To even the most casual observer, things are not right with Nigeria at the moment. And there is no stronger bit of evidence to support this assertion than the sheer mass of deaths, assault and bloodletting that is taking place across streets and hamlets all over the country. As commentators have continued to remark, except during the season of the Nigerian Civil War, there is almost no other comparable time as this in the nation’s history. It is that tragic.
By the day, the features of a failed state are being manifested. With large swathes of the nation’s territory being seriously contested for by criminal elements and religious anarchists, the feeling is that except something drastic is done at the moment, the crisis may balloon to the extent that it becomes outrightly calamitous.
Other than the usual North-Eastern suspects which have been under the stranglehold of Boko Haram insurgents in the past decade, no two places better exemplify the rising scepter of this threat to our sovereignty and sense of being than the ongoing mind-boggling bloodletting and criminality in Zamfara and Kaduna States.
Commuters and travellers now shun travelling by road to Kaduna from Abuja and vice versa as the route has become a hotbed of criminality. It is an absurd theatre where kidnappers, armed robbers and ritualists have turned the stretch of road to dreaded spaces where mindless orgies of bloodletting, savagery and violence so frequently occur.
Everywhere in the world, the state is considered to be the legitimate custodian of the instruments of violence, and its authoritative use of it is seen as being in the interest of the public good. However, when this monopoly is broken through the nefarious and unlicensed activities of armed criminals who make incursions into large chunks of the nation’s territory, then we have a situation where there is a wild call to anarchy, and one in which the state is said to be slowly losing its legitimacy and authority.
Shorn of all pretence, euphemism and grandstanding, what is at play in Nigeria today is a marked failure of the state since the inception of this administration to protect lives and property, and impose its sovereignty successfully without question. And for an administration that had secured power in the first place on account of its perceived ability to make Nigeria safer, this is indeed a most worrisome blot.
In particular, the Northern part of the country has increasingly come under the control of criminal gangs and warlords. In the considered view of this newspaper, the fact that these bands of warlords, who operate under different guises have now evidently ensured the general non-safety of large swathes of territory from traditional Nigerian political and security actors has led many to conclude that the Nigerian state has in particular, very heavily failed the people of the North. Paradoxically then, it is baffling that all of this is taking place at a time and season where the consensus is that there may almost have been no other time like this in our history when the levers of power at both the security and political levels most notably, have been skewed in favour of the same North that is under sustained and continuing criminal siege.
In a sense, part of the challenge is that there may indeed be a very conscious effort and attitude to under-state the depth of the crisis. This appears to be the case most notably in the North Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa where, in spite of claims by the government and the military to have literally vanquished the Boko Haram insurgency, news of fresh pockets of attacks and the sacking of villages and towns continue to filter out.
Indeed, and almost without any equivocation, the last four years of the Buhari administration have been bloody to say the least. From Benue to Plateau, Adamawa to Taraba, there have been very many depressing incidents of bloodletting. From the blood of innocent citizens felled by either marauding killer herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgents, through the killing of security personnel in the line of duty, the more painful part of the conundrum may however be that this mayhem may have been exacerbated simply because government has been unable to demonstrate for all to see that it could no longer offer comprehensive protection to the citizenry.
It is even more problematic that in the midst of the obvious reality that our security forces as presently constituted have literally been overwhelmed, yet both the executive arm of government and the National Assembly have refused to countenance and drive alternative narratives that could help, including what is perhaps the most resonant of them all, namely, the idea of state police.
A sociological reading of this anomic reality will reveal a shocking culpability of the state. Fuelling this dysfunction in the polity is the underlying scourge of economic injustice, unemployment and poverty. Recently, the country was rated as having as much as 80 million of its citizens in the extreme poor bracket. As almost every cursory observer can attest to, the desire to simply survive and live sometimes drives otherwise good-natured people to crime, and in a population such as ours that has a preponderance of young people, it needs not a lot of explanation to say that crime offers allurements.
Even when it continues to bandy figures about its social intervention programmes, the truth of the matter is that the Buhari administration’s intervention programmes have not made any real dent in the distressing national economy story. At best, they have only scratched the surface of the problems, more so when there is clearly no holistic, structural and well thought-out economic blue print to tackle the crisis of poor economic capacity, youth unemployment and mass poverty. And the burgeoning security challenge is in this case then, a reflection of this deeper crisis that we are faced with.
On the specific challenge of security, matters have not been helped by the almost blatant refusal of the leading lights of the current administration to frontally and thoroughly confront our hydra-headed security challenges in a more inclusive manner. In this wise, though it is on record that many individuals, interest groups and well -meaning security experts have respectively called on government to overhaul the country’s security architecture in the face of the bloodletting that is presently being experienced in the country, their calls and cries have generally been unheeded.
But perhaps even more galling of all, is the reluctance of the administration to effect a change of guards involving the top echelon of the security services. This remains a source of concern to many, and it has indeed left many to go away with the impression that both the sanctity of Nigerian lives and the corresponding need to promote an ethic where public officials only remain in office on account of their sound performance does not matter to this administration.
The Buhari administration must urgently correct this situation. National security is, in advanced climes, not open to political contestation or intra-party intrigues. Our politicians must set aside their differences to tackle insecurity and threats to sovereignty.
Political philosophers and theorists have often emphasized the critical nature of national security and accordingly categorized it as sacrosanct and often inviolable. Thus any government worth its name will do anything devoid of politics to maintain national security, and protect lives and property.
As President Buhari warms up to commence his second term in office, there is need for a shift of paradigm. Government exists primarily to protect lives and property. He must live up to this billing. He should inject new blood into his security team at all levels. The best must be chosen. This is not the time to play ethnic politics or bring into the mix primordial sentiments. The entire security architecture must be overhauled. It is also our considered view that the issue of state police must be revisited. The current strength of and orientation of the police is not sufficient to secure the country. We cannot as a nation continue to play the ostrich. Now is the time for state police. We therefore urge the National Assembly to revisit the issue.
In addition, President Buhari should consider appointing more qualified people to drive the administration’s economic policies so as to guarantee sustained economic growth and provide the nation with variable opportunity to reduce the number of unemployed and under-employed citizens. This will help drive many of our teeming youth away from crime. Equally, there should be a restructuring of the existing social intervention programmes in such a way as to establish them as being only the first step on a ladder of continuing integration into a broader, growing economy.