The 1966 coup is unarguably the ugly cornerstone for the insecurity experienced today in Nigeria. The coup was staged and led by Igbo Christian officers, while Northern soldiers, primarily Muslims, led the counter-coup. With the excuse of curbing corruption, the highest-ranking military officers from the northern parts of Nigeria, the then Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa and the Premier of the Northern Region, Ahmadu Bello from the Muslim North, lost their lives in the coup. The counter-coup staged by northern military officers resulted in the killing of Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, who seized power after the coup in what was considered the Igbo’s conspiratorial plot to control the country. The immediate consequence was mutual distrust between Igbo ethnic groups and the Hausa/Fulani ethnic groups. That distrust provides strong subterranean currents driving insecurity today. But more direct aftermath was the demand for Biafra, which also paved the way for the ethnic secessionist agitations and the militias of different tribes in Nigeria. The resulting Nigeria-Biafra war became the first of such military confrontation in the entire continent. Many agitations for Biafra are still in place and inspires other ethnic militia in militarizing their agitations.
The 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War brought several baggage items that aggravated the country’s security situation. First, it worsened the ethnic mistrust between the Igbo’s and perhaps all other ethnic groups, particularly the Hausa/Fulani. Maybe, the distrust made it extremely challenging for a Nigerian of south-eastern origin to become the country’s president, further fuelling the perceived marginalization of the region in the power control equation. Second, the Civil War seemingly legitimized the direct and indirect military hold on power for quite a long time. Even the country leaders in subsequent democratic dispensations were past military heads of states except for Shehu Shagari and Umar Yar’adua / Goodluck Jonathan. Third, the Civil War unarguably amplified the level of crime and violence in our socio-cultural environment. Several ex-Biafran soldiers and non-soldiers whose psyche was influenced by the war readily turned to armed robbery, hooliganism, and other vices to survive.
After the coup, the resulting succession of military leaders brought about the 1979 military Constitution under the leadership of General Olusegun Obasanjo that ceded the ownership and control of all mineral resources anywhere in the country to the federal government. This military promulgation set the stage for the illicit exploitation and marginalization of the Niger Delta region in a resource expropriated from their soil. The concentration of economic resources in the hands of the federal government coinciding with the discovery of oil made political positions economically attractive and created opportunities for corruption and theft of public financial resources. The economic incentives for doing whatever it takes to occupy political positions led to thuggery and mercenaries in political campaigns and electioneering processes. Over time, the persistent rape of the economy also created a lot of disenchanted and economically emasculated people ready to generate a crisis at the slightest provocation. Then came the second Republic, which started in 1979 and powered by the 1979 constitution with several fault lines.
The 1979 Constitution created so many challenges that have continued to deepen the mistrust among the ethnic groups, incentivize the unrestrained quest for power control at the centre, over-centralized national assets with the attendant exclusion of some groups. It also created the federal character principle supposedly for national integration but was heavily compromised in its implementation by several democratic and military regimes favouring some ethnic groups. It also gave room for far less qualified persons in some parts of the country, displacing far better-qualified persons from other parts of the country in occupying strategic and demanding positions. The resulting amplified level of mediocrity and false hope is one factor that slowed down entrepreneurial and educational competitiveness in many northern parts of the country. Sowing the seeds of poverty and illiteracy through this principle indirectly laid the foundations for the willing recruits that constitute a sizable proportion of the bandits in the region.
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The combination of the elevated level of corruption and economic mismanagement facilitated through lots of white elephant projects and the end of the oil boom in mid-1981 in the second Republic created fertile grounds for insurrection and civil disobedience. Tensions escalated and gave room for extremists to nurture religious ideologies that became the forerunner of today’s Boko Haram. The Maitatsine took advantage of the distracting socio-economic environment to trigger riots in Kano in 1980 and Kaduna and Maiduguri in 1982. The Kano riot alone resulted in approximately 4,000 deaths. Overall, the consequent decline in economic fortune created opportunities for politicians to use political thugs and mercenaries to maintain a hold on power or capture it afresh.
The second Republic economy also further opened the doorway for smuggling, drug peddling, trafficking in human beings and other kindred border crimes. There was also palpable laxity in managing land, air, and sea borders and ports by state institutions with those responsibilities.
