When BBC World Questions spotlighted Nigeria’s insecurity conundrum
While the spate of insecurity bedeviling the country has continued unabated, President Muhammadu Buhari has stuck with service chiefs, whose tenures have since expired just as they seem out of depth on innovative ideas and strategies to tackle the menace across the country. Buhari, as a chief security officer of Nigeria, at some point expressed surprise at the level of insecurity as though he has been living on Mars.
While hosting respected citizens of Niger State at the State House, Abuja, Buhari had declared: “I was taken aback by what is happening in the Northwest and other parts of the country. During our campaigns, we knew about Boko Haram. What is coming now is surprising. It is not ethnicity or religion; rather, it is one evil plan against the country. We have to be harder on them. One of the responsibilities of government is to provide security. If we don’t secure the country, we will not be able to manage the economy properly.”
It was no surprise therefore that the menace of insecurity topped the questions tackled at the monthly BBC World Questions held in Lagos recently, a series of international events created in partnership with the British Council. The event, which was anchored by Toyosi Ogunseye, had in its panel Special Adviser on Drainage and Water Resources, Lagos State, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, human rights activist, Aisha Yesufu, Head of Mass Communication Department, University of Lagos, Professor Abigail Ogwezzy-Ndisika and social entrepreneur, Mr. Chude Jideonwo.
Ogunseye, in her introduction, noted that though Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers, national infrastructure, youth unemployment, and insecurity are huge challenges for its civilian government.
“Jihadist attacks and separatist movements threaten to tear the country apart and despite being the biggest economy south of the Sahara, extreme poverty is very high,” she said. “What next for Nigeria?”
Ogwezzy-Ndisika hinted that it was time Nigeria sought help from the international community to curb the activities of insurgency and restore normalcy to the country. She noted that the Federal Government was unable to face the task alone, adding that the military approach was obsolete.
According to her, “The military approach alone will not do it. The way I see the insecurity, we need to tell ourselves the truth that we need help from other countries to defeat the insurgency and reduce insecurity. FG cannot just do it alone with the military approach.”
Igbokwe, however, insisted that government was making tremendous progress in tackling insurgency, stressing that Boko Haram has lost its acclaimed territories and that the sect’s strength has been reduced.
He said, “If I say that we have won the war 100 per cent, I will be deceiving myself and there is no truth in me, but I would say that we have made tremendous progress. Before, they were coming to Abuja to attack; they attacked the United Nations (UN) headquarters, Police headquarters, and even the army headquarters, but now they cannot do that anymore. As I speak to you, they are not holding any of our territories.”
But Yesufu faulted Igbokwe on his assertion that the government has reclaimed the areas seized by the insurgency, stressing that bombings were still happening in those areas. She also said though that there were no bomb attacks in major cities in the country did not mean that the terror war was over. Yesufu insisted that the insurgency still claimed territories in the country.
She criticised the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), which she said have ‘reduced’ themselves to arresting government’s critics instead of gathering information that would tackle insecurity.
As she noted, “Propaganda will never win the war. The FG has been focused on making itself look good rather than honour the lives of the people. For me, I find it disheartening to say that the bombings are not happening in Abuja and the major cities, as if the lives of the people who are in the rural areas are not important. Every Nigerian life matters and no Nigerian is more Nigerian than any other Nigerian, no matter where they live.
“Boko Haram still has territories, but what has happened is that there is a media blackout. This is a situation whereby the media is not allowed to report the issues that are happening. Insecurity caused by violence, killings, attacks, and kidnapping still strives in the Northeast.
“Along Maiduguri-Damaturu Road, for days people could not travel. Boko haram would come out and operate for hours and the military would be nowhere to be found. People are dying every day. The reason we are alive today is that they haven’t come for us. Yesterday’s victims were once survivors; today’s victims were yesterday’s survivors and tomorrow’s victims would be today’s survivors, and today’s survivors are those of us alive today.
“Those who have been killed before will not be killed again; the next to be killed are those that are alive and it is important to call our government to do the needful. The service chiefs that we have are not working. Why are they still there? To be able to succeed against Boko Haram, we need intelligence gathering. Unfortunately, our intelligence-gathering agencies are busy arresting people who are criticizing the president rather than collecting information to solve the problem of insecurity.”
However, for Jideonwo, the government has made considerable progress in the fight against Boko Haram. But he stated that the government was always desperate to declare victory whenever it had the chance.
According to him, “Nigeria has not defeated Boko Haram, but there has been considerable progress in the fight against the insurgency in the reclaiming of recovered territory. The fight against Boko Haram is one of the areas in which we have seen determined action on the part of the Federal Government. There is a sense of determination to solve this problem, but the problems are bigger than just giving people guns to fight. Each time the government makes small progress those bigger issues overwhelm the progress. We need more and long-term thinking and because the government is desperate to announce wins on some level, they find themselves declaring victory prematurely and thereby lose credibility in the long term.”
Among the questions that were asked also included the restriction of motorcycles and tricycles by the Lagos State Government. One of the audience members asked, ‘What substitute can be given to aid the flow of transportation in Lagos State?’
Igbokwe, while responding, emphasised that the government only restricted motorcycles and tricycles in some local council development areas (LCDAs) as against banning them outright. He also expressed hope that the restriction would reduce armed robbery attacks and accidents in the state.
Ogwezzy-Ndisika also supported the restriction but called for a better alternative to make life easy for the people, adding, “Restriction is good. However, the government should have been more systematic about it. Talking about safer and more environment-friendly Lagos is important. Okada accident takes lives; we all know that, but the reality is that we should have started from engaging with the citizens to let them know the harm in the use of Okada.
“If you look at our roads, we don’t have tricycle tracks as they have in other places. Here, we have underage people as okada riders and when you look at these people, the question is, do we have the necessary gadget to carry out forensic tests concerning the ages declared by these riders?
“I think the government should engage the people. I think the government should start talking about alternatives, such as train, metro buses, the one that would link intra LGAs or streets. That way, the government can talk about safety and people will listen. When you talk about safety and the people are suffering, they will misread the actions of the government.”
On her part, Yesufu bemoaned that many have been deprived of their source of income by the restrictions.
“When I hear the aim of the ban is to make Lagos a Liverpool state, I ask for who? Is it only for the rich? It’s so sad that in Nigeria when you are poor, you are faceless, nameless, and voiceless. You are not seen as a human being; the only time you matter as a poor person in Nigeria is during elections. For some people, motorcycle and tricycle business is a source of livelihood; some children are going to go to bed hungry. If they are saying that the ban is to stop crime in the state, that means we have to stop politics, because our politicians are the criminals.”