SOVEREIGNTY 101: A CRASH COURSE FOR THE TERRITORIALLY UNCONCERNED

(Map showing at least 16 towns and villages in the northeast controlled by Boko Haram. Photo Credit: Stratfor)

“In today’s news, the Nigerian Army acting under the instruction of the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces has deployed troops to immediately take back towns captured by Boko Haram and re-establish the authority of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It will be recalled that some towns and local governments in the North East were captured by the terrorist group and were declared a part of their Caliphate.”

The above statement is what is expected of a rational government in an ideal society. However, as Nigeria is anything but an ideal society with a rational government, we thus find ourselves in the quandary that has become our current reality. With towns and villages falling under the control of Boko Haram like bowling pins while the government focuses its attention solely on the forthcoming 2015 elections, I find it highly expedient to offer our leaders and citizens an elementary course on what Sovereignty means as well as the consequences of even a partial loss of same. From the look of things, they seem to have forgotten the basic concept of statehood. I guess the quest for seeking re-election far outweighs the protection of our sovereignty.

Sovereignty may be defined as the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any independent state is governed. It could also be defined as the power to do everything in a state without accountability, --to make laws, to execute and to apply them, to impose and collect taxes and levy contributions, to make war or peace, to form treaties of alliance or of commerce with foreign nations, and the like without any interference from external sources. Thomas Hobbes in his book, Leviathan (published in 1651) which discusses the structure of society and legitimate government and is regarded as one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory, saw sovereignty as a means by which man could overcome the "nasty, brutish and short" quality of life. He believed people had to join in a "commonwealth" and submit to a "Sovereign Power" that is able to compel them to act in the common good.
(The frontispiece of Thomas HobbesLeviathan, depicting the Sovereign as a massive body wielding a sword and crozier and composed of many individual people)

If the above definitions are too elegant or complex to understand, let me put it this way. Let’s say a country is a free individual without restrictions, and possessing the ability and right to do as he pleases. Then Sovereignty is the God given right that the individual has to eat what he wants for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It is also his right to use the lavatory whenever he pleases without the need to explain himself to any other individual. In essence, sovereignty in this analogy is the absolute right of the individual to do as he pleases with his body without reference to anyone but his will. See? That wasn’t so difficult to understand.

On the 2nd of April 1982, while Baroness Thatcher was the British Prime Minister, the military junta that ruled Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands – a British possession to which Argentina had an historical claim. The junta felt certain that the British would abandon these islands given the difficulty of any military operation to reclaim them. Despite the fact that these islands were barren, remote, and were at a distance of about 8,000 miles away from Britain, Baroness Thatcher, by the 5th-6th April had authorized and dispatched a naval task force to retake the islands. The Conservative party was deeply divided over what many within the party saw as a pointless and costly war; fearing if the attempt to retake the islands failed, the party would be ruined and the reputation of Britain as a military power would be in tatters. Argentina surrendered on the 14th of June and the operation was hailed a success notwithstanding the deaths of 255 British servicemen and 3 Falkland Islanders. The outstanding success of the Falkland War contributed to Baroness Thatcher’s election victory in 1983.

When one considers the distance of the Falkland Islands from Britain and the fact that it served little strategic importance, one may consider Baroness Thatcher’s decision to dispatch a naval task force to reclaim them as a risky gamble. Such is the importance of sovereignty to a country. You should never be seen as weak, even if the territory you seek to reclaim is a wasteland.

Losing even an inch of territory to an external/internal force is a fundamental breach of a State’s territorial integrity, as well as its constitution. It’s a tragedy to lose one town to terrorists. But when you consistently lose several towns and villages, well let’s just say John Locke, Montesquieu and Thomas Hobbes would turn in their graves if they could witness the self-desecration of the qualities and values of a government/state that is taking place in Nigeria right now.

With an estimated 17 towns & villages, amounting to thousands of square kilometers of land, currently under the control of Boko Haram, and with threats of more towns to fall, the focus of the government right now should be on quelling this growing threat to its and our existence. What good is winning an election if you've lost a considerable part of your country to marauding terrorists? I do not like to lend any credence to the theories flying around of a government conspiracy as being a part of the factors responsible for the insurgency, but the nonchalant attitude of the government towards an issue that requires all its attention is exactly what feeds such conspiracy theories.

