Adebayo Olowo-Ake agues the urgent need to address the operational status of both the DSS and the Police Force

It is no longer news that Nigeria has been battling a dogma-inspired insurgency for well over a decade, while other forms of security challenges ranging from kidnapping to banditry, ritual killings and outright armed robbery have featured prominently and with regularity in the country’s domestic security calculus. A lot has thus been said and written by many experts and erudite observers on the state of Nigeria’s security and how to adequately respond to it.

While not an expert, I consider that I could pass as an informed observer and I thus intend to add my own contribution to re-visiting the issue and offering some suggestions. I will therefore attempt, in this analysis, to provide an overview of the evolution of Nigeria’s security architecture from the period of the country’s vociferous anti-apartheid policy, to the ECOMOG years and then to the threats I have listed above. I will then focus on the need to ramp up support in all forms for two critical legs of Nigeria’s domestic security apparatus, as I believe they are the most deserving of support in the country’s current response to the threats facing her. It is my considered opinion that comprehensively enhancing the capacity of these two institutions will strengthen national security as we build up to the conduct of elections and ultimately to H-Hour, i.e. May 29, 2023 when a new administration is expected to assume office.

First, permit me to submit that the threats Nigeria has had to contend with in her recent history have been purely internal, dogma-inspired, asymmetric, fluid and protracted. Emanating from the north-east, where the country shares borders with three countries (Cameroon, Chad and Niger), it was, in its origins, a home-grown threat but gained a generous infusion of foreign elements and weapons, equipment and devices, proliferating towards her borders from Libya (where the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) had dropped several sophisticated weaponry in its attempt to oust Colonel Moammer Gaddafi).

The cocktail of internal threats that emerged to further undermine Nigeria’s internal security, i.e. banditry, terrorism, kidnapping, ritual killings and armed robbery only served to further complicate the existing danger that persists to varying degrees in the north east and in other parts of the country. These criminal activities sometimes seamlessly blended into the on-going insurgency, thus complicating the response of state institutions.

Secondly, I aver that while the threats identified above thrived on land, Nigeria also faced threats in her maritime domain, largely unleashed by pirates who at one time, significantly held sway in that space. It is to the credit of the Nigerian Navy (NN) and to some degree, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) that the country has been de-listed from the list of states ravaged by piracy. This outcome was evidently due to the robust training, deployment of modern platforms (including seaward defence boats built domestically) and application of high-tech architecture like the ‘Falcon Eye’ maritime domain surveillance systems by the NN. This is a monumental achievement that not only should be celebrated, but whose current status must be maintained at all costs to make Nigeria’s blue economy assured and secured.

The oil boom years of the mid to late 1970s saw Nigeria develop an activist foreign policy, under the Murtala-Obasanjo administration that made Africa “the centerpiece” of that endeavour. It was firmly held that as the largest Black country on earth, Nigeria would not fold its hands while fellow blacks suffered under the yoke of racial segregation and in sub-human bondage in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. That resolve saw Nigeria fund most of the liberation movements in these countries and brought her into close foreign policy conflict with the Euro-Atlantic powers who supported the apartheid regimes. That state of affairs suggested that the threat facing Nigeria would be external or externally motivated and likely informed a re-articulation of the order of battle of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It resulted in the re-building of both the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), the NN and the domestic intelligence service.

Thus, that administration acquired for the NAF, the MiG-21 multi-role all-weather supersonic aircraft and its all-weather supersonic interceptor variant (among other platforms), while the NN was gifted several missile-capable ships, including NNS Erinomi and Eyinmiri (Mk IX Corvettes equipped with Seacat missiles), NNS Dorina and Otobo (Mark III Corvettes), the Tiger-Class Fast Missile ships (NNS Agu, Ayam, Damisa, Ekpe, Ekun and Siri all equipped with a combination of Exocet and Otomat missiles) and the general purpose Frigate NNS Aradu (with Otomat missiles). The NN, with this order of battle, was tasked with defending Nigeria’s emerging offshore oil production facilities from a possible threat from South Africa and its western allies, even though this was never publicly stated.

The tension in relations between Nigeria and the Euro-Atlantic powers eventually ebbed with the liberation of Angola by the MPLA (heavily funded by Nigeria and backed by Cuban troops and Soviet weapons and equipment), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by the combined forces of ZAPU and ZANU and the commencement of disannulling the control of Namibia by the racist South African regime. The icing on the cake for Nigeria came with the first ever visit of an American President to black Africa when President Jimmy Carter visited Nigeria from March 31 –April 3 1978. That visit was of great significance indeed and marked a watershed in relations between both countries. It also cemented Nigeria’s credentials as a medium power globally and the number one power on the African continent.

Twelve years later, a threat of a different kind emerged, this time not against Nigeria directly, but against West Africa. The civil war in Liberia and later, Sierra Leone, posed enormous security challenges to the sub-region. The world was fixated on the American-led conflict to force President Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait and could not muster any response to the Liberian problem. This left Nigeria, under General Ibrahim Babangida, to moot the idea of the Economic Community of West African States Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), which intervened in both countries, though at enormous cost to Nigeria. After a very difficult start, ECOMOG, largely dominated by Nigerian forces, managed to stabilise major parts of the mission areas, becoming the first ever sub-regional pacific instrument in the world for the management of armed conflict.

