Insecurity and Identity Politics



In the midst of …clear and present dangers nationwide, Nigerians whilst ignoring their common perils, continued to produce and reproduce more and more nominal stakeholders than dedicated caretakers of their sorely distressed fatherland or motherland.
– Tekena Tamuno

The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari faces two mutually reinforcing problems among others. These two issues, to which the government should pay a greater attention, are worsening insecurity and serious obstacles to national integration.

These are really not fresh developments as such for the administration, you may say. But the dimensions of the crises of the Nigerian state have taken in recent times should compel an urgent rethink of things.

This is necessary if the administration is to avoid being defined ultimately by these problems.

All that Buhari and his advisers need to do is learn simple lessons of history.

In the last 60 years of independent Nigeria, successive administrations have been irretrievably defined by certain developments. The president should, therefore, studiously prevent his era being defined by insecurity and polarisation of the nation.

It is not too late for the President to reboot the dynamic of his administration.
Buhari should be conscious of his place in history.

The urgency of the matter is perhaps demonstrated by the statements from the crucial apparatuses of the Nigerian state in the last 48 hours.

On Monday, the State Security Services (SSS) warned groups and personalities against destabilisation of the country by pitching nationalities and groups against one another.

According to the SSS, the state would not permit “planners of mayhem” from carrying out their plans. The agency restated its “commitment” to the internal security of the nation while asking those with useful information on those allegedly instigating violence to make them available to the state.

It was essentially a reassurance to the to the public that the state is firmly in charge.

Barely 24 hours later, the defence headquarters reminded members of the public and the armed forces that “all officers and men of the Nigerian Military swore to an oath of allegiance to be totally loyal to the civil authority of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and protect the constitution.”

According to the military authorities, the implication of the oath is “unalloyed loyalty to the President Commander in Chief and full subordination to the civil authorities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

In fact, the defence headquarters were referring to a newspaper report with the following caption: Nigeria Needs a Rawlings Now – NDP’.

The National Chairman of National Democratic Party (NDP), Chidi Chukwuanyi, reportedly said: “the state of corruption in the country calls for the replication of the Ghanian experience under former President Jerry Rawlings in Nigeria’.

Now the Rawlings metaphor should be situated in its proper historical context. In 1979, a lanky Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings appeared on the political firmament of Ghana after the botched coup of May 15 that year. Rawlings and his collaborators were arrested and sentenced to death. They were to be executed by firing squads. During the trial Rawlings made a speech against injustice and corruption which galvanised public support for the cause of the rebels. Five weeks later, he escaped from custody to lead the June 4 coup. As part of his “house cleaning exercise,” three former heads of state (Lt. Gen.
Akwasi Afrifa, General Ignatius Acheampong and Lt. Gen. Fredrick Akuffo) and eight other officers were executed by the Rawlings Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Other killings followed as Ghana came under military rule.

Rawlings later contested and won democratic elections in 1992 and 1996. So, he was actually an elected president of Ghana between 1993 and 2001. But this was not the Rawlings referred to in the NDP statement. It was the 1979 Rawlings that employed violence to assume power and stabilise himself in power. That was the Rawlings of the age of military violence and dictatorship in Africa.

In the reckoning of many political forces, that was a bygone epoch. A resurgence of such bloody political culture would certainly not be welcome today by democratic forces.

Nigeria aspires to build a liberal democracy. The NDP statement should, therefore, be roundly condemned as all it could achieve in the Nigerian context today is anarchy. It is simply not permissible in a liberal democratic setting. Its language is not that of democracy. The approach is an utter negation of the liberal democratic principles on the basis of which the party was registered in the first place.

Political parties, civil society organisations and individuals have constitutional rights to mount pressures on government and push for a change from a wrong direction. The NDP and other parties have the rights to begin to strengthen their organisational capacity, win more members, design saleable programmes for the people and work towards defeating the party in power in the next election. All that should be done within the ambit of the same constitution from which the rights are derived.

Maybe, the defence and security agencies should not overact to such inappropriate statements from marginal political elements. As the security agencies perform their duties, the focus should be more on the basis of the rising pressures in the society. The fact is that Rawlings and his collaborators did not issue any statement before they took the political stage in Ghana.

