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WHY SECURITY MAY NEVER IMPROVE IN NIGERIA

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Since the 1970s at least, security has been tenuous and perilous in Nigeria: periods when armed-robbers, street urchins, kidnappers and vigilante groups reigned supreme. One does not have access to dependable data; nonetheless, it might be possible to deduce that insecurity spikes in times of prolonged economic and political downturns. It seems, then, that poverty and volatility breed insecurity. In recent times, however, insecurity seems to have taken a new form: commercial kidnappings, political assassinations, and bombings.

Bombing, as we know it today may have started during the General Ibrahim Babangida administration. During this period (October 1986), Mr. Dele Giwa, the most prominent Nigerian journalist in recent memory, was eliminated with a parcel bomb in his home in Lagos. In the intervening years, more than three dozen bombs have gone off – killing and maiming untold number of Nigerians. And just as the death of Mr. Giwa has remained unsolved, so have the killing and maiming of many Nigerians. Twenty four years after that infamous bombing, the world awoke to what is now known as the Independence Day Bombing. And barely a year after the Independence Day Bombing, the United Nations’ building in Abuja suffered the same fate.

In addition to the incessant bombings, the country has also had to deal with other types of violence, i.e. the post-election violence and the unmitigated ethnic, religious and communal violence. All these events -- which have largely remained unsolved -- were becoming an embarrassment to the Goodluck Jonathan led government. More than the embarrassment to Jonathan, Nigerians, at home and abroad, were beginning to think that President Jonathan is in a daze (in so far as the bombings are concerned). How do you bring order and stability to a country were insecurity, anxiety, and anarchy was fast becoming part of the landscape?

On August 31, 2011, the Punch newspaper reported that “The heads of all the nation's security agencies are in panic mode,” and that “the security chiefs were reprimanded by President Goodluck Jonathan for their inability to stem the growing wave of bombings in the country.” And on September 8, Reuters and other media organizations reported that Ambassador Zakari Ibrahim, the special adviser on counter-terrorism, was sacked.

Frankly, unless the president wants a communist or police-state, there is a zero-zero chance of security ever improving in the country. The most viable alternative is the restructuring – not just of the intelligence and security agencies – but also of the administrative and governing system we now have. Nigeria, as we know it today, will continue to wobble until a leader, or leaders at the national level, agrees to and genuinely implement a restructuring of the system and the country.

The President’s anger, embarrassment and loss of face may be well-placed. The everyday Nigerian may be running out of patience and empathy. And indeed, the international community may be wondering why the Nigerian government cannot get its act together. None of these will matter; and indeed, nothing else will truly matter or make a dent on the state of insecurity if the fundamentals of security and nationhood are not properly addressed. And even if the Nigerian government and her international partners pour financial and non-financial resources at the Nigerian security landscape, it still wouldn’t matter. The right things should be done. Not the easy stuff, but the right things!

The President may think otherwise, but really, the problem, for the most part, is not the personnel who are currently manning the various security and intelligence outfits. The three service chiefs, the inspector general of police, the Director- General of the State Security Service and the National Security Adviser are all competent men who are capable of the tasks they are assigned. These are very competent men. What’s more, the foot soldiers -- the men and women of the various agencies who are tasked with our safety and security -- are, for the most part, doing what they have been asked to do. The problems, it seems to me, are (1) our national culture and attitude towards the nation-state; (2) the current domestic security structure; (3) the current national security paradigm; (4) the self-immolating governing system that is in place; (5) the inadequate constitution that currently guides us; and (6) our weak and fragmenting institutions.

To the aforelisted we add funding, compensation, and training for the men and women who work for the police and other security agencies. They are starved of fund. For instance, to say that the police are grossly underfunded, underpaid, poorly trained and poorly equipped, is an understatement. Time after time, the police are outmanned, outgunned, and outmaneuvered. The police academies are poorly equipped; and so are the forensic labs. These and other factors accounts for why the Nigerian Police have been behind the times and unable to make the desire dent in matters of state and personal security.

