Mailafia: Resorting to self-help not out of place for communities that face existential threats
The 2019 presidential candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) and former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, in this interview with GBENGA SALAU, said that natural law and the precepts of Universal Global Ethics give communities the right to resort to self-help under certain conditions, even though their reaction has to be proportionate with the level of the threat. He also proposed a comprehensive approach anchored on the mobilisation of citizens, institutions and security agencies in confronting terrorism.
In a nutshell, what are the major factors that exacerbate insecurity, which we are battling to contain in the country?
Well, factors that are responsible for our current malaise are complex and deeply rooted in the economic and social structure. They range from the impact of globalisation to the failed state syndrome, as well as economic, social and psychological trends. Social science provides no universal theory as to why some actors rather than others would resort to terrorism instead of normal politics as a means of resolving conflict. We know that, at least, there are three classes of variables, namely, strategic, structural and psychological. The structural factors would have to do with the dynamics of national politics, international economic and social conditions, while the strategic would have to do with how those conditions interact with geopolitical interests, poverty, unemployment and other social conditions. The psychological, on the other hand, has to do with how individuals and groups respond to perceived threats to their values, beliefs, or way of life, including such things as brainwashing and extremist ideological propaganda.
At the heart of contemporary terrorism is globalisation and how it impacts national systems, cultures and faith-communities. Most economists would agree that globalisation has brought with it several positive fallouts in terms of improved international trade and investments; providing an impetus to growth and enhanced global welfare. However, globalisation has also engendered new forms of vulnerabilities for nations and communities. Financial contagion and the spread of viral diseases pose greater risks than ever before in our borderless world. Communities that have hitherto survived in cultural cocoons have suddenly found themselves exposed to new habits and mindsets. Terrorist networks such as al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and others have become transnational organisations that thrive on the opportunities opened by new technologies and communications channels. Not only are they able to coordinate their activities through such channels, they are also able to raise funds, network and coordinate their activities across national borders and frontiers with greater ease than would have been considered feasible just two decades ago. Globalisation has, to some extent, altered the character of the Westphalian territorial state as we have always known it. In a liberal market economy, the state is expected to restrict itself to playing the role of umpire, while looking after public goods such as law and order, transport and infrastructure, education and control of communicable diseases. There is a sense in which globalisation has eroded the traditional ‘parental role’ of the state, while undermining its capacity, authority and legitimacy. Of late, we have witnessed the emergence of powerful non-state actors who vie for authority, power and influence with the state. These non-state actors range from transnational firms to non-governmental organisations, drug cartels and international terrorist groups.
With globalisation, the boundaries between the domestic and the international are becoming increasingly blurred. Terrorism leads to the weakening of communities within states, changing the nature of threats, war and strategy. This really does amount to a reshaping of the national security agenda for states.
In our age, the agents of threats can be states, ethnic militias, cults, drug lords or religious fundamentalist groups, and the threats they pose are never easily amenable to measurement or monitoring.
Globalisation has also engendered new inequities between the rich and the poor. In the advanced industrial nations as well as in low-income developing ones, all the relevant indicators show that income inequalities are reaching alarming proportions. Deepening inequalities are fostering new forms of anxiety and frustration among dispossessed groups, especially in the developing world. We see this phenomenon in countries such as our own oil-rich Nigeria, where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen. In the context of an increasingly desperate young, educated and unemployed urban youth, we have a ready army of people who can easily be mobilised for ethnic or religiously inspired violence.
With government’s apparent lack of capacity to protect Nigerians, is it not time they resort to self-defence as enshrined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter (of which Nigeria is a signatory)?
This is obviously a rather touchy subject. The United Nations Charter, International Law and Universal Global Ethics all defend the right to self-defence on the part of communities that face an existential threat to their very survival. International law since Hugo Grotius, and Emmerich de Vattel give a right to people who face imminent threat to their very survival, the right and, indeed duty, to take such measures as are necessary to defend themselves and protect their communities, especially if the duly constituted authorities are either unable and/or unwilling to come to their aid. But international law also prescribes that self-help should not be an overkill. Rather, it has to be proportionate with the level of the threat, and it should also not resort to methods that constitute an abuse of humanity. Natural law and the precepts of Universal Global Ethics also give communities the right and duty to resort to self-help under certain conditions. Municipal law and the constitution of our country also gives us the right to self-defence. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (Rtd.) made this point not too long ago and the heavens seemed to fall on him. He was condemned as a rabble-rouser and some people even called for his arrest. I do not think anyone can question his patriotism and his credentials as a nationalist and statesman. He has paid his dues, and was speaking in reference to the killings that are ongoing in the Middle Belt especially.
