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Rethinking governance & reinventing the state: turning crisis into opportunity

. By Jaye Gaskia



Nigeria, our country is currently bedeviled with a number of crises, ranging from the insurgency in the northeast which is seemingly becoming intractable; through the organized armed banditry in the northwest; the cultism and gangsterism resulting in increasing levels of fatalities in the southern parts of the country; the perennial militancy in the Niger Delta; the endemic farmers – herders conflicts; to the COVID 19 Pandemic emergency among others.

And while each of these crises on their own have very significant destabilizing consequences on the polity; all of these taken together do combine to pose an existential challenge to the country.

But crisis as debilitating as they may be, do also quite often present an opportunity to address underlying structural problems and factors, the persistence of which may have contributed to the facilitation of the emergent crises in the first instance. In this sense, every crisis is conversely an opportunity for transformation.

Given that at the root of all the diverse constellation of crisis that we currently face is the failure of governance, the failure of state and nation building, and the overarching failure of class leadership by a historically exhausted ruling class which has lost its creative capacity; then it makes sense that any attempt to holistically address our monumental challenges must take into cognizance the utmost necessity to transform both the state and governance in our country.

It is in this context, that it has become imperative for us as a people and as a nation, to utilize the context of these multiplicity of crisis, and their deleterious impact on our individual and collective existence and survival, as the opportunity to undertake a thoroughgoing, root and branch overhaul of our situation through a radical rethink of governance and reinvention of the state as the fundamental prerequisite for successful nation building.

In looking at the necessity to radically rethink governance and reinvent the Nigerian state, it will be important to address certain fundamental issues at the root of our present reality of a dysfunctional governance occasioned by the activities of an exploitative, extractive, oppressive and repressive state.


One of the major sociological divisions in our society is that between the so-called traditional and modern societies.

We inherited from the colonial experience, the phenomenon of the dichotomy between the traditional, by which it is meant the indigenous society, and the modern, by which it is meant the westernized society.

The traditional society is supposed to be the precolonial society, encountered by the colonial authority, preserved by it [primarily in the rural outland], and separated from the new westernised and westernizing society that the colonial authority was building [primarily in the urban centers]; and which the colonizer hoped, and intended to supplant the traditional society.

But the exigencies of colonial administration, through the adoption of the indirect rule mechanism, then help to facilitate the more or less permanent separation and near parallel nurturing of these two societies.

The Nigerian ruling class inherited this dichotomy at independence, and has helped to keep and nurture this separation of the two societies, thus consequently maintaining and sustaining this dichotomy that it has itself also adopted and adapted for its own selfish class interest, utilising it to keep the impoverished masses divided.

The traditional society has remained essentially rural, and indigenous, ethnic enclaves, the preserve of the ethnocentric politician, superintended by the traditional rulership institution.

The so-called modern society on the other hand, a society whose origin and evolution is greatly influenced by westernization has remained essentially urban, the cosmopolitan cesspool of the resident, stranger, settler, and indigene.

Yet, whereas a society can, and has often been divided throughout the history of human civilization into urban and rural, modernization in the real sense, in its most successful form has occurred as a process of transformation of both rural and urban life, as well as their integration.

In essence therefore, successful modernization has occurred and continues to take place on the basis of a nation’s traditions, and has thus often presented as a societal transformation that helps to bind a country’s people and economy together; increasing, improving and enhancing the society’s capacity and capabilities [including technical, technological, and knowledge] to meet the needs of society and ease the conditions of living and existence of the society.

It is in this sense that modernization happens through innovation and change which transforms a people’s way of life and living.

Keeping the so-called traditional and modern societies separate as our ruling classes and elites have done, and continue to do, has become a major obstacle to integrated and holistic social transformation.

As the fundamental matrix within which the primordialism of ethnic, religious, sectarian, clannish natures survive, and thrives, it has become a major foundational obstacle to nation building, national development, state construction and inclusive and equitable governance.

