How political leaders heighten insecurity
Martin Ike-Muonso, a professor of economics with interest in subnational government IGR growth strategies, is managing director/CEO, ValueFronteira Ltd. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
January 25, 2021423 views0 comments
Political leaders’ primary obligation is to ensure maximum protection of every citizen’s inalienable rights. Insecurity in all its forms constitutes an infringement on these rights. Some ways that the society expects political leaders to achieve these objectives comprise the promotion of cultural secularization, creation, and advancement of structures for sustained socio-economic prosperity, the institution of adequate safeguards against oppression, and better coordination of economic systems for equity and fairness. We have an unfortunately unique environment where religion and ethnicity play dominant roles in fomenting insecurity. Regrettably, political leaders exploit gaps in these demographic domains to pitch groups against themselves. Virtually every issue in Nigeria has religious or ethnic colourations that divide the citizens into enemy camps. Ideally, good governance should considerably scale backwards the place of religion and ethnicity in national socio-economic life since they have become sources of strife rather than peacebuilding. Such cultural secularization in no small measure neutralizes the trigger points for conflict.
Another critical source of insecurity pertains to resource adequacy and equity in its allocation and distribution. A fundamental expectation from political leaders is to ensure that the country is prosperous enough to curtail economic pressures that dovetail to insecurity. Accordingly, political leaders are responsible for better coordination of the economic structures, institutions, and processes for optimizing everyone’s prosperity level. They also are responsible for putting in place sufficient mechanisms for protecting the citizens against any form of oppression. Consequently, ethnic and religious minorities receive adequate protection from potential bullies and against marginalization.
Unfortunately, Nigerian political leaders failed to live up to those expectations, and are also complicit and substantially culpable in promoting insecurity. Much of the state of insecurity in the country today is traceable to either direct provocation by political leaders or a consequence of their failures to live up to society’s expectations. The results are evident in the country’s insecurity profile comprising unparalleled loss of lives and property, a remarkably high ranking in the global terrorism table, and a low ranking in the Global Peace Index. The 2020 report of the Human Rights Watch noted that only Boko Haram killed about six hundred and forty civilians in 2019 alone. The group is also responsible for the death of about 27,000 people since the onset of the conflict in 2009. The 2020 global terrorism index report also noted that Nigeria still occupies the shameful number-three terrorist-country spot globally. Unfortunately, it is now in the terrorism league of such countries as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. The global community does not consider Nigeria a peaceful country. Its rankings in the global peace index in the past five years amply show that it is one of the world’s exceptionally violent countries and one of the least five peaceful countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Again, it shares the same league table with countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia, and South Sudan.
Political leaders’ deployment of the tactics of divide and rule to gain popularity and dominance has mainstreamed religion and ethnicity against the purity of the constitution and constitutional supremacy. For instance, many analysts believe that the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Constitution has an immense bias favouring the Muslim North. In the same vein and to a significant extent, many of the problems of insecurity in the country are traceable to political leaders’ decisions concerning the ethnoreligious pillars and other deliberately omitted concerns in the constitution. Unfortunately, the election process that generates leaders who can correct these anomalies is substantially militarized and mired in fraud. All thanks to the same political class who sponsor the army of thugs used during the elections and fraudulently influence electoral officials to buy votes. The result is the emergence of political leaders that are not the people’s choices and may not likely represent their interests. Such manipulation of the process and forceful imposition of candidates with a priori set agenda often led to disenchantments and ethnic militia’s emergence.
However, since these biases are already present and profoundly enshrined in the constitution, different demography’s marginalization becomes apparent. The more the resulting deprivation of marginalized groups’ the higher the tendency to fight back. That also gave rise to such ethnic militias as the Niger Delta MEND, the IPOB with the Biafra secessionist plan, etc. Some even believe that the ravaging herdsmen are the ethnic militia of the Hausa/Fulani ethnic group. Altogether, virtually all the country’s geopolitical zones have one or more militia canvassing either for some balance or greater control of political power. Overall, everybody loses. The resulting high voltage of insecurity threatens to consume all. Entrepreneurship and investments suffer a great deal. So are the attendant output, income, and employment. For instance, net foreign direct investment inflows into Nigeria dropped consistently from approximately US$9 billion in 2011 [two years after the launch of Boko Haram] to about $2 billion in 2018. Although it nudged up to about $3 billion in 2019, the past decade’s general trend is that of a continuous fall.
