Military authorities have just announced their readiness to gradually withdraw soldiers on duty from three states in the North-Central zone. Intractable herdsmen killings and communal crises had triggered a presidential directive for military personnel to be deployed in the areas, in Operation Whirl Stroke, to restore law and order in June last year.
The Acting Director, Defence Information, Onyema Nwachukwu, said, “We have a mandate; we have a mission. And the mission fundamentally is to maintain peace, safety, and security in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states. And to a very large extent that mission has been achieved.” The Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ibas, reinforced the position after a security council meeting with the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). The retreat starts in this first quarter of 2020 and the military’s focus will be “on other emerging threats.” Apparently, the Islamic State in West Africa Province’s beheading of 11 persons on Christmas Day and Boko Haram’s seeming resurgence justify more military presence in the troubled zone.
Despite the gradualist nature of the retreat, the affected states are already panicking, given the reactions from the Benue and Taraba state governments. Communal clashes between the Tiv and Jukun with their morbid consequences are routine in the two neighbouring states. Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom, has been so disturbed that he has promised to meet Buhari soon on a possible reversal of the proposal. While admitting that military operations in the state had brought relative peace to the troubled spots, Ortom believes there are still pockets of security threats that have not been fully addressed.
Ortom’s counterpart in Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Bala Dan-Abu, was surprised too. The Chairman of Donga Local Government Area in the state, Nashuka Ipeyen, is no less frenetic. There is an alleged imminent violent attack on the council, which is one of the flash-points in the state. A Tiv man was reportedly killed recently, for which he got the state’s police commissioner to mount surveillance with three trucks of police personnel, in a pre-emptive step.
Worsening security challenges in terrorism, kidnappings, cattle rustling, herdsmen killings, communal clashes, pipeline vandalism, militancy in the Niger Delta, activities of ethnic militias and armed robbery have ensured military take-over of police duties. In 2012, they were in 28 states, but are now in 32 states. Gross failure of governance, being impervious to change and global best practices led to the death of 25,794 Nigerians, mindlessly killed in the first four years of this regime as reported by the Nigeria Security Tracker. Undoubtedly, the military’s involvement in basic police functions is an aberration. Two Chiefs of Army Staff have had cause to protest its deleterious effects on professionalism. First, it was Azubuike Ihejirika, who unambiguously said in 2012 that such a role over-stretched the Army; and the incumbent, Tukur Buratai, broached the issue at the House of Representatives in 2017 during a budget defence session.
Besides their combat mission in the North-East states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe against the Boko Haram jihadists, the military had been deployed three times in Zamfara State since 2015, for them to bring under control, incessant herdsmen killings, cattle rustling and banditry. Buhari’s home state, Katsina, benefits from such martial security reinforcement, especially in Danmusa council area. But achieving the desired result remains elusive.
Extant internal security challenges that impose police responsibilities on the military bode ill for both of them. It advertises the systemic dysfunction of the country’s policing system; it is obvious that the militarisation of internal security inadvertently asphyxiates policing. At best, what is required from the two security outfits is synergy when necessary. In the United States, this was dramatised in the lockdown of the city of Boston in 2013 when the combined forces searched for the suspected bombers of Boston Marathon, which left three persons killed and injured 260 others.
Therefore, the police commands in the states where the military would soon withdraw should step up their game and take full control. State governors procure hundreds of Hilux vans (vehicles), communication gadgets and motorcycles; and sometimes buy arms and ammunition to equip the police, annually, for them to deliver in their respective domains. According to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, in the 10 years to 2018, states had funded the police to the tune of N2 trillion. Under Babatunde Fashola’s governorship, Lagos State established the Lagos State Security Trust Fund that grossed N6.1 billion in 2015, from which it periodically equips the police. States that do so should demand performance from the police.
At the unveiling of 139 operational vehicles for the police recently, Major General Buhari (retd) promised to carry out reforms, equip and train them for better performance. While these are stop gap measures, only a decentralised policing system can guarantee efficiency and safety of Nigerians. This is the template adopted in the US, Canada and other federations. The Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, was spot on when he once observed that “…policing is a local function; you simply cannot effectively police Nigeria from Abuja.” Such decentralisation underpins the efficiency of policing in the United Kingdom with its raft of 43 police units.
A policing model that has failed woefully since the end of the First Republic, when each of the four regions had its own police, should be dismantled. This magic bullet cannot be ignored any more. Modern policing thrives on intelligence gathering and police personnel having full grasp or knowledge of their environment, for which state policing is best suited. The recent gunmen attack of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s country home in Bayelsa State, resulting in the death of a soldier on guard, is a sad reminder that nobody is safe. The oddity of states and police commissioners negotiating with bandits for ceasefire, instead of bringing them to justice, as it is the case in Zamfara State, will continue to be staple of policing in the country. This absurdity has also played out in Katsina State. Nigeria cannot continue this way. Policing should be devolved to the states and the military returned to their traditional role.