It is for this reason that one of the more urgent task for radical social transformation in our country as a prerequisite for nation building, is to end this dichotomy between the traditional and modern societies, and to design and implement policies to integrate the two societies, and modernize the country on the basis of our traditions and history, borrowing from the experiences of other human societies.

One of the central and immediate tasks is to undertake a radical reform of local and community governance through the establishment of representative, elected and inclusive formal community governments to drive community and local governance initiatives and processes.

This is the best way to integrate, formalize and modernize community processes which we now call traditional processes. In this regard for instance, autochthonous [as opposed to indigenous, because they are co-created by all community residents] community processes of justice [seeking and getting], peace making and enforcement, conflict prevention and resolution, as well as security of the community, can once again become integral components of formal community governance and governments. That way, they can be integrated into other supra, that is above community layers of government institutions and governance processes.


This dichotomy between the so-called formal and informal sectors of the economy is also of colonial origin. Nevertheless, Nigeria’s ruling class haven inherited this dichotomy at independence has proceeded through the decades through its actions and inactions to preserve and nurture this essential debilitating dichotomy.

The so-called formal sector of the economy is that part of the economy more or less integrated into the state and its institutions. And it is essentially dominated by large and big businesses, enterprises and corporations, both national and foreign. It also includes the civil and public services of the state and the agencies and parastatals of its ministries. It is also largely urbanized or urban based, and an essential part of the fabric of the urban center and the so-called modern society.

The informal sector, is that part of the economy that is predominantly outside of the purview of the state, dominated largely by micro, small and medium enterprises, the self-employed business. The relationship of the state with this informal sector is essentially extractive, exploitative, and repressive. This sector is often criminalized, and the state provides little or no services to the sector, even though the survival and resilient of the official economy is decisively reliant on the resilience of this informal sector.

Again with this dichotomy, as with the earlier one, whereas an economy is usually differentiated into micro, small, medium, large and very big businesses and enterprises, the division into formal and informal is a carryover from the colonial experience, and prevents the integration of the whole economy, making it nearly impossible for the economy to realise its full potential through the purposeful utilization of all the resources of the economy by all its actors and stakeholders in a manner that improves the overall strength and capacity of the economy while reducing its inherent weaknesses.

Furthermore, the maintenance and sustenance of this dichotomy is an impediment to the task of building a developmental state, with the capacity to mobilise and direct the resources of the economy towards inclusive and equitable governance; the delivery of essential, basic social services as public services; investment in human capital development as public service; and the achievement of social justice, equity in all round national and human development.

National human and economic development planning is central to eradication of poverty, equitable distribution of societal wealth, and the possibility of utilising all elements of national resources towards a balanced and equitable development of the country and her people. But this ability is critically constrained by the dichotomy between the so-called formal and informal sectors, which makes it impossible for the state to be able to know the full extent of the available resources, and thus makes those unknown resources unavailable for planning and utilization in policy design and implementation.

Essentially a developmental state cannot be built on the basis of such a dichotomy, and the quest for integrated, equitable and inclusive national and human development is gravely hampered by the existence of this dichotomy.

The task of nation building, therefore, requires putting an end to this dichotomy. This can be achieved through policies and measures to integrate the informal sector; including but not limited to policies and measures aimed at formal registration of the MSMEs which dominate the sector; the development, maintenance and regular update of a registry for this MSMEs;  the deliberate, targeted and conscious channeling of state and public investment support to these MSMEs utilising the public registry of the MSMEs; and the establishment of Business and enterprise development and management support services as business development extension services to the MSEMs. This Business development support services can be organized through zonal hubs [in each geopolitical zone] and subsidiary stations in each Senatorial district. These hubs should be multidimensional and should provide a series of technical support services in financial management, business development planning and management, etc to the registered MSMEs. This way the immense potential of the MSMEs can be captured in development planning and in policy design and implementation processes for the benefit of the whole economy.

