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‘Avoidance and denial approach may lead Nigeria to precipice’

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Head, Southwest Bureau) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
02 November 2019   |   4:16 am
Yes! It has never been this bad. The country is highly divided in a manner that is highly disturbing to the international community, in the sense that the lines of division are too sharp and we lack the leadership...


Professor Olawale Isaac Albert, the immediate-past director of the Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS), University of Ibadan, a global renowned security scholar and member of the 2014 national conference, spoke on the security situation in the country, budgetary allocation to defence and condemned negotiation with bandits.

What is your take on the assertion that threat to peace and security of Nigeria has never been this bad?
Yes! It has never been this bad. The country is highly divided in a manner that is highly disturbing to the international community, in the sense that the lines of division are too sharp and we lack the leadership that is ready for the promotion of dialogue.

There is no society that doesn’t have problems, but there are five major scientific approaches to conflict management. The first is what we refer to as ‘Avoidance and Denial.’ That is, you have a problem in your family and you pretend there is no problem. You wake up as head of the family every morning and go out, pretending the problem in your family will go away. Some people do it deliberately because it pays them to pretend like there are no problems; it pays them to deny the existence of problems. I think what we are witnessing in Nigeria is increasing usage of that approach to conflict management; denial of the problem and pretending that we don’t have any problem.

The second approach is what we call ‘Strategic Withdrawal.’ You are responsible for dealing with the problem, but you said, no, another person should deal with the problem, that you are not responsible for dealing with the problem. It is like saying the Federal Government should not be the one to deal with the problem; it should be the state governments and then state governments said no, it is the Federal Government.

The third one is ‘Confrontation,’ where they believe the best way to deal with every problem is to use force. That is if anybody anywhere is complaining about anything, the only available option for you to deal with such person is to force that person to be quiet and we see a lot of that in society.

People complain about governance, cases of human right abuses, cases of gaps in our governance system and we lock them up on one hand and then, we dialogue with criminals on the other hand.

The fourth option is what we call the ‘Third Party Decision-making processes.’ This has to do with a very big power institution dictating how problems should be solved. It includes taking people to court, pushing this thing to the judiciary, asking the Police to deal with this and so on.

The last one is ‘Joint Problem-Solving.’ This has to do with sitting down with whosoever is complaining and working out the solution that will fit everybody or that will work for the entire society. Under Joint Problem-Solving, you have dialogue or negotiation, consideration and mediation to a little or small extent to arbitration.

The problem we have in Nigeria is that we deny our problems and anytime I look at what is happening to us, my mind goes back to the late Gen. Sani Abacha regime. You know when Abacha was in government and you mentioned June 12, they would say which * June 12‬‬? But he was consumed by ‪June 12!‬‬ The Nigerian state was collapsing by 1999, so the 1999 election was conducted the way it was conducted. It was not an act of generosity by any group of Nigerians, but it was because we were coming actually to the South Africa of 1994 when the whites realised that it was no longer possible to continue apartheid. I see us moving in that direction again.

So, if you complain about any problem in Nigeria today, the people in government will say, no, there is no problem. They would say what you are talking about as the problem is the problem. Some people say, you know, let us keep on moving with denial of our problems, not willing to discuss our problems or thinking that the use of force is the only way out.

The only way forward is terminating our problems, and that is globally accepted by the scientific community. I am not referring to the diplomatic community, I mean the scholars in peace and security studies. They see Nigeria as a very bad case, because when you deny your problem, you are doing what in the medical sciences probably would compare to as somebody having HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) denying the sickness. We are told in Medical Sciences that HIV does not kill you automatically. If you have it and face the fact that you have it and you are willing to take your medication, we are told you’ll live your normal life, you won’t die.

That is what the scientific international community is worried about. When you deny your problems, three additional problems will come in. The first problem is that you will have what is called ‘Issue Proliferation.’ I slapped you and a friend comes in and I say I didn’t slap you. The mere fact that I am denying it will make the issue to expand. The first is, you slapped me, the second is, you are denying what you did to me and you are making me to look like a mad man. The issue will be proliferating. You will get to a stage where even the two parties will forget the original cause of the problem, because several other problems would have come in. That is the issue we are having in Nigeria. Problems are just generating and getting degenerated every time of the day.

Our problems have escalated to the extent that honestly, if we call a meeting today to discuss it, it is difficult because the issues are too complex; they are multidimensional. The actors are too many, including people coming from other parts of the world to come and add to our problems.

In conflict management, you need to get it straight. It is like you are sick, if the body is attacked by too many viruses, it becomes very difficult for the doctor to treat it. So, our problems are really very complex. Therefore, managing the situation is tough. Unfortunately, we have leaders that are using the simplistic approach; thinking that rather than bringing people together to discuss these problems and finding solutions, just two three people will sit down in Abuja and tell the whole country how the problem should be managed.

From your experience, for countries that deny their problems, what was their end result?
The end result is always very bad. Countries that collapsed across history collapsed because they denied their problems. Two is refusal to dialogue, excessive use of force, and we have all these factors around us, make our problems very difficult to manage.

Governance makes a great difference in any system. When Abacha was there, the impression created was that the only way you could manage Nigeria was through the use of force. Imagine what happened when Abacha died and Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar came in. The tension went down and that tells you that the leader matters, the conflict-handling style of the leader matters and those hanging around the leaders matter. If you have people who are not telling you the truth or you are making businesses out of the problem of a nation, you will never get it right.

