One More Item on Buhari’s Plate



In his new year message to the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari expectedly reiterated that the focus of his administration would be on the economy, security and fighting corruption.

By the way, that was also the proclaimed agenda of the president in his first term.
In some respects, critics and sympathisers seem to agree that Buhari’s legacy would ultimately be determined by his scorecards on these items on the agenda.

However, the prevailing national mood should make Buhari to consciously add at least one more item on his plate. That item which may ultimately define Buhari’s legacy is national integration. What the president does or fails to do to promote national unity may even have impacts on his efforts in the areas he has elected to focus upon.

The public perception of the leadership in matters of equity, fairness, social justice and inclusiveness may be relevant to the legitimacy of the government’s activities in economic management, implementing security strategy and waging war against corruption and economic crimes.
For instance, the increasing disunity that is manifest in the debate on national security is a proof that practically every policy or programme of the government is perceived to have regional, ethnic or even religious undercurrents. The onus is, therefore, on the government to correct this perception not only in words, but also by deed.

This point is amply demonstrated by the raging controversy that has greeted the establishment of a security outfit by the southwest states to complement the efforts of the police in combatting kidnapping, armed robbery and killings.

The extremely unhelpful statement by Attorney General Abubakar Malami is certainly not one of the deeds that could dispel the fears of those accusing the president of being sectional in his attitude to governance. Malami’s statement is replete with arrogance of power and political immaturity. The matter is even made worse by the fact that five of the six governors subscribing to the Amotekun idea of security belong to the All Progressives Congress (APC) as Malami. The attorney general arrogates to himself the powers he simply does not have constitutionally. Instead of grandstanding, the attorney general and indeed the Buhari administration should have engaged the southwest governors politically especially because the matter on the table is the very sensitive issue of insecurity.

While Malami’s response is inappropriate, a lot is also wrong with the conception and design of the Amotekun strategy at least from the way the idea is articulated even by scholars. More work still needs to be done so as to make Amotekun achieve its purpose.
For instance, as Senior Advocate Femi Falana points out in the other piece on this page today, it is inexcusable that Amotekun was put in place without the enabling laws by the respective states collaborating on the security scheme. This is a basic operational requirement for the outfit to function lawfully.

Besides, the project suffers from poor articulation. The governors may know precisely that Amotekun is not a regional army, but an effort to support police operations in keeping internal security. But that cannot be said of all the supporters of Amotekun. You cannot be sure that everyone has a conceptual clarity of what is involved. There are those who see Amotekun as the nucleus of an armed regional police. There are also those who think they need no arms to fight AK47 -wielding criminals as they would rely on the “powers of our ancestors.” So the first step should be a massive programme of public enlightenment on this matter of life and death so as to remove the conceptual confusion.
What should otherwise be a sober conversation has been unwittingly turned into threats, insults and scaremongering. The gladiators have reduced a matter of collective security to ethnic and regional conspiracies. The ethnic and regional champions from all sides are exploiting the vacuum created by a monumental failure of policy articulation and design. The other day a leader of a Yoruba group and a spokesman of a Fulani association were the guests on a television programme on Amotekun . The anchor asked the Fulani man about his understanding of the Amotekun thing. In response, he said he had little or no idea of the security arrangement as members of his community were not “carried along.” The Yoruba man asked if a “ thief” should be consulted while making a security plan against theft. According to the Yoruba man, alatise lo matise ara e (every man has the responsibility for his own well-being). About a week after, another Fulani man was on the same station describing the Yoruba people as “primitive.”
Unless the ugly trend in the controversy is reversed by the leadership seizing the moment and making clarifications, things may get nastier in the coming days.
To be sure, the security of lives and property, for instance, in Lagos or Ondo state is not the security of only the Yoruba people in those states. The government of a state has responsibility for the security for all residents and even visitors to the state. Neither is the government of Kano state responsible for only the security of the Fulani nor the Anambra state government responsible for the security of the Igbo in the state alone. The lives and property state governments have constitutional responsibility to protect are not only those of people indigenous to those states or regions of the country. After all, it is not only the Yoruba people who pay taxes in Oyo state just as not only the Igbo pay taxes in Enugu. The tax man in Kano state assesses tax payers not on the basis of their ethnicity but their incomes and property. From the tone and tenor of the debate, it seems that there is a great deal of confusion about the workings of the modern state on the part of the élite. The debate has also brought to the fore again the gross pessimism of the elite about the prospects of a united Nigeria.

The prejudice in the Amotekun debate becomes more tragic when you recollect that virtually all the occupants of the office of the Inspector-General of Police since 1999 have enunciated one idea or the other about community policing and complementary efforts of the community to policing. Yet the Amotekun debate seems not to be informed by the previous conversations.

It is also an irony that barely a month before Amotekun emerged on the security horizon of the southwest the president inaugurated the reviewed National Security Strategy including internal security. The emphasis is said to be on overall human security. If the review was participatory enough the state governments ought to have made inputs to reflect the ideas of complementary outfits to the police given the scale of internal insecurity

The Nigerian elite should decide on their role in nation-building with the president and commander-in-chief taking the lead in this historical assignment.

The federal government should act in the interests of all states and should be seen to be doing so. In matters of security in particular, efforts should be made to bolster public confidence in agencies and institutions in the sector. Given the prevalent level of mistrusts and suspicions, it would not be out of place if the National Assembly wake up to its responsibility. Its committees on the constitutional provision on reflecting the federal character of Nigeria in all departments and agencies should check recent recruitments into security and defence organisations to ensure that the constitution is complied with in all cases.

Buhari should take steps that would make him to be remembered as a president who made conscious efforts to unite Nigeria and not to divide it.
Buhari’s party, the APC, gave some attention to the National Question in the campaign for elections in 2015 and 2019. The president should be guided by his party manifesto.

The National Question is variously framed as issues of Nigerian federalism, restructuring, national integration, unity in diversity etc.
Therefore, the challenge before the Buhari administration is how to frame the National Question. Not only must the question be framed, the administration must take policy steps to answer it in the interest of justice, equity, peace and unity.