Through the lenses of a Failing State: Libya’s Lessons for Nigeria

 In Regional Issues, Thinking Aloud

The beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by the Islamic state in Libya sent shockwaves across the world. Libya had until early in 2011 been politically stable. But the Arab spring which swept across North Africa and the ousting of Gaddafi has pulled the country to the brink of collapse. Various armed groups are involved in a scramble for a piece of the state and its oil wealth.

Libya highlights the challenge of growing extremism on the African continent. Further south is Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which threatens to destroy Nigeria and destabilize the entire region. The Boko Haram sect became militarily active in early 2000s and successfully transformed itself into a contender for control of Nigerian territory, abducting children and engaging in wanton destruction of lives and property. Boko Haram currently has operational presence in three states in northeastern Nigeria. The inability of Nigeria’s military to confront the extremist threat informed the Nigerian government’s decision to form a multinational force with her neighbours. The African Union (AU) authorized the intervention force of 7500 soldiers drawn from Nigeria and neighbouring countries to deal with the provocation caused by the Boko Haram sect. The intervention is likely to be a success but there are lessons Nigeria could learn from Libya.

In 2011, the International community intervened in Libya during the Arab spring. The Arab spring was a revolutionary movement that swept across Arab states in North Africa and the Middle East and brought about regime change in the North African states of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Gaddafi refused to abdicate authority and responded with the use of force against the civilian population. Human rights violations worsened and the situation deepened, forcing the Western countries to intervene in the conflict: establishing a no – fly zone over Tripoli, arming rebel forces, and conducting airstrikes in the NATO led offensive which ousted Gaddafi. The Libyan intervention focused on military objectives without careful consideration of the implications for Libya’s political and socio-economic conditions. The vacuum created by Gaddafi’s absence became the hotbed for struggles between various factions and groups for the control of Africa’s largest oil reserves. The rebels were all over streets of Tripoli and a growing nuisance. The transitional government failed to unify the country. Economic conditions worsened and the government was weak as it had lost monopoly of the use of force since it failed to disarm the rebel groups. The quest for relevance saw various groups involved in armed struggles for the control of territory and strategic oil reserves. Libya became officially a failing state. The West’s underestimation of the collateral effects of Gaddafi’s death and difficulty in achieving successful transition is linked to the growth of Islamist extremism in the North Africa country of Libya.

Similarly, in Nigeria, hurried interventions are likely to fail in the long haul if key aspects of the post-conflict reconstruction phase are not carefully considered.

For instance, Nigeria has not yet fully revealed how it intends to restore governance in areas affected by Boko Haram and return its displaced population. There are over 15, 000 refugees in neighbouring countries bordering Nigeria. So far the government has rolled out a plan for the reconstruction of the crisis-ravaged North East geo-political zone. The plan consists of the setting up of N 5 billion fund to rebuild infrastructure damaged by the insurgency. But this amount does not represent the damage caused by the insurgency. Furthermore, reconstruction cannot be said to be complete or sustainable if other aspects of post-conflict transformation are neglected. There is a need to address issues of compensation for the victims of other and prior conflicts in the north. Demobilization, disarmament and reintegration are also important aspects of the post-conflict reconstruction process, as the Libyan experience has shown. Presently in Nigeria, various vigilante groups are active, warding off attacks from the Boko Haram sect. In Adamawa alone, close to 4,000 vigilante groups have been empowered by the State government. Just as Libya’s present woes are a reflection of failed efforts at disarming rebels, in arming militia groupd, the Nigerian government is riding a tiger’s tail.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and her refugee and displacement problems could easily cause problems for her West African neighbours. Nigeria needs to look beyond the interim military approach and address other salient issues in responding to the challenge posed by Boko Haram insurgency within her borders. The example of Libya provides a useful template for exploring alternatives for effective outcomes in restoring the North, while avoiding obvious policy pitfalls.

As Nigeria makes giant strides towards restoration of governance, it must address other salient issues to ensure that the Nigeria of tomorrow does not become the Libya of today.

Jubril Shittu writes from Lagos, Nigeria. 

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