The government should work harder on the material and structural basis of insecurity and the separatist impulses. Many compatriots (experts and non-experts alike) have been drawing the link between the abysmal lack of social security and the increasing threat to physical security.

Besides, the mismanagement of the identity politics by the Buhari administration has compounded the problem. One consequence of it is that criminality is being decorated with ethnic, religious and regional labels. Terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, kidnappers etc.

are all criminals. They should be treated as such according to the law. The process of justice is not enhanced by the ethnic or religious identity of the suspected criminal.

The capacity of the state to perform its constitutional duty of ensuring the security of all is weakened by linking insecurity with the identitarian politics that is fast growing in the land.

In the circumstance, one could imagine that the job of law enforcement agents would become more problematic.

For instance, the religious and ethnic identities of the killers and the victims in southern Kaduna have eclipsed the heinous fact of criminality taking place in that part of Nigeria.

That was probably why the Commander of Operation Safe Haven, Major General Chukwuemeka Okonkwo, is reportedly making the efforts to deny that the killings in Southern Kaduna are not “ethnic cleansing.”

According to the general, what happened “were activities of criminal elements on both sides.” He attributed the violence to the attacks and reprisals by communities.

The job of soldiers, policemen and other security agents sent to keep peace in crisis zones would be made easier if their mission were perceived by all residents as that of rooting out the criminals troubling the communities.

The political solution is, of course, beyond the state agents. They should, however, avoid getting embroiled in the identity politics.

It is the job of political, religious, regional, ethnic, and community leaders to work peacefully against playing identity politics with criminality. In that wise, it would be easier to isolate the criminals for who they are while the law takes its course.

The danger of playing identity politics (of ethnicity, religion, regions etc.) with explosive security questions should be clear to all by now.

The victims of insecurity are spread all over Nigeria, although the incidence of criminality could be relatively higher in one part than the other at a particular time. Terrorists have not stopped killing in the northeast, banditry is still rife in Katsina, and highways and communities across the country remain unsafe because of the activities of kidnappers and armed robbers.

For clarity, identity politics is squarely legitimate. Those playing it are only exercising their constitutional freedom of association and giving expression to their group interests.

So ethnic and regional groups are performing their self-assigned historical roles. They have elected to speak for their ethnic groups or regions.

It is the moral and political duty of those entrusted with managing the affairs of this nation and all those convinced about the rationality of integration to speak for Nigeria.

Buhari should give leadership in this direction. The President and Commander-in-Chief should take the promotion of national unity as a cardinal programme. He should be keenly conscious of the public perception that he is not doing enough in this respect at the moment

In their words and actions, security agencies should, therefore, be wary of being perceived as criminalising the legitimate activities of those who champion their group interests.
Given the degree of the ethnic and regional contradictions worsened by the manipulation of the elite, Buhari’s response to the practioners of identity politics should not be mere rhetorical dismissal.

The President should respond by action of effective governance based on social justice to all persons and equity to all parts of the country. In any case, that is the duty assigned to him by the constitution. It is a symptom of lack of effective governance that the state appears so incompetent in dealing with the killers and other criminals. If the state performs its duty there would be no basis for any one to play politics of religion or ethnicity with insecurity.

So, governance is the word.

In his later years, eminent historian, Tekena Tamuno, published volumes of his reflections on governance, nation-building and security. You may not agree with all his conclusions, but you cannot ignore the sweep of his analysis. The quote above is from one of the volumes entitled Stakeholders at War in Nigeria: From Lord Lugard to President Jonathan Goodluck, published three years before he died in 2015.

Now this reporter finds the description of citizens as “stakeholders” somewhat problematic. The category stakeholder suggests a tansanctional relationship between the nation and its citizens. Nigeria is not a business. It is a country of people with interests which are sometimes antagonistic. Each group or class could pursue its interests within the limit of the law.

“Dedicated caretaker” is, therefore, a more dialectical categorisation.
It is worth pondering Tamuno’s analysis of Nigeria problems that more caretakers are needed than those struggling for their narrow stakes instead of the national interest.

In the present situation of insecurity and divisive politics, the President should rise to the occasion and be the chief dedicated caretaker of the federal republic.