MEND, BH and Other Symptoms

17 Apr 2013

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There is hardly any country on earth without its security problems.  That is, of course, why any modern state puts in place a security system as part of governance. Hence, even those small countries such as Costa Rica, Grenada, Liechtenstein Samoa and others that carry on without standing armies still maintain some forms of police force.

Now, among the things that distinguish one country from the other in terms of security are the concept of security and the operation of the apparatus of the state. For instance, on July 22, 2011 a rightwing extremist, Anders Behring Breivik, mounted a two-pronged attack on his country, Norway, by first exploding a bomb made from a mixture of fertiliser and fuel and later embarking on a shooting spree at a youth camp killing 77 persons in these acts of terror.  The shock waves transcended Norway, a country in which social peace had been taken for granted in a long time. 

The crime rate is rated to be low in that country because the focus is not just only on physical security; the welfare of the people is also part of the conceptualisation of security. Yet the system still produced a mass murderer such as Breivik! That goes to show that a crime-free society is a rarity indeed. We should put the discussion of the mounting security problems of Nigeria in this context. This could assist us in rejecting scare - mongering on the one hand and criticising a non-strategic approach to the problem by government on the other hand.  Either of the two responses from the government and the people would simply not serve the purpose. The purpose should be to make the government, with the support of the people, to face the job of security squarely. 

Reports of killings, destruction of property, armed robbery, kidnappings, assassinations etc. have become routine. Take a sample. Among the headlines in newspapers yesterday were "Gunmen Kill 11, Burn Houses in Fresh Plateau Crises"; "Palace Aide, Others Masterminded Kidnap of Okonjo-Iweala's Mother"; " ACF, Catholics Beg MEND not to Attack Mosques;" "Don't Dare Us, Northern Youths Warn MEND" etc. The killings by Boko Haram or MEND mixed with cases of armed robbery and kidnappings are symptoms of the disease of a social order. 

This disease constitutes a categorical threat of breakdown of the social order. It is only in a diseased social order that ethnic and regional militias issue threats and counter threats while assuming the role of providing security "for their people".  When MEND reportedly threatened to attack Mosques it was left for "northern youths" to say "don't dare us". The other day it was OPC that was claiming to have the capacity to defend Yoruba land against Boko Haram bombings.  Now, you don't operate security in any modern state in that manner. This is a recipe for anarchy. In other climes where such tendencies exist they have been   pushed to the fringe in terms of socio-political influence. Indeed, they only have vestigial manifestations.

The worrisome thing about Nigeria today is that what should be mere vestiges are seemingly becoming dominant players and they are assuming the centre of the social space. It is not enough to dismiss the perpetrators of violence as irritants. The enormous human and material damage they are inflicting on the system should make such a position untenable. The other day MEND issued a threat to resume violence. In some quarters MEND does not exist in their opinion especially now that Henry Okah, who once provided the organisation with a public face, has disowned the statement. A few days’ later a dozen policemen were killed in Bayelsa state  and MEND reportedly claimed responsibility for the mass murder. In another statement credited to MEND, the organisation has again threatened to launch "Operation Barbarosa to save Christians".

The threat includes bombing of mosques, Hajj camps and other Islamic Institutions. The organisation reportedly indicated that it would only welcome the intervention of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Okah who is in a South African jail. In the same season of anomie, a faction of Boko Haram was reportedly rejecting an amnesty, which the federal government is yet to categorically offer. According to the faction, it is the Boko Haram that should offer the Nigerian state amnesty for the wrong allegedly done them by Nigeria. The faction also claimed it has done no wrong despite the almost 4, 000 lives lost since the violence began in parts of the north.  Yet, as far as Abuja is concerned President Goodluck Jonathan has only set up a committee to explore the possibility and mechanism of an amnesty.

In all these, the valiant efforts of the security forces and agencies must be constantly acknowledged.  Those who are well informed about their operations insist that they are putting up their best in a most difficult situation.  The public that is bearing the brunt of increasing insecurity may counter by saying that the best is not good enough in view of the loss of lives and socio-economic damage caused by the violence. The flip side, however, is that the situation could be worse without the efforts of the security forces. Soldiers, policemen, security operatives have been killed on duty in the spots of violence.

It is, therefore, important that in seeking solutions to the nation's daring security problems, Jonathan as the Commander-in-Chief should focus on the big picture. The theatres of the violence might appear disparate; there is a thread to them all and it is that they pose a huge security challenge.

The task this time round is not to save the fatherland from external aggression; the challenge is to prevent an implosion by the activities of the agents of destructive violence in various parts of the country. It does not help the situation when violence in any part is perceived as a regional problem or a sponsored plot to stop the President in 2015. The beginning of any rational analysis of the problem is to see the violence whether in Maiduguri, Jos or Yenagoa as a national problem.

The implications of these killings obviously make them a national problem. The perpetrators of violence are playing with the fault lines of religion, ethnicity and regionalism; but the leadership must raise above all these threats. The land is suffused with mutual suspicions. Although the Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of movement the spectre of violence has seriously restricted movement around the country.

The government's response is also not strategic enough. For instance, Joint Task Forces (JTFs) cannot be a definitive solution. It is not sustainable that you continue to devote a disproportionate amount of resources to JTFs at the expense of the security system as a whole.  The deployment of JTFs should only be a temporary measure. The work   of the JTFs will be more difficult without other aspects of the solution to the problem.

In formulating a security strategy, therefore, the President and his security team should look beyond symptoms and begin to tackle the malaise itself. The strategy should have security, political, socio-economic and other components for it to be an efficacious formula for the disease.  In this respect, it would be a better problem-solving approach to be discussing the multiple components of the strategy rather than generating so much heat with this acrimonious debate on amnesty. 

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