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How to make Nigeria safe again

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By Ehi Braimah

FRI 30 APRIL, 2021-theGBJournal- Recently, Abubakar Sani Bello, the governor of Niger State, lamented openly that no place was safe anymore – not even Abuja. As you watch the video clip where the governor spoke to reporters with so much uneasiness, you immediately sense a feeling of frustration and hopelessness. Sani Bello is disturbed because Boko Haram, the terrorist group, has claimed Kaure as territory in Niger State and hoisted their flag.

The matter that is dominating discussions everywhere – both at home and abroad — is the scary security situation in the country. There is no place that is free from acts of vandalism, mayhem, gun violence, kidnapping, insurgency and banditry. We are in a state of war and our land has been turned into a killing field. Nigerians are worried. Do I sound like an alarmist? I don’t think so. The fearful part is that we are confronted daily with an escalation of widespread criminality across the country which includes non-state actors who are taking the laws into their hands.

Within one week, it was reported that bandits killed a Divisional Police Officer (DPO), eight policemen and two vigilantes in Kebbi State; 19 people were killed in Igbariam, Anambra State; abductors kill two students of Greenfield University, Kaduna; gunmen attack soldiers in Amasiri; gunmen kidnap several students of the University of Agriculture (by the last media account, they have been released) and so on.

Life has no meaning anymore. When we sleep, we are forced to leave one of our eyes wide opened so that we can at least be alert to any imminent danger. Unfortunately, we do not bear arms such as AK47 to repel any attack. Harmless and hapless Nigerians who now live in fear are being slaughtered daily like chickens through wanton and reckless attacks.

Safety tips are constantly shared, especially by WhatsApp, for road users. I received one not too long ago on inter-state travel with the following guidance: schedule your trip between 9.00 am and 4.00 pm. It means you should not travel too early and do not travel when it is dark; remove titles from your phone contacts; while driving, focus on the road and ensure every five minutes, there’s a traffic on the returning lane; don’t use tinted sheets on your car; even if you’re not the one driving, put your phone away and keep your eyes on the road; always have a spare tyre, plug and fuel pump in your car; moving in a convoy is not the answer; do not stop to buy food or ease yourself on the road and so on. 

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State responded to threats of possible security breaches by declaring a curfew from 8.00 pm to 6.00 am effective from Wednesday April 28 until further notice. He also shut land borders with the neighbouring states: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Imo. Wike recalled that on April 24, personnel of Nigeria Customs, Police and Civil Defence on duty along Port Harcourt-Owerri expressway, were ambushed and gruesomely murdered in cold blood. According to the governor, nobody knows where and when the next attack will take place.

In Benue State, Governor Samuel Ortom said the federal government ought to be more pro-active in tackling insurgency in the country, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari must “arise” to the nation’s security challenges. In the video that also went viral on social media networking sites, a defiant Ortom appeared helpless like his Niger State counterpart. It is a good thing that we are committed to receiving help from other countries such as the United States in the battle against insurgency and terrorism.

The war on Boko Haram has been long and unceasing but instead of their fire power reducing, we are seeing a terrorist organisation that has become even more emboldened as they expand their territories from the North Eastern part of the country down to Niger State. From the look of things, Boko Haram clearly has a mission to spread their deadly tentacles to all parts of the country.

What has enabled this desperation is a lack of co-ordinated attack on Boko Haram even before the Buhari administration. Instead, it was alleged that a thriving war economy with different franchises was created. For example, kidnapping is a major enterprise and it has also developed different variants like school abductions.

The US Consulate also raised alarm on increasing traffic robbery in Lagos, especially in Ikoyi and Victoria Island, in smash-and-grab operations by armed men. On the Falomo flyover in Ikoyi last Monday, motorists were robbed in broad daylight. The security situation is frightening but we have to search for solutions because we cannot go on like this. The situation is degenerating into a complete breakdown of law and order where mobs and “unknown gunmen” will take over.

Some analysts believe strongly that when there is no equity and justice, it creates social tension. Society becomes the ultimate loser. Can we truly frame the security crisis and communal conflicts as a social problem driven by extreme poverty, injustice and corrupt/selfish political elite? Agitations by non-state actors for self-rule, re-structuring, devolution of power, referendum, territorial control and economic empowerment occur when there are perceived injustices based on religion, region and tribe. Let us agree this is part of the problem that we need to fix.

When you read stories that Nigerians – including governors, presidency staff and lawmakers – own over 800 properties in Dubai worth $400 million, it can cause depression, stroke, thrombosis and heart attack. It shows that a few people are living off the sweat of others who cannot get jobs or feed their families. It is evident government is losing money running into billions of naira due to lack of transparency, money laundering and illicit financial outflows.

