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Insecurity: Dealing with citizens’ distrust for government tactics

By Olawunmi Ojo and Gbenga Salau
09 February 2020   |   3:06 am
Over the last few weeks, there have been security meetings across the nation, which had in attendance, leaders and major stakeholders drawn from various spheres of life

Service Chiefs

Over the last few weeks, there have been security meetings across the nation, which had in attendance, leaders and major stakeholders drawn from various spheres of life, especially the security sub-sector.

Top on the agenda of these meetings has been the worsening security situation in the country, and the need to stem the very dangerous tide.

At one of such gatherings, at the behest of President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Security Council met at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

Before the meeting, President Buhari, while expressing his frustration at increasing security threats across the country, had said that what is happening at the moment was far beyond just insurgency, but an evil plot against the peace of the country.

Penultimate week, the Senate and House of Representatives, disturbed by the growing insecurity, had also debated the issue with resolutions reached on the way forward. Both chambers had suggested to the President to consider changing the service chiefs, among other solutions canvassed.

What followed was a visit last Monday to the President, by leaders of the two chambers, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, and House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, in a bid to relay the National Assembly’s thoughts on how best to tackle the nation’s security challenges.

Fielding questions from journalists after their meeting, both leaders said: “We discussed everything that matters as far as the issue of security of this country is concerned…In the intermediate and the long-term, we should be able to come up with some strategies, the road map, to ensure that we secure the lives and property of Nigerians.

“We believe that we must be able to provide that necessary equipment and welfare for the Armed Forces and the Police, to ensure that they can operate and perform efficiently and effectively. We are on the same page (with the President) that we should be able to do whatever it takes to ensure that security agencies can perform better than they are doing now.”

After that visit, precisely on Wednesday, February 5, Gbajabiamila again played host to all the service chiefs, who had been summoned earlier in the week during the House’s deliberation.

This, seemingly, is the enormity of the security situation the nation is grappling with. With the level of insecurity at an unprecedented level, it would not be out of place to say the nation is ailing, if not at war.

Every other day, the nation grapples with the reoccurring problems of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, inter-communal violence, extra-judicial killings, farmers/herdsmen clashes and many other kinds of violent crimes.

Boko Haram is reported to have killed over 30, 000 people and displaced at least 2.6 million people in a wave of attacks spanning over a decade. Kidnapping for ransom is at a worrisome level within, and the nation’s security agencies are demonstrably bereft of clues on how to put a stop to the menace.

Speaking against the backdrop of the worsening security situation recently and the rift generated by the establishment of a regional security initiative, Operation Amotekun by governors of South West states to tackle crime in the region, Senate President, Lawan, admitted that the nation’s security system was inefficient and ineffective.

He highlighted the need for collaboration between the executive and the legislature to rejig the nation’s security architecture to make it more responsive to the needs of Nigerians, whose lives and property had become increasingly endangered.

By his admission, the Senate President said nothing new. This is an age-long truth that successive governments haven’t shown the will to accept and address headlong.

The key among solutions that have been proffered to tackle insecurity by stakeholders at many fora is the creation of state police. This is in addition to such solutions as increasing the number of personnel across military formations and the police, reviewing the criminal justice system in such manner that it punishes and deters criminality and indeed overhauling the system of governance such as that it reduces the preponderance of Nigerians living below the poverty line.

It has been widely reported that the nation is grossly under-policed. With a Police Force that is less than 400, 000-man strong, statistics show that Nigeria’s one police officer to 600 person ratio falls far below the United Nations prescribed policing ratio of one policeman to 400 persons.

A former Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, while speaking at the graduation of constables at the Police College, Kaduna, sometime in 2018, had urged the Federal Government to recruit additional 31, 000 police officers annually over the next five years, to ensure effective policing across the country.

At the time, Idris had said that by providing an additional 155, 000 police officers over the next five years, Nigeria would meet the UN policing ratio of 1:400 persons. But nothing close to that suggestion has been set in motion.

