Ungoverned (adj.), not restrained or controlled/not subjected to regulation or control

Synonyms: unbridled, unchecked, uncurbed

Unfortunately it appears that the ungoverned spaces in Nigeria seem to be increasing year on year, rather than decreasing. This is despite the deployment of the military in 32 out of 36 states in the federation. And while the federal government insists that Boko Haram no longer holds territory within Nigeria, I’m of the opinion that it’s not as significant a victory as they attempt to make it seem. Don’t get me wrong, it was not just for the sake of real security but also a matter of national pride  that we had to ensure the insurgents’ flag cannot be raised anywhere within our territory. However, that is, at best, only one half of the war.

In my view the most worrisome ungoverned space isn’t physical, but rather more subtle. Here’s what I mean; outside of cities and towns there isn’t really much of a government presence bar the occasional election and yet this is where the vast majority of the Nigerian population lives. Historically, the traditional rulers and other elders have been in charge of keeping the peace, settling disputes and the like. And maybe this is precisely the reason that such elders are constantly targeted, whether by Boko Haram gunmen or Fulani herdsmen militia. It is an under-reported fact, but many of the hersdmen attacks in the Middle Belt of the country involve the killing of one village head or another. It may be impossible to prove that the killings are targeted but they are certainly numerous enough to raise suspicion.

Most so-called “ungoverned” spaces are in fact alternatively governed, typically by entrenched tribal laws and customs regarding the use of violence, mediation of conflict, and dispensation of justice.  Such regions may be “sovereignty free,” but they are rarely Hobbesian.

–              Patrick Stewart

In areas not afflicted by BH terrorists or killer herdsmen, some of the traditional leaders have still somehow managed to invite violence upon themselves. I recall reading recently about a chief who was murdered by his subjects, one of whom confessed that it was due to the chief’s “high-handedness” and other unworthy behaviour. The most surprising was the fact that this was the fourth chief to be killed in that community in just a few months. There are more reports of chiefs being killed by those they should traditionally be exalted by. One can only imagine how aggrieved the people must have felt to take such drastic actions. It is also a hint that traditional rulers, probably across the country, have been failing in their duties and responsibilities towards the ordinary people. Coupled with the lack of government presence, as touched on earlier, the failure of traditional rulers leaves a large gaping hole in the administration of communities.

To borrow from Patrick Stewart’s contention that “a true [terrorist] haven requires more than the abscence of a state”, we can surmise that what serves as an enabler isn’t simply the physical absence of the state but rather the state’s unwillingness/inability to assert any kind of control or even to play a role in the governance of an area.

I think most will agree that the world (including Naija) has evolved past the point where brute force is the most effective way to force a resolution. There are times when force is necessary and effective, no doubt about that, but force is not the ultimate solution to every problem as it was once seen to be. This world is no longer so much “48 Laws of Power” as much as it is “The Art of Seduction”, both books by the same author. Anyway, the point is that physical ownership of spaces is not the primary factor that defines them as governed, but rather the administrative ownership of spaces that does so.

Historical Perspective

desktop_computer_-_the_future_for_medicine_28fda_09529_28824970809329Here’s a simple example. It is no secret that arguably the greatest terrorist recruitment tool in the world right now is the Internet and, specifically, social media. There is the school of thought which blames easy to use end-to-end encryption, there’s another school which believes the social media companies have not been living up to their responsibilities, etc. I see it rather differently though. I think that the internet is the brave new world that regulation, government and order has not yet caught up with.

And this is not a new thing, it has been happening for ages. From what I understand my country, Nigeria, was birthed from a deal by the British empire and a company, the Royal Niger Company. Now there were other, similar companies; Royal East India Company, for example, which operated in that Asian country. Some people have taken offence at our country being birthed from a business deal, but I think it was, in some ways, inevitable. The fact is that governments, if they are to survive, have always to be run with as much of the population’s immediate needs in mind. That leaves very little room for long term planning, much less research and development (R&D), which is extremely expensive as well as  very high risk. I use the term R&D rather loosely here, as something of a placeholder for the efforts required to discover new innovations which will in the end be beneficial to a state, regardless of the field.

Looking at the pharmaceutical industry, you can see another example of this in action. Pharmaceutical companies invest billions of dollars in research for new medications that may or may not work, may or may not be approved, may or may not have killer side effects. The risks, you will agree, are too high and too expensive for a responsible government to undertake with public funds. So the compromise made is that, once the pharmaceutical company comes up with a medication, it is given exclusive license to manufacture and sell that medication all around the world via patents. This is done to allow them make back the money they spent on research. On occasion, however, a government will step in and decide that a particular drug is too important for that exclusivity, usually when lives are being lost at horrific rates because of the disease the drug was made to treat. An example of this is when the government of Brazil broke international patent agreements and allowed for HIV medication to be manufactured as generic drugs in the country, at a time when it was not fashionable to do so. It was a decision that didn’t go down well with many, but it ultimately drastically reduced the number of people living with HIV and possibly saved millions of lives, as well as saving the Brazilian government an estimated US$1.1 billion. Oh and, later that year, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights affirmed access to AIDS drugs as a human right.

“Local manufacturing of many of the drugs used in the anti-AIDS cocktail is not a declaration of war against the drugs industry. It is simply a fight for life.”

Brazilian government advertisement

Anyway my point is that as much as governments would not mind being able to develop cures for the world’s deadliest diseases, it is simply not practicable for them to do so. Hence it is left to private companies and eventually, if necessary, the authorities can take over control of the cure, usually by providing some other concession to the companies involved.

Anyway, back to the matter. Cyberspace in general, and social media in particular, has become the new ungoverned space and it is way too massive to be easily policed or brought under administrative control. And that is the reason why tech savvy terrorists are having such success at recruitment online, why criminals are finding it ever easier to conduct their business in the hidden corners of the internet and, incidentally, why whistle-blowers and journalists are finding it easier to move information online.

In a country like Nigeria which is yet to catch up technologically with the rest of the world, however, our largest ungoverned space is in the administration (or the lack thereof) of physical spaces. The Wild West of cyberspace is arguably just a force multiplier, not the major enemy. This does not in any way imply that it should be ignored, but rather it should be taken in context. Which is why, as an aside, the Social Media bill that legislators attempted to enact into law some time back was a poor idea that shows the shortsightedness of our “leaders”; like putting band-aid on a bullet wound, most of them have shown no ability to get to the roots of problems so they just plaster over the symptoms in vain hope.

Happy International Men’s Day.