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As big names continue to emerge on the roll call of presidential aspirants the biggest issue of the next year’s election, crippling insecurity, should be constantly put on the sharpest focus. Issues of elections are never invented by politicians. The condition of the economy, polity and society invariably throw up the issues to be addressed in every election. The 2023 election would not be different as the issues are manifest in the concrete situation.
So as Marxists would put it scientifically, what is direly needed now is a “concrete analysis of a concrete situation” for the ultimate purpose of action.
The crisis bedevilling Nigeria is multi-dimensional. The dimensions include the socio-economic ones such as mass poverty, inequality, youth joblessness, decline in public education and healthcare delivery, poor infrastructure, environmental damage etc. The political ones include the threat to national unity, the shallow content of the democratic process, voter apathy, poor accountability, impunity etc.
Politicians must, therefore, be nudged towards going beyond the important geo-political calculus of the moment. They should also take definite positions on security. Anyone who wants to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari must articulate a strategy to keep the nation secure. When candidates finally emerge, their campaign teams should include experts who are competent enough to formulate these alternative strategies with sufficient professional insights
It is a huge irony of the nation’s history that seven years ago, insecurity was a conspicuous issue of the election as it is today. Not a few pundits assessed candidates in 2019 on the basis of the suitability for the crucial job of the Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C). Expectedly the Buhari administration continues to defend its record in the security sector even while honestly admitting that some challenges remain in the sector. However, the consensus among the government, the opposition and indeed the public at large is that there is the urgent need to stem the tide of insecurity.
The magnitude of the challenges in the security sector is so immense that anyone seeking the job of the job of the C-in-C at this time in Nigeria beyond frivolity should be saluted for the courage and patriotism behind the professed aspiration to deliver the central public good od security. It is security that would obviously determine the delivery of all other public goods in the socio-economic and political realms. And that’s the more reason why aspirants (and later candidates) should go beyond fine analysis of the problem which, by the way, is very important. They should tell the public what better solutions they have to tackle insecurity in broad strategic terms. While candidates of other parties may proffer radically different approaches, even aspirants on the platform of the President’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), should also articulate what to do differently to improve on the present unacceptable condition. Ideas about how to resolve the crisis of insecurity are more than what could be found in motivational speeches, crunching of figures and display of charts.
The situation requires a strategic rethink of things in the security sector, and what’s more, reports of killings, kidnaps and destructions have become a daily affair. The sad reality is that no part of Nigeria could be said to be immune to the killings kidnaps and destruction.
In the last one month alone grim indices of insecurity have been hitting the headlines. Apart from those killed in the attack of an Abuja-Kaduna train service, scores of those kidnapped by the terrorists are still being held. Killings and destruction at Giwa in the Chikun Local Government Area Kaduna state. The Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra state was burnt down. Attacks have been reported in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State. As the President described the recent terrorist killings in Kanam and Wase communities in Plateau state as “heinous”, scores have been reported killed in parts of the neighbouring Benue state. In fact, it has been estimated that in the last two days about 100 people have been killed in Plateau, Kaduna and Osun states alone. This bloody trend has continued since the first quarter of the year. In the first three weeks of the year it was estimated nearly half a million people were killed in just three weeks mainly the northwest and north central geo-political zones of the country.
Yet, some community leaders especially in the rural areas insist that the killings, kidnaps, maiming and destructions are still largely under-reported. The feeling of helplessness is palpable among the victims of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping in the rural areas.
In another breadth, there is the well -informed position that reports of terrorists activities and other acts of criminality should not be so saturated as to appear lionising the criminals. Attention has also been pointed to the menace of fake news of violent attacks that could provoke further violence.
Amidst these conflicting views about the portrayal of the reality of the security situation, political parties, aspirants and candidates could formulate their security agenda. The agenda could be about alternative strategies or possible areas of improvement on the current situation. It makes little or no sense for anyone to seek the job of C-in-C in Nigeria today with no evidence of having serious thoughts on the security of the nation. That’s not to say that every aspirant or candidate must be a security expert. The campaign team should work on the security. The job of the campaign team is not to insult or curse opponents of the principal in the midst of the crisis plaguing the land.
Therefore, the following random notes are suggested areas for possible reflection in formulating a security agenda, the primacy of which should be obvious to all political forces desirous of solutions to the problem of insecurity.
