Halting Nigeria’s Quick Match to Somalia

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The author, Chinua Achebe, in his 1983 book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, depicts a nation where leadership is the most critical challenge in addressing the issues of underdevelopment, nepotism, institutional corruption, inept and mediocre personality cult, and injustice that have bedeviled the nation. Nearly four decades after that publication, our national life is still plagued by these maladies, consequentially engendering an avoidable security malaise that is leading us to Somalia.

Without a central government for so many years, Somalia became a metaphor for a failed state. Although currently showing a flicker of hope, it is a nation in disarray and deep anarchy, where non-state actors like Al-Shabbab and warlords have held sway in their various “colonies”.

Today in Nigeria, insurgents are running riot in the North-East, while multiple criminal cartels are killing our citizens, raping our women, destroying agriculture and livelihoods, and even school children across the country without let or hindrance. The once serene northern Nigeria and once bubbling southern Nigeria have suddenly become a ghost of themselves as nowhere is safe again.

These mass abductions have become a lucrative industry, which Governor Nasir El-Rufai and Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, in distinguishing secessionist agitators and bandits in a rather unremarkable and uncanny manner, qualified the latter as people in the business of kidnapping for profit. From Kankara to Afaka, Kagara, Jangebe, Ohordua, and Effurun, more than 1,000 students of secondary and tertiary institutions have been abducted between December 2020 and June 2021. Yet this figure does not include the 136 students of Saliu Tanko Islamic School, Tegina, Niger State or the 152 students of Bethel Baptist High School, Damishi, Kaduna State pupils, who are still held in captivity as these lines are written.

On March 15, 2021, Thisday Newspaper reported that over 618 schools had been shut down in the northern states of Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Yobe, and Niger in a region in dire need of booster shots in education enrolment. A few days ago, the Kaduna State Government also ordered a shutdown of 13 schools in the most vulnerable parts of the state. Meanwhile, the Senate, on June 1, 2021 observed a minute silence for a record eight times to mourn hundreds of Nigerians killed in different attacks in the country. Indeed, as W.B Yeats would put it, things have really fallen apart.

As we sit on the edge of the cliff, we must remind ourselves that modern states are erected on social contracts, for left in the original state of nature, societies ordinarily descend to a Hobbesian state where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. To avert such endless state of anomie, citizens surrender some of their rights and subject themselves to sovereigns or authority of leaders elected by them, in exchange for their security and welfare. Consequently, in Nigeria’s case, Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) unequivocally provides that “The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

However, where the state fails to fulfil its part of the contract (as is fast becoming our case); where the application of this coercive or leviathan principle is not oiled with justice, fairness, and equity; where the state chases after bloody and unrelenting bandits with offers of amnesty; where security agents accompany clerics to freely parley with bandits only for such clerics to tell us that our schools will never know peace unless we negotiate with criminals, then such a nation is on a quick march to Somalia.

Nevertheless, I am still supremely confident that we can turn the page, but this must start with the task of managing our diversity with justice and equity to douse the simmering tensions in the land. When some Nigerians are treated as if they are less Nigerian, it will only dull their loyalty to their nation and worsen agitations across the country. Again, when we own or make excuses for criminals, we make it difficult to build a collective resolve to fight common enemies. A bandit is a bandit, an armed robber is an armed robber, a fraudster is a fraudster, a criminal herder is a criminal herder, and a terrorist is a terrorist. Period! They must be dealt with according to the law irrespective of their tribal, religious or political backgrounds.

Likewise, treating criminal aliens and militias with kid gloves because of trans-border relationships only emboldens them. While not approving the degrading 1884 partitioning of Africa by European powers at the Berlin Conference, basic logic dictates that if the killer herders and militias are from Mauritania, Central African Republic, Mali or elsewhere as even President Muhammadu Buhari has admitted on several occasions, they should be hounded out of Nigeria. It will be imprudent of any leader to expect that any Nigerian, whatever his religion or ethnicity, will for the reason of African brotherhood, accept to cohabit with murderous criminals, who have no tinge of conscience in killing and plundering hapless Nigerians.

The striking effectiveness and efficiency of our security agencies in deploying forces against criminality and agitations in some parts of Nigeria is quite remarkable, but the absence of the same level of alertness and deployments in other parts of the country despite utter carnages wrought by bandits and insurgents is quite disconcerting. But what I know to be the eternal truth is that the insecurity of any part of the country is insecurity of the whole country. Insecurity in the South-East, which has recently witnessed an upsurge in violent crimes, is also insecurity of the North West and North Central where bandits and militias are putting the country on edge.

