The last decades produced an ominously bountiful harvest of deaths and destruction. The Nigerian Security Tracker recorded approximately 86,000 deaths due to insecurity since 2011. An average of 810 people lost their lives to insecurity monthly in the past two years. Since 2011, government security agencies alone have wasted approximately 13,500 lives, while Boko Haram was responsible for the deaths of over 40,500 people. Sectarian violence and other forms of armed conflicts were also responsible for the end of approximately 23,000 persons within the same period. These estimates are just for the loss of human lives. But there are other associated costs such as the staggering loss of property and business assets, displacement of families, the loss of the means of livelihood, injuring and incapacitation of persons, missing persons and so on. These security threats manifest in seven different forms knit together by the faulty foundations of poor leadership, brazen injustice and inequity, weak justice system and the near absence of the rule of law. Nigeria’s seven insecurity stands are poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, religious terrorism, banditry, kidnapping for ransom and rituals, herder and crop farmer conflicts, separatist insurgencies, and militancy in the Niger Delta. All of these threats are still alive and unconquered.
Without a doubt, these weak foundations are a consequence of poor leadership. Effective leadership will determinedly resolve issues of the inefficient justice system, the absent rule of law situation, and suffocating injustices and inequities. Unfortunately, we have had the misfortune of a lengthy list of bad leaders with their hordes of accomplices who further complicate the already unpleasant situation. A visionary and effective leader knows that insecurity is cut down by more than 50% when there is an effective justice system and the rule of law and does everything possible to facilitate them. Corruption, for instance, has substantially become an accepted norm. For several decades, we have celebrated people, particularly public servants, who are better off than most others because of this factor. Regrettably, the roots of today’s insecurity sink deep into corrupt soils manured with unfairness and inequity. The same example supports the neglect of the educational needs of several young people in northern Nigeria. Of course, the resulting poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment have given strength to the terrorism we currently experience.
Pervasive poverty, illiteracy and unemployment form the first category of threats to national security. The frustrations accompanying poverty and the attendant deprivations of life’s necessities often lead to an unethical route to survival. While poverty in itself may not necessarily justify crime, it provides an attractive alternative to earning income or getting even at those believed to be the reasons for the economic situation of the marginalized. In the same vein, illiteracy increases the chances of being poor and aggravates the vulnerability of the victims. Terrorists find it much easier to recruit those with low levels of education than they would the better-educated people. Two reasons make this possible. The first is that illiterates are far more gullible and easier to convince to participate in criminal activities. Because of their remote chances of gaining employment and earning meaningful wages, criminal opportunities for making some income often presents an irresistible option. The same argument goes for unemployed people. As the famous saying goes, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop”. Often, unemployment is associated with the idleness of the mind presenting opportunities for various criminal conjectures.
Unfortunately, all three categories of people are in abundance in Nigeria. Approximately 40% or about 83 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. The proportion is more than 80% in states like Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, Yobe and Bauchi. Illiteracy rates in the country’s northern parts are also exceptionally high, accounting for 62% of 14 million out-of-school children in Nigeria. Therefore, it is no surprise that these northern states account for 60% of drug addiction and abuse, according to UNODC. The knotty relationship and interaction among poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment perpetuate their persistence and insecurity-orchestrating conditions. For instance, poverty strengthens illiteracy which reinforces unemployability and unemployment levels.
The second huge threat to security in Nigeria is our religious fanaticism and its weaponization. Approximately 98% of Nigerians believe that religion matters and practice Islam or Christianity. But that is not where the problem lies. The two real challenges are that religion is a critical factor in the political and fiscal decisions of the government and often leads to inequities in resource allocation and political appointments. The second is that against this background of religious fervour, some elements find opportunities for jihadism and forceful conversion of people. Although the latter has been more conspicuously dangerous, resulting in more than 40,000 Nigerian deaths, the former provides fertile ground for various criminal acts. We have at least three different religion-based terrorist organizations, namely Boko Haram, the Islamic State of West Africa Province [ISWAP] and the Fethullah terrorist organization. It is also possible that many more such organizations are hibernating and waiting for the right time to strike.
Although criminal acts such as cattle rustling had existed for centuries within the northern parts of the country, it nevertheless reached a crescendo in the last decade when many of the hitherto unemployed and illiterate youth learned fast from the brutality of Boko Haram. Now, bandits are no longer cattle rustlers but possess the evil capacities to pillage and sack villages, murder hundreds of humans without qualms and kidnap for ransom. Their actions have no underlying religious fervour or intention to convert anybody. Bandits do not necessarily hold to any religious ideology. With substantially free access to weapons and the seeming lethargy of our security agencies to bring them to their knees, they have metamorphosed into the Avatars of destruction, blood and fear. Initially, youth from the Fulani ethnic group and primarily herders dominated this group. Unofficial estimates put bandit groups in forests in Northeast and Northwest geopolitical zones at more than a thousand.
