When recently, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), publicly rebuked his faltering generals, he fell short of taking full responsibility for the frightening insecurity in the land. He also failed to heed universal calls to replace the security chiefs under whose watch the country is descending into riotous anarchy. There is no hiding place. Having run out of scapegoats and excuses for ineptitude and insouciance, Buhari should take responsibility for the mess and secure the country. There is absolute clarity on who is to blame for the heinous crimes across the country.
In the week leading up to the meeting, 140 people had been killed, according to one tally, in large swathes of the country and property destroyed. Bandits and Fulani militants in the North-West and North Central regions, Boko Haram and allied insurgent groups in the North-East, pirates and vandals in the South-East and kidnappers, armed robbers, gangsters and killer-cultists everywhere spilling blood, including that of soldiers and policemen.
Security of lives and property is the primary duty of government and this underpins the social contract, the very basis of statehood; but as the country literally burns, Buhari appears to be aloof and clueless. The expected decisive action plan and reassuring words are not coming from him. A government that cannot secure the people, their property and their livelihoods fails the test of legitimacy. In Nigeria today, authorities have lost control of parts of the territory to criminal non-state actors.
Though Buhari admitted the declining security situation and his unhappiness over it, his mild rebuke of the security chiefs that their best was not good enough for him and demand for “an immediate reversal of our misfortunes,” did not assuage mass despair. He has always sounded like a toothless bulldog or broken record in matters that demand his urgent and decisive action. Calls for the sacking of the Service Chiefs have peaked, with a strident clamour from formerly supportive Northern populace whose territory, lives and livelihoods are worse hit.
Civil society groups calculated that 396 persons were kidnapped and 695 killed in violent crimes in January this year alone. In 2019, 3,188 persons were killed in mass atrocities, an average of almost nine persons per day. Figures of those slain by terrorists in the North-East range from 30,000 to 100,000 with over two million displaced. The scale of the carnage is frightening. As the Coalition of Northern Groups noted, massacres by bandits in Sokoto, Kaduna and Katsina states claimed more lives in the country than coronavirus in three months. The government admitted that 1,400 persons were slaughtered in 330 bandit attacks in the seven months to August 2019; over 50 Nigerian soldiers were killed by Boko Haram in an ambush in March while the Islamic State West African Province killed 59 soldiers and civilians in separate attacks on military posts and villages in Borno and Yobe states. From being 10th in countries with the highest number of Internally Displaced Persons in 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now ranks the country as the fourth most at risk from internal dislocation.
Buhari needs to move beyond blandishments. True, the service chiefs had impressed in the past. On their appointment in 2015, they quickly recovered all territory occupied and over which the terrorists had declared a “caliphate,” pushing them deep into remote borderlands and their vast Sambisa forest redoubt. But that momentum has since waned and the country has been suffering unacceptable losses of officers and troops in incessant ambushes, raids and direct attacks against military bases and convoys. The Global Terrorism Index 2019 rated Nigeria the world’s third most terrorised country after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Outside the theatre of terror war, most highways in the country are unsafe, with passengers at perpetual risk of kidnapping and armed robbery. Fulani herdsmen, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, have spread their forcible occupation of farmland, killing, kidnapping and raping with impunity across regions. Buhari has not done enough to stop these violent, marauding Fulani herdsmen.
As commander-in-chief, Buhari should review why the situation is getting worse by the day, despite the troop reinforcement and ever increasing funding. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to save lives. But appointing new service chiefs and reviewing strategies are standard practices for countries at war or facing existential security threats. A paper in the Harvard Business Review attributed the greatness of the US Civil War (1861-1865) era president, Abraham Lincoln, to his shift from suggesting action to replacing his generals and taking charge. This changed the tide of battlefield defeats for the union army to victory.
As the C-in-C, Buhari has to ensure effective coordination and eliminate inter-agency rivalry. Everything should be done to boost the morale of soldiers; there are too many cases of indiscipline and trials.
Other levels of insecurity demand a national response. A dangerous mix of low institutional capacity, high levels of poverty and inequality, narcotics abuse, proliferation of illegal weapons as well as impunity fuels Nigeria’s security conundrum. This shows the need for the government to focus resources on the most serious problems — especially the social conditions that fuel crime. The wide availability of guns is a national problem that makes it harder to deal with violent crime. Narcotics drive crime in a number of ways: through violence tied to trafficking, by normalising illegal behaviour, by diverting criminal justice resources from other activities, by provoking property crime related to addiction, by contributing to the widespread availability of firearms, and by undermining and corrupting societal institutions. A UNODC survey reports a considerable level of past-year use of psychoactive substances in Nigeria, in particular, the use of cannabis, the non-medical use of prescription opioids (mainly tramadol, and to a lesser extent codeine, or morphine) and cough syrups (containing codeine or dextromethorphan).
What will Buhari do to the Fulani herdsmen Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari said were used to pride in having large numbers of cattle, but the ones in the forests pride in caches of AK-47 rifles? Buhari will not defeat crime by tolerating these murderous Fulani herders and killer militias in the country. They should be disarmed. While it exists, governors should be made to use security vote for its very purpose: security.
Preventing crime requires smart policing combined with community support, which the present security system lacks. The institutions of law and order should be bolstered so that they can restore peace and effectively prosecute offenders. The Economist (London) argues that evidence from around the world shows that crime is lowest when the police are trusted; when officers come from the areas where they work, know the people who live there and are not seen as the enemy. None of these defines the present centralised, corrupt, underfunded and oppressive Nigeria Police Force.
The regime should approach criminal justice radically differently. While criminals should be swiftly brought to justice, unlawful police killings undercut legitimate efforts to curb criminal violence. The courts and wider justice system face growing problems, which must be fixed. This is the time to institutionalise intelligence-led policing. According to the US Department of Justice, intelligence-led policing is “a collaborative law enforcement approach combining problem-solving policing, information sharing, and police accountability, with enhanced intelligence operations.”
It is impossible for the Federal Government to secure the country all alone. Buhari should immediately arrange a national security summit with governors and other stakeholders to arrest this rapid descent into anarchy. The overall objective should be reforming and decentralising policing to perform its law enforcement effectively, to free the military from law enforcement and face its constitutional role of territorial defence more efficiently. Time is really running out.