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This year, for the second time in a row, Nigeria is ranked the thirteenth least stable country in the world. The 2017 Fragile States Index (FSI), launched May 15, gave Nigeria a total score of 101.6 out of a possible 120. Individual FSI score is usually any number from zero to ten that depicts the intensity of the pressure exerted by each of twelve social, economic and political indicators on conditions within each of the countries on the Index. The higher a country’s total score, the more fragile it is. Of the 178 countries assessed this year, 165 countries enjoy greater stability than Nigeria because each of them has a total score lower than 101.6.

The FSI is an early warning system for measuring internal threats that could, potentially, escalate to major national conflicts with international consequences. Early warning systems became popular after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Development organisations in Europe and North America saw in the attacks the danger extremist tendencies, harbored in weak states, pose to stronger countries and the international community. This index and others like it are predictive models for pinpointing trouble spots; they monitor local and regional security threats, keep them in the purview of global powers and keep the international community poised for quick intervention.

Fund For Peace (FFP), a Washington DC-based organization, launched the first edition of the FSI twelve years ago. Back then, FSI stood for Failed States Index and it ranked only so-called “weak and failing states”. It excluded all countries in North America and Western Europe (except Turkey) – in the sense that the Index’s administrators considered them too stable to be assessed – and, included sixty countries spread across Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and the Middle East. Nigeria ranked 54 on that Index, a far cry from her position this year and the best ranking the country has ever received.

That is not a surprise. In 2005, Boko Haram was barely heard of outside Northeastern Nigeria, militancy in the Niger Delta was somewhat contained and the Nigerian Army was a muscular contributor to international peacekeeping missions: in October 2004, it sent hundreds of soldiers on tour of duty in Sudan’s Darfur region.

There have been changes since then. The Index was renamed in 2014 but the defining criteria (or indicators) of state fragility used in the 2005 ranking are still in use. North American and Western European countries are now evaluated and the number of countries increased over the years to 178.

Nigeria’s ranking has been on a persistent decline since 2005 but at an uneven pace. In 2007, for instance, Nigeria was ranked 17th, in 2008, a slight improvement put her at the 18th position. Then followed a drop to 15th position in 2009, the year Boko Haram began seizing territory in the Northeast corridor and Farouk AbdulMutallab attempted to blow up a plane.

Then came the three-year period from 2010 to 2012 when Nigeria was repeatedly ranked the 14th most fragile country in the world. Looking at the ranking, one would think the country was in some kind of stasis even though those three years were marked by multiple acts of violence. There was the Independence Day bombing in 2010, Christmas Day bombing in 2011 and the respective mosque and church bombing in Kano and Jos in 2012.

Nigeria’s present rank at the 13th position for 2016 and 2017 mimics that three-year-same-rank stretch. In both cases, the impression is that conditions in the country did not change at all. Not so, says Nate Haken, a Senior Associate at FFP and part of the team with direct responsibility for the FSI.

“It’s important when you are talking about whether or not Nigeria has improved to always look at the score, not the ranking,” Mr. Haken said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.

“FFP derives the rank for each country by pitting the sum total of one country’s scores against that of other countries. Each year, troughs of data collected from January to December of the preceding year are fed into FFP’s proprietary Conflict Assessment System Tool (CAST) analytical method and, “scores are apportioned for every country based on twelve key political, social and economic indicators and over 100 sub-indicators that are the result of years of expert social science research”.

FSI indicator scores are meant to be “interpreted with the understanding that the lower the score, the better”; in other words, lower scores mean more stable conditions within the country.

Or, as Mr. Haken explains: “Across these twelve indicators, we have quantitative methods for estimating the amount of pressure within each one of these indicators. At the end, we have twelve numbers, that is, a number for each one of the indicators. You can add that up and get a total score for each country but, to get the ranking, you have to compare it to other countries”.

So, to deduce a country’s true progress from one year to another, “you have to compare its current score to its score in the previous year as opposed to comparing its current ranking to the previous one”, Mr. Haken said, adding “if all the countries in the world get worse except for one … the ranking of that one will change even if its score doesn’t change. That’s why it’s important when you are talking about whether or not Nigeria has improved to always look at the score not the ranking”.

So, what changed in the years Nigeria retained the same rank on the FSI? The answer is: not much, at least not in the years 2016-2017. Nigeria’s current indicator scores show slight ease in social and political pressures e.g. Security Apparatus, Refugees/IDPs and State Legitimacy, which is reflected in the +1.9 difference in the total score for 2017 against the score for 2016. In fact, the score for 2017 may not have roundly reflected economic conditions in the country given that naira, by some account, suffered a whopping 14.2 per cent decline the day Central Bank of Nigeria decided to float the currency. Nigerian economy was officially in recession by August 2016, by the end of the year, the naira had reportedly depreciated by 61.8 per cent against the dollar. Whatever was gained from the marginal ease in social and political pressures was all lost to the steep economic decline.

So, is Nigeria a failing state? For those who always choose to look at the glass as half full, it is painful to admit that, at this point in time, however hard we look, the answer cannot be in the negative. Nigeria is a weak state. Yes, Boko Haram is on the run but famine is gaining ground in its retreat. Yes, there are ongoing work around militancy in the Niger Delta, but the Niger Delta Action Plan is in the cooler. And the rest of the country is still wound up in infrastructure decay, public sector larceny, stunted healthcare delivery and so on.

In addition to scoring countries on economic and socio-political pressures, the FSI also classifies countries under eleven groups that describe the true state of their polity, namely: Very Sustainable, Sustainable, Very Stable, More Stable, Stable, Warning, Elevated Warning, High Warning, Alert, High Alert and Very High Alert. Countries whose total indicator score falls under twenty are classified as Very Sustainable, those under thirty are Sustainable, under forty are Very Stable, etc. This year, only Finland made it into the first category, fourteen mostly European countries made it to the Sustainable category, the United States of America, United Kingdom and nine other countries are counted in the third category i.e. Very Stable and so on.

From the other end, countries with scores between 120 and 110 are classified Very High Alert, six countries fell under that category this year with South Sudan in the lead, i.e. most fragile country in the world. Nigeria is grouped with eight other countries in the High Alert category, i.e. countries whose scores fall between 110 and 100. This category includes Afghanistan, Iraq and Democratic Republic of Congo, countries that have seen war in the recent past and still have a large part of their territory swathed in active conflict. Nigeria has been at peace for almost fifty years, nothing says a country is going down the path of a Failed State as loudly as being placed in the same category as war torn countries.