First, the myth, often promoted by some elements in the security and defence establishment that all aspects of security are not matters for public debates, should be exploded. A clear distinction should made between operational matters on the one hand and the broad strategic direction in terms of policies and programmes on the other hand. The former is, of course, universally the prerogative of the security and defence authorities because they are professional matters. The purpose and broad dimensions of security operations should be of public interest. These are the aspects which are subject to political decisions. A politician aspiring to be the C-in-C should understand this and, in fact, develop an agenda for it in clear terms. For instance, at the earliest stage of the Boko Haram war Nigeria was actually lobbying at the international level that the group should not be categorised as terrorist. The implications of such a designation for foreign and defence policies were readily cited at the time. That is why terrorism was not officially called by its name until after a decade of terror. Now such decisions were not strictly operational matters. Similarly, there the little interrogated concept of “deradicalisation” of “repentant terrorists” whose welfare often takes precedence over the welfare of a multitude of victims of terrorism. Who determines the stage of repentance? These are strategic matters in the hands of political authorities. Anyone who aspires to be the head of the political authority must understand the issues beyond glib references to data and quoting of figures about the “level of insecurity.”
Secondly, there is a problem with job description in the security sector. Most of the issues of insecurity in the country are essentially matters of internal security. The jobs required are normally those of effective policing of the rural and urban areas and the efficient deployment of intelligence. At least, Nigeria has not formally declared a civil war. Neither is the country fighting a war against another country. But these are abnormal times. Strange things are happening in the security sector. The armed forces have virtually taken over the job of internal security in addition to their duty of defending the nation against external aggression. A political party and its candidate interested in a security agenda should work on policies to strengthen the capacities of the agencies established for internal security such as the Nigeria Police Force, State Security Service (SSS), Customs, Immigration, Civil Defence etc. Elevating the capacity of the structures for internal security would inexorably relieve the military of the burden of carrying out police duties.
Thirdly, inter-agency cooperation would be enhanced when the duties of the respective agencies are well delineated in the first place. The institution for the coordination of the agencies should be rejigged. For instance, the ugly reports of the debilitating effects of the abysmal lack of inter-agency cooperation have made a redefinition of the job of the National security Adviser an imperative. The periodic defence and strategic review made by that pivotal office should not be done in vain. The outcome of the review should guide policy steps in the sector. Besides, the firmness of the C-in-C in exercising his constitutional authority is an important factor in the circumstance. A marching order from the C-in-C should be what is it is: a marching order to be obeyed without fail by the agency to which the order is directed. Many a marching order of the C-in-C have not been seen to be obeyed by the public in the last seven years. This has engendered cynicism a great deal from the same public which should morally support government’s security policies.
Fourthly, while it is legitimate to ask questions about the competence of the apparatuses of the Nigerian state in tackling insecurity it is also important to appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by the elements of the armed forces, police, security service and other agencies. In the face of inadequate equipment and unsatisfactory welfare, the men and women of the defence and security are putting up gallant fights in the many troubled spots in the country. Many of them have been killed, injured and kidnapped by terrorists. The welfare of those who are fighting war against terrorism and other crimes should be critically reviewed to bring things up to the satisfactory level. The degree of equipment and kitting should also be examined in the light of the yearly budgetary releases to the defence and security sector. The welfare of the survivors of those who die in action should be of prime importance. Compensations should be promptly paid. Families of those in captivity including scores of children should be supported materially and morally. Pending the liberation of their loved ones, the families in agony need some comfort. In other places, these are institutionalised matters to be implemented as policies.
Fifthly, there should be a greater sense of accountability in matters of defence and security. Accountability in the sense it is being proposed here goes beyond calculating Naira and Kobo spent to keep the nation secure. Of course, the cost -and -benefit analysis of expenditures on security are basic for ensuring greater productivity and effectiveness. Beyond that, however, moral accountability is also lacking. The numbers of victims of killings and kidnaps are treated as if they are unaccountable. Hundreds of students are abducted from schools and the police cannot even come up with the accurate figures months after the acts. Tomorrow it would be eight years that scores of girls were kidnapped in a school in Chibok, Borno State. The Nigerian state is yet to give the accurate figures of those actually kidnapped and those still in captivity. The trend of failure to properly account for every life lost has continued up till now. There should be regular updates on the situation of the victims. For instance, the impression is given that the release of those kidnapped is the business of their families. That should not be so. The state has a constitutional responsibility for the security of all the people of Nigeria.
Lastly, tackling the humanitarian crisis, which is a consequence of terrorism and banditry, is also central to any productive rethink of the condition of things in the security sector. Horrific stories of terrorist attacks are unfortunately followed by heart-rending reports of sub-human conditions in the camps of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Children die in the camps out of sheer dehydration. Food and medical care are still unavailable to many of the poor people in these camps. There have been reported cases of corruption of the inadequate supplies by some officials in some places. This disheartening picture persists despite efforts of government agencies and private organisations and individuals to meet the needs of the displaced persons. The implication is that more needs to be done to tackle the humanitarian crisis in the land. The programme to address it should be part of a security policy.
There several other areas to examine in the sector. The important thing is to embark on a rethink of security and defence policies as well as practice in order to reverse the extremely dangerous trend on insecurity.