He also raised serious issues about the implicit collusion of the military with the killers, bandits and herdsmen militias. A former Chief of Army Staff could not have made such heavy allegations just for the fond of it. And Danjuma is not known for grandstanding, or for seeking cheep popularity. I completely agree with him that local communities that face an existential threat to their very survival must resolutely resort to self-help. There is nowhere in the Bible or Quran that says you should lie down and worship someone who comes to rape your daughter, kill your children and abduct your wife. Defending your wife and children is a sacred duty before God and before humanity. Defending the weak and the infirmed is a moral-ethical duty.
Despite glaring evidence, government is not admitting that it has failed to offer security and welfare of citizen as mandated by the constitution. What options are available to Nigerians?
I don’t think I have anything more to say on this subject more than what I have just said. Many people in the Christian world tell me, ‘We just have to pray and wait on the Lord.’ I agree. Prayer and faith are important, but we should not forget that our God is also a God of war. The children of Israel in the Old Testament had to fight all their enemies in order to survive. They fought the Amalekites. They fought the wearisome Philistines. Joshua and Aaron were priests; but they were also men of war. It is important to pray, but it is also important to be ready to defend your family and your community. I would never encourage anyone to go on a rampage, but I would insist that everyone owes a duty to his wife and children, to his church and community, to come to their protection and to defend them against bloodthirsty fiends. It is a sacred duty. I welcome the fact that communities in the South West have taken the bull by the horns with the take-off of Operation Amotekun.
But Operation Amotekun generated immense storm before it took off
Although there was a lot of opposition to Operation Amotekun from Northern Muslim interests, I am happy that the people of Yoruba land stood their ground. I also welcome the fact that the Eastern Security Network (ESN) has recently been launched. Ndigbo are not taking chances, and I am not one to blame them. It is hypocritical for our northern brothers who have operated Yan Hisbah as Sharia enforcers all these years to have insisted that others are not entitled to create similar agencies. People have been asking us when the Middle Belt will create its security network. It’s about time!
As we begin 2021, what should top government’s to-do list security-wise since the gallantry, patriotism and dedication to duty by the police, armed forces and paramilitary bodies appear insufficient to change things?
I recall doing a policy paper for former President Goodluck Jonathan on how to tackle the insurgency. It was a painstakingly researched 72-paged document. Sadly, my efforts were not even acknowledged. The irony was that my ideas were being reflected in some of the official speeches. Permit me to summarise the solutions that I submitted to the previous government.
In that technical memo, I singled out Singapore as a model worthy of emulation. With a population of five million, a per capita GDP of $68,487, Singapore is a prosperous multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. It is a well-governed city-state. Singapore is an entrepôt straddling some of the world’s most sensitive international waterways; a confluence of cultures and civilisations. Over the years, the authorities have maintained a clear view of the importance of preserving the image of their country as being a safe and secure destination for investors. Having had several incidences of terrorism during the 1960s and 1970s, including the 1991 hijacking of Singapore Airlines Flight 117 by terrorist elements from Pakistan, the country has developed a robust framework for confronting such evils. Singapore’s counterterrorism strategy is anchored on three pillars: Prevention, Protection and Response. Underpinning its overall strategy is the doctrine of “Total Defense,” combining the efforts of the civilian public, the army, police and all the intelligence services in preventing, combating and responding swiftly to terrorist threats from whatever quarters they emerge.
The prevention focus takes its premise from the simple logic that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ Singapore authorities look closely at their domestic system to ensure that the conditions that create grievances that could lead to terrorism do not arise. Singaporean democracy has been criticized for its strongly authoritarian streak. But the system works. The public service is based on merit and a tradition of excellence. Infrastructure are world-class and social services such as housing, education and health are accessible to all citizens. Since independence, Singapore’s elites have stood out by their robust capacity to govern. The authorities deal swiftly with crimes such as drug smuggling, fraud and robbery. Singapore maintains an aggressive policy of denying terrorists means of funding for their activities. Like Nigeria, Singapore is a signatory to the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. Unlike Nigeria, however, Singapore has taken additional measures in its laws by making provision for the seizure and forfeiture of terrorist assets without criminal conviction.
Only recently, President Muhammadu Buhari expressed frustration over the ease with which criminal elements dash in and out of the country. What can Nigeria learn from Singapore in this direction?