The grim reality of the nation being under-policed is brought to fore in the North East region, which comprises six states and had been the epicentre of insurgency.

With a landmass of 262, 578 km, the region is bigger than all the countries in West Africa except Ivory Coast. Members of the Armed Forces, most of whom had been frequenting the North East since the insurgency began, are not more than 250, 000. The Nigeria Police, with less than 400, 000 men, also has a sizeable number of its personnel on VIP Protection Duties.

A former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, sharing his thoughts on curtailing the spate of insecurity in the country, noted that insecurity derives from the political system that Nigeria currently operates, suggesting that the country returns to the regional government with regional police and regional control of its affairs.

Ezeife said: “Insecurity is a creation of the unitary government, which we have now. The Nigeria that we have now is wrong. How can one group control all the security outfits in the country? And our constitution makes it clear that Federal Character should reflect in the appointment of positions in Nigeria.”

A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has been a proponent of the creation of state police as the solution to Nigeria’s insecurity challenges.

Speaking at a forum recently, Falana had restated his call for the formation of state police and countered one of the arguments against the initiative, which suggests that governors would use the state police to haunt political opponents.

He stressed that, on the contrary, state police would provide adequate security. “Many citizens are opposed to the creation of state police for the fear that it may be used to haunt political opponents of some state governors. But to avoid a situation whereby abuse of police powers is decentralised, any security service established by state governments should be democratically controlled.

“The service will be funded by the state governments and superintended by an independent state police council. Members of the council should be accredited representatives of the state government, labour, women, youths and the business community. The service will police the state and see to the enforcement of all the laws enacted by the House of Assembly.”

Interestingly, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu had lent his support for another variant of Falana’s solution – community policing.

Speaking at the Senate on the nation’s security challenges, architecture, methods employed so far and the way forward in addressing the problems, Adamu threw his weight behind the idea of community policing in the country, stressing that if put in place, it will help nip in the bud her security challenges.

“Taking policing back to the community will help in reducing crime to the barest minimum. I have explained the concept of community policing to the Senate, which involves a partnership with communities,” Adamu said.

A retired Police Commissioner, Frank Odita, however, shares a refreshing perspective. For him, the security situation in the country is in its current state because of the past attitude of leaders.

In his view, the first question to ask is whether the respective tiers of government have the political will to tackle insecurity? If the answer is yes, then what actions have they taken in that regard.

Odita said: “We have the police, the military, and para-military organisations. How equipped are they? How motivated are they? How well-trained are they in capacity building? These are crucial questions. If you are not sure that if you give your chest to a bullet that the people you would leave behind would live a good life, you may not want to take the risk. So, that brings to the fore the question of, what arrangement does the country have for the welfare of members of its armed forces?

“Secondly, we should ask ourselves, the amount of money that politicians are packaging for themselves, which makes them happy, is it good enough for our present-day economy?

Thirdly, who are the criminals that we are dealing with? Are they locals? If they are, why are they into criminality? Is it because they have nothing they are living on? If they are international, there are many international treaties that we have entered into that could be of help. So, the problem is how sincere we are in tackling security issues, and how much political will do the government have with regards to the issue?”

Odita bemoaned the fact that in trying to solve the security puzzle before the nation, stakeholders were being economical with the truth.

“One of the greatest problems that we have in this country is who is saying it? Where is it coming from? What political party does he belong to? What religion does he belong to? What tribe does he belong to – partisanship? The day we start thinking about Nigeria as Nigerians, that is the day we would start making progress. What should be important to us should be nationality, not tribe. That is what obtains in the US, UK, Ghana and other progressive nations.”

Dr. Chinye Bone, a retired major in the Nigerian Army and managing director, Strict Guards, also queried the commitment of the country’s leadership to solving its security challenges.

He surmised that the current situation suggests that a particular set of people are encouraged, or emboldened by the body language of the leadership.

Bone said that the Federal Government needed to start rebuilding the confidence of the people in the leadership of the nation, stating that virtually every other tribe has lost confidence in the commitment of the current leadership to offering solutions to the security challenges.