The state type, the character and nature of the type of state that will be able to undertake this task, must be a biometric developmental state. A biometric state is one that is structured to establish, develop, and keep regularly updated records and documentation of her citizens and residents, in such a manner that this record is integrated and accessible for utilization for governance, human and socioeconomic development, research, and related purposes.

[Let me acknowledge here, that my first encounter and fascination with the concept of a biometric state was my presence at a presentation and lucid espousal of the concept by the late Harry Garuba, during a conference organized by the UI Program on Ethnic and Federal Studies, where we were both paper presenters, at the University of Ibadan in June of 2019].


The third primary fault line and dichotomy that continues to hinder the task of nation building and state construction, is that between so-called settlers and so-called indigenes. This prioritization of indigenship, and the determination to exclude the settler as an outsider and alien, has been the major factor undermining citizenship – the single citizenship of the country based on residency and birth.

This settler – indigene dichotomy has been perpetuated and perpetrated since independence by the ruling elites as a means of diving the masses and ensuring their hold and vice grip on the levers of power and authority in society.

To be clear the settler – indigene dichotomy and the tension and conflicts generated by its continuous utilization by the ruling class, has constituted historically the most significant obstacle to the development of a common and shared experience of citizenship of Nigeria, based on residency. This failure has in turn also made certain the near impossibility of the task of Nigerian nation building, and Nigerian state reconstitution.

Without the promotion of the reality of universal citizenship based on residency, it will be difficult to have a shared notion of Nigerianness, nor develop the capability to envision and work towards building a Nigerian Nation.

However, it is important to note the connection and mutual interdependence between the dichotomy between modern and traditional society on the one hand, and that between Citizenship and settler-indigene dichotomy on the other hand.

It is in the fertile matrix of the dichotomy between modern and traditional society that the roots of the indigene-settler versus citizenship dichotomy became anchored; and it is the dynamics of the previous dichotomy that facilitated the nurturing of the indigene-settler one.

Both dichotomies are thus mutually reinforcing, and combined with the dichotomy between the formal and informal sectors of the economy, have contributed significantly to the erosion of citizenship, and the undermining of the capacity of the state to be representative, and to deliver efficient and inclusive governance.


The wave of crises of different types and dimensions; security crisis, health crisis; education crisis; political crisis; economic crisis; and social crisis; presently confronting us as a nation present an opportunity to begin to undertake a concerted, all embracing and all inclusive process of radically rethinking the nature and character of governance, on the backdrop of an equally radical process of reinventing the nature and character of the state.

What is required is the radical dissolution and dismantling of the present exploitative, repressive, extractive, overbearing, state; and its supplanting and replacement with a new reconstituted, representative, responsible, accountable, popular democratic, and inclusive state type, as the basis for constructing a biometric developmental state.

This state type takes the lead in the human and national development process and is structured and geared towards promoting and engendering equitable and socially just development for all. It is a state type that ensures the delivery of basic social services as accessible and qualitative public service to all.

It is only this state type that can deliver equitable, socially just and inclusive governance, through deliberate design and implementation of targeted policies and measures to ensure equitable distribution of societal wealth, equitable access to opportunities and resources at the disposal of society, work towards poverty eradication, abolition of extreme inequality, and engender a balanced, even development of the nation and her people.

Only such a state type, ensuring such a governance type that can deal with, resolve and overcome the [ruling] class enabled, driven and perpetuated dichotomies that have held back our development as a people and nation, and prevented the emergence of our nation as a modern progressive nation, fully capable of realising its inherent potential to give leadership to Africa, the Black race, and humanity as a whole.

But to achieve this, we require to build and nurture a mass political social movement, Pan Nigerian, Pan African and Internationalist in orientation, and capable of challenging for and winning political power, as a precursor to delivering effective governance and leading the radical social transformation of our society.

To build such a movement, is the clear political imperative and historical task of the moment.

Jaye Gaskia is convener; Take Back Nigeria Movement [TBN]; and coordinating director at Praxis Center, Nigeria.

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