My colleagues in the National Assembly affirm that most attacks take place after some forewarning intelligence, and sometimes by way of letters written by bandits. Yet they still invade schools and communities in an armada of motorbikes and operate for hours, unchallenged. The question is: how is it possible that our security agents are not equipped with air cover and ground forces to panic or neutralise the bandits or that over 100 students are repeatedly abducted, moved over miles, and held in captivity for months by over 100 bandits without traces and arrests?

Furthermore, a bandit in one part of the country is no better than a non-state actor in another part. The idea of romanticising or making excuses for criminals or building a narrative of “my criminals are less dangerous than yours” should not be part of our brief as leaders. When one listens to Governor El-Rufai and Sheikh Gumi, he is led to assert that if this is the temperament of our leadership, then our political and spiritual leaders need tutorials on Rwanda in the art of nation building. The Penal Code and Criminal Code are very clear on the description of crime and criminality. They are equally clear on their punishments.

Moreover, while some arguments have been proffered for granting amnesty to some of these non-state actors holding us by the jugular, such a promissory note should be founded on good grounds and must have a framework for success. An overdrive for amnesty for sworn criminals without knowing their inherent loyalties and motivations, their structure and leadership, and without sufficiently intimidating and visibly primed coercive instruments of state on the ready, further presents the Nigerian state as weak and helpless.

We should never create the impression that the bandits are invincible and can call the shots. Every effort should be made, as was recently done by the National Assembly in passing the 2021 supplementary budget, to sufficiently equip our security forces to dominate the environment.

Furthermore, it is increasingly becoming unfashionable to create the impression that governors are the chief security officers of their states. This paper tiger approach is unhelpful to the federation and makes it impossible to formulate and operate a meaningful internal security strategy. In this vein, the reference in a recent media interview by the President to two South West governors that visited him for intervention over security challenges, as chief security officers that should protect their people is to me a non sequitur. The governors can bark, but lack the capacity to bite as the constitution vests all security agencies in the federal government. There is, therefore, an urgent need for a one-stop approach where all tiers of government and critical stakeholders, which will comprise a joint technical committee, to work out modalities for the creation of state police. It is very unlikely that 36 different state police services will fail at the same time, hence the earlier this is done, the better for all of us.

Also, it is unfortunate and degrading that we have needlessly weaponised animal husbandry. It is disheartening that such a multi-billion dollar business in other climes has become a grave source of ethnic tensions, bigotry and political squabbles in Nigeria. My view is that the states, which are the custodians and administrators of land vide the Land Use Act, should take the lead in the modernisation of livestock and cattle rearing. The federal government has little or no business with this, except the incentivising the enterprise through infrastructure and agricultural loans. This is the letter and spirit of our constitution.

On the need for Nigerians to defend themselves as variously canvassed by the Minister of Defence, Major Gen. Bashir Magaji (Rtd) as well as Governors Samuel Ortom, Bello Mohammed, Aminu Masari, and Dave Umahi, and some parliamentarians, including my humble self, this in simple terms presupposes the right of Nigerians to bear licensed arms. Whereas this proposition is not likely to get a fair assessment in our present circumstance, the truth is that Nigerians cannot defend themselves against AK47 and AK49-bearing invaders with their bare hands. Therefore, this proposition has its merits and quality and is worthy of proper consideration.

The time has also come to creatively deploy modern technology and maximise its application in fighting insecurity in the country. We did not invest in space technology like the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT) for the fun of it. We can also seek necessary international assistance and cooperation. Moreover, once we solve the identity problem, the domination of the scene by non-state actors will be over, for it is unthinkable that we still operate a vast federal state where majority of the citizens have neither identity nor address. This makes it very easy for criminals to rapidly mutate and become difficult to trace.

Meanwhile, the de facto situation is that our borders remain largely seamless and porous, no thanks to the iniquitous partitioning of Africa by European powers without regards to fraternal ties. This has manifestly worsened our border challenges and calls for a National Borders Protection Force to generally ramp up security at our borders. All the agencies will operate at the borders based on an integrated border management approach and with the capacity for surveillance, enforcement, deterrence, regulation, and regular interface. This has become even more imperative as international pressure mounts on mercenary fighters to leave Libya. This was reinforced by the June 23, 2021 Berlin international conference brokered by Germany and the United Nations. We must, therefore, anticipate and prudently plan against an influx of more arms and fighters into the Sahel Region with vulnerable Nigeria being a magnetic and lucrative destination of choice.

Of course, all tiers of government must invest massively in social interventions and job creation to take more youths off the streets, for an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.

All said, it is my prayer that we summon the requisite patriotic spirit, ideas, and political will to do the needful and halt our quick march to Somalia.

Perspective, by Toby Okechukwu

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