But beyond all these factors -- factors that are beyond the control and/or dictates of the security and intelligence chiefs and agencies -- are issues that are directly and obliquely related to nationhood, governance, and leadership. And of course, we may add a fourth: followership. In its fifty years as a nation, has Nigeria ever, at any point, taken a critical look at itself? In other words, have we ever addressed our nationhood? Have we ever wondered why we seem to produce third-rate leaders? And why is it that the everyday Nigerian seems not to care about their country and about the quality of leaders they’ve had in the last 30 or so years? These are some of the questions a well-planned national symposium would address.

But of course, in today’s Nigeria -- more so within the halls of the federal government, the Fourth Estate, the ruling elites, and within the circle of certain powerhouses -- it is forbidden to speak of or to advocate a Sovereign National Conference. SNC is the elephant in our collective living room no one wants to address. It is as if calling for a SNC is tantamount to advocating the breakup of Nigeria. It is as if supporting a SNC means supporting a coup. Advocates of a Sovereign National Conference, in some enclaves, are now seen as enemies of the state. But it need not be so. The wellbeing of our fatherland is at stake. The mutual hate and mutual suspicion that is being exhibited in some quarters demand that we engage in a healthy conversation. The unhealthy quest for power demands that we examine our political arena and the rules that govern it.

None of these, none of the above, are the handiwork of the service and intelligence chiefs. Therefore, even if President Goodluck Jonathan were to replace these men -- the state of insecurity will remain the same. Why would the president want to replace a group of fine and brilliant men who continue to sacrifice their comfort for the wellbeing of their country? He may bring in the MOSSAD, the FBI/CIA, or the M15/M16 or any number of foreign intelligence outfit, it really wouldn’t matter. Frankly, security will never improve so long as we continue in our current pattern of thinking and being. Nothing will change for the best if we are afraid of new and bold thinking. Archaic and dated solutions will not do us any good. This president must be bold and daring in his thinking. His advisers too must refine their thinking and their intellect (ditto for the Nigerian Congress).

Something else: any nation that does not pay particular attention and then genuinely tackle issues of basic needs (human security), is very likely to have its internal and non-internal security abridge and violated. Basic Needs or Human Security basically refers to the availability and the unhindered access to quality education, quality health care, portable water and nutritious food, personal safety, human rights, healthy ecology, and an enabling setting where the vast majority of the citizens can aspire to a life of happiness and wellbeing. If you don’t have these, then, nothing else matters.

No nation, be it’s a police state or a communist country, can thrive in an atmosphere of want, superstition, searing poverty, and preliterate conditions. And that’s the Nigeria we have today. Do you blame these deficits on the service and security chiefs? Is the National Security Adviser to blame for these? The current political and economic stench and insecurity seem daunting and overwhelming, but no reasonable Nigerian would put the blame squarely and entirely on President Goodluck Jonathan. Successive governments contributed, in various degrees, to the current condition. Nonetheless, things seem to be worsening under his watch. He is the man most points to. It behooves him, therefore, to reposition the country.

Even in industrialized societies, there is some modicum of insecurity: insecurity is not a phenomenon that can be totally and completely eradicated. It can be mitigated and improved. This is the goal we should individually and collectively work towards. To reach this goal, however, we must start the journey now. We must rebuild our country, rebuild our institutions, and rework our constitution.

For those who are interested in a stopgap measure, perhaps, some or all of these steps may be considered: without regard to their past or current standing the government must arrest and prosecute private and public individuals who fan the ember of religious and ethnic hate; infiltrate and collect intelligence on groups bent on calamity, hate and destruction; fund social services for persons and groups of persons that are susceptible to the teachings and allure of certain non-state actors; provide targeted employment or retraining programs for youths across the country; and invest in educational institutions. What’s more, concerned persons must be willing to alert the security and intelligence agencies if and when they witness laws being violated or about to be violated. Nigeria is our country – a country to be reclaimed.

* Sabella Abidde can be reached at: [email protected]

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