The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government… (Chapter II, Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution)
In the last few days, the constitution has been variously invoked in the public sphere to support arguments. Well, it all depends on the lawyer to whom you prefer to listen as the same provisions of the constitution are sometimes quoted to support positions held by opposite sides. Perhaps, more fundamentally, the constitution should be more frequently cited to remind politicians in and out of power about the “primary purpose of government” as quoted above in this column.
The factor of security is relevant to the next month’s elections in two respects. The success of the electoral process is hinged on the security situation and if voting is to be determined by issues security ought to be an issue of the election.
So there is no dispute about the primacy and urgency of the security question especially as the elections are concerned.
Hardly would any politician (regardless of partisanship) deny the spectre of insecurity haunting the land. An internal memo of a federal government agency circulating in the social media illustrates the seriousness of the state of insecurity. The security department of the agency is reportedly advising members of staff and their families “to avoid” the Abuja-Kaduna road at certain hours of the day because of kidnappers. Now, if movement from the nation’s capital to the most metropolitan city in the north could be so dangerous, you could imagine the fate that awaits travellers in the hinterland.
Only yesterday, the National Security Adviser, General Babagana Monguno, reportedly held a meeting with state governors. On the agenda was security in the context of the elections. The meeting was reminiscent of the developments immediately preceding the 2015 elections. The elections were indeed postponed for a few weeks in order to ensure that the northeast in particular was secure enough for any meaningful voting. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponed the elections based on consultations with Monguno’s predecessor, Colonel Sambo Dasuki.
However, unlike four years ago when everyone agreed that Boko Haram insurgents constituted the threat in the northeast, now the allegation by the state is that some forces plan to cause trouble during and after the elections in parts of the country. So the cooperation of the state governors is being sought to ensure the workability of the arrangement made to counter possible disruption of the electoral process.
However, while it may not be correct to say that relatively nothing has changed since 2015, insecurity remains an issue of existence in Nigeria. In some quarters the hope of change seems to have turned into despair. How else can describe a situation in which Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, the epicentre of the Boko Haram war, broke down the other day as he briefed President Muhammadu Buhari on the situation in the troubled state? Zamfara State Governor Abdul’aziz Yari has said he would welcome the declaration of a state of emergency in the state. Earlier, Yari had claimed that he “resigned” as the chief security officer of the state. By the way, the governor didn’t indicate then if he would also stop drawing security votes, a matter that is beyond the realm of fiscal accountability. Even from Katsina, the home state of the President, an alarm came recently from Governor Aminu Bello Masari about insecurity in the state.
This unacceptable situation should warrant the optimal attention of the commander-in-chief, President Buhari.
In retrospect, some voters might have preferred presidential candidate Buhari in 2015 because they saw in him the capacity to be a fitting commander-in-chief for a country facing a huge challenge of security. As it is the case now in the current campaigns, security was one of the areas Buhari promised to make the focus of his administration.
Meanwhile, the murderous activities of Boko Haram terrorists continue in the northeast while some other killers have foisted banditry on Zamfara and other places in the northwest. Kidnappers and armed robbers make highways and communities unsafe in other parts of the country.
The joint capacity of the military, police and intelligence and other security agencies as well as the justice system have been put into a severe test by the frightening profile of insecurity in the land. The test comes up in the areas of prevention of the crime, combatting the killers as well as apprehending and punishing the criminals. The corollary to the constitutional provision that security is the primary purpose of government is that every life should be secure and accounted for by the government.
In another clime, this trend in the security sector in an election year would warrant informed discussions of insecurity as a primary issue. Unfortunately, it is not so here in Nigeria.
The composition and the competence of the Buhari security team have been questioned in many quarters. The less than satisfactory outcomes of their efforts make such questions quite legitimate. At issue is a sense of public accountability. So much hopes and resources have been invested in the security sector. With the reported killings and havoc wreaked by criminals, the output could not be said to justify these huge investments.
Strangely, Buhari does not seem to be in the mood to change the team.
Yet, in the unfortunate circumstance, all eyes should rightly be on the commander-in-chief. No one, of course, expects the military and security chiefs to discuss their operations in the open for obvious tactical reasons. But the strategic goals and direction of the security sector should be a matter of public review. Any politician seeking to replace Buhari as the commander-in-chief should go beyond tirades and offer robust alternatives in the course of the current campaigns. Buhari too should make it clear what he plans to do differently to improve the security situation.
All told, two weeks to the presidential election, have there been vigorous debates from contrasting perspectives on security as a central question in the election?
To what extent will the presidential election be determined by the factor of security?
It’s doubtful if even the smartest psephologists could provide definite answers to this pertinent question.