This matter has been a major headache for every administration and it continues to defy possible solutions. High unemployment rates, galloping inflation and massive corruption are ingredients for social tension that result in a state of anomie: self-help, mob action, crime and conflict. Images of #EndSARS protests last October and the root causes readily come to mind.

At a virtual Peace Summit which held on February 23 to mark the founding of Rotary International 116 years ago, the Rotary Club of Lagos in District 9110 – by the way, that’s my Rotary club — invited His Royal Majesty, Air Vice Marshall Lucky Ochuko Ararile (rtd), as guest speaker. He said Nigeria is facing many challenges which include social, political, economic, environmental, etc, but the existential challenge is insecurity that has manifested itself in different forms. “Nigeria has had to cope with militancy in the Niger Delta, Boko Haram terrorists in the North East, Fulani herdsmen menace nationwide and banditry in the Northwest,” said the retired AVM.

He stated that herdsmen and famers conflict has been with us for ages. “I could remember while growing up, that the arrival of the cattle egrets at the start of the dry season heralded the arrival of the herdsmen. In earlier times, the Fulani herdsmen were very peaceful and rarely took their cattle to rummage in people’s farms.

“Although conflicts arose occasionally, these were locally resolved. So what has changed, you may ask. What has changed is the arrival of foreign Fulanis who are unreligious and prone to violence; they have no value whatsoever for human lives,” the guest speaker explained.

Although he said the influx of the foreign Fulanis could be traced to the period immediately after the return to civilian rule in 1999, AVM Ararile made the point that the invasion was not confined to Nigeria alone – the Fulanis also invaded Ghana and some other West African countries, wreaking untold havoc and inflicting maximum pain and miseries on their victims.

With the security crisis escalating, the searchlight naturally beamed on the performance of the armed forces. Instead of a coordinated response, the armed forces are operating independently and the retired AVM believes this approach is at variance with our “historical experience and doctrine.” In other words, the concept of “jointness” which was used during the Nigerian civil war, Operation Seadog, ECOMOG operations and the Chadian and Cameroonian engagements is missing.

He also stated there was no distinction between purely military and police operations and wondered why we now have the Immigration, Road Safety Corps, National Civil Defence Corps attending security council meetings. These are issues to look at as we search for solutions to the current security challenges.

AVM Ararile is concerned that the National Security Adviser (NSA) has over the years usurped the duties of the Chief of Defence Staff. “For us to succeed in the onerous job of securing the nation, we must return to our orthodox doctrine; the military should be relieved of police duties. The police must return to its main function of maintaining internal security,” counselled  Ararile. “Right now, everybody is doing everybody else’s job. More importantly, the CDS, and not the Service Chiefs, must be operationally responsible to the Commander-in-Chief.”

What is often cited as reason for the poor performance of our military is insufficient funding. To a large extent, this is true but there have also been allegations of mismanagement or diversion of funds and low morale of the rank and file arising from poor welfare packages.

“With all recruits into the Nigerian Armed Forces through the Nigerian Defence Academy being graduates, what is the Nigerian Air Force doing with two degree awarding institutions?” asked Ararile.“Why is the Nigerian Army building a new University? The Navy has the Admiralty University. Who are those to attend? Soldiers fighting Boko Haram? Yet the same military cannot meet the basic needs of our men in battle. The misuse of scarce resources is a failure of oversight by the Presidency, the Ministry of Defence and the National Assembly.”

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said the security problems have dislocated our lives but they are surmountable. AVM Ararile agrees with Obasanjo and he believes that with “honesty of purpose and shared values,” we can solve our problems that appear to be “intractable and unsolvable”. He recommends the rejuvenation of the grund norm: the constitution. The current constitution is built on the falsehood of “we the people”. This issue has caused loud calls for re-structuring, and at the 2014 National Conference convened by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, devolution of power was proposed but nothing has happened since then.

“The constitution was made for the interest of a group to the exclusion of the generality of the people,” continued AVM Ararile. “A new constitution that meets with the aspirations of the people should be developed. Specifically, the new constitution must address the issues of the type of government, devolution of power, review of the land use act, state and community police, resource control, settlers and indigenes issues and the devolution of the judiciary along the lines canvassed by Festus Keyamo SAN.

“Our experience with the Buhari presidency, like the Trump administration in the US, has brought in broad relief, the inadequacy of the Presidential system, particularly the possibility of a rogue presidency. In its place, I would recommend the adoption of the parliamentary system for Nigeria where a rogue presidency can be terminated by the expediency of a vote of no confidence.”

At a public lecture last year, Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), also proposed what he called the “United States of Nigeria.”In the proposal, Pastor Adeboye recommended that we should create a system of government that is uniquely ours; a system that works for us even if it means marrying the parliamentary and presidential systems of government.

Since we do not have any other country to call our own, this conversation must continue. God bless Nigeria.

Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)

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