He said: “This is the worst situation you can imagine where ethnic nationalities are looking for self-help, which in itself is a major security threat to a nation-state. But you would not blame the people for resorting to self-help and self-defense.

“What the government ought to do now is to change the leadership of the military and government security agencies to reflect the true federal nature of Nigeria. It should be done in such a way that there would be an equitable voice whenever there is a meeting. That would boost the confidence of certain groups in the nation.”

Renowned security and intelligence analyst, Dr. Ona Ekhomu, reacting to President Buhari’s exclamation over the spate of insecurity, said it was unfortunate that the President had not been adequately, competently and truthfully briefed on the security situation in the country.

According to him, the handling of the security situation thus far suggests that there has been a conspiracy to hide the true situation of things from the President such that only elephantine security breaches such as the Dapchi kidnap were not plausibly denied.

“This is a big mistake. As I argue in my new book titled, Boko Haram: Security Consideration and the Rise of an Insurgency, the grave danger that Boko Haram represented was manifested in April 2007 in the Panshekera Kano Police Station attack, which resulted in the death of 13 policemen and the torching of the police station. The military had to be called out to subdue the insurgents in that attack. Panshekera was a precursor event to the Boko Haram insurgency, but we missed the portend.

“Perhaps, if the security breach, which claimed the lives of so many law enforcement officers was properly investigated, the Boko Haram insurgency might have been smothered in its infancy. The point I’m making is that the President’s advisers are not helping him when they hide the bad news from him. After all, the advisers were not elected President; only one man was, and that man is responsible for the security of the country, not the advisers.”

Do government spokesmen know the enormity of insecurity? Ekhomu expressed the belief that they do, but just do not want the President to hear bad news. “They may know the enormity, but if they spin it in a way that suggests that nothing is amiss, then perhaps nothing will be amiss. However, that is engaging in self-deception. Downplaying the security situation might create a false narrative about objective conditions and result in psychological dissuasion. The president said he was shocked about the extant state of insecurity in the country partly as a result of the effective job that the spokesmen were doing in keeping him in the dark.”

Ekhomu described the call for the sack of service chiefs as a self-serving campaign, saying it was only the President that has the authority to hire and fire them. He carpeted the current practice of letting everyone go at the same time as a mistake and suggested that there ought to be a scorecard of performance by each service chief, which determines whether he stays or goes.

Speaking on Amotekun, the Southwest’s regional security initiative, Ekhomu said it was an excellent policy intervention to mitigate serious and deadly security threats in the region.

He said: “It is a self-help remedy that is known to law. It should be embraced by the Federal Government and propagated to all regions. After all, most states in the country have vigilance services (vigilantes). Operation Amotekun is nothing but a vigilance service for the South West region, and crime control and crime-fighting is a job for all Nigerians.”

The security expert, who listed some social and economic causes of insecurity to include poverty, greed, the lionisation of wealth, unemployment, ineffective policing and lack of political will, highlighted some strategies the government must employ in combating insecurity in the country.

“Government should adopt risk mapping methodologies in solving complex security problems such as terrorism, insurgency, and militancy. In risk mapping, you identify the risk, assess the risks, develop mitigation measures, implement the countermeasures, and then evaluate the effectiveness of the countermeasures.

“In this country, our security officials adopt the threat-based approach to security problem-solving, rather than risk-based approach. If you combat terrorism and insurgency on a threat model, you will be carrying a lot of dead bodies. Nigeria will defeat the insurgency, but we need creative thinking, not intuitive thinking,” he said.

Professor of political science and expert in strategic studies, Prof. Osisioma Nwolise, however, advocated human security as a veritable solution to the security challenges the country was facing.

“Though violence and crimes exist and perhaps are inevitable in every human society, when these have reached a worrisome level, a very proactive solution is required. Our government must know that voting huge budget for national security when most Nigerians find it extremely difficult to live a decent life is like running a race that has no end. The first proactive step to take is to remove, or perhaps, reduce significantly the extreme anger and frustration in the land.”