Nigeria: The Empire That Never Was… Will It Ever Be?
Sir John Glubb’s enduring claim to fame, perhaps among other things, is an essay. His essay, “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival“. Having been an adept historian and military commander for the British empire in its twilight days. He understood something worthy about the rise and fall of empires.
His career started at a time it was sane to believe the sun would never set on the British empire. He witnessed the American and Soviet empires rising as British dominion faded. Any lessons for Nigeria and other African nations in Glubb’s observations?
Empire moves from one dominant power to another over time. It is inevitable. Such reality Glubb explained in his essay was the result of unmistakable cycles of stages an empire goes through from its inception to its collapse. These stages or ages are as follows ;
First, the Age of Pioneers: the age when an oppressed, rebellious ambitious people organise themselves to overthrow an existing empire. They have the envy, bad blood, will, courage, unity, and prowess to do so. The people of the new power often with nothing to lose or sometimes much to gain, make great personal and collective sacrifices to overthrow an observably effete empire. Invariably, the pioneers are mainly soldiers and military statesmen who achieve overwhelming popularity and support among their people.
Second, the Age of Conquest: in this age, the new empire embarks on expansionist goals to increase the number of territories under its control and gain access to rich resources. No nations achieve military power without economic power. Lands, slaves, natural resources, and alien skills must flow from colonies into the empire’s home centre. Empires must build efficient institutions of administration and security at home and abroad.
Third, the Age of Commerce: an expanded empire with monopolies over many resources of development and trade routes develops into an engine of vast production of goods and services. Energetic and efficient approaches to trade and commerce enables the empire to increase its wealth and prosperity by windfall. Institutions of trade, commerce, manufacturing, acquisitions etc. proliferate. Enriching the empire becomes a high act of patriotism. Tycoons and captains of industry rise to positions of prominence and power.
Fourth, the Age of Affluence: in this age, trade and commerce have brought the home centre and its citizen’s handsome sustainable affluence. Better incomes, enabling social amenities, state welfare, good living, luxury and acquired tastes all increase in the land. National pride becomes a function of economic success and military might. Everyone feels wealthy or wealthier than citizens of other states. Their wealth and the wealthy are secure.
Fifth, the Age of Intellect: with affluence secured and the necessity of war diminished due to prodigious military might, the emphasis of empire shifts to intellectual pursuits. Universities, schools, and research centres the empire builds and legitimises rapidly. Intellectuals become vital members of society. Nevertheless, as institutions of learning proliferate, so do schisms and divisions. Society gradually becomes divided and fragmented in their thinking. An empire once united in a singular consciousness and identity loses its sense of unity and begins to doubts itself .
Sixth, the Age of Decadence: affluence, factions, and individualisation of people enables decadence to overthrow the moral and spiritual consciousness of the people. The stock of virtues that created the necessity and flourishing of the empire are forgotten, trivialised, or rejected. The worship of money and the rich, be them entrepreneurs or everyday celebrities replace religion. People now live with a focus to enjoy themselves in any way conceivable, and luxury for luxury’s sake becomes a chief good.
Corruption perverts the main political objectives of the empire’s politicians and bureaucrats. Nevertheless, the empire, once the dominant engine of the world’s production transforms into an entity of consumption. The great military might that conquered afar is turns inwards, or squandered on unnecessary wars to prove their might is intact . Predictably, the empire’s economic output declines to levels too low to fund wars or maintain standing armies.
Seventh, the Age of Decline and Collapse: in this age, society has lost its capacity to defend itself. Its interests and reach begin to shrink in influence and power. The empire can no longer afford the affluence it promised its people. The empire is now unable to cope with the excesses of the decadence of its leaders and the people’s way of life. Corruption eats away at all fabrics of society like an invincible rodent. The leaders call for and the people hope for a return to the glory days of the empire’s beginnings or peak without rational responses/efforts. A new power is waiting to take over.
Nonetheless, the reason why Glubb’s thesis should give Nigerians serious concern is only three “ages” are relevant to their country. Nigeria was to witness from her Independence to present day the Age of affluence, the Age of Decadence and the Age of Decline and Collapse. How has Nigeria been able to mimic the characteristics of a dying empire without ever having been one? Quite an anomaly to behold.
Maybe, Glubb overlooked the fact that his cycles of empire concept could only apply to the fate of non-empire nations in a different way. More precisely, we may modify the model sufficiently to apply it to weak developing nations/colonies in that there are only four distinct ages that form their segues of existence. (1) Weak pioneers, e.g. corrupt, venal independence nationalists bent on looting their treasury when they get into power. (2) Weak affluence, e.g. national wealth predicates on the sales of natural resources which the markets of dominant empires determine. And adopt modes of medium or strong consumption.
In addition, (3) Strong decadence, e.g. the absence of constructive or sustainable nation-building institutions, the embrace of thrift. And the neglect of the embodiment of collective positive and universal civic and moral virtues. And (4) Substantial decline/collapse, e.g. a total loss of the vision and reins of self-determination making it easy for predatory external domination by way of neocolonialism. Also, internal disorder/conflict arise and the scourge of underdevelopment traps is inescapable.
Nigeria started out as a palm oil colony to Britain and a Petro-state colony loyal to the highest bidder, more recently. Moreover, Nigeria has been in decadence and decline ages since the beginning of the first decade after Independence. The oil boom in the 1970s Nigeria brought about an age of affluence. But not because of self-managed production or commerce as was the intention of the government’s nationalisation of industry decrees of the early 1970s.
Hence, it turned out to be a spectacular failure driven by unpatriotic business practices that undermined the economy disastrously. The age of affluence in Nigeria as short and unforgettable as it was resembles the Age of Decadence. Yes, unpatriotic business practices, luxury for luxury’s sake, money spraying, conspicuous consumption.
Amazingly, Nigeria has local and foreign Panglossian “high priests” who can die for neoliberalism. Persons who direct its citizens towards a better, more productive, more prosperous Nigeria by false persuasions. That is, a Nigeria devoid of the ages of pioneers, conquests, commerce, affluence, and independent intellectual determination.
Free-markets, committing to sustainability goals, and bypassing industrialisation is the holy trinity they preach. These Panglossian “experts” even tell Nigerians daily that they are on course to achieving the status of a global economic power by uncritically accepting and adopting the consensus of existing empires. Is this Nigeria’s Age of Intellect too?
The nation’s leaders appear never to have had the will, ambition, or courage to make Nigeria into an empire even the military ones. They appear helpless in their focus on promoting the characteristics of the ages of decadence and decline.
Some are waiting for Nigeria’s Age of Pioneers?
 Glubb, J B (1978), The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival, Blackwood (Edinburgh)
 Curtis, A (2015), Bitter Lake: Documentary, British Broadcasting Corporation, United Kingdom
 Hedges, C (2002), War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, Public Affairs (New York)