A Dangerous Politics of Security

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE

It might have been a mere coincidence that at last President Muhammadu Buhari “accepted” yesterday the “resignations of service and their retirement” at a time the political consequences of rising insecurity are dangerously becoming manifest.

However, not a few would draw a link between this announcement from Aso Rock and the gross incompetence in tackling insecurity in the land amid the ferment generated by this failure of the state to perform a constitutional duty.

After all, the central question today is how to secure Nigeria and the service chiefs are expected to give professional leadership in the circumstance. The seeming lack of that leadership in the crucial security sector is the basis of the present crisis that is taking on political, ethnic or regional coloration. Come to think of it, some of the killings and kidnappings are reportedly perpetrated by elements of terrorist organisations based outside Nigeria. So the territorial integrity of Nigeria has been brought into question given the swathes of ungoverned spaces in parts of the country.

Although the spectre of insecurity haunting Nigeria varies in forms and intensity as you move from one part of the country to the other, yet no part of the country can be said to be safe in real terms.

In particular, the politics of the security of lives and property has taken a dangerous dimension in the southwest in the last few days. The unity of the country is increasingly being threatened by the errors of omission and commission by the various players, with the Buhari administration being the original culprit.

There were at least two triggers to the present crisis. One was the ultimatum issued by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State to “those occupying the forest reserves… illegally to quit.” The immediate background was the spate of killings, kidnapping and invasion of farmlands in the state. Late last year, a traditional ruler left the governor’s office after a meeting and was killed on his way back to his domain. More deaths and kidnappings have been reported this year. The Ilesha-Akure road linking Ondo and Osun states has become a den of kidnappers. It is one of the most unsafe roads in Nigeria.

The other event was the “order” given by Mr. Sunday Adeyemo, better known as Sunday Igboho. He has vowed to chase out to those accused of killings, rape, kidnaping and destruction of farms in the northern part of Oyo state. Igboho is only giving vent to the growing discontents in his fatherland, according his supporters. Matters appeared to have come to a head with the brutal murder of the Dr. Fatai Aborode, a chieftain of People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in his farm on Apodun road, Igangan. Despite the valiant efforts of the government of Governor Seyi Makinde and Oyo State Police Commissioner Ngozi Onadeko, the security situation especially in Igangan and other places in the northern part of the state, has been degenerating fast. A number of suspects were reportedly arrested. This could not douse the tension. In sum, this could roughly be described as the context for the rising populism of which Igboho has now become the symbol among the Yoruba nationalists at home and in the diaspora and across social classes.

This is, of course, in the pattern of non-state actors increasingly filling the apparent leadership vacuum created by the abysmal lack of people-oriented governance at various levels in Nigeria.

The timely intervention of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum led by Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state may have helped, to some extent, in de-escalating the tension with the outcome of the Monday meeting in Akure.

The fundamental issues at the root of the crisis were isolated with proposed solutions that could be applied in other states of the federation.

In the meeting of the governors with the leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the “misconstrued” statement of Akeredolu was clarified. According to the communique of the meeting, the cattle breeders agreed with the state government that “night grazing should be banned henceforth” and that “occupation of the state forest reserves illegally is condemned.”

Significantly, the meeting amplified the point to which the federal and state governments seemed to have been paying only a policy lip service : “free range grazing” is an obsolete mode of livestock production; ranching should be embraced as a modern method of animal husbandry.

Perhaps, the greatest achievement of the Akure parley (significantly attended by governors from the north and south) is the separation of criminality from ethnic politics: “Criminals should be apprehended and punished, no matter the origin, class or status…

“No one has sent anyone away from any state or region, but all hands must be on deck to fight criminality.”

That’s the crux of the matter.

The ethnic or religious label does not enhance the process of dealing with criminality. No kidnapper takes the proceeds of his crime to his ethnic or religious group. Criminals hardly distinguish between members of their ethnic or religious groups in targeting their victims. For instance, while falsely claiming to fight the cause of Islam, the Boko Haram murderers have killed Muslims and Christians alike. So a criminal should be treated as a criminal without being identified as Yoruba, Fulani or Kanuri. To do otherwise is to make the process of law enforcement and, indeed the justice system in general, vulnerable to diversionary politicisation.

In retrospect, therefore, in the spirit of the Akure Declaration, Akeredolu had no business issuing a prior ultimatum before enforcing the relevant laws of Ondo state against anyone trespassing forest reserves. The unnecessary order has made his otherwise legitimate policy step vulnerable to politicisation. He should just have enforced the law as the constitution permits him to do in the situation.