Kidnapping also occupies significant space in the threats to security in Nigeria. There are three categories of kidnapped victims. The first are those kidnapped for ransom. This type of kidnapping gained prominence with the Niger Delta militancy, where the militants placed a freedom-price on expatriate oil company workers they kidnapped. These ransoms provided the funding required to continue the militancy goals. Shortly after the Niger Delta militants initiated this criminal source of financing for its operations, some Aba cult groups adopted that operation mode for their perceived enemies. Soon afterwards, several other individuals began kidnapping for ransom across south-east and south-south geopolitical zones. However, the tempo changed for the worse with the emergence of the Fulani herders in the criminal enterprise space.
There were four reasons for their success so far. The first was that they have spread across the country, particularly the southern parts searching for pasture for their flock. Second, the natural convenience of the wild consequent on their occupation made it easy for them to have good hiding places for their victims. Third, they had increased access to weapons from the terrorist and bandits prone northern region from where they emigrated. Fourth, it took several years of national outrage and outcry before the government in power agreed to condemn the activities of criminal herders. Today, kidnapping for ransom has become routine for many criminally minded persons. The second type of kidnapping is the one perpetrated for money ritual purposes. Our depraved value system and the belief that it is possible to become wealthy through other occultic rituals have led to the kidnapping to butcher and harvest human body parts used in such voodoo processes. An uncountable number of criminals, including leaders of religious organizations, are in this bizarre act. The third and unpopular type of kidnapping is for political or retaliatory reasons.
The confrontation between crop farmers and herders dates back several centuries. The mutation from these conflicts appears to have further created banditry as we know it. In its simplistic form, crop farmers accuse pastoralists of destroying their farms with their animals and polluting commonly owned resources such as water supply. On the other hand, Pastoralists blame crop farmers for blocking the cattle grazing routes with their crops. The contest for resources between these two groups has always led to losing lives and property. Again, the dimension of these conflicts escalated beyond what it used to be when the Fulani herders began to arm themselves with dangerous weapons. The consequence was the massive depletion of farming capacity across the country. Subsistence level farmers, consisting of approximately 75% of the Nigerians workforce, left the farmlands out of fear of the brutality of the herders. These fisticuffs and the attendant socio-economic losses encouraged the states’ governments in the southern parts of Nigeria to rule against open grazing. It also appears that some states in the North are also in agreement with the prohibition of nomadic cattle grazing culture.
Like religion, ethnic considerations affect political decision-making, resource allocation, and fiscal programming. Ethnic allegiance for most Nigerians is superior to civic expectations from Nigeria as a united country. Unfortunately, these biased stands have considerably enthroned inequity and fuelled various governments’ violations of the federal character principle. Most ethnic groups perceive themselves as losing out on the power equation and the attendant benefits to their nation and seeking separation. This line of action dates back to the 1966 coup and Nigerian Civil War of 1967 when the Igbo ethnic group tried to secede from the rest of the country. Currently, virtually all the ethnic groups in the country have machinery for separatist agitations. In the South-East geopolitical zone, two prominent separatists organizations are the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra [MASSOB] and the Indigenous People of Biafra [IPOB]. The Southwest geopolitical zone has the O’odua People’s Congress [OPC] and Sunday Igboho’s movement championing the establishment of the Oduduwa Republic. The Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria [MACBAN] defends the interest of the Fulani nation, while the Arewa Assembly seemingly works for the independence of the Arewa Republic. For several years, Niger Delta militants supported theirs. All these ethnic interest groups have also demonstrated substantial capacities for conflict creation and consequently a massive threat to the country’s security.
Albeit the general pardon granted to Niger Delta militants and the numerous efforts to appease the region for its economic and environmental rape by multinational oil companies and the federal government, the threat of a resurgence of Niger Delta militants looms powerfully. The Niger Delta Avengers, for instance, has made veiled threats of resuming its attacks. Militancy in the Niger Delta was a severe scare to the government as it shook the very foundations of economic prosperity and the sustainability of government fiscal programs. No sane administration would allow the re-establishment of structures and activities that bring down its assets. Yet many in the Niger Delta region believe that the federal government have not and is not doing enough to ensure that the ordinary member of the region has a fair share and prosper from the proceeds of oil resources.
But as pointed out earlier, these threats are only evidence pointing to the absence of effective leadership of the country. While the divine has graciously endowed us with all manner of human and natural resources, it deprived us of one critical resource for maximally reaping the benefits of those endowments. Good leadership uproots the foundations of inequity and corruption and supplants them with fairness and a strong vision. While fairness resides at the core of the rule of law, strengthening the justice system and dismantling corruption and injustice, a strong vision transports us in real-time into the future with ample innovation virtually on all fronts. These effectively pull down the motivations for crime and insecurity at large as most citizens genuinely have a sense of ownership in the country and prosper socioeconomically on the wings of their optimistic vision. 2023 is by the corner. Our decision may be needed to shatter Nigeria’s seven ominous stands of insecurity.
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