n his 1983 novel “The Trouble with Nigeria,” author Chinua Achebe paints a country where leadership is the most difficult obstacle in tackling the nation’s problems of underdevelopment, nepotism, institutional corruption, ineffective and mediocre personality cult, and injustice. Our national life is still plagued by these maladies nearly four decades after this publication, resulting in an avoidable security crisis that is making us become Somalia.
Somalia became a paradigm for a failed state because it lacked a central authority for so long. Although there is currently a ray of optimism, it is a country in disorder and deep anarchy, with non-state players such as Al-Shabbab and warlords ruling over their numerous “colonies.”
Insurgents are currently raging in Nigeria’s North-East, while several criminal cartels are murdering our countrymen, women are being raped, farmlands and properties are being burnt to the ground, and even school children are being kidnapped without repercussions. Northern Nigeria, which was once peaceful, and southern Nigeria, which was once vibrant, have both become ghosts of their former selves, with nowhere safe to return.
These mass abductions have turned into a lucrative business, with Governor Nasir El-Rufai and Sheikh Abubakar Gumi classifying bandits as persons in the business of kidnapping for profit in a pretty commonplace and spooky manner. Between December 2020 and June 2021, around 1,000 secondary and tertiary students from Kankara to Afaka, Kagara, Jangebe, Ohordua, and Effurun have been kidnapped. However, the 136 pupils of Saliu Tanko Islamic School in Tegina, Niger State, and the 152 students of Bethel Baptist High School in Damishi, Kaduna State, who are still held captive as these lines are written, are not included in this total.
Thisday Newspaper reported on March 15, 2021, that over 618 schools had been closed in the Northern states of Zamfara, Kano, Katsina, Yobe, and Niger, in a region in desperate need of educational enrolment booster shots. The Kaduna State Government recently ordered the closure of 13 schools in the state’s most vulnerable areas. Meanwhile, on June 1, 2021, the Senate observed a minute of silence for the eighth time in a row to remember hundreds of Nigerians slain in various attacks around the country. Things have truly fallen apart, as W.B. Yeats put it.
As we stand on the precipice, we must remember that modern nations are built on social contracts, since in their natural state, societies devolve into Hobbesian states, where life is lonely, impoverished, ugly, brutish, and short. To avoid an eternal condition of anomie, citizens give up part of their rights and submit to the authority of sovereigns or leaders they elect in exchange for security and welfare. As a result, in Nigeria, Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states explicitly that “the fundamental goal of government should be the security and welfare of the people.”
However, where the state fails to fulfill its part of the bargain (as is rapidly becoming the case in this country), and where the application of this coercive or leviathan concept is not infused with justice, fairness, and equity; where the government provides amnesty to bloodthirsty and unyielding outlaws; where security officers join clerics as they openly negotiate with bandits, and such clerics tell us that our schools can never be peaceful unless we negotiate with criminals, such a country is on its way heading to Somalia quickly.
Nonetheless, I am optimistic that we will be able to turn the page, but we must first address the issue of managing our diversity in a just and equitable manner in order to alleviate the country’s simmering tensions. When some Nigerians are treated as if they are less Nigerian, it only serves to erode their patriotism and exacerbate agitations around the country. We find it harder to establish a collective resolve to battle common foes when we own or make excuses for offenders. Bandits are bandits, armed robbers are armed robbers, fraudsters are fraudsters, criminal herders are criminal herders, and terrorists are terrorists. Period! Regardless of their ethnic, religious, or political affiliations, they must be dealt with in accordance with the law.
Similarly, treating criminal aliens and militias with levity because of cross-border ties actually strengthens them. While the Berlin Conference did not approve of European powers’ degrading partition of Africa in 1884, basic logic dictates that if the killer herders and militias are from Mauritania, the Central African Republic, Mali, or elsewhere, as President Muhammadu Buhari has admitted on several occasions, they should be chased out of Nigeria. Any leader would be foolish to ask any Nigerian, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to tolerate cohabitation with deadly criminals who have no qualms about killing and plundering helpless Nigerians on the basis of African brotherhood.
Our security agencies’ remarkable effectiveness and efficiency in deploying forces against criminality and agitation in some parts of Nigeria is impressive, but the lack of the same level of alertness and deployments in other parts of the country, despite utter carnage wreaked by bandits and insurgents, is quite concerning. But the everlasting reality, in my opinion, is that insecurity in any region of the country equals instability throughout the whole nation. Insecurity in the South-East, which has recently seen an increase in violent crimes, is mirrored in the North West and North Central, where bandits and militias have thrown the country into disarray.
