Insecurity and the national question
In the run-up to the 2015 Presidential election, the cardinal issues contending in the polity were pervasive corruption and insecurity, the latter arising, in the main, from Boko Haram insurgency, initially restricted to Borno state, but subsequently spreading to other northern states and Abuja, the seat of the federal government. Understood, ab initio, as being averse to western education, as the name suggests, Boko Haram has, by its indiscriminate attacks on churches and mosques, over the years, left many questions unanswered. To date, the mission of Boko Haram is not clearly understood.
And because the primary purpose of government at all levels is security and welfare of the people, there was at a time, the impression that President Jonathan’s government had failed, unable to address the burgeoning security challenges in the country and corruption, the hallmark of his administration. Indeed, the adoption of 276 girls, mostly Christians by Boko Haram insurgents on the night of April 14-15, 2014 and the confusion in the ranks of Jonathan’s administration affirmed incompetence of the government. This was however against the backdrop of the surreptitious activities of fifth columnists which undermined the modicum efforts of government, ultimately for a geo-political shift in power locale.
The persona of Major General Muhammadu Buhari fitted the mould of the character needed to fight corruption and to secure lives and property of the people. The ‘change’ mantra of the All Progressives Congress (APC) resonated with the people’s desire for a change to a better society, away from poverty, corruption and insecurity. But in my article: “2015 Presidential Election: Issues and Choices” prompted by my students who were ecstatic about the APC’s candidate, I had concluded that neither Jonathan nor Buhari, if elected, would meet their expectations, one of which I guessed, was life abundant. On the contrary, my choice then was a restructured Nigeria in the system of governance (The Guardian, March 27, 2015).
On assumption of office, President Buhari curiously chose to address three things namely, insecurity, economy and corruption out of the many items contained in APC’s manifesto which include constitutional reform in favour of fiscal federalism. Six years on, the people can now make informed judgment on whether the change they desired is what Buhari’s government has delivered. On the economy, it would appear that APC’s apologists see the opposite side of the coin from the rest of us. They appear not to know that for the period 2015 to date, unemployment rate has almost doubled; that there is increasing population of Nigerians who live below poverty line; that there are more poor people in the north than in the south; that there have been two successive recessions since inception of this government in 2015; that corruption is endemic and ingrained in the fabrics of society, and that nepotism, as a variant, has become normative and institutionalized; that the economy is an E-grade one, to wit, weak, undiversified and dependent on a mono-product- crude oil; that the political constraints on the economy, nay, the unresolved national question, stand on the way to realization of projected benefits of on-going infrastructural development which are anchored on public debt stock totaling $85.90 billion as at June 30, 2020.
On insecurity, the Boko Haram insurgents have become more virulent and invidious deploying unconventional tactics and devastating villages, leaving sorrow and blood with episodic control of swathes of land in the northeast. The whole of the north is now under the grips of insurgents and bandits, who engage in kidnapping, cattle rustling, armed robbery and sundry criminal activities. Admittedly, the Nigerian military has been overwhelmed and its responses largely reactive rather than proactive.
The activities of Fulani herdsmen in recent years have assumed a new dimension characterized by killings, maiming, raping, kidnapping, arson and dispossession of farmers’ land. These are heinous crimes against hapless Nigerians which have remained unchecked by the federal government, institutionalizing impunity. The Agatu massacre in Benue state in February 2016, allegedly by Fulani herdsmen is a sore point which exposed the weaknesses of the governor, lacking in the constitutional instruments to enforce law and order and to ensure security of lives and property in the state. In the circumstance, the governor lamented profusely pleading intervention of the federal government which was not forthcoming. The recourse to enactment of the Benue State Open Grazing Prohibition, Ranches Establishment law, 2017 was mitigating of the crises albeit, with stiff resistance from the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeder Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), who had the temerity to demand repeal of the law as modus vivendi for peace in the state.
Six years on, the killer herders are all over the southern part of the country deploying the same modus operandi, in killings, kidnapping, raping and forceful possession of farm lands raising fears and anxiety amongst the citizens. Of course, in the circumstance, the compelling question is: why are state governors timid? Is it for self preservation? Or is it because they lack the constitutional instruments to enforce law and order in their state? It would appear that the latter is the case. The proposal to create a regional security network by the south west states, code-named Amotekun, was a pragmatic initiative but the federal government opposed it on constitutional grounds, conceding to it only as a state outfit. The recourse to a dysfunctional 1999 Constitution by the federal government in this regard simply means we are in a vicious cycle. Arguably, an effective security strategy and stratagem to deal with the killer herders in our forests can be achieved only if coordinated on a regional or zonal basis. The federal government’s opposition in this regard lacks sincerity of purpose.
In all this, the overarching question is: who are these killer Fulani herders? Where are they from? If they are foreigners, under what treaty or protocol did they gain entry into Nigeria? And if such window exists for entry, why has the federal government failed to act decisively against the criminal activities of the herders? These questions are apposite against the backdrop that for many years Fulani herders lived at peace with host communities with no incidence of mayhem being visited on the communities. It is instructive now to recall that some years ago Boko Haram insurgents were alleged to have used grazing routes to create cells. Thus, to the extent that the activities of killer herders and Boko Haram are indistinguishable it is reasonable to conclude that the groups are the same, to wit, the whole country is now under siege by Boko Haram portending more grave dangers ahead particularly, that the federal government has unabashedly shown unwillingness to arrest the menace of killer Fulani herdsmen.
Now to the national question on whether we should live together; and if so, on what terms and conditions. No doubt, the Nigerian state is on the brinks and there is the urgent need to arrest the drift. There are 374 distinct ethnic nationalities in Nigeria (PRONACO: Draft Constitution for Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2006) and the effective management of the diversities is an imperative. It calls for a governance system that will conduce to full expression of the creative endowments of the diversities and for their deployment to national goals and objectives. The current governance system, in its centralized configuration, is inhibiting and exacerbates tension in the polity. The need for devolution of powers and responsibilities to states, as federating units, cannot be overstated. The call for restoration of federalism, as it was in the first republic, is patriotic for in it is the antidote to addressing the multi-dimensional problems – social, economic and political- confronting the country. The state governors must set aside their parochial interests and see it as a patriotic duty to join in the advocacy for federalism in Nigeria.
Professor Eromosele, former deputy Vice- Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.