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THE ZABARMARI MASSACRE
BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
The response to the last weekend bestial killing of dozens of rice farmers in Zabarmari should go beyond lamentation and making the usual calls on the President to wake up to his duty as the Commander-in-Chief.
The government and the people alike should never mistake the clear message embodied in what happened in Jere Local Government Area of Borno state.
This chilling chapter in the tragic story of bloodletting which began in Borno state 11 years ago should compel a serious rethink of the government’s anti-terrorist campaign within the broad context of the strategy for national security.
It is time to think scientifically at policy level about how to end the Boko Harm terrorism and other drivers of insecurity in the land.
The job is not that of only the soldiers on the frontline.
Expectably, there have been expressions of outrage by President Muhammadu Buhari himself, the National Assembly, important interest groups and the public at large. Other countries and international organisations have expressed concern about the degeneration of the Nigerian situation.
The House of Representatives has audaciously resolved to invite the President to explain what is happening to security in the land. The Senate is content with repeating its earlier calls for the sacking of the non-performing service chiefs. The lawmakers are calling for fresh ideas in the prosecution of the war against terrorism among other security steps taken by the government. The counter-argument has been that it is the prerogative of the President as the Commander-in-Chief to determine the tenure of his service chiefs. In any case, Buhari has routinely ignored the calls for rejigging the security architecture of Nigeria. Instead, the President has given the service chiefs several “marching orders” to secure the northeast where Boko Haram activities are prevalent. Mind-boggling stories such as the Zabarmari one would suggest that these consecutive orders might have been obeyed only breach. The orders are often followed by other conflicting official stories on the performance of the military. One version is that the government is supporting the military with the “needful “ to do the job. Another story is that “foreign powers” are denying Nigeria the access to the arms purchase needed to fight the insurgents.
Unfortunately, the reality of the Nigerian political situation is that there is no institution or a countervailing force to issue the commander-in-chief a “marching order” to perform his own constitutional duty of security. To expect anything to the otherwise is to be oblivious of the balance of forces withing the Nigerian state at the moment. Some security experts have suggested among other things the need for “accountability” on the part of those in charge of solving the security problem. For instance, the army commander in charge of Zabarmari area of the troubled Borno state ought to be made accountable for the killings that took place in his area of command.
The same experts also say changing the chief of army staff might not necessarily be the solution. Yet, the leadership position of the chief of army staff goes with enormous responsibility. It has been rightly pointed out that in other climes, a general in command of an army that has recorded the magnitude of losses of military personnel and civilian casualties witnessed in the northeast in the last five years would on his own quit even when the commander-in-chief is reluctant to act appropriately. However, the basic principle cannot be disputed. The chief of army staff should be made accountable while the commander-in-chief, who determines the tenure of service chiefs, should be told that he too has the ultimate responsibility in this grave matter.
The President and his powerful advisers should, therefore, be persuaded to have a sober and proper view of the danger this worsening insecurity is posing to the socio- economic and political health of the nation.
Apart from the constitutional provision that security is a “primary purpose of government,” Buhari sought the people’s mandate in 2015 and 2019 on the platform of security as one of his three cardinal programmes (the other two being the economy and anti-corruption campaign).
During the 2015 campaigns especially, a strong point in favour of Buhari’s eligibility for the job of the president was that he would be a suitable commander-in-chief given his illustrious military career.
So, the public should not be tired of reminding Buhari of his promise. Security is a central issue of governance in Nigeria today. The people should not slip into cynicism about it. It is a matter of life and death. As the Yoruba would say: “ti ina ko ba tan lori, eje ki tan lekan” (as long as a man has lice-infested hairs on his head, his fingernails would remain blood-stained).
For clarity, official efforts at recasting the strategy for contending with the security challenges should be duly acknowledged. For instance, in the 2019 review of National Security Strategy (NSS) a vital link was drawn between physical security and social security. This organic link stated in the important document is, incidentally, at the heart of the suggestions coming from the NASS and the general public in the last few days.
Notably, in a forum convened on the 2019 document, the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd.), reportedly said inter alia: “ Besides focussing on the effectiveness of security providers, it (the document) incorporates several key issues as a way of ensuring their relevance, public legitimacy, ownership and sustainability, as well as facilitates their implementation, while improving the efficiency of how security is provided.
“In this regard, the new notion of national security under President Muhammadu Buhari administration places emphasis on the people and not the state and it is aimed at enhancing the social well -being of the citizens.
“To this end, it is imperative to continuously assess the current and future threats in the environment and develop appropriate resilience and capacity to mitigate the challenges.”
A year after that statement was made, not a few observers of the Nigerian situation would wonder if this nation has any security strategy at all. The security outlook has become grimmer, what with the burgeoning activities of terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals.