Effective border controls are a key element in Singapore’s preventive strategy. As far back as April 2003, the border control functions of the Customs and Excise Department and that of the Immigration and Registration Service were merged to form the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA). The ICA has responsibility to patrol all the country’s borders while mentoring and regulating the movement of goods and people. Sophisticated technologies have been deployed to ensure screening at border points, including naval escorts for tankers and other high value vulnerable vessels. Although it could be argued that the small size of the country makes border control relatively easier than, say, a large country such as Nigeria, it is evident that Nigeria still has a long way to go as far as border security goes.
Would it not make a lot of difference if we deploy technology in our border management instead of perennial lamentation?
Singapore also maintains a highly sophisticated electronic surveillance system that allows the relevant authorities to eavesdrop on the telephones and the Internet communications of terrorist suspects. Although recent anti-terrorism legislation has empowered Nigeria’s intelligence agencies to seek the cooperation of telecoms providers in their surveillance operations, there is no evidence that those agencies are really up to the task. Singapore also maintains a strong policy on critical infrastructure by stationing electronic surveillance equipment on sensitive national installations such as power stations and water networks, in addition to airports and rail lines.
In terms of response to potential terrorist attacks, Singapore has put together a dedicated task force under the Singapore Civil Defense Corps (SCDF) for handling chemical and biological attacks. The army, police and security services are always drilled in top-level preparedness to handle high risk emergencies. Citizen mobilisation has been central to Singapore’s successful counterterrorism strategy.
Aware of the growing radicalisation of Muslim groups, Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kwan Yew, stressed the importance of ensuring communal harmony among all Singaporeans. His successors have continued to engage with Singapore’s Muslim leaders by ensuring that they speak out for peace and justice, thereby isolating potential extremist elements. Singapore also established a Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to provide religious counselling to detainees while rehabilitating youths that had fallen victim to indoctrination into extremist ideologies.
So, what would you recommend in our peculiar situation?
I have proposed a strategy, which I have termed Defensive Engagement and Reconstruction Strategy (DEAREST). It is a comprehensive approach anchored on the mobilisation of citizens, institutions and security agencies in confronting terrorism. It provides a bold policy alternative to confronting terrorism based on total defense. It is a comprehensive approach embracing military and police action, the security apparatus, deployment of leading-edge technology and political dialogue with critical stakeholders and decision elites. The American experience in Iraq and Afghanistan makes it clear that military solutions alone will not destroy violent extremism; on the contrary, they may serve to radicalize otherwise neutralize groups. This new strategy requires that the social conditions that give rise to radical ideologies must be tackled, in addition to winning the propaganda war and enhancing the capability of government to deliver social services and critical public goods to the citizens. Our approach places state building, socio-economic reconstruction and political engagement at the heart of the efforts to secure the peace of our commonwealth.
The strategy comprises seven key elements, namely: (i) Prevention; (ii) Protection; (iii) Preparation; (iv) Prosecution; (v) Rehabilitation; (vi) Reconstruction; and (vii) Political Engagement. Prevention embraces activities aimed at rooting out the social and economic conditions that breed terrorism, including the intelligence gathering activities that serve to neutralize and pre-empt terrorist activities. Preparation entails developing a high level of readiness for the eventuality of any attacks. We need Special Forces trained in asymmetric warfare and we must equip them with state-of-the-art weapons. There should be regular drilling on quick-response measures during attacks and to reinforcing accelerated decision-making responsiveness. Training should be continuous and war-gaming in cooperation with institutions such as the National Defense College (NDC) and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies should be encouraged. Protection entails taking measures to protect civilians and military targets from attacks, including protection of vital physical infrastructures. Prosecution is also vital. In the past, failure to prosecute has been a positive incentive for merchants of death. Judicial procedures for such cases must be swift and rigorous and the burden of proof should largely be on the suspects, not the law-enforcement agencies. Punishment for terrorist crimes must be linked to a comprehensive programme of rehabilitation not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators. It is a gross travesty that there is compensation for insurgents and nothing whatsoever for their victims. Rehabilitation entails provision of relief materials as well as psychological counselling. In addition to Rehabilitation, we advocate a programme of economic Reconstruction for victim communities. There also has to be political engagement with key stakeholders, ruling elites, the political opposition, civil society, traditional rulers, religious leaders and the organised private sector. This entails dialogue on a national scale on how to reinvent Nigeria, rebuild its public institutions and ensure that the country provides expanding opportunities for all its citizens. We need to enforce a national ID system, so that every bona fide citizen must carry an ID card with him wherever he goes.
The borders of our country need to be better patrolled, and we must also sign treaties with our neighbouring countries such that they would foot the bills if any of their citizens wreaks havoc in our communities. The onus must be on them to prevent their citizens from coming into our country to commit horrendous crimes. And any foreigner who enters our borders bearing arms must automatically be treated as a war enemy combatant.
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