Foul Dust

The Nigerian State is a criminal enterprise. Yes, a criminal enterprise. No, I don’t mean that the Nigerian State is a kleptocracy even though that is true too. I don’t merely mean the State is corrupt, even though that is true too. I do not mean that agents of the State are criminals even though a number of them are. I mean that the Nigerian State is a criminal enterprise, an entity, that irrespective of its agents, acts with all the structures and methods of a criminal organisation. The Nigerian State uses coercion, deploys extortion as a tool, organises violence to intimidate, embraces torture as an instrument, abducts and murders, assassinates where necessary, and protects its power and interests in the same manner as any other criminal enterprise.

This characteristic of the Nigerian State derives directly and self-evidently from the institution of governance as created by the British from 1851 onwards. It is actually a misnomer to describe the Nigerian State as a government since it does not govern. To govern implies to administer the law, whereas in the case of the Nigerian State, it often flouts the law and is in effect lawless. The Nigerian State could not be said to rule either, for to rule implies laws that determine behaviour. So, what can one say about the behaviour of the Nigerian State except that it dominates a dominion, that it rules by tyranny and that the veneer of democracy is precisely that, a veneer and a misunderstanding of the relationship between civil society and policy makers? The Nigerian State regards this relationship as between a master and a subject, actually as that between a master and a slave.

The inherent criminal basis of the Nigerian State was instituted in 1851 when Beechcroft successfully invaded Lagos and established de facto the Protectorate of Lagos even though the illegal Act of Cessation only took place later, in 1861. You have to remind yourself that it was the Royal Nigeria Trading Company, assisted by cannons and the Maxim gun, that introduced the criminal enterprise, consolidated it and entrenched it before handing over to the British Crown. The purpose was to extract the riches for Britain with as little as possible spent on the administration of the criminal enterprise put in place. 

The tragedy is that the institutions and methods, the underlying motivation have remained the same, 60 years on, after the so-called Independence. The brutal and perverse extraction of wealth for no other purpose but for transference to Europe without any desire or intention to act on behalf of the natural owners has continued under every Nigerian State since independence. The few exceptions are merely exceptions to the rule. This is true as is demonstrated by the vast outflows of illegal monies out of Africa and mostly from Nigeria.

Sadly, the worst of British imperial rapacity, its pillage and disregard for the rule of law, was married to the worst of African feudalism, the naked and unaccountable greed of the few in contrast to the needs of the many. A good way to understand this, is to remind oneself of the excesses of Bashorun Gaa:

He made himself the King maker and King destroyer…his sons were scattered all over the length and breadth of the kingdom, they resided in the principal towns and all the tributes of those towns and their suburbs were paid to them. …Gaa’s sons were as ambitious and as cruel as their father…One of them once engaged a carrier to whom he gave a load too heavy for him to carry, but he dared not refuse to do so, He walked behind the man amusing himself with the sight of the man’s sufferings from the weight of the load. He remarked in jest that the man’s neck had become so thick that he doubted whether a sword could cut through. He suited his action to his words, drew his sword, and actually tried it! The man was decapitated, and his body was left wallowing in his blood, and another man was compelled to take up the load. Another of his sons was said to have shot a farmer dead, whilst engaged in making heaps for planting yam, wantonly charging him with disfiguring the King’s ground by making horns on it! Another similarly shot a farmer dead whilst hoeing the ground, pretending that he mistook him for an ape on all fours!

These excesses, underlined by the sheer disregard for life, for the sacredness of human life, remain one of the most enduring aspects of feudalism that has, like foul dust, seeped into the body politic, polluting and corrupting, also energising disdain for anything but incivility. If the term “barbarous” was not an insult to the Barbary coast, the North African coast, it would be an apt description for these excesses. 

I have been arguing that the Nigerian State is a criminal enterprise, that the origins of the State in Nigeria can be traced back to the illegal and violent acquisition of territory for the express purpose of disenfranchising the citizens and extracting their native and natural wealth for the development of Britain. Independence only empowered local equivalents to act with as much brazen and unaccountable greed and theft, for private benefit, but really for the continued benefit of foreign powers.

This brings me to the recent act of terrorism enacted by the Nigerian State, when it deliberately murdered, in cold blood, its own citizens who were protesting peacefully and duly, against police brutality. As if this act was not gross enough, the purported President, demonstrated both by his delayed response and his tone-deaf speech, that he and his other accomplices, were no more than an occupying force: detached, alien in spirit, and without moral compass. This act has its equivalent in several African countries during the colonial period, something that is understandable but unpardonable as the colonialists were acting on behalf of their home countries. But, to be enacted by a State on its own citizens is to plumb the depths of depravity.

I am not making a case for revolution but it is easy to conclude that that is the only recourse to cleansing the foul dust that clogs the air, suffocating any hope of breathing and killing randomly sometimes, and at other times, systematically. But it will be impossible to move beyond the present, beyond the obvious failures of the past 60 years, if the continuity of the malevolent endeavour linking the colonial period to the present is under appreciated. And I mean by the Nigerian State, all the appurtenances of office, all the agencies, all the structures and systems that claim to have authority, but always without responsibility. Always unaccountable. 

The Nigerian State is very obviously a criminal enterprise, at least, presently.

Photos by Jan Oyebode

8 thoughts on “Foul Dust

  1. Nigeria is a country I have never visited but which has been central to my life for most of it.

    So much hope and that it has all come to this would have broken my husband’s heart.

  2. The Nigeria of today is not the one Femi and l grew up as children.Life then was very much abundant.We had the best of two worlds:Good,best education, and good neighbourhood that was liveable.Alas!Those good times,seems lost today..Pity indeed.

  3. Illuminating since most of us get African news only the images we see on the tv which means televisual stuff that will attract and hold audiences…usually violence without context

  4. Thank you so much Prof! I have been waiting to read this particular post. Thanks for reminding us of Basorun Gaa and showing that this utter disregard for human life, the shamelessness with which our leaders flour the rules yet keep on the veneer of respectability is not something new. I’m a young man, and while my elders with nostalgia remember the hey days of Nigeria, all I can remember is the early 2000s when we transitioned to democracy from military dictatorship and how there was so much hope; these days I wonder if there’s any hope at all.

    1. Ayomipo
      Thanks as ever for your comments. Yes, it’s been a painful ten days or so for us Nigerians. But the root of our difficulties go way back and the remedy will require time and patience neither of which is in abundance.

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