There is no doubt about the fact that the past provides us with far more effective tools for addressing our socio-political and economic problems than we now have—and this has to be said even if it will earn one the label of a conservative. We can all attest to how even our best use and application of the so-called modern instruments of state—contained in our constitutions, policies and the like—are failing us.
That is true, because, yes, every advancement in our societies makes us more efficient and faster, but every bit of it takes from the pristine, innocent human essence. Unfortunately, we don’t grow to be young—we grow to be old… to then decline and ultimately collapse. So is also true of our societies, especially seen as a system. That is why we must, even if in passing, mention and believe in Ibn Khadun’s philosophising of the human society as being organic that grows to decline and eventually collapse.
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Our systems, which have truly never worked for us at their best at any given time till their present decay, are increasingly becoming inadequate for our societies’ everyday problems.
Nigeria’s case is one of system disruption—and it is normal for systems to be uprooted and replaced abruptly, especially through wars or natural calamities. This is a historical reality, even. But in the case of invading power uprooting and replacing a system by its own, the possibility for smooth compatibility is low. Where the invading power overwriting its own system is not occupying the space; and even more so where there is no any, or failed, effort at socio-cultural assimilation, the system would be a DOA—death on arrival. I follow Dr. Mahmoud Tukur of blessed memory to say so is true of the Nigerian state.
I can say with some aplomb that the core of our existence may survive, but the superstructure has, if it has ever lived, now outlived its relevance. Let me clarify my point, which is that the Nigerian state will survive, but the Nigerian system is off to the rocks; and the former is also only guaranteed by the latter!
That is probably why President Muhammadu Buhari is nonplussed as to why anyone would rise up to protest against his administration. Here is a crude constitutionalist, who believes that societies are only in crisis because constitutional provisions are not duly followed. Now, given that he thinks he does that to the letter—an outright impossibility in the first place—his sympathies are largely to himself. If our constitution is anything to go by, that is right; but that he is still criticised despite that, is a testament to the fact the constitution is not a wholesome directory of our nations’ problems and their solutions.
Laws written out of human experience, insights and predictions—and even more, interpreted and applied by others of largely different experience, age, mental framework and circumstance, and whose only acquisition of them was by way of facilitation, is unarguably limited. Therefore, not even their best application can help us.
First of all, our present instruments of addressing social problems such as Boko Haram in the North East, farmer-herder clashes in the North West and North Central, settler–indigene clashes and kidnappings elsewhere are inadequate. None of these crises—if they are not still just mere symptoms—started any time recently, they go to almost as far back as independence. We are only witnessing their culmination, and this is so in many other parts of the colonised world. The instruments are further undermined by long procedures, delays and bureaucracies.
But in the replaced system, we have for instance in Borno, the Chima Chidiba, who was an officer responsible for a particular territory, with adequate powers to arbitrate, sanction and punish within his jurisdiction, on behalf of the centre. The office was responsible also for disputes over land, farms and other related cases; with the center also exercising strict supervisory role over them. Problems were therefore addressed right at their infancy. Yes by the wake of the colonial disruption, our institutions were weakening, as were those of most of the rest of the medieval civilizations, but they were to have regenerated naturally from themselves.
Whether we like it or not, the local government system, which has failed to even rid itself of the ghost workers and quackery it had built up for itself decades down the road, has proven over time to be incapable of addressing these problems. The remnants of the structures of the former system, the bulamas or masugaris, lawans and district heads, completely emasculated of the power they used to wield, are also too weak with little or no power at all.
By the time they reach state governors, who, only further forward them to the federal government, these problems have grown out of proportion. By that time, the problems, which mostly emanate from non-issues such as rivalry over a girl, have already caused 50 or 100 deaths. It grows through the stages from individuals to families, to clans and ethnic groups—by which time no president, no military can comprehensively end them at once. For, how can the military—or even the police—address the kind of problem reported to have taken place in Jos, where a father collaborated with his younger son to abduct his other son for a ransom?
And because so much is concentrated at the centre, our communities, which would have been the best instrument to deal with such problems, have become lousy, lame and weak. I must add, at great risk, that our local communities have completely broken down—and this followed, first, the collapse of the institution of the family. The so-called modern political economies, with technological advancements, also only further make a man more sedentary, and therefore weaker, sicklier and less in control of the society—make basic problems intractable to address. Even producing societies like China are now waking up to the reality of dealing with weaker, more effeminate and sicklier populations thanks to advances in technology. Truly, the centre holds so much even for our own well-being. We are becoming completely inactive from dealing with our communal problems, other than a few for-grant, or, grant-driven, noise-laden, big-mouthed activism.
That is why when the minister of defence, retired Major General Bashir Magashi, said we have given too much to cowardice which emboldened a few bandits with even fewer weapons to march into communities and whisk away schoolchildren, without even finger rising against them—he was criticized, even though that’s true.
By Abdulhamid Al-Gazali who resides in Maiduguri