The recent surrendering of thousands of Boko Haram fighters seeking forgiveness and reabsorption into society to the Nigerian state has suffused media space. For over a decade, this criminal brand of religious insurgents gallantly withstood the Nigerian forces military might undefeated. Yet, without increased bombardment, these enemies of the state have allegedly been surrendering in droves. One of the many claimed justifications for the positive development is the government’s secret amnesty program put together for those willing to give up the fight. This economic relief package includes regular stipends to repentant insurgents and their re-integration into Nigerian society without accounting for the enormity of their crimes. The alleged furtive package of incentives offered to bandits and terrorists to quit terrorism appears to have delivered more positive outcomes than many years of missile rain in the Sambisa forests. Although these repentant terrorists not accounting for their crimes may be of more concern to many of their victims, quitting terrorism may be more relieving. The question arising from this development is whether the real security threats to Nigeria are the secondary actions of those criminal elements that constantly contend with our military forces. Or the acts of the citizens protesting their long-suffering, deprivation, and socio-economic exclusion from their country.
The efforts to contain national security threats ride on foundational paradigms that are classifiable into three. The first set focuses on the state as a referent object. In this security management idea, the focus is primarily to defend the sovereignty of the state. This state-centric security paradigm is dominant and driven by threats such as interstate wars, the building of armaments, nuclear proliferation, civil conflicts, insurgencies and so on. The second paradigm, on the other hand, focuses on the individual as its referent object. It sees security threats from the lens of those factors affecting or potentially affecting the integrity or dignity of each citizen of the country. The paradigm considers threats to national security to include such elements as poverty, human rights abuses, violence, inequities, natural disasters, etc. The state-focused paradigm fails to recognize security threats as the indirect protest of people suffering state-inflicted infringement on their human dignity and integrity. The third is about the borderless state and globalization. Within this paradigm is the role of the Internet and crimes perpetrated using such global communication infrastructure. Globalization and the free movement of capital and human beings through trade and exchange have facilitated arms proliferation, which usually rides on the back of traded commodities. However, since this third paradigm is borderless, global cooperation on countering such threats has gained large-scale momentum over the years. Overall, the expectation is that our worldview of national security should reflect the reality on the ground. So, what indeed are Nigeria’s security threats today?
Until 2019 when the Nigerian government released its national security strategy document, its focus was traditionally and comprehensively focused on defending state sovereignty. That position appears not to have changed when viewed from the present-day government’s actions. Notwithstanding that, the 2019 national security strategy has added national economic security and national unity; not much of these reflect in their actions on the ground. Unfortunately, value reorientation that should alter the mindset of the security sector to enable the realization of the 2019 national security strategy’s recognition of human security as crucial remains unchanged. Since 2019, when the document was released, the approach to real security issues has been mainly through the barrels of guns. The strategy for poverty reduction and solid economic and prosperity growth is unclear, weak and has consistently failed to deliver the expected goods. The poverty level is burgeoning while the absence of social and economic freedom is still considerably pronounced. Secondly, while the 2019 national security strategy promises national cohesion and unity initiatives, it is difficult to point at concrete programs by this government deliberately focused on mending ethnic and religious fences. On the contrary, the levels of ethnic marginalization, flagrant abuse of federal character principles in appointments to critical positions, openly intolerable inequities and unfairness against other ethnic groups are worse than they used to be. In essence, it is massively hypocritical to play these unjustifiable political games that worsen the economic conditions of ordinary people and stoke embers of conflict and turn around to preach the contrary in the national security strategy document.
Nigeria is not alone in the state-focused security management paradigm. However, many countries that inherited this mentality from the colonialists have realigned their security priorities to address the primary drivers of insecurity. Even colonialists have equally moved on with more significant bias on the socio-economic welfare and the human rights of their citizens. The ugly norm with our governments appears to be the unwillingness to unlearn inherited wrong approaches and learn more progressive ways of doing things. Redefining our security priorities significantly away from the barrel and gun approach, which accords high priority to defending the state’s sovereignty to focus more on the prosperity of the individual member of the country, will substantially guarantee sustainable peace and security. For instance, the Niger Delta militia militarily resisted the Nigerian state, further worsening the insecurity conditions on the ground for several years that the Nigerian government unleashed military devastation against them. Everyone suffered the consequences. However, with the change in tactics and negotiations that guaranteed improvements in that region’s welfare and socio-economic situation, and the ensuing amnesty, peace and security returned to the benefit of everyone.