The pursuit of personal economic goals at the expense of society is usually the heart of the illicit strategies adopted by political leaders, which eventually create and exacerbate the country’s insecurity conditions. Sometimes, these strategies’ design revolves around shaping collective threats’ perception. Religious and ethnic divisions come in handy. Credit claiming, blame avoidance, and establishment of threat and fear infrastructure used by politicians ultimately guarantees that their governance for the self succeeds. To cap it all, they do everything possible to corrupt and pocket the media and non-governmental organizations. However, nothing triggers resistance and insecurity as the sharing of commonly owned resources among a small group of people [political leaders and their cronies].
Governance for the self leads to unfair resource allocation and deprivation of groups’ legitimate economic rights. Much of today’s kidnapping and hostage-taking are disingenuous means of creating employment, which the government has consistently failed to provide for its citizens for over sixty years. Likewise, the massive deprivation of education and good life combined with hard-line religious ideologies are possible underlying reasons for the emergence of insurgency in northern Nigeria. Worse still is the embezzlement and the parcelling out of financial resources meant for combating insecurity to friends and cronies by the political class. For instance, the former national security advisor of President Goodluck Jonathan accepted to have withdrawn $47 million out of the GBP1.4 billion allocated to purchase arms for counter-terrorism campaign from the Central Bank of Nigeria on the president’s orders to pay delegates meant to enable him to run for re-election.
Another annoying way political leaders create avoidable tension and insecurity is through credit claiming and blame avoidance. To shape people’s perception, politicians love to claim credit for achievements, including those they neither started nor contribute to their implementation once they have the privilege of cutting the tape on its launch. However, they also do everything possible to avoid blames even when their blunders are glaringly in the open domain. Some of the many grouses with the current administration are their buck-passing behaviour against the previous regime. Unfortunately, the rightful owners of the claimed credits and those receiving the deflected blames will not fold their hands and watch. Since each of the polarized divides appears to pursue the same agenda of looking good in the citizens’ eyes, tension inexorably builds up.
The uncanny competition among the politicians and political leaders quickly finds a place in fear creation, inflation of threats, and the building of false alarms. False alarms and magnified security threats are standard tools used against political opponents. For instance, there are still substantial but unfounded allegations that one governor in North Central Nigeria imported the terrorists ravaging the country to ensure that the current president takes over by all means possible. The allegation also claims that because the politicians who imported them failed to fulfil their financial obligations to them with Goodluck Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat at the polls, they subsequently remained in the country, causing mayhem. Notwithstanding the absence of proof of its authenticity, the story continues to make gossip-media rounds. Similarly, there are also claims that a former governor of a northern state is the Boko Haram terrorists’ sponsor in the country. Again, while there is much evidence to reject the claim, it occasionally gathers media attention.
The combination of the exploitation of the country’s insecurity situation and the creation of new fear frontiers such as thuggery and outright threats used by politicians results in potent threat infrastructure. Many dread the politicians in Nigeria and Africa because they can potentially unleash and substantially actualize threats made to their perceived enemies. These infrastructures exist at distinct levels in the political hierarchy and across various locations. It is an open secret that no matter how decent the politician is, they consider thugs necessary. As a fact, the capacity to mobilize and successfully deploy thugs during elections is a crucial indicator of potential success. The corruption and sometimes intimidation of the media and non-governmental organizations are ways political leaders have tried to shut the mouth of the forces that typically call them to order and deploy them as channels for amplifying insecurity. In the former, media houses become complicit through bribery and other forms of corruption. Therefore, they under-report the magnitude of the insecurity created through the false claims and threat infrastructure unleashed by the politicians and political leaders. They also help to amplify the fear factor, credit claiming, blame avoidance, and perception manipulation using their platform.
Like many social issues, particularly those exacerbating insecurity, there is no single acceptable cocktail of solutions. Nevertheless, four possible recipes may produce desirable outcomes in that respect. The first and by far the most critical consideration is revisiting the constitution to ensure that they accord no ethnic group and religion undue advantage or access to commonly-owned national resources. Tied to the constitution’s review is to provide for substantial cultural secularism. Significantly whittling down and neutralizing the prioritization of such demographics as ethnicity and religion and mainstreaming a transparent merit-based system in accessing resources and opportunities in the country will be a winner for all. Thirdly, the media and NGOs’ elevated levels of professionalism can substantially degrade political leaders’ roles in heightening insecurity in the country. Through the correction of false alarms, proper and objective attribution of claims and credit, and unmasking of hideous faces behind threat infrastructure through its reportage, political leaders will naturally scale back on the extent to which they overheat the polity as well as sow the seeds of insecurity. Fourthly, religious groups need not play into the hands of politicians. Wise religious leaders easily identify political traps set to use them in dirty games that spike tensions and avoid them.