The Urgency of the Security Question

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

The urgency of the security question became manifest again two days ago with the reported killings by herdsmen in Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. Some other persons were reportedly injured in the course of the attack. According to this newspaper, sources put the toll of dead in that tragic incident at 48.

But in a statement, the Enugu State police Command said, “a full investigation had begun into the alleged killing of six persons in Nimbo…” It is important to get the figures right because every life is so important that the Nigerian state should account for it. It is also urgent that the import of these developments is fully grasped by those who have the responsibility for the security architecture of the country; the problem of insecurity is getting worse and assuming new dimensions.

Now, the legitimate expectation of the Buhari administration is contrary to what is happening in the security sector. President Muhammadu Buhari inherited the devastating Boko Haram war. By this time last year, not a few voters were gearing up to vote for him for well-known reasons. One of the principal reasons why Buhari was a preferred candidate was that many voters saw in him the capacity to be a fitting commander-in-chief for a country facing such a huge challenge of security. What is more, security was one of the areas Buhari promised to make the focus of his administration.

Specifically, Buhari promised to lead the nation to put an end to the Boko Haram war. To be fair to the administration, some progress has been recorded in the Boko Haram front. Sadly, this is being neutralised in moral and security terms with the bloodletting arising from the herdsmen-farmers conflict.

This is a dangerous dimension to the security challenges that the administration should tackle. Killings have been reported in practically every part of the country; but the more recent incidents have happened in the Middle Belt, Southeast, South-South and Southwest. The President was reported as saying the other time that pipeline vandals would be dealt with the way Boko Haram terrorists were being dealt with by the armed forces and other security agencies. Well said, many would probably say in response. After all, the vandals should be told that they lack a greater capacity than the Nigerian state in matters of violence.

The same attitude should be shown by the President with regard to the perpetrators of violence in many communities. Not a few now expect the Commander-in-Chief to tell those responsible for mass murder in the clashes between herdsmen and farmers that they would be dealt with like terrorists too. The political resonance of such a statement would be immense and helpful in the circumstance. Again, this is a law and order aspect of the problem. The bloodletting should be stopped immediately. It is far from being alarmist to project that while Nigeria is yet to finish the Boko Haram war, another war may be breaking out without the nation recognising it in time.

The President should make a categorical statement on how he wants to stop the bloodletting immediately. The statement should embody the true government’s reading of the problem and it should shed light on the solution. It has been said that some of the herdsmen allegedly responsible for the violence are not Nigerians. There is even a hypothesis that given the sophistication of the weapons used in these conflicts, a variant of Boko Haram might be in operation. All the dimensions of the problem should be explored in the official response. The nation needs some assurance from the commander-in-chief.

In its 11 months in in power, the Buhari administration has become famous for taking its time to confront problems frontally. Agriculture Minister Audu Ogbe is believed to be putting together the policy solutions to the problem. A controversial bill is before the National Assembly on grazing. In the controversy, there has been more heat than light in solving the problem. The truth that is subsumed in this controversy is simply that given an honestly designed policy framework it is possible for the herdsmen to produce cattle for beef production in a modern way without moving round the whole place destroying the farms of other people.

While the nation waits for the agricultural policy instruments to solve the problem, such a luxury does not seem to be available to those responsible for tackling the security dimension of the crisis. It is a matter of blood and tears. Yet, a sense of urgency and seriousness of purpose appears to be lacking on the part of officialdom. There have been allegations of inexplicable delays in the response of security forces in some communities where mass killings took place.

Unfortunately, a tone of emergency is not so clear from official statements. Inspector-General of Police Solomon Arase says the force is on top of the situation and his officers are being trained to handle the intelligence aspects of the operations while working with the communities. Meanwhile, villages are being invaded and killings take place every now and then. At a higher level, Interior Minister Abdulrahman Dambazau reportedly blamed the social media for framing the crisis of herdsmen and farmers in a way that threatens security. He spoke a fortnight ago at a stakeholders meeting on the “Pastoralist/Sedentary farmers conflict in Nigeria,” in which he announced government’s plans to find a “definitive policy intervention” to the problem. A distinguished expert in such matters, Lt. Gen. Dambazzau said the conflict between herdsmen and farmers should be viewed beyond the Niger-Benue basin as such conflicts occur in other parts of West Africa and even Central Africa.

It is instructive that he was quoted as explaining the government’s approach to the problem like this: “There have been a number of committees and think-thank type investigations into the conflict in the past; and it is the intention of the Ministry of Interior to gather these together and note which have been implemented, highlighting the effects and failures of each, in order to arrive at narrative and doctrinal certainties … This will in turn inform the design of a definite policy intervention, which will see multi-level convergent action that will in turn lead to an abatement of the conflict.” So the government is yet to articulate a policy to solve the problem.

It is certainly worrisome that this government is still at the level of convening stakeholders’ meeting to “design” a “multi-level convergent action” while the bloodletting continues with all the ominous implications for peace and security. There is no evidence of the needed speed in this official response to a problem that risks being turned into a political and religious war by elitist manipulators. The synthesis of previous reports and studies on the problem ought to have been done by now and the implementation of policy should have begun in earnest.

The recent bloody clashes between herdsmen and farmers represent a new dimension on the nation’s security map. There are too many clouds on the horizon. Only urgent steps by government can clear them in the interest of national security.