Lawlessness hinders economic freedom in Nigeria

At the latest in a series of kidnappings (and even killings) of school children previously reported by media such as The Daily Signal, a criminal gang of more than 100 armed bandits marched to a boarding school in Zamfara, northwestern Nigeria, on February 26 to 300 innocent school girls.

No sooner had the government stepped in to release them than other gangsters were kidnapped 100 miners in the same region for ransom, according to the Guardian. And on March 15, the Wall Street Journal reported another kidnapping of children and teachers from a school in the northwestern state of Kaduna.

As the New York Times reports, “the incidence of mass kidnapping of girls and boys at boarding schools in northwestern Nigeria is increasing in part because kidnapping has become a growth industry during the country’s economic downturn.”

Nigeria, a former British colony, is the most populous country in Africa with a population of over 200 million. A new constitution was set up by the civil government in 1999. President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected in 2019 despite his long absence from the country and alleged illness.

Although a multinational coalition has driven the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram from many of its strongholds in northeastern Nigeria, attacks continue to be frequent, including by the Islamic State’s increasingly powerful West Africa province.

There have also been fatal outbreaks of shepherd-peasant violence in the Middle Belt region, a centrally located area so named because it is the transition region between the largely Muslim north of Nigeria and the Christian south. Most of the violence was perpetrated by the shepherds, who are better armed than the peasants. There has been some reprisals from farmers, but they have caused the most deaths overall.

Nigeria’s petroleum-based economy has recently suffered from low global oil prices. Agriculture, telecommunications and services contribute to modest economic growth, but more than 60% of the Nigerian population still live in extreme poverty.

Although Nigeria’s score for economic freedom has improved slightly in the 2021 edition of the Index of Economic Freedom, the Nigerian economy remains largely unfree this year. In addition to chronic and severe political instability and a range of security threats, greater economic freedom is blocked by persistent political failures that undermine the rule of law.

These political failures have ignored numerous structural weaknesses. For example, property rights protection is weak due to poorly regulated, complex and corrupt government registration and titling systems for real estate. Land disputes in rural areas are widespread. The constitutional independent judiciary is prone to political interference and corruption. The courts lack adequate funding, equipment and training. Corruption is widespread in public and private institutions, particularly in the customs, oil and security sectors.

It is these structural weaknesses that are reflected in ongoing violence and lawlessness in Zamfara and across the country. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this era of lawlessness – and the one that will have potentially devastating long-term effects on the country – is the fact that large numbers of schools across the country have closed for fear of violence. That has denied education to millions of Nigerian children.

The sooner the Buhari government seriously addresses the underlying issues, the sooner the people of Nigeria can enjoy the stability and opportunities that come from the rule of law.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.

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