No matter how many times it is said, it is never enough: Nigeria is a country with a dizzying array of misplaced priorities. This is not only seen on the part of the government, the citizens are just as guilty. I cannot count the number of individuals who asked me about the legal implication of the government’s withdrawal of the security detail of the Speaker of the House of Representatives over his recent defection to the APC. As for the recent capture of Mubi, I’m almost always the one that stirs the conversation in that direction. So the removal of a Speaker's security detail can generate more furore than the breach of a nation's sovereignty and the loss of entire towns and villages to terrorists?!? I never thought I would see the day. I guess people’s thought is “Adamawa is very far away, why worry about it?” Considering how mellow the government and a seemingly large section of the Nigerian public are taking this town capturing issue, it would seem they’re all suffering from Ataraxia (a Greek term used to depict a lucid state of robust tranquility characterized by freedom from distress and worry). Case in point, not even the NTA considered it worthy of speaking about the capture of Mubi. I guess that’s one of the benefits of state owned media and censorship. The government says “jump”, state owned media says “how high”. I, on the other hand, will admit that I am scared shitless! (Pardon my French).

With Boko Haram’s evolution from a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters that shoots and runs, to an army capable of bringing the fight to the Nigerian Army, standing its ground and capturing towns, we all should be very worried. In case anyone has any doubts as to why we should be worried or about the possibility of Boko Haram becoming an even graver threat to our national security and existence, just read up on the events that have taken place in Somalia within the last say, 8-10 years. There was a point in time when the Somali government had control of few parts of the entire country (30% only of the entire country by some estimates) and the security situation was so fragile that there was a new President every few months. Kind of like a presidential musical chair of sorts. If you need a more recent example, the unrest in Yemen should be informative.

I have had the privilege of discussing with and sampling the opinions of individuals, from within and outside the North and the general sense I get is they’re not as alarmed as people whose safety and sovereignty is being threatened. Someone even said Boko Haram’s carnage will most likely not go past the North East, needless to say the North. My opinion regarding this assertion is split 50/50. I agree it may not spill out of the North East/North but then again, criminals and terrorists have a way of inspiring one another with their antics and escapades. In the long run when other bands of criminals and terrorist groups in other parts of the country take very close notice of the methods of Boko Haram, combined with a law enforcement and security force that is greatly overwhelmed and ill-equipped, they may be inspired to carve out their own territories within Nigeria. So, one may escape the grip of Boko Haram but not the influence they may have on other groups to do as they did. On the other hand, considering how bold Boko Haram has become of late, their large troop numbers, how well armed they are, and their taking over and renaming towns with little to no resistance at all, who is to say they won’t overrun and spill over beyond the North?

Nigerians are a deeply religious people. This is a very admirable trait, but it would seem it has its downside as we seem to frequently make the mistake of applying only spiritual solutions to physical problems. Often when there is an attack, one of the recurring appeals by the government is to “pray for God’s protection and for an end to the attacks.” I pray as hard and as much as the next guy, but I believe prayer only isn’t going to reclaim the towns and villages we've lost so far. Neither will it stop us from losing more. A concerted and very serious effort needs to be made to stand up against these threats, as well as a total end to using propaganda and trumped up successes to score cheap political points. Losing territory to insurgents is a monumental tragedy. Nigeria is the only home we have. I don’t know about you but I have got nowhere else to go. We cannot afford to lose our homes and way of life.

Aside from being lengthy, this is shaping up to becoming a tear jerker. Seeing as I have no idea how to type out teardrops, I’ll end here. If anyone still has any difficulty understanding the importance of sovereignty to a country, get a secondary school government textbook.

To my fellow citizens that lost loved ones, their homes and were injured while their towns and villages were taken, accept my condolences for your immense losses. To the families of our soldiers that lost loved ones in the course of serving their country, I am grateful for the tragic sacrifice of your loved ones. May their souls rest in peace.

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