Security malaise and post Covid-19 Nigeria

Jide Osuntokun

Anybody who says things are alright in Nigeria today is being dishonest. If the truth must be told, we are going through a difficult period of our national life now compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. The level of disenchantment and disillusionment is very high. This is caused by the general insecurity in the land of which the campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency is just but one. No area of Nigeria is secure, from the Northwest to the North-central, the Southwest to the South- south and the Southeast to the Northeast. Only intrepid travellers dare moves anywhere in Nigeria without armed escort. Having an armed escort is no guarantee against attacks by one type of marauders or the other. They range from bandits, cattle rustlers, ethnic militants bent on seizing other people’s lands after slaughtering the men and raping their women and children. There are even instances of men and women being raped which for us Africans is an abomination.

Complaints from governors about paucity of policemen and other security men in their states fill the press every day. As citizens, we are stuck and marooned wherever we are and we can no longer perform family responsibilities such as burying our dead ones in our towns and villages or visiting the graves of departed souls. This is because we are usually advised not to take the risk of coming home and to avoid compounding the losses when one is killed or kidnapped by bandits on the roads.

What is most agonizing is that if one is killed, there is just no one to run to for justice. The police appear incapable or incapacitated because they lack the elementary and rudimentary tools of investigation and even when investigations are completed, the ethnic origin of the killers may prevent police from following through the prosecution of the offenders.  It seems some people have become sacred cows in Nigeria. With justice and punishment not sure and immediate, the offenses are repeated ad nauseam. Many people are taking laws into their own hands in reprisal and self-help attacks and retribution thus compounding our security problems. With this kind of situation foreign and domestic investments are drying up. Some of the retail sector dominated by South African businesses are gradually winding down and folding up with thousands of Nigerians thrown out of employment.

Many Nigerians are hunkering down in the apparently secure few towns and administrative capitals of states thus abandoning the rural countryside, farms and villages to their own devices. There is a looming famine if farmers cannot safely till the land, plant their seeds and harvest their crops. We are gradually losing the joy of having a big country and the pride that goes with it. We are now looking forlornly at small countries that are well run and where there is security of life and limbs. I watched with horror a Ghanaian politician running for office and telling his audience not to vote the kind of politicians running our country into power in Ghana. He had absolutely no respect for us. He kept saying “Nigeria is dead”. Perhaps this explains the recent humiliation of Nigeria when a part of our embassy in Accra was demolished by an irate Ghanaian!

The unsuccessful campaign by our military against Boko Haram for almost a decade has sapped the power of our armed forces as well as undermined our economy. The amount being spent on the campaign is what would have been available for building some regenerative infrastructure for the country. Yet this war has to be fought to the bitter end until it is won. But one is afraid that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. We had the embarrassing situation in which the young governor of Borno was nearly killed in an ambush between Monguno and Baga after security had said the road was clear. In justified anger, the governor accused publicly the military of sabotage. The Shehu of Borno reechoed this by saying nobody in Borno is safe. Yet a whole division of the Nigerian Army and a squadron of the Nigerian Air Force are based in Maiduguri. There are also mobile police force and other support armed groups all trying to secure the state. Then there is the so called civilian armed group made up of hunters. The governor in exasperation asked the army to tell him if it was impossible for them to secure the place so that he will deploy local people to secure at least Baga and environs because he wanted to return displaced civilians back to their homes in Kukawa local government area. This may sound fanciful but it has happened before when Sir Kashim Ibrahim was Waziri of Borno in the 1950s and was faced with an incendiary movement of opposition militants. He dealt with them by calling on his people to rise against banditry.

One can only hope that our situation is not so hopeless that we will not be able to defeat a local insurgency even though aided by Islamic fundamentalists from outside. This campaign against the Boko Haram and the affiliate of the Al Qaeda in West Africa has become a matter of honour which our military must face squarely. This is because it has raised the question of a levee en masse or citizen army which the governor of Borno has posed to the Nigerian military.

The general insecurity has also again brought back the discussion whether Nigerian citizens should be allowed to legally carry concealed weapons. This may sound crazy but why should it? I know that many people will say the freedom will be misused. In the USA where ownership of guns is permitted, there are conditions attached to it. One must of course be of age and must hold a responsible job and of fixed address and possibly own a property.

No matter what conditions are attached to it, gun violence kills many more people in the USA than coronavirus will ever kill. Obviously, no one in his real senses will advocate freedom to carry concealed weapons in Nigeria. But if it can be properly organized, I am in favour of some kind of citizen army which we can start from the level of the National Youth Service Corps. This is not a revolutionary idea. We used to have this in government colleges and secondary schools and at the University of Ibadan in colonial Nigeria. Whatever option that may be deemed possible is worth exploring. In France and the USA, citizen army is regarded as a bulwark for democracy. It is inconceivable for the army in those two countries to stage a coup d’état because it knows it will be met by armed resistance.

I find it galling that some ragtag militants and armed bandits will be running all over our country maiming and raping the people indiscriminate of gender. The picture of an elderly man in Southern Kaduna pouring, in biblical fashion, ashes of his destroyed home on his head leaves an indelible impression on me and should keep men of conscience awake all night. It is time to stop all these tragedies and ethnic shenanigans. What then should we do as a people and as a government?

We should invoke the War Act to declare a state of siege in the country, suspend habeas corpus and give large powers to a war cabinet to put the entire country on war footing with the president and the governors given executive powers to put an end to banditry, brigandage, cattle rustling, ethnic cleansing and armed militancy by all means possible within six months. During the period, all strikes and industrial actions shall be suspended. Parliament shall be suspended while a committee set up to reduce parliamentary representation to one chamber House. The committee shall also reduce by half, local governments in the country and all funds of local governments transferred directly to the states so as to eliminate the idea of three tier government because our federation is that of states and the federation as exists all over the world. Money saved from suspended federal and state parliaments shall be mobilized for expanded police force to take care for adequate policing of the country. During this period, all previous “constitutional” conferences reports shall be studied by a committee of former heads of state,  former chief justices of the Supreme Court, leaders of Trade Union Congress, representatives of Christian and Islamic leadership and six deans of faculty of law from the six zones of the country and presidents of the various academies in Nigeria.

The idea is that the group should not be unwieldy. Whatever they agree upon shall be presented to the president to be presented to a constituent assembly of not more than 100 people. Its resolutions shall become the grundnorm or Basic law of the country. The aim will be to produce a devolved and lean government of the people by the people not a government of politicians for politicians as we currently have.

Source: The Street Journal

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