Nigeria: Cows’ right of way may cause the mother of all wars – Tatalọ̀ Àlàmú

January 21, 2018


A society which allows cows to lead it to war must be something else. Still, the conventional international wisdom is that whenever a state loses its monopoly of the instrument of coercion, such a state has lost its raison d’etre. Inevitably, such a nation implodes due to prolonged or simultaneous armed critique from a single focused direction or several hostile quarters, or is overwhelmed by a combination of enervation and existential adversity.

Without arms, there can be no nation. But with arms everywhere, there is no nation. No matter how territorial space is organized or named, it is arms that protect a society. But they can also propel it into oblivion. The proliferation of arms and their bearers has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of the Nigerian post-colonial state in a way that could not have been imagined even during a civil war that accounted for the life of two million Nigerians.

There are arms everywhere in Nigeria. We are not talking about the militarization of the society but the weaponization of the protocols of engagement. From the rule of professional managers of violence, we have now arrived at the reign of managers of professional violence. This is worse than placing a territory on a war-footing. The entire country is under an arms lock-down.

Ekiti’s Governor, Peter Fayose [in camouflage] with Ekiti game hunters at a recent parley on defending state’s indigenes from rampaging murderous Fulani herdsmen


Even a consuming tragedy is not without its engrossing comic relief. The sight of the governor of Ondo State, the indefatigable and obstreperous Peter Ayodele Fayose, decked out in modern military fatigues among a rag-tag militia bristling with Ekiti yokels and dane-gun-wielding hunters from antiquity provokes a delirium of laughter and underscores the most profound ironies of the moment.

On paper, Fayose is the chief Executive of a state. But the fact that he has had to outsource the defence of his state against marauding Fulani herdsmen to a local hunters’ clan is a profound commentary on the state of the Nigerian state and its current security architecture. In a scene straight out of Rabelais, Fayose is a chief executive who has no power over the security forces in his domain. The federal government, which has the power, does not have the wit or will to transform the police under its control to an effective constabulary against violent criminality in the entire nation.  Capability without power parodies power without capability.

This is as hilarious as it can get as looming hostilities dissolve into obscene farce. When the aggregate of arms available to non-state actors threatens to overwhelm the capacity of the state for proactive violence and punitive retribution, then the nation has all but unravelled.

In the current face off, cows’ right of way may cause the mother of all wars in Nigeria.

Still on a lighter note, one is not too sure of how Dane guns will fare against A/K 47. It may well be that this time around, Yoruba charms will get the better of mala’s tira. But given the evident mismatch of weapons in terms of sophistication and the swift discharge of obligation, let no one raise any alarm when herdsmen are sighted chasing Fayose and his men across the rugged hills of Ekiti.

It will be recalled that strange things have a way of causing strange wars in Nigeria. In the last major war in which the Ekiti were involved, it was amatorial misadventure of the part of the Ibadan superintendent that triggered hostilities and a war of all against all in the entire Yoruba land. In the current face off, bovine indiscretion or cows’ right of way, may cause the mother of all wars in Nigeria. If cows could lead men to such carnage, then they must be superior to humans in a manner of speaking.

A society which allows cows to lead it to war must be something else. Still, the conventional international wisdom is that whenever a state loses its monopoly of the instrument of coercion, such a state has lost its raison d’etre. Inevitably, such a nation implodes due to prolonged or simultaneous armed critique from a single focused direction or several hostile quarters; or is overwhelmed by a combination of enervation and existential adversity.

State monopoly of the instrument of coercion and organized violence in Nigeria has never been more imperilled than at this conjuncture. There is an explosion of opportunities in the arms-bearing industry. Armed gangs roam the streets, the forests, the creeks, the major highways and the urban centres. With their superior weaponry, they often make a mince- meat of local security forces spreading fear and panic among the populace. General insecurity has never been this prevalent in the history of the country.

More often than not, the ill-equipped, ill-trained and ill-motivated police forces are outgunned and outflanked by criminal elements that often torment and torture them before dispatching them. Consequently and as a result of this, the Nigerian armed forces are increasingly deployed for internal security operations for which they are poorly prepared and even more poorly adapted. By some estimates, the Nigerian military is currently involved in internal security operations in about thirty one of the thirty six states.

This carries with it very scary prospects. Nigeria never seems to learn from history. It will be recalled that it was the military involvement in the internal security operation to quell the Tiv riots in the First Republic which prepared the ground for the military incursion into politics. There were officers from other ethnic formations who resented the heavy-handed and sledge hammer approach of the military in an internal rebellion against the Hausa-Fulani oligarchy and who vowed that the top commanders must pay for this.

