A recent BBC report revealed that two-thirds of Nigeria is under some kind of strife.
In the northern states, jihadist attacks have become frequent and blatant. Almost at will, jihadists kidnap school girls to exploit as sex slaves. Beheadings, shootings, car bombings and burning of houses leave displaced and traumatised communities. In the middle states, clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers leave tens of dead and injured.
The delta states are agitating for their independence, and their attacks on soldiers and government installations are frequent and deadly. Still in the south, agitation for an independent state of Biafra has been revived. In large cities like Lagos, criminal gangs are rampant, often kidnapping people for ransom. Nigeria is a messy, chaotic, corrupt and, as famed Nigerian writer Okey Ndibe described it, “an ill-formed organism.”
In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe writes about the disintegration of the African traditional society under colonial pressures. The title of the book is borrowed from the poem The Second Coming by WB Yeats. The poem is a frightening vision of a society in the process of disintegration. Yeats writes in part: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.”
It is uncanny that Yeats’ vision of a society in apocalyptic throes, which Achebe used as a metaphor for the fragmentation of African traditional society in the late 19th century, would come to describe the current state of Nigeria! With the country engulfed in all of the strife, can the centre hold?
The brightest Nigerians lack conviction that the centre will hold, and take every chance to emigrate. The youth, brought up on the staple of false nationalist rituals like Independence Day ceremonies, singing the anthem, and waving the flag, are drowning in the chaos of corruption and misgovernment that has robbed them of a future. They, too, are looking towards Europe or America for salvation.
And the violent deeds of the worst — the jihadists, the separatists, criminal gangs, the ethnic warriors — get increasingly depraved. Should Nigeria collapse, the tsunami this would cause would ripple across the world. Millions of Nigerian refugees. Instances of genocide.
Skyrocketing oil prices. A humanitarian crisis the world has not seen since the end of World War II. There would also be a heavier insidious cost; the total annihilation of the self-esteem of Africans. If the most intellectually and artistically gifted, and the most industrious African country can fail, what hope do we have for smaller less-endowed African countries that simmer with the same kinds of strife that now threaten to tear Nigeria apart?
This column has warned many times that we Africans must urgently begin a ruthless introspection, and ask: Are we going in the right direction? Otherwise, we will soon find ourselves caught in the widening gyre of apocalyptic chaos while chanting hackneyed pan-African platitudes.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator