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The road not taken

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Concerned Nigerians is a civic group of eminent compatriots some of whom have been in the trenches for many years in the frustrating and dispiriting struggle to rejig our nation and make it a fair and just society for all its citizens. The group boasts of some 43 eminent Nigerians among whom are such well-known men as Bishop Hassan Kukah, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Professor Attahiru Jega, A.B. Mahmoud and Professor Koyinsola Ajayi.

These eminent men are, like most of us, fully aware that our country faces critical existential challenges arising from the worsening insecurity. This is no time for genuine patriots and responsible men and women to padlock their lips and encourage the damage we do to ourselves as a people. They, like the Northern Elders Forum, choose to speak up. We must welcome such groups of men and women and individuals who never give up against the odds. They are not opponents of government; they are committed supporters of the Nigerian nation. They are not talking politics; they are talking of a better nation and a kinder and focused leadership; they are talking about a potentially great nation missing all the opportunities to attain greatness and remaining just potentially great. What they say may grate on the ears of the powers that be but they refuse to be denied the right to put their own hands on the deck. A nation is not the sum of its leaders; it is the sum of the views and the voices of its citizens.

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As a nation, we are given to dispute and quarrel but this must be the first time in our history that insecurity has taken a centre stage in our national discourse. The security situation is bad. It just did not happen; it crept up, as such things usually do, on the nation. Security is the primary business of the Nigerian government but it would be naïve to suggest that it could meet this challenge alone, all alone. Citizens must continue to make contributions, offering sane, informed and pragmatic views and suggestions that add to the wisdom of our political leaders to help them pull this nation from the valley of stagnation, destruction and death.

On December 9, the Concerned Nigerians issued a statement titled For a Future for Nigeria: We Must Draw a Red Line on the Zabarmari Massacre. In it, the group suggested that the Zabarmari massacre must draw the line in the sand and remain the worst security nightmare the nation and its people have endured up to that point. It went on to make a number of suggestions aimed at making this possible. These were captured in Professor Ibrahim’s column of December 11 in the Daily Trust. I am not prepared to wager that those who should listen to them have done better than honour them with crass dismissal. Still, the one recommendation that interests me is this: “In consonance with the widely accepted notion of DEVOLUTION, (emphasis mine) the National Assembly should enact laws to facilitate state governments take more responsibility for their security as they face increased insecurity.”

Less than a week after that statement, Boko Haram captured over 300 students from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State; evidence that the possibility exists for a repeat of the Zabarmari massacre. It should make your blood run cold. Boko Haram has run the ring around Northern Nigeria, acting with impunity and, regrettably, making our security agencies and the government look inept or incompetent or insouciant – all three. This can only engender fear and despair among the citizens.

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The Federal Government does not appear eager to share its exclusive right over security with the state governments. It is self-contained in its wisdom. The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, only last week advised the President not to address the National Assembly on insecurity. He said: “The management and control of the security sector is exclusively vested in the President by Section 218 (1) of the constitution as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces including the power to determine the operational use of the armed forces.”

That is the problem. I am not aware that anyone has ever challenged or disputed this presidential right. But in practical terms, security is a local matter that cannot be handled entirely by the president. I would imagine that the framers of the constitution did not envisage the commander-in-chief as a lone ranger in managing our security to the full satisfaction of the nation and its people. Being the commander-in-chief means there are other lesser commanders. Perhaps, that is why the state governors are said to be the chief security officers of their various states able to combine their efforts with those of the president to make us safe. The snag is that it is a laughable joke. The state governors are given responsibility as chief security officers on paper but not the means of discharging it.

I think we have come to a critical bend in tackling insecurity. To begin with, we must accept that the security of the nation goes far beyond the police reforms promised by President Muhammadu Buhari, of which there was a fitful motion in the face of #EndSARS but so far there is no movement. We need something much more radical in the management of our security by Mr President if we ever hope to pull through this season of anomie to a more secure nation. That radical path lies through the “accepted notion of devolution” of responsibilities in a federal system of government. This country has nothing to gain from the Federal Government hoarding power when its devolution would ventilate the system and help it cope better, what with the determined enemies of the state at almost every door now in Northern Nigeria. Schools have been closed down in Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna states for fear of Boko Haram attacks.

The word, devolution, sent me into the arches in search of past efforts to apportion security responsibilities among the three tiers of government – federal, state and local government. I found one good case. On September 13, 1988, President Ibrahim Babangida’s Armed Forces Ruling Council set up a six-member committee on internal security chaired by Rear-Admiral (as he was then) Murtala Nyako in response to “the increasing wave of organised crime in the Nigerian society.” One of its terms of reference relevant to this discussion was: “To examine the possibility for the decentralisation of some of the security agencies to state and local government levels, to enhance crime prevention.”

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I have had reasons to cite the report of that committee here or elsewhere. I do so again because what we face requires radical rather than cosmetic changes in the nation’s security architecture. The committee homed in on the Nigeria Police, whose ineffectiveness in coping with the criminal challenges forced the AFRC to set up the internal security committee. The committee made the following recommendations about the structure of the Nigeria Police Force: “A total decentralisation by way of restructuring of the Nigeria Police Force into a three-tier force, into (a) a “Federal Police Force,” (PFF), at the federal level, headed by a commissioner and overseen by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs with responsibilities for policing the Federal Capital Territory; (b) “each state shall be allowed to establish and operate its own police force to be called State Police Force with a commissioner of police as the head of force in each state to be appointed by the state house of assembly on the recommendation of the state commissioner for home affairs whose ministry shall oversee the activities of the State Police Force” and c) “each local government area shall be allowed to establish and operate a local police force to be called Local Authority Police Force with ‘chief of police’ as it head who shall be elected by councillors in each local government.”

These were well thought-out approaches by the generals towards making the country too hot for confirmed and potential criminal elements. The committee sought to make every tier of government primarily responsible for security in its area of jurisdiction by decentralising the anomaly of a single federal police force in a federal system of government. We are in the present mess because the generals ignored themselves. If those recommendations had been approved and implemented, the nature of our policing system and security would be different today. The only man who had the courage to radically rejig our security system was Babangida; the only man who refused to do so was Babangida.

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I think we have come to a critical bend in tackling insecurity. To begin with, we must accept that the security of the nation goes far beyond the police reforms promised by President Muhammadu Buhari, of which there was a fitful motion in the face of #EndSARS but so far there is no movement. We need something much more radical in the management of our security by Mr President if we ever hope to pull through this season of anomie to a more secure nation. That radical path lies through the “accepted notion of devolution” of responsibilities in a federal system of government.

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