Perspective

Are we heading for a ‘state of nature’?

Three hundred and sixty-nine years ago, Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy, released his book ‘Leviathan’, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory.

Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the “state of nature”. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world.

This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best-known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state humankind would be in, were it not for political community: “In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

“In such states, people fear death and lack both the things necessary to commodious living, and the hope of being able to obtain them.” However, in order to avoid this, Hobbes (1588-1679) argued that people accede to a social contract and establish a civil society. According to Hobbes, society is a population and a sovereign authority, to which all individuals in that society cede some right for the sake of protection.

While for millions of Nigerians still living in relative peace, this Hobbes’ hypothesises is far fetched, but the reality is true for millions of their countrymen who have had their lives turned upside down due to no fault of their but by being unfortunate to have been born in areas that have become hotbeds of insurgency and strife. And this is in spite of the supposed protection of their lives and property as enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but for which most governments have failed to adhere to.

For instance Boko Haram started off as a “local problem” in Maiduguri (the capital of Borno State) in 2002 when Mohammed Yusuf was trying to get people to “dump” western education in order to purify Islam in a nonviolent manner, However, this changed when Yusuf was executed in July 2009 leading to the emergence of more radical leaders notable amongst who is Abubakar Shekau. Under his guidance Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions from their homes and was at one time the world’s deadliest terror group according to the Global Terrorism Index.

The insurgency has now snowballed into a hydra headed monster that has not only spread to other states in the North East but even beyond the borders of Nigeria into neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Although in September 2015, the Defence Headquarters announced that all Boko Haram camps had been destroyed while in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari claimed that Boko Haram was “technically defeated”, however, attacks by the militants have continued and still pose a major threat. Late last year, a federal lawmaker, Ahmadu Jaha (APC, representing Damboa- Gwoza-Chibok), said during a plenary session of the House of Representatives:

“A number of geographical locations in Borno State and other insurgency-related areas are under the occupation of Boko Haram. “Let us take for instance, in a local government that has 13 electoral wards like my own Gwoza, only three or four are not under the occupation of Boko Haram. “In Chibok, I have 10 electoral wards, only two are not under the occupation of Boko Haram.

In Damboa, I have 10 electoral wards, only one is not under the occupation of Boko Haram.” So if this does not qualify to be called Hobbes’ ‘state of nature’ then what does? According to reports, those living in Boko Haram spheres of influence are not subject to the rules and regulations of the Nigerian state as provided for in the 1999 Constitution but rather are under strict Islamic rule as espoused by the militants. Many people in these areas no longer have access to their farms because of the activities of these insurgents which has led to a corresponding increase in foodstuff across the land.

Millions have been uprooted from their normal lives and are now forced to live in IDP camps. Unfortunately, while the insurgency is still mainly confined to the North Eastern part of the country, the fallout in the form of rising lawlessness and other forms of criminality is on the increase and spreading to all parts of Nigeria. Hardly any day goes by now without reports of one form of crime hitting the news airwaves or social media platforms.

Is it Katsina, Southern Kaduna or Nasarawa states? The news now will be when they do not make the headlines because more abductions, killings or herders/farmers’ clashes have taken place there.

Is it the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway which has now become the latest blight on the nation’s inability to protect her own citizens due to the frequency the bandits operate along the route – kidnapping, killing and turning peoples’ lives upside down? Even the South West which is still comparatively isolated from the lawlessness is also beginning to see increases in the activities of these anti-social deviants whom like Hobbes said only think about themselves and not the heartbreak and anguish they cause others with their actions.

Only on Thursday, a first class traditional ruler in Ondo State, the Olufon of lfon, Oba Israel Adewusi was killed by suspected kidnappers while returning to his domain after attending the Council of Obas meeting in Akure, prompting Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to say: “This is a heinous crime, an incident which has, again, confirmed that we are indeed, in a serious security crisis beyond the ordinary.”

Strong words from the chief executive officer of a state, but unfortunately we are hearing more and more of such messages from those in positions of actually being able to do something about the worsening situation, without any visible improvement in security across the land. Even at higher levels than the governor’s we have consistently been regaled with plans from both the Federal Government and the military to crack down on insecurity without denting the activities of the anti-social elements.

Rather than continuously just throwing military personnel and weapons at the problem, I would think that the government can achieve much better results through enhanced intelligence gathering which would allow our security operatives to go after the ‘bad boys’ before they strike.

Of course it is a given that there is nowhere in the world that is 100 per cent crime free, but at governments at all levels should still strive to tackle it in the best possible manner so as to reassure the populace – if not the nation might become another case study of Hobbes’ almost 400 hundredyear- old “state of nature” theory.

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