The good news however as recent scholarly studies have shown is that state collapse is not an automatic phenomenon for nations where the monopoly of the instruments of coercion has disappeared.  Recent Third World scholarship believes that the theory of failed states is a racist scare-mongering and devious agenda setting by western policy planners with the ultimate aim of reoccupation. A state may be comatose, catatonic or exist in limbo for a long time and still manage to be revived or to revive itself.

For example, Somalia has existed in a condition of stateless anomie for a quarter of century and yet has refused to die. Congo has played hosts to several civil wars in the last fifty years and is currently plagued by many well-organised bandit forces, yet the old Congolese state, otherwise known as Bula Matari (the crusher of rocks) among the natives, survives in a metropolitan enclave around the capital with its capacity for mindless cruelty and proactive wickedness undiminished by attrition and attenuation. In West Africa alone, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, have all experienced brief or protracted state collapse and have managed to revive thereafter.

Pound for pound, the Nigerian armed forces remain the best and most formidable fighting machine on the West African coast despite being stretched thin at the moment by various internal security commitments. It plunged to the very nadir of its reputation in the last years of PDP misrule under the corruption-plagued Jonathan administration. But it has since had its morale and fighting spirit buoyed by President Buhari’s disdain for disorder and law and order mantra.

But the danger is that as the military is increasingly drawn into internal security operations, the proliferation of non-state actors bearing arms with maximum capacity may cause the armed forces a massive demystification or loss of professional mystique and aura of invincibility which may lead to institutional implosion. As the last bulwark of the nation, the anarchy and anomie, the apocalyptic meltdown attendant to this professional unravelling of the most vital state institution in post-colonial Nigeria can be better imagined.

In a worst case scenario, the humiliation and disgrace of the military due to unending confrontation with equally well-armed and even better motivated rogue fighting units strewn all over the country may lead a new generation of better exposed and more professionally accomplished officers to query the rationale of carrying the can and acting as night-soil personnel for a political class that remains morally, politically as well as institutionally retarded. In the circumstance, the country might witness a return to military rule as a stop-gap device against violent disintegration.

As we have said several times in this column, the Roman Empire as well as other great human constructs of the past did not die of a single mortal blow to the plexus but of cumulative wounds from a myriad of enemies which eventually upended the historic giants. As we have seen with the example of Somalia, Congo and the old Ivory Coast, the post-colonial nation, rather than swiftly collapsing into its ethnic components when threatened by terminal conflicts, has a way of mutating or metastasizing into something even more dreadful and nastier.

Unlike the older type European colonial nations which could come apart neatly and surgically, or which could disintegrate without major collateral damage, African nations come as a strange species of nation-states indeed: not intrinsically strong enough to cohere as true nations and no longer discrete and discernible enough to disintegrate into component parts as independent monads.

One unfortunate explanation for this continental conundrum is that African intellectuals, scholars and intelligentsia rather than coming up with new paradigms of organising territorial space which best suit Africa in the new post-colonial epoch of human transformation are busy aping the old colonial models handed down to them through uninspiring rote and the discursive formation of western institutions. As organic bearers of a new type of human consciousness forged in slavery and colonization, this ought to have been their overriding historical mission.

In the absence of this conceptual framework and intellectual bulwark, anybody expecting the nation-state paradigm in Africa to follow the western trajectory is living in a fools’ paradise. This is because what has not been conceptually envisioned or intellectually theorized can never come into fruitful being.  African nations created by colonial fiat still have a lot of unpleasant and negative surprises in store for their denizens.

Consequently, Nigeria’s fate will not be different if elite delinquency eventuates in catastrophic state implosion. The Nigerian state will not collapse in its entirety as a result of the radical rupturing of its authority and legitimacy. Instead the old unified statist and unitarist organogram will give way to a weak and delegitimized centre and swathes of ungovernable territory punctuated by autonomous zones of light and civilized governance.

These autonomous enclaves of civilization will combine features of fiefdoms, city-states, rogue rumps of nations, libertarian communes and traditional municipalities in their chaotic assemblage. They are likely to remain so until the old state regains its strength and reasserts its territorial authority or some of the autonomous zones muster enough momentum and energy to decouple themselves completely from the sclerotic hulk of the old nation.

The coming atomization of the nation can already be glimpsed in the swathes of the country that have become ungovernable due to insurgency, terrorism, violent crimes, the menace of herdsmen and other murderous local militia even as autonomous enclaves such as Lagos and its environs, Edo state, Cross Rivers and Kano State appear to be better policed, better surveilled and better governed than the federal aggregate. The future may already be here with us, and it doesn’t wear a pleasant visage.


This essay – Arms and the Nation – first appeared in [Nigeria] The Nation on Sunday, January 21, 2018.

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2018. 7:38 A.M. [GMT]








Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: