Essays | Dismantling Nigeria

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The Spirit of an Essay and the 3 Commandments – Mayhem on the Streets: Python Dance, Black Tuesday, et al – The Act of Sugar-Coating Problems – It is Far Too Easy to Become a Monster – A Manual for Dismantling Nigeria

The Spirit of an Essay and the 3 Commandments

One, it might be a good idea to start with an uncontroversial statement: Nigeria is a failing state. Truthful proclamations are always the first step – and a prerequisite at that – towards solving (difficult) problems. One should not be a proponent of sugar-coating problems especially those that have enormous negative impacts on peoples’ lives.

Two, one should not be a proponent of panel beating failures, symptomatic treatments, that kind of thing – if there is a root cause, one ought to rather fix it.

Finally, one should not opt for complicated, difficult, costly solutions to problems that can be solved in simple ways.

Friends, it is in this spirit I write this essay.

Mayhem on the Streets: Python Dance, Black Tuesday, et al

On October 20, 2020, the Nigerian Army shot at least 12 peaceful protesters dead in Lagos Nigeria, a day that had now been encoded on the street with the apt label ‘Black Tuesday’[1].

These are the protesters clamoring for the end of the brutal special anti-robbery squad (SARS) unit in the Nigeria police force. A unit that had gone rogue as they kill, and rob citizens in droves [2]. And yet this isn’t new.

In a report by the Amnesty International in 2016, the Nigerian military was implicated in the killings of over 150 protesters within a window of a year, with at least 60 killed in a pro-Biafra rally in May 2016. These conclusions were made after the analyses of 87 videos, 122 photographs, and 146 eye witnesses [3].

In 2017, in an army operation tagged Operation ‘Python Dance’ carried out in the south-eastern part of Nigeria, pro-Biafra folks were killed [4] coupled with unspeakable torturing events: as they were made to drink muddy waters and sleep in it. [5]

While I am personally skeptical of the effectiveness of my Igbo (and now some Yoruba) brothers and sisters about cessation, it turns out that clamoring for cessation isn’t a crime that should be disincentivized with extrajudicial killings. And that the last half of my last statement had to be written is beyond sad.

In the same year, I wrote about the ‘Python Dance’ disaster and how the ineptitude of the Nigerian government had been exposed in its failure to satisfy at least two principles of legitimacy. Briefly, 1) If you want people to behave civilly, they must have the assurance that when they speak they will be heard. 2) If you want people to behave civilly, the authority must be fair. [6][7] In a sense, our collective acceptance of the Nigerian Government brutality (via our silence over the years) led to the event of black Tuesday. They do not take us seriously. And it appears there are reasons to be optimistic about the future, given the recent events.

And I can go on and on but, hell no; I would not fall into the trap of using the little time I have at my disposal, to list all the mayhem perpetrated and enabled by the Nigerian Government in recent years. Because, between me and you, it is an impossible task.

No one can do it.

It is Far Too Easy to Become a Monster

In my opinion, one of the most powerful bible verses is the following: “Flee the appearance of all evil ” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

There had been some controversies about the interpretation from Greek – however you choose to interpret it – the arc of the message is still conserved. And contrary to what you might intuit, it is far too easy to be evil. Hence our Lord’s teaching.

Many people cast most Nigerian politicians as monsters, which they are. However, accompanying the casting is the mistake of ascribing to such monsterism an esoteric origin.

To be specific, we are all capable of great evil. And any system that permits evil will breed it in great amounts. This is a huge problem in Nigeria.

Take the example of stealing, if it is easy to steal and you will not be caught (and you have that knowledge), I wager that the majority of the people in the world will steal. This is just human nature. And the moment this happens a few times, the consistency principle kicks in, plus the operant conditioning that will be involved.

This will open the flood gates: folks rationalizing vices, and the moment social proof kicks in, you get the Serpico effects, where whistleblowing becomes an impossible task. And when people are brave enough to blow whistles, like Sahara reporters had done numerous times over the years, it loses its meaning.  When there are far too many whistles to be blown, we become deaf to the sounds.

And at the risk of engaging in the sin of tautology I will say the following: when a country is set up the way Nigeria is set up, you get Nigeria. Fortunately for us, it is that simple.

The Act of Sugar-Coating Problems

Most people I know will not disagree with the following statement: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. And yet every election since 1999, after the military regime, two major political parties (and its variants) had fielded virtually all major political positions in the country, namely APC and PDP. Today APC. Tomorrow PDP. Same result. Same madness. I will also continue to say it, as I have written about it over the years, that this is an act of sugar-coating problems that is killing us. Literally. The two behemoth political parties, and its variants benefit from the status quo, they benefit from corruption in the system.

Also, please note that not even an angel can run Nigeria desirable as it stands today. The system is completely defective as it is ripe for dismantling. It is to this I will turn to next.

