The Issue of Insecurity


The Horizon BY Kayode Komolafe 0805 500 1974

…the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government… –Chapter II, Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution.

Among other barometers, a review of public comments could possibly indicate if the Nigerian condition has changed remarkably in the last three years. One aspect of the condition in which the hope of change seems to have turned into despair is security. Not a few pundits would posit widespread insecurity as the issue of the moment. When comments made two years ago now sound as if they were made last night, a change cannot be said to be reflected in the national condition.

This is sadly the situation that should warrant the optimal attention of President Muhammadu Buhari as the commander-in-chief.

Shocked by the reported killings of about 48 people by herdsmen in Ukpabi Nimbo in Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State two years ago, this reporter observed on this page on April 27, 2016 as follows: “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.” That piece was entitled “The Urgency of the Security Question.” Two years later, can the officialdom honestly claim that the security question has been treated with the urgency the situation deserves?

As matter of fact, the reaction to the killings in Ukpabi Nimbo was in the context of the sense of emergency in the first quarter of 2016. Reports from various parts of the country would seem to suggest that the country was increasingly descending into a massive killing field. Reported killings by herdsmen dominated the headlines. A month before Ukpabi Nimbo, television screens were awash with horrifying footages of killings in the Agatu areas of Benue State. It was the topic of this column on March 23, 2016 in which it was said inter alia:

“The question of security is urgent. It is highly distressing that communities could be so cheaply invaded by armed attackers for days. Were there any intelligence reports that such violence was about to erupt? The helplessness of those so brutally attacked cannot be rationalised under any guise by the officialdom. In some reports it is even alleged that many of the attackers are foreigners, thereby further complicating the matter. Whatever happened to the security at the nation’s borders? It is scary to contemplate that the violence could not be prevented.

“And when killings and destruction begin in communities, it is expected that there would be a swift response to protect the people. It is also important to make an example of perpetrators of violence. You are not going to curb killings when killers go unpunished. It would be interesting for the police to give a comprehensive report on those involved in similar clashes, for instance, in the last one decade. How many of the suspected killers have been successfully prosecuted and punished?

“The episodic killings around the country constitute a categorical challenge not only to the police, but the whole of the justice sector. Whatever the motive of killings, a credible system should be able to account for every life lost and ensure that justice is done. It is the least expected from a social order with integrity. It would be useful for the various security agencies to draw lessons from the recent round of violence.”

Incidentally, two years later in the first quarter of 2018, there have been reported killings in parts of the country that could warrant a similar column. Nothing, perhaps, demonstrates that not much has changed for the better in the circumstance more than this soul-depressing trend.

And that is the tragedy of the moment.

A bit of reminder might be necessary here to draw the attention of Abuja to the enormity of the problem. In the build-up to the 2015 election, security was a big issue. In that respect, many of those who supported President Muhammadu Buhari (as a candidate) saw in him a better commander-in-chief to tackle the security question. His background as a general of the Nigerian army amply recommended him for that part of his job as President. He won the election and took oath to uphold the 1999 Constitution, which declares, “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” It is highly instructive that in the constitution “security” is mentioned before “welfare” of the people because logically a government can only implement any programme to enhance people’s welfare only in a secure socio-political environment. In other words, you cannot seriously talk of all-round development of the people in an unstable environment. About a year to another election, security remains poignantly a central question of the Nigerian condition.

Take a sample. About a year to the 2015 presidential election, over 200 school girls were abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno State; a year to the 2019 election over 100 school girls were taken away by the same Boko Haram in Dapchi, Yobe State. The military and other security agencies were assumed to be in control of the situation at the moments these abductions took place. The Dapchi abduction took place months after the administration claimed to have “degraded” Boko Haram and that the terrorists no more constituted a fighting force. If Chibok remains a national tragedy, Dapchi is now a national disgrace. That is not a story of progress in the war efforts; it is a “national disaster” as Buhari himself rightly put it.

The point at issue is that Borno and Yobe states are listed as crisis-ridden states where military and security operations are assumed to be taking place. Yet, terrorists could invade a school and take away girls in trucks! This brings sharply into focus the lack of public accountability on the part of the Buhari security team. The output doesn’t justify the enormous resources and hope invested in the security of those areas. Tragedies happen that put the team’s competence into question; yet some members of the team carry on as if they owe nobody any explanation. Critics have focussed (with constitutional justification, by the way,) on the lack of the reflection of federal character in Buhari’s security appointments. Not even the President has disputed the point.

But, that is not the primary problem with the composition of the team. Maybe, it would not matter much to many patriots even if all the heads of military and security forces and agencies come from the same village provided the country is secure. If a citizen goes about his daily business and lives peacefully with others, he may not pay much attention to the ethnic or religious identity of those who call the shots in the security sector. After all, a man in danger doesn’t ask for the ethnic or regional origin of a policeman before calling for help. The primary issue is that of incompetence. Things are further worsened by the factor of the reported lack of synchrony of purpose within the security team. The tinge of irony in this is often lost on the critics who rightly point to the fact of lopsided security appointments. The security appointees seem to work at cross- purposes even though they are mainly from the same region of the country. It is only Buhari who appointed them that could untie the knots.

For example, the measure of competence of the security team is in preventing such a national disgrace that happened in Dapchi and stopping the killings in Benue. Security chiefs cannot claim competence when villagers are helplessly killed by some mass murderers. While farmers have been scared away from their farms by killers, highways often remain unsafe because kidnappers and armed robbers inflict untold violence on travellers.

Lawlessness reigns supreme in the land. Human lives have been reduced to mere statistics. There are headlines about casualties, but there is hardly any report of those arrested and prosecuted for the mass murders. Not even the evidence of proper investigation is made public. Public accountability requires that the police should explain to the nation what is being done about mass killings. The true nature of the crisis has hardly been unravelled. Some well informed persons have suggested that the killings might not all be activities of herdsmen as some foreign terrorists might have invaded Nigeria. Who are these invaders? How are they armed? What is their mission? These are questions for which the public expects answers from those in charge of security in the spirit of democratic accountability. Such strategic discussions should not be mystified as operational matters that are not suitable for the public sphere.

The Abuja response is, of course, that this administration is doing its best in the circumstance. Yet the administration’s best is certainly not good enough when mass burials are routinely reported in places where bandits are on the prowl and unchecked. Glaring incompetence is on display, yet nobody accepts responsibility for the state of things. The matter is made worse by the seeming arrogance and insensitivity in a complex country such as Nigeria with highly inflammable fault lines of ethnicity and religion. No patriot can afford to pretend to be unaware of the brewing bitterness in Benue, Taraba and Southern Kaduna. The feeling of helplessness in Zamfara and threats in Edo and Delta cannot be ignored by any one who wishes Nigeria well.

In the circumstance, all eyes would rightly be on the commander-in-chief. Yes, universally military and security chiefs do not openly discuss their operations for obvious tactical reasons. However, the strategic direction and goals of a nation (especially one that is bedevilled with insecurity of Nigeria’s magnitude) should be a matter of public discourse. The national parliament and indeed the public sphere should put the security team to greater task. Even in countries that are military powers and in which the security questions have a huge external components, the strategic direction and reviews are matters of public interest. This would help in determining whether the national purpose is being served.

Invariably, security is going to be major issue in the next year’s election. That should provide an avenue for informed discussions of the various aspects of the problem. Meanwhile, Buhari as the commander-in-chief should rethink the administration’s response to the growing insecurity in the land. At no time must the Nigerian state be portrayed as being helpless before bandits and mass murderers.