In the past, we will travel outside for security reasons and people will listen to us. Nowadays, nobody listens to scholars from Nigeria because they say go home and manage your problem. They know that all theories of security management and all peace theories have collapsed when you apply them to the situation of Nigeria.

What are the solutions to all these problems?
We need strategy for everything. Even as the head of your family, you need strategy and for managing a country, you need what is called grand strategy. What is our strategy today?  Whether economy, politics, military, science or whatever, if you look around you, it is difficult to see strategy.

Are there no scholars in government who can help out in this situation?
Well, there are many of them in governance, but I think people just want to take care of themselves. I really don’t know how to present it. When we do consultancy or attend meetings, sometimes people come to us and say why don’t you just take your money and go. Why are you focusing too much on the solution?  It’s like people just want to take care of themselves.

They know the truth, but many think if you speak the truth, you will be poor. I think probably that is the problem we are facing. Just play along, you know it’s not right, but just do it the way it is done; do it the way they are doing it and become richer.

If you were to meet the President, what would be your advice to him?
If I meet the President, I will tell him what is not right with our security system, and I do this regularly. I get invited to meetings and I said what I consider to be right and sometimes people are not happy that you are saying it the way you are saying it.

We also write; we have members of the international community that have easier access to our leaders. Sometimes they talk to us before meeting our leaders and we tell them what we consider to be right. Some of the suggestions were taken, some are not taken and you cannot force yourself on the system.

This is not confidential; I was invited last year to address a committee that has been saddled with the responsibility for establishing a National Commission for Peace. I went before them and I told them my own small understanding of the problem.

Nigeria has an Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution in Abuja, owned by the Federal Government. I don’t know why it is not functioning or not functioning well. We have conflicts all over the place, but you do not see them in the theatre of the problems. And now you are trying to establish another commission.

I asked a number of strategic questions that one of the members thought were too tough. He said, ‘look, why don’t you just look good. Why are you just saying everything?’ People just feel why don’t you just allow them to do whatever they want to do and establish whatever they want to establish. So, we keep establishing institutions that we won’t allow to work, because it is not in the interest of some people for these institutions to work. So, what do you do?

What are the ways out of the country’s challenges?
I think this government has come to the realisation that if we don’t act urgently, this country could sink. I think this government is aware of it. But I don’t think the government is humble enough to take the right step. The President might be willing to take the right step, but I think he is surrounded by people who don’t want things to work in any specific way.

I am not a prophet of doom; I am speaking as a scholar.
In the 2020 Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly, N100billion was voted to Defence. Can this amount address the security challenge in the country? We are just throwing money at security, have we ever audited the money given to the security?

When you are fighting any war, it is 45 per cent use of arms, use of force and then 55 per cent strategic communication. The theories around it is saying kill one with your bullet and kill 10 with your mouth. When you see the way we manage problem here, we put all our 100 per cent on the physical battle and then we don’t even know how to use communication people to win the war. So, it is very laughable.

Outside Nigeria, people think we don’t even understand modern warfare, which is not just all about armament, armament and armament. Yes, we don’t have enough arms, but our problems are not limited to the use of arms. Our problems are basically that we don’t have sufficient education on how to manage asymmetric warfare.

So, it is not all about acquiring more arms. This Boko Haram people we are talking about, what is their population? Now, the whole of Nigeria cannot fight Boko Haram? Then the arms they use, where do they get them? You know they get some from outside and they have developed their own strategy of taking our arms, they come to steal arms from us when they know that we have acquired new arms. Then, when we acquire new arms, we bring cameras to airport where we are offloading them and then the people will say we have new supplies.

So, are the supplies for the Nigerian military or Boko Haram? When you show it on television, they will say, ok let us go and take this thing again. They come and take it and kill soldiers and go away to now use the arms to fight us.

We are not doing the work scientifically and the basic reason is that Nigeria is not a knowledge economy. This is our number one problem. The way we manage problem is not dictated by the intellect, but by sentiment. There is no society that can survive in this stage of globalisation if you are not a knowledge economy.

We say we don’t have enough lecturers, but when you go outside Nigeria, you will find five scholars teaching a class, but connected by satellite. So, you don’t need to just come to the classroom, but here if I want to teach now, I will have to drive myself to that class, I will explain, teach and shout. There is no technology to even get my students to see what I’m talking about.

National Assembly budget is almost two times what is given to education and you want the country to grow? When we travel outside the country, people sit down with us to ask about things happening in Nigeria if they are true. How would any nation survive this way? We say we are praying to God, is there an example of one country that depends only on God? What else are you looking for? God has created you, He has given you the brain, then you want him to come and do the work? Why are you so unfair to God? We are too unfair to God in this country.

Is it wise to negotiate with bandits?
There is a difference between political and criminal violence. The former is aimed at achieving political objectives, while the latter targets personal greed. It is easier to excuse negotiation with those engaged in political violence than career criminals.

Granting amnesty to bandits, in my consideration, is a loud proclamation of state failure in Nigeria. It shows that we no longer have the capacity to protect ourselves. An amnesty programme cannot change career criminals, as we see in Nigeria. The best you will get is for the criminals to migrate from where they have negotiated with to some other places to continue their business.

That is probably what we are witnessing in the Northwest today. They move from Zamfara to Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and Kebbi states, same career criminals.