A few days ago, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adu Abubakar, expressed the seeming helplessness of the people who are supposed to be the focus of the security strategy. Certainly, the highly revered Sultan is not wont to make glib statements on serious national issues. According to him, the media has not fully reflected the atrocities of bandits in the northwest: bandits armed with guns move from house to house to harass and extort money and food from hapless people. Armed bandits go to markets to make transactions. They sack villages unchallenged. They kill farmers on their farms like what happened in Zabarmari in the northeast. In recent times, a number of farmers have been killed by bandits in Katsina State, the home state of the President. Some local government areas in the state are reportedly more of ungoverned spaces than secure parts of the polity. Similar heart-rending stories are told about Zamfara, Kebbi, Kaduna and other states in the zone.
The sad stories of farmers being levied by bandits as a condition to return to their farms are told by Nigerians as if these are normal things. Nigerians seem to be losing their sense of outrage at horrific news. Major highways and inter-state roads all over the country have become extremely unsafe due to the activities of kidnappers and armed robbers. Even policemen have been reportedly kidnapped by the criminals. The impunity is such that payment of ransom is freely advertised. In a number of incidents, policemen and soldiers have been killed like the people they are supposed to protect. Any honest survey of the security situation will show that no part of Nigeria is really safe. While farmers are killed by bandits in the villagers, city dwellers are kidnapped for ransom by criminals. You can only talk of the relative enormity of the problem as you move from one state to the other.
For understandable reasons, military and security chiefs dislike liberal reportage of the type of mass murder than happened in Zabarmari. According to them, such attention given to the crimes in the news may unwittingly amount to lionising the criminals. The reality, however, is that terrorists carry out the sort of Zabarmari massacre to send a message to the people in the tradition of what anarchists call “propaganda by deed.” It is for the purpose of shock and awe. In the process, the terrorists attract attention. As one theorist puts it, one act in the typology of the Zabarmari massacre could “in a few days , make more propaganda than thousands of pamphlets.” In the digital age, you could talk of propaganda in a few seconds!
The rethink of the anti-terror strategy being suggested here should, therefore, focus on the subjective as much as the physical aspects of the campaign. In the apt words of one expert: “War is physical, terrorism is mental.”
After 11 years of “degrading” Boko Haram and “killing” its leader several times, the moral component of the anti- terror strategy should now be reshaped.
By the way, it should be noted that the attempt to infuse some moral content into the efforts in the northeast appears to be wrong-footed in many respects. The so-called deradicalisation project has not produced any remarkable good fruit. The process needs better expert handling and should be thorough-going because of the sensitivity of it.
It is a delicate thing. But the present politics of it is being badly played. Not a few victims of the Boko Haram terror languishing in the camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) would find it revolting that after a shoddy process of “deradicalisation,” some mass murderers are being proposed for enlistment into the Nigerian army and other security agencies.
The matter is made worse by the rhetoric of pessimism in the land. In an attempt to rationalise the glaring incompetence and gross irresponsibility in the prosecution of the anti-terror war, some military officers and administration officials as well as their retinue of experts often give the impression that terrorism can never be defeated. They tell you it has become a normal part of the global socio-political existence. However, this is historically not true. Terrorism can be defeated.
In contradistinction to this morbid manifesto of the invincibility of terrorism, a study by America Rand Corporation actually demonstrates the possibility of ending terrorism. In a global map of events covering the period of 1968 to 2006, the think tank shows that while 43% of terrorist groups ended using the instrumentality of politics 40% ended by policing. In the same map, it is indicated significantly that 10% ended by virtue of victory of the terrorists while only 7% ended by the employment of military force.
The relevant points here to the Nigerian situation is that the subjective aspects of the efforts should be taken more seriously by the political leadership. And, perhaps, more significantly, the centrality of proper policing should be acknowledged as a matter of policy. This brings to the fore the old questions of the roles and capacity of the police and other agencies responsible for internal security. Securing the borders against arms flow and the movement of terrorists and bandits are matters for the customs, immigration, intelligence agencies, civil defence corps and vigilante groups. So the activities of the professional soldiers should be synchronised with the roles of the non- military actors. The gallantry of the civilian elements embedded in the military joint task forces operating in the northeast is a proof of the validity of this proposition.
On the more urgent military question of truly degrading Boko Haram, at least there should be a better synergy of purpose at the military hierarchy since the President is adamant on keeping his favourite service chiefs. The often reported dysfunctionality at the military and security hierarchy is patently destructive to any strategy that Buhari may fashion to tackle the worsening problem of insecurity.
All told, in the grim situation of national security it may be not be misplaced to have an optimistic view of things hinged on a critical review of strategy by the policymakers and their experts.
Given honesty of purpose, at the policy level, it is possible to end the Boko Haram terrorism and other security problems.
“Given honesty of purpose, at the policy level, it is possible to end the Boko Haram terrorism and other security problems”