It is instructive at this juncture to point out that Nigeria had become a major participant in United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping missions—from its first ever bilateral support to Tangayika (now Tanzania) in the early 1960s, to its forming part of the UN Mission in the Congo. Thereafter, the country contributed troops to virtually every UN mission, including deploying to the Middle East (Lebanon) and Europe (Croatia). Nigeria saw her role in these missions as helping to neutralise threats to global peace and international security, rather than direct threats to her own sovereignty.

Although Nigeria had suffered from several dogma-inspired violence, including the Maitatsine “riots” in Kano that required the deployment of the Nigerian Army and Air Force to quell, many Nigerians still never believed that the country could become a victim of insurgency of the variety that emerged through Boko Haram. Today, an assessment of how well Nigeria has fared against the insurgency in the north east is often the subject of intense speculation. What is not in doubt is the fact that the threats posed by these groups well beyond the epicenter of the conflict in Maiduguri have been reversed, while elements of the insurgents still launch sporadic raids into areas reportedly liberated; these groups do not hold territory and cannot undertake sustained engagement against either the Nigerian military or the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJF) comprising of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

In their place, Nigerians came under threats/attacks from a combination of freelancing terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, ritual killers and armed robbers. It got so bad that it appeared as if the Nigerian state had been overwhelmed and this perception remain true of happenings today in certain parts of the country. In the east, separatist groups launched their own attacks at will and have significant influence over territory, if they did not physically control same. Many Nigerians wondered as to how the political elite could allow the security situation to generate to such an alarming level. As of today, measured progress is being made but the security situation remains precarious and the confidence of the citizenry has to be earned as renewed efforts are made to stabilise the polity.

Why have we found ourselves in this situation? In my humble opinion, the military has been greatly modernised under the Buhari administration and this has been quite evident even in its operations. The Nigerian Army has expanded from the 5 Divisions at the advent of the Buhari administration (Ist Mechanised Kaduna, 2nd Mechanised Ibadan, 3rd Armoured Rukuba, 82 Composite Enugu and 81 Lagos) to adding the 6th and 7th Divisions (Port Harcourt and Maiduguri respectively) in order to have greater tactical and strategic coverage of the country and the threats ranged against her. The Nigerian Army has been producing armoured infantry fighting vehicles and mine-resistant ones, while a nascent defence contracting profile has been enabled, seeing Proforce Ota exporting similar vehicles to Chad, Rwanda and other African countries. Innoson has been producing brake systems for NAF fighter aircraft and armoured vehicles for the Nigerian Army as well. The NN, not to be left out, has produced three Seaward Defence Boats, with two new variants (possibly the Oji-Class) under construction.

However, many Nigerians will agree that significant pervasive threats to lives and property remain in several parts of the country. Given the fact that the threat in the country is largely domestic, the work the military is doing is not being complemented by the police and the domestic intelligence service (I stand to be corrected but that is the observation from what is obtainable in open sources). Thus and in my view, it would appear as if the type of support given the military must now urgently be offered to both the police and the DSS for us to completely turn the tide against these ever-present domestic threats.

Again from what one can glean from open sources, the military has become overstretched (and top military chiefs have affirmed this severally) and is being used, again in my opinion, to carry out tasks that should be undertaken by the police. For example, the attack on the Kaduna-Abuja train and the subsequent call for the NAF to begin patrolling the rail line was rather unbecoming to say the least. It is absurd to ask the Air Force to patrol a purely civil infrastructure with combat helicopters when we have a police that also has an air wing! That development and similar ones involving the army has put the military under enormous strain and in my view, largely account for the problems we still face in improving our internal security.

So how can we immediately enhance internal security and free the military from the un-military tasks it has been saddled with? To my mind, we need to critically and urgently address the operational status of both the DSS and the Nigeria Police Force.

Let us undertake a short recourse to history and I will respectfully submit that every time we notice that the Police is overwhelmed by emerging challenges, instead of building its competence to enable it tackle those tasks, we simply take the easy way out by seeking alternatives. For example, when Nigeria felt that she needed to position herself to proactively detect domestic threats to security, instead of equipping the Special Branch of the Police that was then tasked with sniffing out such threats, the authorities instead created the National Security Organisation (NSO)—the forerunner of the State Security Service (SSS), (now known as the Department of State Services -DSS). When the country also began to witness a serious increase in road accidents, instead of building the capacity of the Motor Traffic Division of the Police, she established the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRCS). When fraud cases began rising, instead of building the capacity of the Fraud Unit of the Police, the authorities simply proceeded to creating the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Finally, when we felt the Police have been unable to stem recent threats of banditry and terrorism, each State began creating its own parallel security outfit. (It is quite glaring that Nigeria will eventually opt for State police and I am fully in support of this, as it will bring policing closer to the communities being served and block many gaps in law enforcement that a Federal police is unable to deal with for obvious reasons).

So, as a nation, we have never really tried to understand why the police wasn’t delivering on its mandate fully but chose instead to “circumvent” the force and find other means of dealing with the problem. If we do not address the challenges confronting both the police and the DSS, the military will continue to struggle because it is being largely asked to do what it is not trained for.

 Olowo-Ake is currently the Director/Principal Research Fellow at the African Resource Development Centre in Lagos

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