Nigerians are not fully prepared for their self-preservation rights, argues Monday Ekpe

Last week, I first watched the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, rtd, on television before reading about the event. The man looked vacant, sounded hollow and most probably felt empty. He had just emerged from an emergency meeting of the security council, one of those numerous sterile gatherings of top security chiefs with their commander-in-chief, and announced to his increasingly bewildered and agonising compatriots that the government was worried that the citizens were gravitating towards self-help. What a discovery! 

Monguno then delivered a characteristic summary of their deliberations that day: “The council has seen it necessary to inform the general public that fight in this type of asymmetric conflict is a collective effort. It’s not something that should be confined to only the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies. When we keep saying the whole of society approach, the whole of government approach, to get a whole of national approach, what it means is that everybody has to partake in this enterprise. We are in a very difficult situation and the council understands. Mr President understands people’s concerns about the growing insecurity, but I can assure you that there’s no straight, cut-and-dried method of dealing with this thing unless all of us embrace each other.” He did not fail to add that the military hierarchy was in the process of designing a new strategy to tackle the country’s heightened insecurity. For most Nigerians, it would have made more sense for him to speak on fishery or carpentry or reggae music.

The severity of the heavily compromised safety of lives and property in Nigeria today cannot be over-stated. In the run-u p to next year’s general election and in the midst of stifling socioeconomic realities, the people surely deserve better assurance and performance from those to whom much was given long ago. For me, nothing dramatizes the hopelessness of the moment than last week’s statement by the North East Elders for Peace and Development (NEEPD) in which President Muhammadu Buhari was asked to remove Monguno.

According to them, “For the sake of posterity and the future of our children, sack the national security adviser now! We will like to start by reminding the public that, as north-east elders, we are kinsmen of the NSA and that our love for him is reflected in the support and encouragement we showed him over the years. We are, however, constrained to seek his replacement now, considering the worsening state of insecurity in Nigeria, occasioned by terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and the like. In times of national emergency, groups, institutions, and people of goodwill must set aside primordial sentiments, and stand on the side of patriotism, truth, justice and fairness.” This demand is unique in its rarity and precision. In the present-day Nigeria, it is uncommon for people from a particular state or zone to push for the removal of their ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ from juicy government posts. This underlines the desperation that now defines the psychological state of a chunk of the citizenry, regardless of region, religion and ethnicity.

In yet another signal of national discontent and frustration, last Monday, the Guardians of Democracy and Development Initiative (GDDI) staged a protest at the Abuja Unity Fountain to amplify the agitation of the men from the north-east and indeed the rest of the country. As they put it, “Truth is that Nigerians are not just getting tired, we are suffocated, frustrated, threatened, apprehensive and completely uncertain about our safety and that of our loved ones. We cannot continue this way. We have had to tolerate a national security adviser who has no record of achievement in his seven years in office. And right under his supervision, intelligence has been ignored… On the part of the Minister of Defence (Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi rtd), he has no innovation, inspiration and the right professional touch to lead such an important ministry at a critical time like this. In fact, he appears too frail, tired and out of touch with contemporary security realities and defence strategies.”  Remember it was Magashi who travelled to Kagara in Niger State after some school children were abducted there in February 2021 to literally tell his traumatised hosts that they should have overcome their cowardice and turned the heat on their predators and captors. There was no record of the one-time military governor of Sokoto State giving those poor people tips on how to obey his bizarre instruction. Did he think of the weight of his admonition then, and has he given expression to result-oriented measures that would guarantee individual and corporate safety ever since? Monguno and Magashi are certainly not the only characters to blame in the ongoing drama of shame, pain and needless, unrestrained bloodshed but the offices they occupy are too preeminent to ignore. They are critical to the vital aspects of war prosecution, especially intelligence processing, inter-agency coordination and supervision of implementation of approved plans. In other countries where value is placed on accountability, public service and good, and positive personal pride, these men would have since resigned with tons of apologies.

The people who have concluded that the war against the cocktail of evil, namely terrorism, banditry and kidnapping, has come to an abysmal end without victory for the larger population who have continued to wallow in victimhood cannot be seriously faulted. The constant operations of the rampaging monsters without adequate response from those empowered to checkmate them keep giving credence to that cynicism. The sheer audacity, viciousness and skill displayed by these merchants of despair, dehumanisation and death should trouble the minds of the persons in authority because the faith of the populace in their capacity to protect them has ebbed irreversibly, at least as it appears now.

The government’s concern about people and communities seeking help outside the constituted structures is belated and lame, for, apart from the apparent failure of the state, the need to preserve oneself is essentially innate. Besides, down the ages, great transcendent philosophers have variously enunciated this phenomenon. The efforts of Aristotle, Cicero, Saint Thomas Aquinas, John Locke and others have ensured that this concept is generously incorporated into laws and constitutions. It is not a virtue anywhere for anyone to fold his arms and be abused or slaughtered. Neither is it a crime to shield yourself from deliberate harm, whichever form it takes.

What makes our case miserable is the utter helplessness of the people in the face of sustained horror. The heavily armed non-state actors who are holding the nation hostage are clearly in the minority. Under the circumstance, it takes more than courage to defend oneself. As frightening as the atmosphere has become, the orientation and configuration of many Nigerians do not leave enough room for killing other people even when approached menacingly. For them, the resort to divine protection is, therefore, not a willingly chosen path but a choice for which there is no viable option. But somehow, just anyhow, this dilemma must be broken. From what exists in advanced societies where people have freer access to arms for game and self-defence, the option is not rosy at all. It is a proven fact that anarchy is never in short supply in domains with plenty of loose arms, where individuals and clans take action independently.      

This then means that there is no better alternative to well-equipped, better-motivated, sufficiently-numbered security forces.  Confidence in the current order can only be restored through a complete overhaul of strategies, tactics and, in some instances, personnel, that results in visible outcomes. In my view, no legacy of this administration will mean much if the existential travails of the moment persist or deteriorate.

Suggested topic: “The orientation and configuration of many Nigerians do not leave enough room for killing other people even when approached menacingly….No legacy of this administration will mean much if the existential travails of the moment persist or deteriorate”

Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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