Published On: Wed, Jul 17th, 2019

Jungle Justice and case for sustaining Nigeria’s institutions

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By Mike Imafidor

I have followed with nostalgia, the recent and ugly trend resurfacing in Nigeria; where people deliver judgements, and execute same on the streets without any sort of trials. Death penalties are now being dished and served hot like “akamu” on a hot afternoon in Sokoto.
Only recently, young boy was beaten and burnt to death in Lagos. On the morning of Friday, 2nd of December 2016, two persons, alleged to be armed robbers were also lynched and burnt in Anambra. Numerous cases abound such that time, space, and memory will fail me if I begin to mention.
Just pause and take a moment to reflect; if you find yourself in a position of being robbed, and you could overcome the robber and apprehend him, what will you do? Let’s go further by assuming this was your third experience with robbers and in the earlier experiences they had succeeded. I can’t assume what you will do, but one thing I know, if you hand over this robber to the appropriate authority – which is the best thing to do-, you will feel unsatisfied, because you do not trust the system to deal appropriately with the issue.
The big question that then bugs my mind is “whose responsibility is it, to develop the required trust for the system”. When you see well known burglars and thieves parading your street on a Sunday morning, only after being arrested the Thursday before, having been caught in the act. How would this influence your trust for the system to deal with deviant behaviours that are against the social contract we all signed for? Can this lead us to the natural state of mankind as described by Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan, where life was “poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.
My sense is that our institutions have failed in checkmating societal ills and thus stimulating a return to a “banana republic”.
Much of Nigeria’s history is replete with falling living standards, armed conflicts, political disorder, health challenges, and poor state of human development. This provides a prima facie case, and an indictment on poor institutions of governance to adequately deal with, and manage societal ills.
As early as 1989, the World Bank had in its long-term perspective study argued that of Nigeria’s development problems are underlined by a crisis of weak institutions; and more specifically, a governance challenge. Past and even present development performance indicators reveal that the country lags greatly behind most developing countries within Africa and even beyond.
This is despite implementing series of economic reform agendas in which their direct impacts were to stimulate development in the country. The World Bank Global Development Report (2016), puts Nigeria as one of the top ten (10) countries in the world with the highest number of poor. With a poverty rate of 46 percent, Nigeria is put only ahead of three countries -Madagascar, Mozambique and Congo Democratic Republic.
In Nigeria, economic rents, which perpetuate on the cover of ethnicity and religious bigotry take precedence over productivity. The unbridled taste to promote corruption and the redistribution of wealth in favour of certain ethnic and political groups is a pure manifestation of the inability of institutions in Nigeria to play its expected role.
In the Nigeria context, it is very common to hear such phrase as the “Nigerian factor”. This factor simply implies that standards have been reduced or compromised by the basic institutions in service delivery. This factor has also succeeded in making nonsense of accountability in the country.
This factor has worsened and weakened institutions, such as the legislative, executive and the judicial institutions where rule of law and the devotion to formal rules are not strictly observed; where political patronage is typical practice, where the independence and professionalism of the public sector has been weather-beaten and where civil society lacks the means, or the will to bring public pressure to bear.
According to the Fund for Peace – which is an independent, nonpartisan, non-profit research and educational organization-, a failed nation is characterized by social, political, and/or economic failure. In their 2016 rankings, Nigeria is the 13th most fragile state in from 17th in 2014 out of 178 countries listed.
Nigeria scores 103.5, out of a maximum score 120 (being a totally failed state) and falls in the same group of “high alert” countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Pakistan, and Guinea. Although the credibility of the FFP’s methodology has been called into questions, the results present a real cause for concern, given the recent happenings and trends in the country.
When institutions, which are supposed to be at the apogee of nationhood, are now being slaughtered on the altar of corruption, weak governance, ethnicity, and religious bigotry, what you get is the lynching and burning to death of a seven year old boy in Lagos on the 16th of November 2016, of two alleged armed robbers in Anambra on the 2nd of December 2016, in Aluu community on the 5thof October in 2012, the Zaria Massacre on the 12th of December 2015, and a whole lot of similar occurrences that are happening daily. In the words of Chinua Achebe, things are indeed “falling apart”, and the centre is losing its grip unconsciously.
The role of institutions in the peaceful progress of a state and stemming this ugly tide cannot be over emphasised. They are the very foundations of our democracy and are at the core of any reform or policy. Some studies have even shown that nations with strong institutions are two times as efficient and grow three times as fast, in per capita terms, as countries with weak institutional endowments.
Daron and Acemoglu in their award winning book “Why Nations Fail”, also pointed out the key role institutions play in the survival and growth of a state. They noted that the quality of institutions overrides geography and integration (i.e., international trade) in explaining cross-country income levels.
Going forward while few economist have argued that governance reforms in strengthening institutions should not be the priorities of African countries such as Nigeria, since according to them, to trigger economic growth and development in Africa, a ‘big push’ is needed, and that it requires massive investment in support of infrastructure and health care. While this argument might seem tenable in Nigeria where massive infrastructural investment is required to grow businesses, weak and extractive institutions cannot provide the platform for investment to incubate to the desired value.
For this nation to move forward, and not just in circles as its currently being observed, it is imperative that we reawaken our institutions; by this I mean not just the governmental institutions of the legislature, executive, and the judiciary, but also the very fundamental institutions -values, norms and cultures- of our families and local communities.

Mike is a Research and Policy Analyst with Adams and Moore Nigeria.

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