A Manual for Dismantling Nigeria [8]

Have you ever thought about why you cared so much about your daughter’s toothache than any magnitude of earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador combined? If you haven’t, I have news for you: ethics doesn’t scale. This is a point the philosopher Nassim Taleb had made in his books.

Talk about many of us who buy $5 coffee every now and then, while millions of folks are hungry because they can’t afford to live on $1 a day. Virtue doesn’t scale.

Talk about how you cuss your ‘friends’ on Facebook and twitter without even thinking about it. Virtue doesn’t scale.

The thing is, we tend to be more well-behaved, kind, virtuous in smaller societies living face to face.

And at the risk of continuing on what we have agreed to be an impossible task, in 2014, the terrorist group Boko-Haram kidnapped some 276 girls from a secondary school in northern Nigeria, Chibok. As I write these words, many of them are either dead or still nowhere to be found.  Unsurprisingly, the main culprit for this is lack of skin in the game on the part of the leaders.

You see, Nigeria runs a massive centralized system of government with an aggressive top to bottom political philosophy. As such, ones’ wonder is tempered with regards to the failure of the recovery of all the kidnapped girls, but more importantly, the failure of lack of security that led to their kidnap in the first place – and the many atrocities that are too much to list.

Let’s face it, to the politicians in Abuja (capital of Nigeria), those poor girls are just mere statistics. To their parents, friends, and community – an egregious tragedy.

(The reader should note that after the recent black Tuesday event, the Governor of Lagos State, where the event happened, had claimed that he is not aware of the orders given to the military who shot peaceful protesters, since the Federal Government is in charge of the military.)

And this will take me to my main point. Let’s attempt to reverse the system by simulating an aggressively decentralized system of government where decision is made at the bottom – essentially a bottom to top system. The odds of the Chibok /Black Tuesday events happening will be very low. ‘Why?’, you ask. Because, the leaders of this small community live in that community, and that changes everything. No more Abuja, less to worry about.

If the boss drinks the palm wine they drink, drives on the same road, goes to the same church, lives two stones away, one has to dare the individual to mess up. Because if he or she does, his head might be lifted up from his shoulders.

That aside, the chances of messing up is pretty damn low, because when you see sick people, homeless folks, parents of kidnapped/murdered kids, paralyzed children, with your two bloody eyes, there is a biological drive to do something. But to reduce an individual to a tiny roman figure on a giant spreadsheet sitting in the cloud – bro, that doesn’t work!

And indeed, it is this biological (emotional) drive that boosted the current global attention that the endsars movement continues to enjoy. It is not the first-time people were killed either by bandits or by the Nigerian armed forces in their country. But when you see it live on twitter or Instagram, that changes everything.

In addition to the skin in the game benefit that will come naturally from my proposed almost-sovereign smaller units within Nigeria, this system will also become potentially antifragile.

To conclude, I will say that by now it should be clear that the endsars movement is only a metaphor for the innumerable problems in the country; and in that vein, we need to start targeting the root cause of our problems.

In order words to engage in a constructive dismantling of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Thank you for reading.


[1] Time, The Nigerian Army Shot Dead at Least 12 Peaceful Protesters in Lagos, Rights Group Says. Here’s What to Know. 21 October 2020 Link

[2] Aljazeera, Nigeria’s SARS: A brief history of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. 22 October 2020. Link

[3] Amnesty International, Nigeria: At least 150 peaceful pro-Biafra activists killed in chilling crack down. 24 November 2016 Link

[4] The Sun news online, 7 IPOB members feared killed in army clash. 12 September, 2017

[5] Daily Post – Nigeria News, Biafra: Army torture IPOB members in Aba, force them to sleep in mud [VIDEO] 13 September, 2014; Video link to torture, contain gruesome scenes  

[6] Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Pp 207.

[7] Olatomiwa Bifarin, Biafra Revisited: The Nigerian Government is irresponsible. 23 September 2017 Link

[8] This section derives its contents from an earlier published essay that looked at the idea of scaling. Olatomiwa Bifarin, Many Shades of Scaling. 17 October 2020. Link


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4 thoughts on “Essays | Dismantling Nigeria

  1. Things could not have been said better! There’s obviously too much power at the center, too much. Imagine how one speech doused all hope of engaging in the constitutional right of protest – the disillusionment of being heard! And I guess the government came out of this feeling largely “untouchable”. Sad thing is, this has happened time and time again. But this came as a shock because a lot of us either didn’t know the magnitude of previous atrocities, or it just seemed too far-off and in the past.
    The sense of nationalism is missing and people are generally disconnected from polity. However, in advocating for a decentralized system, one can only hope that power as it mostly does, does not corrupt even the leaders closer to the people. But like you said, in this case, there would perhaps be a push towards greater accountability because now one’s skin is in the game or rather, head in the line; also, this might serve as a bridge in the tribal and ethnic fault lines. The question is how to begin engaging in this “constructive dismantling”…

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