Saturday, 10 April 2021 05:37

The urgency of tackling Nigeria’s security situation - Nasir El-Rufai

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No one who is in a position of responsibility can deny the necessity for firm action in the form of proactive and sustained offensives against the criminals who menace us. Such security operations will not only cripple the outlaws, but will also reassure ordinary citizens, bolster the morale of the security agencies and provide an alternative focus for the energies that are being dissipated on fractious endeavours.

The situation in which the security agencies mostly only react to cases of banditry and abduction is unacceptable. We are in a war with these terrorists, who are challenging the sovereignty and monopoly of the instruments of coercion of the Nigerian state and its territory. Our security forces must collaborate to take the war to them, recover and restore the un-governed forests these terrorists occupy, and enable our law-abiding citizens to engage in their legitimate pursuits, including farming and livestock production, without fear. These bandits have lost their right to life under our Constitution and must be wiped out in their entirety. There is no other way to approach the current situation of insurgency in Nigeria today as far as governmental action is concerned.

But action and discourse are not mutually exclusive. The theme of this townhall meeting speaks to that function of informed discourse as an enabler of more effective action. Setting benchmarks for enhanced security and national unity is an important imperative in ensuring that there is a common understanding of the two concepts and that across this country and its diversity, there is a common register for talking about them and assessing them.

Everyone who has been concerned about the danger that insecurity has posed to national cohesion will appreciate the importance of securing a collective understanding of the problems and the solutions.

In my view, we require, at the minimum, national consensus on the key issues that confront us and on the most efficient remedies for our weaknesses. At a public meeting in Lagos in February, I shared some lessons we have picked up from our efforts to manage our situation in Kaduna State, and I think it bears repeating here:

  • The Nigerian state has not jealously and consistently protected its prerogatives and status as the leviathan, the ultimate guarantor of security, the protector of rights and the promoter of the rule of law. That is why its power is being challenged, in a frighteningly sustained manner by a phalanx of armed non-state actors;
  • Our national level security response to these challenges has been uncoordinated and ineffective in wiping out the threats. None of the military services nor other security agencies has been suitably expanded in numbers and equipment for over a decade since the insurgency in the North-East pushed things to a new low. This country does not have enough soldiers, uniformed police and secret police to project state power across its vast swathes, particularly the forests. The limited number of boots on the ground are not well equipped and are significantly lacking in the technology that can make their limited numbers matter a lot less;
  • The justice system operates with ethos and at a pace that do not reflect the fragility of the situation and the urgency to demonstrate that the rule of law is meaningful. Prosecutions take so long that many citizens assume that the criminals have long been released, encouraging criminal conduct, and raising the dangerous appeal of illegal self-help. The delays in the dispensation of justice in Nigeria has made criminals to fall more in love with our courts than the innocent. This is unsustainable and unacceptable;
  • The subnational levels – that is the states and local governments combined – have limited hard power but considerable options and scope for the exercise of soft-power using the traditional institutions, community and political leaders at the grassroots – but which require for its effectiveness the looming shadow of credible coercive power. Unless our state governments, local governments, emirs, chiefs and community leaders know that the State can protect them and deal with criminal elements decisively, the exercise of soft power is reduced to weak appeals to behave well. Too many carrots without sticks lead to the near-anarchy we are witnessing;
  • Notions of a common humanity, not to talk of a common citizenship are not as widely or deeply shared as it would appear. Identity politics holds sway. This reflects the absence of an elite consensus about who we are and how we should live together. To attain this consensus, we must, as leaders and citizens, approach organising and governing our country as a deliberate task, beginning with a collective decision regarding what sort of society we intend to be and the means of attaining it.

In conclusion, I wish to suggest that this country requires urgent action, as follows: 

  • Identify, focus on and deal decisively with all state and non-state actors engaged in conduct that amounts to challenging the supremacy of the Nigerian state and our Constitution, without ethnic profiling or discriminatory treatment;
  • Provide immediate and enhanced funding to acquire advanced equipment, armament and ordinance for the armed forces, police, security and paramilitary agencies;
  • Centralised policing in a federation is not only a contradiction in terms. The state governments today bear most of the burden of the running costs of the Federal Police anyway, so why not allow the sub-nationals to have the state police now. So, I repeat my persistent call for State Police as soon as possible;
  • We should also devolve more responsibilities and duties to the states to enable greater accountability and minimise the habit of blaming the Federal Government for every ill in Nigeria. We should therefore expeditiously amend the Constitution to vest all on-shore minerals, including petroleum, in the states now;
  • A unitary and dysfunctional judiciary that is so slow in dispensing justice that it amounts to being on the side of the criminals need to be decentralised and reformed. The Constitution should be expeditiously amended to remove the unitary control of the superior courts and federalise our judiciary now;
  • Be emphatic about the right of every citizen to security, freedom of movement and rights of residence, and that the choice of livelihoods must conform to the laws of the land;
  • Finally, to address the banditry prevalent in the North-West and North-Central, we must implement the National Livestock Transformation Plan already produced four years ago to enable accelerated investment in modern animal husbandry, incorporating the rapid sedentarisation of herders in known locations.
  • Nasir El-Rufai is Governor of Kaduna State.