events in Sudan and Algeria.