The life of that Republic was consequently abruptly cut short through a military coup in 1984. Three different military rulers held the reins of power through coup d’état until 1998 when an outgoing military administration instated an interim government to conduct elections. All three military rulers after the second Republic came from the Muslim North. The ousted civilian president also came from the Muslim North. The power equation visibly tilted in favour of a section of the country and deepened the perceptions of injustice and marginalization by other ethnic groups. Again, the long years of military rule also created an enormous disconnect between the government and the citizens. No law compels military rulers to enforce balanced citizen representation in the government. The citizens also do not have any constitutionally guaranteed voice in the affairs of the country. Thirdly, the military has no extensive training in the appreciation and management of state and allied institutions. Consequently, most government institutions became weak and could not effectively respond to emerging challenges, particularly on the security front.
Such a situation led to the illicit execution of Niger Delta activists comprising Ken Saro-wiwa and his colleagues. The execution program also targeted several community leaders in the region. The result was the rise of the Niger Delta militia, which immediately secured the buy-in of most Niger Deltans. The Niger Delta peoples, through several of these militias, protested the unjust and uncompensated exploitation of their natural resources now wholly owned by the federal government. Still, the exploitation process grievously damaged their environment, making it difficult for their crop farmers and fishers to pursue their traditional occupations. The militants attacked government security agencies, government infrastructure and installations, oil exploration installations of foreign multinational companies and continuously took several foreign oil workers hostage. The Niger Delta militancy technically brought in and domesticated the kidnapping-for-ransom that is currently widely adopted by hoodlums and bandits in terrorizing the country.
Then came the 1990s, with significant climate changes such as drought and other economic challenges faced by many countries across the Sahel, which triggered series of migrations into Nigeria. Uncontrollable threats from nature and technology rendered many communities vulnerable and dependent on outside assistance for survival. The presence of oil and the famed wealth of Nigeria made it attractive to all versions of visitors. Although these migrations were not initially crime-threatening, many immigrants were also Islamic evangelists who responded to the message of the 1979 Iranian revolution to Islamize Africa. This class of visitors appear to reinvigorate the mood and inspiration of Maitatsine devotees with their messages. Nomadic pastoralists from several African countries also leverage the opportunity to master the forest pathways to the southern parts of Nigeria to search for foliage and pasture for their ruminants.
The heightening clashes between nomadic pastoralists and crop farmers in many southern parts of the country, particularly in the South-East geopolitical zone, were interpreted as a subtle invasion of the region by northern elements. That resurrected the agitation for Biafra. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra [MASSOB], set up in 1999, led the pack. The successful operations of the Niger Delta militants were a strong inspiration and seemed to boost the possibility of successful military engagement. MASSOB quickly became a dreaded militant group. Street cults such as the Aba Boys also grouped to resist the government headed by Northerners believed to be behind the Southward migration. The split of MASSOB eventually resulted in the emergence of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra [IPOB] in 2012, currently proscribed by the federal government as a terrorist organization.
The evolving jihadist zeal of the Mujahideen in Pakistan and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has always had its eyes on sub-Saharan Africa. As early as the year 2000, Islamic missionaries with extremist’s orientation as the Al Qaeda and the Islamic State were already present in some parts of northern Nigeria. Again, the inspiration remained high through the remnants of Muslims upholding Maitatsine ideologies of the early 1980s who always considered a Jihad as necessary. By 2009, Boko Haram was born. A few years after that, and following the fall of the Islamic State, West Africa became a new target. To strengthen its hold on Nigeria, Boko Haram swore allegiance to the Islamic state.
The government’s politicization of the insurgency and terrorism give headroom for their rapid expansion and replication despite the pressure from neighbouring countries to contain them. However, absolute poverty, illiteracy, and neglect of the youth in many of the northern states created ready pools of recruits that found solace in the use of munitions. Combining our porous borders and our corrupt immigration agencies, trade in small arms and other munitions used in the Libyan war blossomed and found their way in droves into the country.
Finally, injustice, inequity and ethnic distrust paved the way for the scary cumulus of insecurity seemingly engulfing us currently. Even the external influences that amplified the existing insecurity conditions borrowed their strength from these pre-existing ‘bads’ which we nurtured and used to our peril. These inequities caused the 1966 coup, unleashed a chain of military rulers for more than four decades on us, resulted in the springing up of militias, and the creation of armies of poor, illiterate and unemployed persons that eventually became pawn-employees in the hands of terrorists. But these root causes, namely injustice, inequity, and ethnic distrust, can most effectively be eliminated through a robust citizen created Constitution and an effective justice system. Perhaps, we still have a little time to do the needful and save our country from destruction.