The end is nigh

A few years ago myself and Ikemesit E. were privy to a “trial” somewhere in Cross River state.

Basically, a woman was accused of pilfering by her neighbour, and reported to the authorities. On the appointed trial date (the day after the report was lodged), she was summoned by the adjudicating authorities and asked to report for trial. She refused, simply because she did not recognise the authority of that court. So, they came and carried her to court.

The trial lasted 30 minutes. The procedure was deathly simple — the plaintiff made her complaint, the defendant retorted, the plaintiff was given a chance to respond, and finally, the defendant had another say. When that was done, the three judges huddled together, and came to their decision. Not guilty.

This lady who had earlier refused to accept the authority of what was effectively a militant court, became a convert. One more person had logged out of the Nigerian state.

Today, I read a horrifying piece in The Guardian. “Boko Haram women”, who after experiencing what is Nigeria’s version of resettlement and deradicalisation, wanting to return to the insurgents. Not because they believe in the cause. But simply because, under the terrorists, life was better. Under the terrorists, they saw, for the first time, the four walls of a classroom, and under the terrorists, their children were given a chance at literacy.

Refugee camp close to Maiduguri. Stole the pic from The Guardian just because I can…

The plug for the piece is very instructive:

In northeastern Nigeria, the militant group exploits a broken social system. There are lessons here for the rest of the world.

If people not minding going back to Boko Haram because we can’t even run refugee camps properly doesn’t alarm you, then nothing else will. This report from 2016 looked at those camps, and all the information available to me indicate that they’ve gotten worse.

Back to the “trial” I talked about earlier — the most basic function of the state in my view, is not provision of services, or infrastructure, or security. It is adjudication. When conflict arises between members of society, as it must, then they must trust some authority to settle that conflict. Using this case in Ikom as an example — the lady who reported her neighbour to the non-state group, did not trust the nearest Customary Court to be impartial. Inadvertently, and by accepting the judgement of the militants, she won her rival over to that way of thinking. What this means is that both of them now have an implicit trust in that set of thugs. By sitting in judgement over them, the militants will need the ability to enforce such judgements as they may pass, hence, they will by necessity have some levers of violence, and the people in their territory will cede those levers of violence to them. The implied social contract is this — you have the levers of violence, so you provide us two things, justice and security.

In fulfilling that implied contract, they will need to raise funds, and as a result, will begin to, slowly at first, tax the people around. Is it a stretch at this point to see how they will become an alternative government?

I have seen and heard evidence of these gradual bits of state formation in my travels around the country. In many cases, the Nigerian government has ceded authority to armed groups without saying a thing. But then, as I’ve said too often, Nigeria is a failed state.