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Africa, al-Qaeda, Conflict Prevention; Responsibility to Protect, Failed States, Governance, Nigeria, Terrorism, Weak States

Fixing Nigeria’s Leadership and Governance Problems


Nigeria’s battle against Boko Haram can only be won if Nigerians begin to fix their massive leadership and governance problems.


            Nigeria is as close to being a failed state as it has ever been.

The key components and definitions of state failure are:

The state’s loss of its Weberian monopoly of violence.

Its inability to protect its people(s)

The rise of non-state actors

A distinct national failure to provide basic services like schooling and medical clinics to large sections of the nation

State failure reflects weak if not poor governance.  Nigeria has always ranked low on the Index of African Governance annual ratings. Given its present insecurity, its rankings this year  should plummet.

Governance means the performance of governments or the satisfaction of citizens at the level of service delivery received from their government(s)

The five categories of governance are security and safety, rule of law and transparency, participation and respect for human rights, sustainable economic opportunity, and the provision of human development (education, health, etc).

Nigeria clearly does poorly in the first of those categories, very poorly in the second, not well in the third, badly in the fourth (especially in the failure to provide power, roads, and rail), and rather not so well in the fifth.

All of these long time weaknesses of governance, leading to state failure, have been exacerbated under President Goodluck Jonathan.  His leadership, essential to creating good governance and redressing state failure, has been woefully lacking. Has he been unable to lead, unwilling, or simply unclear about what strong leadership entails?

Which brings me to the crisis of Boko Haram.

To defeat a disciplined and fanatical insurgency inspired by some kind of ideological fervor, disciplined leadership is fundamental. Without such leadership the security forces are faced with serious morale problems. When rampant corruption is added to the mix, it is no wonder that Africa’s most powerful military force – a force capable of pacifying Sierra Leone and Liberia – has been unable and unwilling to reduce Boko Haram to the pitiful state in which it existed four years ago.  Now that the security forces have the benefit of outside help and sophisticated surveillance techniques, it should be easy. But if armies are not fully at one with their political leaders, and if armies believe themselves to be abused, there can be no fight.

Victory over Boko Haram is only possible if President Jonathan makes such a victory a national cause and if he and his close followers find a way to strengthen the legitimacy of the state and of key state institutions such as the military. This would mean Jonathan demonstrating a real belief in the integrity of the nation, casting aside party and ethnic considerations, and showing that he really is  the leader of all Nigerians, not just southerners, Christians, or the denizens of Abuja.

Can President Jonathan rise to such heights of good leadership? Or should we even expect him to be able to aspire to effective leadership given Nigeria’s many frailties and some of its structural deficits and difficulties?

Given the extent to which Boko Haram has made mockery of Nigeria’s established institutions, including the military, it is essential that Boko Haram be stopped now, not after Nigeria has elected a new leader. For all of his weaknesses, this is Jonathan’s test of strength.

This post originated as a talk delivered at a Nigerian Security Summit held at Radcliffe College on Aug. 8, 2014



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