Sending a ray of hope that the citizen’s life matters, the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) might be gradually coming to terms with the harsh reality that Nigeria’s security structure is fast collapsing. With terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers slaughtering, and maiming people, it is not surprising that the President has hinted of his resolve to overhaul the country’s security system. Indeed, the real concern is that it has taken the General too long to reach that conclusion, but fighting crime and violence successfully demands high technocratic and leadership competence.
During the week, Buhari confessed that the general report he was getting, other from the conventional ones from the intelligence sources, was that the Army should do better. The President said, “We have problems with resources and security. You know what we inherited. The people of the North-East will appreciate what this administration has done.”
Under Buhari, Nigeria has degenerated into violent lawlessness. Nigerians are being slaughtered daily – at home, on the highway and on the farm. After the initial bravura from the military, which recaptured the local government areas hitherto under the control of Boko Haram, anarchy has returned in full force to the North-East. Currently, Boko Haram and its splinter group, ISWAP, are operating freely in the North-East with their kidnapping arms extending the orgy of violence to the rest of the North. These days, Boko Haram, ISWAP and bandits distribute letters to communities, demanding they pay tribute or face attacks. Hitherto safe havens like Katsina and Sokoto states are now under the grip of insurgents. The security agencies appear to have run out of strategies and tactics to stop the vicious insurgents. The agents of terror have spread to the North-Central too, a region where Fulani militia have scaled up their wanton massacres since Buhari became President in 2015. The South is also experiencing pangs of kidnappings, armed robberies and other violent crimes.
In spite of the COVID-19-induced lockdown, insecurity has escalated. A pressure group, #NigeriaMourns, tallied 2,503 persons killed between January and June, 339 of them security agents. SBM Intelligence, a research firm, said 2,700 Nigerians died violently in 33 states and the FCT in the three months to June. A string of violent attacks in Southern Kaduna has assumed pogrom proportions. The Human Rights Watch said 178 people have been massacred there in the past seven months, 43 of them between July 21 and July 24. On August 5 and 6, gunmen murdered 33 villagers in Zango Kataf LGA, according to the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union. That invasion coincided with the 65th day of a 24-hour curfew imposed by the state government.
Bandits have hijacked the machinery of state in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Niger. In Borno State, the epicentre of the 11-year-long Islamist insurgency, sending a dangerous message of impunity, gunmen laid in ambush for Governor Babagana Zulum’s convoy on July 29 on the Baga highway. Days earlier, the terrorists had executed five aid workers they captured a month before. On June 10, the terrorists massacred 81 people. The horror has already claimed tens of thousands of lives, the oft-cited toll of 100,000 by a former Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, being highly conservative when reached and now hopelessly out of date. Across the North and the Middle Belt, Boko Haram and bandits receive huge ransoms from kidnapping. Nigeria ranked third behind Afghanistan and Iraq out of 163 countries in the 2019 Global Terrorism Index. In 2016, the GTI declared Boko Haram and militant Fulani herdsmen among the top four deadliest terror groups in the world. Southern states fare no better, as kidnapping, robbery and oil militancy make life a living hell.
As the bloodshed escalates, Buhari appears confused, lethargic and cavalier. Initially, he hid behind the claim that his regime inherited the insecurity. That is only true up to a point. Before his Presidency, banditry and kidnapping in the North-West were almost non-existent. Also, Fulani herdsmen killers were not so audacious; they were active mainly in Plateau and Kaduna states. On other occasions, he had stated that the regime had “done its best.” That is vacuous. When under pressure from the public, he declared during the 2020 Eid el-Kabir, “They (the Service Chiefs) could do much better, but we are keeping them on the alert all the time to do their duties.” From a President, whose constituents are being slaughtered daily, this is not assuring.
Really, the President is just too indecisive and overwhelmed. Because of this, there is pronounced agitation that he should dismiss the Service Chiefs. However, this will just treat the symptoms of the disease. In the face of this monstrous security challenge, Nigeria will be better off treating the underlying causes.
Unwittingly, Nigeria is fighting terrorism, banditry, oil militancy and Fulani herdsmen’s rampage with old methods. These crimes have evolved beyond the current futile architecture. The genuine solution lies in a complete overhaul of the security template, which Buhari must demonstrate the resolve to do.
Treating Islamist terrorism as the consequence of political and socioeconomic factors alone would not do justice to the significance of the religious culture in which this phenomenon is rooted and nurtured, US-based Hoover Institution argues. Lack of proper understanding of Boko Haram, therefore, poses a major challenge. Its religious-based ideology that justifies unrestrained terrorism in which death is idealised as a desired goal and not a necessary evil in war should be taken into consideration for the war on terror to be effective.
Other forms of crime revolve around reshaping the entire criminal justice system. At the core is the structure of policing, which requires a comprehensive reform. The reality of crime is that it affects people differently in specific neighbourhoods in specific cities and towns and in specific states. The reality is that Nigeria is vastly populated, yet its police force is under 300,000-strong. It is dangerously illogical to assume this force will protect 200 million people when about half of them are guarding VIPs. Katsina governor Aminu Masari lamented that banditry is pervasive there because only 30 police officers are deployed in 100 rural communities in the state, but the United Nations recommends a 1:400 police to civilian ratio. Replacing the Inspector-General of Police cannot simply overcome this abnormality.
Nigeria is a federal state operating a centralised policing structure prescribed for unitary states. This is a recipe for disaster. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo admitted that the idea of state police needed to be implemented. This is the sensible practice in federal systems and a rapidly evolving norm in even unitary states. For Nigeria to curb the current security siege, this is the first pragmatic stage of the overhauling. Therefore, the 36 state governors, the National Assembly and civil society groups should initiate a constitution amendment for the realisation of state police. Security is too vital to be left in the hands of one tier of government.
There is an urgent need for innovative crime prevention and reduction practices in coordination with state law enforcement and community partners, which will involve a robust intelligence framework. At present, the State Security Services is inefficient, ineffective and highly politicised. It has derailed from intelligence activities, dissipating energy on partisan politics, arresting and hounding harmless protesters and rights activists. Buhari should refocus the agency. Leadership corruption, sectionalism and cronyism within the security system should also be addressed.
The military operations against banditry are too uncoordinated. Bandits are exploiting this to perpetrate atrocities, and security is effective when it is preventive. The President should revitalise these operations, relying more on intelligence and technology to make a difference.
At the society level, the three tiers of government should place priority attention on job creation, reduction of inequality, reduction in school dropout rates and improvement in social conditions. Buhari’s rhetoric of a sea change is welcome, but it is not enough. The big question is whether his wish can be realised.