The drivers of insecurity in Nigeria are well known. They anchor firmly on a vicious cycle of socio-economic deprivation and inequities. It is easy to see why a country that does not prioritize employment and job creation for its citizens but, on the contrary, corruptly enriches its elite class will experience security threats by the growing mass of economically deprived young people. The correlations are direct and consequential. Similarly, it is not difficult to understand why millions of young Northerners who go through a culture of systematic and decades-long denial of education will end up as bandits and terrorists. Again, it is also not difficult to see why marginalized and unfairly treated ethnic groups will not rise in protestation against the state. Worse still, these security threats interactively create even more monstrous secondary threats.
Consequently, focusing on secondary security threats and seemingly ignoring the underlying primary drivers of these threats will be a mischannelling of state energy and resources. The problem is that the country’s leadership believes almost without error that maltreated segments of society should accept the abuse with some air of classic religious obedience to the state whose authority is supreme. And for a long time, these state perpetrators have walked away with the dissatisfaction they disseminate because of the fear of the state’s immense capacity to subdue voices. However, human beings have tolerance limits to infractions on their fundamental rights, beyond which they may throw caution to the wind and retaliate.
Consider, for instance, the purported response of our government regarding the interviews that Channels television granted to the governor of Benue state and Commodore Kunle Olawunmi [RTD], who did not respond to the interviewer’s questions in a manner that casts the government in a good light. In his response to the interviewer’s questions, the governor of Benue State accused the president of promoting a Fulanization program. In contrast, retired Commodore Olawunmi, in his response, claimed that the government knows the sponsors of Boko Haram terrorists, many of whom are currently in the president’s government. But because of the inordinately obstinate focus of the security management approach on the defence of Nigerian state and statecraft managers, rather than paying attention to the insights from the interviewees or the citizens, the government unleashed a harassment program against channels television through the National Broadcasting Corporation. The National Broadcasting Corporation had demanded a response from channels television within twenty-four hours on why its presenters did not deflect the discussion away from issues that embarrass the state and its president. Up until now, the government has not denied the allegations.
Our unrepentant security management tendency lopsidedly favouring the state rather than the citizens has been very costly on our prosperity dreams. Understandably, ignoring the human-focused approach allows those in the political and security leadership positions to conveniently set aside the enormous demands of human rights, which equally denies them the opportunity of intimidating and oppressing the rest of society. To successfully concentrate the security management philosophy on the individual members of the country means that those in authority must pay attention to and respect fairness, the rule of law, equity, and human rights. But these do not create a Hobbesian environment that enables them to oppress and deprive the rest of the country of their rights and illicitly take over economic and other resources belonging to all. For two reasons, this approach is unacceptably expensive. First, it frustrates entrepreneurship and economic prosperity and regresses the country extremely fast into the labyrinth of poverty. Second, it hinders opportunities for an orderly society but sustainably lays the foundations and erects the pillars of discord across various social demography.
Finally, many argue that if neighbouring countries do not constitute threats to our national security, then most internal threats have an equally domestic origin and do not necessarily require guns to manage. That does not mean that the use of force does not apply where it becomes expedient. Internal conflicts are always best resolved through healthy dialogue, debates, and the politics of the table because most of the underlying causes are known and well established. Such a process also creates the foundations for healthy commitments by the managers of statecraft to pay meaningful attention to resolving such economic threats as poverty, unemployment, and ethnic marginalization in resource allocation. Unfortunately, focusing narrowly on the defence of state sovereignty and substantially ignoring the citizens’ heartbeats only creates opportunities for political leaders to make more illicit gains from defence budgets and procurements, harass and intimidate the rest of the population by claiming to defend the state’s sovereignty. Effectiveness in this bad behaviour must fail to recognize human rights, which should instead enjoy the promotion of all as the pillar of success for any good country.