The complex dimensions of insecurity in Nigeria suggest that its management is beyond the narrow precincts manned by security professionals alone. Everyone is affected by it and should be involved. Consequently, from the parental counsels at various homes to the religious exhortations in multiple churches and mosques and the actual pulling of the trigger by soldiers, every person has a role in the security value chain. However, apart from the government on whose authority most of the security agencies operate and the entrepreneurs whose interests in the security value chain seems to be well defined, it becomes somewhat nebulous to precisely isolate the roles of other stakeholders in the process correctly. But since security is everyone’s business, the public expects structured civil society organizations to play definable roles in managing it. Unfortunately, civil society groups in Nigeria still suffer the dizziness of several frustrating decades of repression by the military, which it eventually brought down. Yet subsequent democratic governments still consider them enemies and rarely offer them the headroom they statutorily require to contribute to the country’s insecurity cutback.
It is an undebatable historical truth that civil society organizations exude positive influences on every country’s development, including security management. Fortuitously, such organizations, by definition, are in abundance. All non-government, non-profit making organizations focused on improving society’s quality of life belong to this category. The membership becomes more precise with such organizations being legal entity. Therefore, this criterion qualifies myriads of communities and organizations such as market women, the academia, religious organizations, political parties, the media, labour union, village associations and town unions, student unions, think tanks, etc. While it is evident that these categories of organizations have been highly active and delivering outstanding results in many other spheres of our socioeconomic life, there is hardly corresponding impacts on the insecurity management side. Government security organizations still dominate with glaringly unsatisfactory results begging for the enhanced role of nonstate actors.
But there is always a place for everyone, including the civil society, in the security management chain comprising conflict prevention, peacebuilding, conflict management, and post-conflict peace and security restoration. While actual conflict execution and control may be substantially within the jurisdiction of trained security professionals such as the police and the soldiers, there is undoubtedly enough space for civil society organizations to support. In many countries, CSO’s have done exceptionally well in conflict analysis and early warning, holding the security sector accountable, raising awareness of the public and policymakers for sound security management decisions. They have also played notable roles in strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law and participating in actual conflict resolution. CSO’s also serve as a platform facilitating the involvement of the public in the governance of security, the provision of advice and capacity building for security sector personnel and humanitarian supports to victims of insecurity. Unfortunately, the CSO operating environment in Nigeria has been challenging.
Decades of military rule brought tremendous levels of suppression of CSOs, leaving a solid hangover on their capacity to challenge the status quo as should be expected. The small-size and narrowly focused structures and difficulty in collaboratively mobilizing at a national scale against the military regimes made them exceedingly vulnerable. Military decrees came into force to intimidate and cripple their power. Consequently, several of their members suffered imprisonment and death. The military government also proscribed several newspapers and magazines and thoroughly persecuted the media. The repression resulted in the detention of several political opponents, trade union leaders, journalists, and furtive killings of perceived enemies of the state. CSOs persevered, and through an avalanche of protestation following the annulment of the 1993 election, forced the then President Ibrahim Babangida to step aside. The attendant relief in that demonstration of powerfulness was short-lived as General Abacha, who succeeded Babangida after toppling the interim government, was a horrific nightmare to human rights and pro-democracy activists. However, the socio-political climate has improved considerably today, yet the CSOs seem to be underperforming on the security front.
Many civil society organizations actively collect and analyze relevant security data, conduct predictive early warning analysis, and monitor actual developments on the ground. Yet, social media appears to be introducing significant noises to the process. From a positive perspective, digital technologies in the public hands have massively improved the ease of data collection. However, since the speed of broadcast of privately collected but publicly shared security data outpaces the rate of externalization of properly conducted data analysis for early warning, noisy and misleading data threatens the integrity of the predictions. It becomes challenging for decision-makers to determine which information source and analysis to predicate their actions. For instance, the public would expect national security agencies to act quickly on security data broadcast on social media without considerable time lag. However, given numerous pieces of evidence on the ease of falsification of such data, intelligence professionals may need additional time to validate the integrity of such social media transmitted security data. But such delays and any action that follows are often considered unacceptably reactive by the public, who, overwhelmed by emotions, expect instant results. Therefore, beyond conflict analysis and early warning is the additional challenge of quickly sifting through the noisy security data provided publicly by private collectors through social media and delivering high-quality predictive security intelligence at a suitable time. Civil society organizations need to step in to improve the integrity of privately collected and volunteered security data.