Meanwhile, in the heat of the debate of Akeredolu’s statement the point that seems to be missing is that permitting the destruction of a forest reserve in a place in which one luckily still exists in the age of climate change is a recipe for environmental disaster. This scientific fact transcends ethnic politics. It’s also ultimately a security issue.

The matter was worsened by the most inappropriate response from Aso Rock. Leadership demands that the federal government should have engaged the state government on such sensitive issues in a different way. The statement issued in Buhari’s name gave the impression of an instinctive defence of the “ Fulani herdsmen” who were the targets of Akeredolu’s order.

When some state governors decided to evict hapless Almajiris from their states during the lockdown last year, there was no rebuke from Aso Rock against the violation of the rights of the poor boys. The respective state governments should have made provision for their security and welfare as demanded by the constitution. Neither did the police arrest some northern elements who issued quit orders to Igbo residents in northern Nigeria some time ago.

The present crisis is, therefore, another ringing reminder that for the remaining 28 months or so of his tenure, Buhari should focus on tackling insecurity decisively and promoting national unity concretely.

In words and actions, the President should take steps to dispel the widespread perception that he is a sectional leader. Policy conception and implementation should be directed at cementing the unity of the country as an important task henceforth.

It is not too late to correct the political errors that may ultimately define his administration.

To begin with, the President should stop ignoring the calls for restructuring which is embodied in the manifesto of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Buhari needs to act fast because he doesn’t have eternity to make a difference.
This should be coupled with a rethink of the security strategy especially with the new appointments and the other changes that could be made in the security sector in the near future.

The point cannot be over-emphasised that the failure of Buhari to fulfil his electoral promise to secure Nigeria is giving rise to frustration among the citizens. As a result, there is desperation almost everywhere. Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno once said publicly that the “army has failed.” This true leader of his people has narrowly escaped being killed in attacks by Boko Haram on more than one occasion. The same frustration was evident in Benue when 70 coffins of those killed were displayed in Markurdi. While Governor Samuel Ortom wept publicly, the response from the federal government was that Benue people should live in peace with those they accused of killings. It is the marked difference in responses to problems of insecurity in various parts of the country that has reinforced the accusation that Buhari favours a group over the other in security matters.

A rigorous survey of the security landscape would show that nationally insecurity is worse today than it was in 2015 when Buhari made security one of the cardinal items on his agenda. The verdict from even those who are part of the government is that insecurity is worsening in the land. Roads are unsafe. Farmlands are insecure. Classrooms are endangered. There is hardly a day that killings are not reported in one part of Nigeria or the other.
To be charitable to the Commander-in-Chief, who happens to be a retired general, these certainly cannot be comforting indices of security.

Examining the New Populism

The recourse of some elements in the southwest appears to be the “liberation force” led by Igboho. This is borne out of the frustration with the constitutionally established security system – the police, armed forces, intelligence agencies, para-military organisation etc. Even if you call what is happening opportunism, it is the failure of the Nigerian state that has provided the basis for it to blossom. The Amotekun security outfits were legally established in the southwest last year as the solution to the huge deficits in policing in the region. By the way, no one seems to be asking the question now: whatever happened to Amotekun in Oyo state with the emergence of the “liberation force” of Igboho? Can’t Amotekun simply protect the Ondo state forest reserves without making political statements?

This is the time to reason.

Issuing orders to any group of people identified on ethnic or religious basis to quit anywhere in Nigeria is not the way to approach insecurity problems. The matter is made more dangerous when non-state actors, who also clamour for secession, decide to chase members of other ethnic groups from their areas on the basis of insecurity. No person or group should be permitted to foist anarchy on this country.

It’s intriguing that a segment of the Yoruba elite has embraced the upsurge of the new populism and the emergence of a new leader of the movement. Those members of the elite are advised to scrutinise the new populism burgeoning in the land. For those who hunger for this new instrument of “liberation,” it may be in order to caution: beware of a mission not clearly defined.

For instance, the Yoruba elements who want the Fulani expelled from the land of Oduduwa should pause and think of what would happen if the Kano opposite number to Igboho also decides to chase out the Yoruba in Kano for whatever reason. That could be the beginning of a series of events the end of which only the clairvoyants can even attempt to predict now. This is the danger of politicisation of insecurity.

It makes no sense to walk blindly into a war for which you are not prepared; it is worse when you are not clear about the true purpose. It is never bravery to attempt to do so.

As the Yoruba would say, “ti a ba nsokun, a ma riran” (it doesn’t mean you are blind when in tears).