Some National Assembly fellows confirm that the majority of attacks occur after forewarning intelligence of some sort, and, in some cases, through letters from bandit. Despite this, they continue to infiltrate schools and towns on motorbikes and operate unabated for hours. One is forced to ask:how is it possible that our security personnel are not armed with ground forces and air cover to fright or wade off the bandits, or that over 100 students are stolen, carried across kilometers, and held captive for months by over 100 bandits with no traces or arrests?
In addition, a bandit in one region of the country is no different from a non-state actor in another. The notion of sentimentalizing or justifying the act of criminalities, or creating a narrative in which “my criminals are less dangerous than yours,” should not be part of our leadership brief. When one listens to Sheikh Gumi and Governor El-Rufai, one is led to believe that if this is our leadership’s disposition, then, our spiritual and political leaders truly need Rwandan nation-building lessons. The definitions of crime and criminality in the Penal Code and Criminal Code are both quite clear. They are equally clear about the consequences of their actions.
Furthermore, while some arguments have been advanced in support of offering amnesty to some of the non-state players that are holding us at gunpoint, such a promissory note must be based on solid footing and include a plan for success. An overabundance of amnesty for convicted criminals without knowing their intrinsic loyalties and objectives, their structure and leadership, and without properly terrifying and visibly primed state coercive means on hand, shows the Nigerian state appears weak and impotent. We must never give the appearance that the bandits are unstoppable and have complete control over the situation. Every effort should be taken to adequately equip our security forces to dominate the environment, as the National Assembly just did in enacting the 2021 supplementary budget.
Going further, giving the appearance that Governors are their states’ Chief Security Officers is becoming increasingly unattractive. This paper tiger approach is damaging to the federation and makes developing and implementing a meaningful internal security policy impossible. In this line, the President’s recent media interview in which he referred to two South West Governors who came to him for help with security issues as Chief Security Officers who should defend their people strikes me as a non sequitur.
Because the constitution puts all security services in the federal government, Governors can only bark but not bite. As a result, there is a pressing need for a one-stop shop where all levels of government and key stakeholders can work out mechanism for the establishment of state police through a joint technical committee. It is quite improbable that 36 different state police services will go down at the same moment, therefore the sooner this is done, the better.
We have also unnecessarily weaponized animal husbandry, which is regrettable and humiliating. It is sad that a multibillion-dollar industry in other parts of the world has turned into a hotbed of ethnic conflicts, intolerance, and political squabbles in Nigeria. In my opinion, the states, as custodians and administrators of property under the Land Use Act, should lead the charge in modernizing livestock and cow production. Except for incentivizing the enterprise through infrastructure and agricultural loans, the federal government has little or no business with it. This is both the letter and the spirit of our founding document.
On the need for Nigerians to defend themselves, as advocated by the Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magaji (Rtd), as well as Governors Samuel Ortom, Bello Mohammed, Aminu Masari, and Dave Umahi, and also some parliamentarians, including my humble self, this presupposes the right of Nigerians to bear licensed arms. While this argument is unlikely to receive a fair hearing in our current situation, the fact remains that Nigerians cannot defend themselves with their bare hands against AK47 and AK49-wielding intruders. As a result, this proposal with its potential is deserving of careful examination.
It is also past time to think outside the box about how to use current technology to combat insecurity in the country. We did not put money into space technology like the NIGCOMSAT (Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited) just for the sake of it. We can also seek the aid and collaboration of other countries if necessary. Furthermore, once we solve the identification problem, non-state actors will lose their hegemony over the scene, because it is impossible that we can continue to run a big federal state where the majority of individuals have no identity or address. Criminals can easily change and become difficult to track as a result of this.
Meanwhile, thanks to the inequitable scrambling of Africa by European powers; without consideration for familial relations, our boundaries remain mostly seamless and porous in practice. This has exacerbated our border problems, necessitating the creation of a National Borders Protection Force to improve overall border security. All agencies will work at the border using an integrated border management approach, with surveillance, enforcement, deterrence, regulation, and regular interface capabilities. As international pressure increases on mercenary troops to leave Libya, this has become even more critical. The Berlin international summit, convened by Germany and the United Nations on June 23, 2021, reaffirmed this. As a result, we must anticipate and guard against an influx of more weaponry and fighters into the Sahel Region, with fragile Nigeria serving as a tempting and lucrative destination.
All levels of government must engage heavily in social interventions and job development, so that more youths can be taken off the streets because an idle mind is definitely a workshop for the devil.
All in all, it is my hope that we can muster the necessary patriotic spirit, ideas, and political will to put a stop to our hasty change to Somalia.