Concerning the strengthening of democratic institutions by civil society organizations, a significant matter of concern is the less attention paid to the dysfunctional roles of many of them who are merely fronts for political power-seekers. Increasingly, many civil society organizations lack the independence they require to monitor and demand government accountability genuinely. Many of these groups are intolerant of groups that disagree with their views and members who profess contrary opinions. In many instances, such CSOs undermine the collective strength of similar organizations by aligning with unpopular political views while maintaining the statutory posture of a civic society. Even in the seemingly positive instances where such organizations pretentiously commit to working to limit the powers of the state, the intents are usually to gain enough popularity for political power. Today, the sincerity of many civil society organizations is suspect. Many allege that some of them are covers for terrorists and their financiers. Therefore, as much as civil society organizations in Nigeria play focused roles in strengthening democratic institutions, they should also pay attention to organizations under the same umbrella whose activities are destroying these institutions. Some political parties belong to this category, being members of the civil society cluster. Yet some hibernate persons, structures and processes that end up as cankerworms on the subsisting democratic systems. Civil society groups should actively interrogate what goes on within many frontline political parties and other sister-CSOs to determine whether their operations are consistent with authentic norms that build democracy rather than destroy it.
Again, whereas the Nigerian CSOs have done reasonably well in their public watchdog role, those efforts are mainly in favour of the supply side of governance. The commonly deployed citizen-driven accountability monitoring tools comprise checks and balances, audits and administrative procedures and rules. While this approach is acceptable, they have not yielded exceptional results consistent with public expectations in very recent times. The people in government have over the years found a nest in the gross absence of the rule of law through which they successfully evade the consequences of accountability assessment outcomes. Impunity, corruption, human rights abuses, injustices, and fraud still abound and increase within the public sector, particularly in the security sector. But the demand-side of good governance through which Nigerians won the current democracy suffers significant neglect. All over the world, large-scale demonstrations threatening and affecting the government ability to function consistently deliver substantial positive impacts. A revamp of that spirit seemed to have resurged during the recent #endSARS protest organized by the youth. Since then, many expected a follow-up, but it appears that the government has weakened the structure that brought and sustained that protest. Increasingly strengthening the voices and capacity of citizens to consistently hold the public security sector to account in ways like the recent #end SARS protest should be a more productive direction for civil society organizations in Nigeria. For instance, it is long overdue to amplify citizens voices further and escalate civic disobedience against governments seeming docility and slow response to the terrorism, banditry and kidnapping that is fast gaining ground across the country. Civil society organizations have all it takes to mobilize nationwide and pressure the government to act speedily and decisively to arrest the situation.
Luckily, civil societies’ public awareness-raising responsibility receives a considerable boost from the Internet and social media technology. Additionally, because of the nature of security, public awareness circulates at a reasonably higher velocity than in other areas of civil society focus. Virtually everybody in Nigeria today is on the lookout for information and intelligence necessary for safety. But awareness does not crystallize into impactful actions. Civil society organizations are neglecting to mobilize the public to actively demand that those in authority do what is right about Nigeria’s insecurity situation. Practical civil disobedience has worked wonders in the past, dating back to the extraordinarily successful 1929 Aba women’s riot. We have also recently had the 2012 fuel subsidy protest, the 2015 #Bringbackourgirls movement, and the 2020 #Endsars campaign. The Nigerian public will undoubtedly be grateful if the civil society groups can mobilize them to achieve in the security front similar successes recorded in taming governments fuel hike addictions over the years. For instance, the public staged extraordinarily successful protests against the 614%, 361%, and 227% fuel price increases for 1993, 1994, and 1998 and achieved significant N3.25, N11, and N20 price reductions, respectively for those years. Similar resistance greeted the year 2000, 50% fuel price increase. The 2012 protest was full-scale and across the country, forcing the government to reduce the proposed price increase to N97 instead of the N141 initially proposed. Whether the current core of civil society organizations cannot deliver this opposition magnitude on the insecurity arena is one puzzle begging for an urgent answer.
Finally, Nigeria and the world are watching how the civil society groups respond to the insecurity that is slowly swallowing the country. The Nigerian civil society has, over the years, demonstrated resoluteness and successfully dismantled military dictatorships. Yet, within its ranks are many organizations conducting activities that are antithetical to the goal of democracy and public welfare. Suppose the civil society community successfully mobilize and resurrect the tremendous capacity they deployed in challenging fuel price hikes. In that case, they can successfully bring the current government to act speedily and decisively in containing the insecurity in the country.