The federal government should urgently revitalise the police force and restore its capacity to combat internal security
After a false start, the federal government eventually did the right thing last week by proscribing the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a separatist group that has been agitating for the separation of the South-east region from Nigeria. This is significant because it showed that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari could be sensitive to informed public opinion and correct any error it might have made.
Following the clash between the IPOB activists and soldiers on a drill code-named Python Dance in Umuahia in Abia State, the military had declared the group a terrorist organisation. Moments after the declaration, the governors of the five states in the South-east rose from a meeting, announcing the proscription of the group. However, not a few social critics felt that the steps taken by the military and the governors were unlawful and unconstitutional being in contravention of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011, which stipulates the conditions and procedures for classifying and declaring a person or an organisation as a terrorist.
The lesson from it all is that government must never resort to self-help, particularly in dealing with citizens no matter the extent of their deviant conduct. Indeed, government must, at all times, act according to law if it intends to have the moral authority to govern and call citizens to order. The eventual presidential proclamation of IPOB as a terrorist group and its affirmation by the Federal High Court, Abuja on the request of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, is, therefore, commendable.
Without a doubt, the utterances and activities of the group and its leader, Mr Nnamdi Kanu, had become irresponsible and capable of undermining national security. Kanu had not only abused his right to free expression with hate speech, he obviously crossed the national red line when he began to talk about and created the Biafran Security Service, Biafran National Guard and the likes. The obstruction of movement of troops on a legitimate, even if questionable professional exercise, was an open affront to the authority of the Nigerian state. Certainly no government would accept that.
However, we believe that government needs to put its act together to avoid these sorts of missteps in future by developing a more effective strategy for coordinating its interrelated agencies. The more important lesson of the clash between IPOB and the military is the need to urgently review the increasing military involvement in the management of internal security challenges in the country and design a clear exit strategy for the organisation whose primary mandate is to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria.
Over the years, the Nigeria Police Force that has the constitutional mandate for internal security has had its capacity to carry out its responsibility circumscribed by long years of military rule, which by a deliberate suppressive policy stripped the force of its ability to bite. If the military did that in order to suppress the ability of the police to act as a counter force, it is difficult to understand why over 18 years of unbroken democratic governance has failed to restore its (police) capacity to deal with internal security challenges.
Yet, the military’s continued participation in internal security operations could only engender persistent tension between it and the citizens, essentially because it is trained to repel external enemy army and not the civil populace. This perhaps explains the brutality meted out to some IPOB members arrested by the military, an action that revolted the sensibility of many Nigerians and people around the world who rightly felt that the treatment was inhuman. The way forward is for the federal government to urgently revitalise the police force and restore its competence to handle internal security operations as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution (as amended).