Essays: Dismantling Nigeria, A Game Theory Addendum

A question buried in an answered question – The soul of two hunters – Nigerians as hunters, and why hell is a bottomless pit

A question buried in an answered question

I should start by saying that I have gotten used to life as a graduate student who occasionally write essays on an obscure blog, and only expects a handful of people to read. However, for the essay I published in late October, Dismantling Nigeria, in the light of the nationwide #endsars protest; the number of reactions I got were unexpected. However, on a second thought, because of the nature of the subject, I found it to be unsurprising.  I got a few questions, and it is the most frequently asked question I will address in this essay.

The essay presented arguments for the dismantling of Nigeria, and then the question: ‘when and how the hell do we start dismantling the country?’ (I should state here that what we are dismantling is the current structure in the Nigerian State that breeds corruption see essay.) However, there is a little problem with that question, namely the answer is pretty darn obvious. When? Is now, and how? Is the following: we need a critical mass of the population to grab the government by the throat (and they will choke pretty fast), while we make the commonsensical demands I alluded to in my previous essay.

In that vein, I will assume that was not the question that was intended to be answered. In other words, what we have here is a question buried within an ‘answered’ question. And it is this invisible question I will attempt to answer.

The soul of two hunters 

Take two hunters Ugo and Akanni, who want to kill an animal for their families, so they wouldn’t die of hunger. There are two options. A rabbit or a stag. A rabbit is pretty darn small and a stag is a huge thing, a huge animal. Let’s say thrice rabbits make a stag. There is a problem though: they can only kill one animal. The stag is a two-man job. A rabbit, a one-man job. So, they had a discussion over palm wine the previous night and decided what to do. Except that they had too much wine and couldn’t recall the discussion when they woke up in the morning. No cell phones, they live miles apart, and they have to leave before dawn (and it’s almost dawn). One last thing:  the direction of the stag forest is orthogonal to that of the rabbit’s. Hence, both had to decide independently where to go.

Ugo thought pretty hard about it, what if Akanni goes for the rabbit especially since the forest is a far less weirdly. Akanni, exactly the same thoughts. And then another: what if he doesn’t, and then we both go home with a stag. I think he sounded like he needed a big meat today.

What to do? Technically, the optimal solution to this dilemma is called the Nash equilibrium. Namely, 1) both go for rabbit, 2) both go for the snag.  A suboptimal solution is when one goes for rabbit and the other for the stag. This is the hunter stag problem, and you can see the technical treatment below (non-technical readers should feel free to skip this session and go to the next one).

Nigerians as Hunters, and why hell is a bottomless pit

The hunter problem gives us a framework to begin to answer the unstated question. Nigerians know that they can take down the monster that had possessed the Nigeria polity. But here is the problem: Nigerians have also witnessed, over the many years of her inception, how protestors and activists who are largely working ‘alone’ (i.e. went for stag while others went for the rabbit), got the ugliest treatments of their lives. For example, during the military era, folks like the Ogoni Nine [1] including the popular Ken Saro Wiwa were killed. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was sentenced to death in absentia (had to flee to the United States) etc. And the oppression hasn’t stopped, only (deceitfully) tempered, as activists like Omoyele Sowore were imprisoned for several months in 2019, because he was organizing a nationwide protest called revolution now (again, went for stag while others went for rabbits).

But our choice of rabbits is rather dangerous, we provide our own electricity (rabbits), provide water (rabbits), construct our roads (rabbits). To the point whereby one has to ask, when is the rabbit going to run out? This is the point I have to come out clean – with a confession.

While the Nash equilibrium defines {rabbit, rabbit} as one of its optimal strategies for the hunter problem, this is one of the many places my analogy breaks down. Friends, there are no more rabbits in the forests.  All we have now are rats, tasteless bony rats, in some cases some hunters had resorted to cannibalism, having gotten lost in the rabbit forest. (This statement can be somewhat accepted literally given the spate of kidnapping in the country.)

However, when you think we are finally pushed to the wall and you look at our responses, one is shamefully reminded of the popular Fela Anikulapo Kuti 1977 record, ‘Suffering and Smiling’, and then you quickly recall that hell is a bottomless pit, you think you are at the bottom but no. Just a few weeks ago, rice farmers were butchered in their farm in Northern Nigeria, 78 of them at the very least. And nobody is losing their jobs in Abuja. Hell is far too deep.

Finally, perhaps this is as best as I will be able to come up with an answer. Notice that in the hunter problem, Ugo and Akanni at the end of the day will act based on what they believe about how each other will act. In a group, you begin to see an amplification of the same dynamic in play: when a group of people are optimistic about their future, their optimism will be rewarded, if they are pessimistic however, indeed they will be equally rewarded. The optimism and pessimism – provided a critical mass is reached – will be self-fulfilling and self perpetuating.

Friends, Nigeria will only be a different country when her citizens believe it can be.

Thank you for reading.

Notes  

[1] Readers who are unfamiliar should read the wikipedia entry on the Ogoni Nine

References

  • Dixit and Nalebuff, The Art of Strategy, Chapter Four: A beautiful equilibrium
  • The Economists, Why 78 Nigerian farmers were murdered. 03 December 2020. Link

 

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