Strengthening Nigerian security architecture
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
July 19, 2021487 views0 comments
The recent robbery invasion of the residences of the Chief of Staff to the president and the Admin Officer inside Aso Rock neutralizes our delusive belief that we are safe in Nigeria. If criminal elements could fearlessly and successfully access the president’s Aso Rock, supposedly the most fortified place in Nigeria, then nobody is indeed safe. Although not at war with its neighbours, externally propagated ideologies and puppeteering from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State have sustained dangerous armies of insurgents bent on carving out and controlling some of Nigeria’s territories. In the past decade, our security architecture has undergone a series of restructurings to awaken the capability to suppress and successfully eliminate these threats as they occur. Our soldiers and many other security agencies have been battling Boko Haram, the Islamic Republic insurgents, and armed bandits across several states in the country’s northern parts.
Reverberations of secessionist agitations continue across key ethnic blocks in the South. It has expanded beyond well-known Biafran independence demands by the Igbo’s to separatist calls for the Oduduwa Republic by the Yoruba’s. Even the previously placated Niger Delta militants appear to be resurging with conditions and threats. Additionally, the alarming rates of kidnappings, assassinations and the vandalization of public assets garnish these emerging internal insecurities horrendously. The state has also been ‘reacting’ to these threats with expansive albeit silo-style operations in virtually every part of the country. At present, there is an average of three silo-style military operations in each of the country’s six geopolitical zones. Unfortunately, it does not appear as if this engagement architecture substantially draws inspiration from the system structure of the emergent threats and their attendant feedback loops. Our country’s insecurity containment approach seems rooted in a faulty understanding of threats as independently occurring attacks primarily against its sovereignty. Yet many of these challenges have undeniable links to the state’s failures in mainstreaming human security and the commoditization of security rather than its treatment as a public good.
Like every organizational transformation exercise, efficient security architecture leverages three elements: people, technology, and systems. This intensive, interactive model only delivers success with the optimized engagement of these elements in the security assessment, planning, and implementation processes. As already pointed out, our insecurity management architecture is anaemic of the ‘people’ element. By erroneously considering the primary victim of insecurity as the state and its sovereignty, rather than the people that make up the state, a set of state-centric insecurity containment measures becomes dominant. This view is quite evident in the many operations of our security agencies which considerably alienates the policed populace in its interventions. There are three primary consequences of such misplaced focus. These include poor intelligence gathering, reactive as opposed to proactive interventions, and painfully long reaction time-lags. Despite the diversity of military operations going on virtually everywhere in the country, the success rates leave much to be desired. Wrong threats targeting characterize many of them due to poor intelligence gathering and weak interagency cooperation.
When interventions are people-focused, there is a corresponding and substantial engagement of the population in the intelligence-gathering efforts. The policed population, in turn, becomes willing and active participants in providing meaningful intelligence that results in proactive and more precise targeting of threats. It is doubtful, for instance, whether the ‘operation python dance’ in Southeast Nigeria sufficiently leveraged potentially collectable intelligence from targeted communities before the disaster called ‘threat suppression’ that eventually ensued. Ordinarily, the police are better positioned to obtain such intelligence and share the same with the special military units conducting such operations. Unfortunately, over time the Nigerian police successfully created substantial mistrust with the populace it supposedly protects. The police seemingly lost it when it began foot-dragging in offering its service as a public good. A considerable proportion of the police eventually became commodities of the elite class and used as pawns to execute unfairness and inequity. The eventual lack of trust between the police and the public frustrates intelligence volunteering and accurate information gathering. In the same vein, the seeming rivalry between the police and the Army on the one hand and other security agencies also frustrates the sharing of the measly morsels of intelligence available to them. These challenges collectively explain the reactivity of our security agencies. Only a reasonable quantum of trustworthy intelligence obtained on time can enable proactive and preventive security interventions.
However, central to the state-centric approach is perhaps the usurpation of the role of the police in internal security management by the military. The many years of military rule in the country gradually planted soldiers much more solidly than they should in internal security management activities. One of the consequences is the weakened capacity of the police to contain high-end criminality such as terrorism and banditry. Yet, the police possess a better intelligence gathering ability for more efficient and proactive counter security strategies. But the extant security architecture turns this role definition on its head by conferring on a military that is more suited to containing external aggression and much more aloof from the public with substantially exclusive responsibility for internal insurgency containment.
Worse still, fast becoming less of a public or collective good, the national security architecture is losing grip on its primary client: the public. Like other public goods such as the rule of law or public highways, security provision by the government possesses two characteristics: non-excludability and non-rivalrous consumption. The former presupposes zero exclusion of anyone from enjoying security benefits while those accessing it should not reduce its availability to others. Contrary to this supposition, the Nigerian police assigned about 150,000 of its 372,000 officers and men exclusively to VIPs and unauthorized persons. A similarly high number of police officers allocated to corporate organizations, particularly banks and other financial institutions, are not included. This commoditization or “sale” of security personnel regrettably makes security provision in Nigeria a rivalrous good. It also grossly depletes the authentic ratio of the Nigerian police to the population, which has consistently fallen below the globally accepted threshold.
The commoditization of Nigerian security also promotes a shift in loyalty away from the public it should serve. As a famous saying goes, “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”. Security agencies in Nigeria dance more to the whims and wishes of VIPs who pay a premium on their services than the public. That is also why they easily manipulate and use these security operatives in their payroll to execute nefarious activities. The Nigerian security agencies’ list of crimes committed in obedience and connivance with their paymasters is innumerable. They include election rigging, assassinations, armed robbery, smuggling, cover for myriads of illegalities etc. Many have consistently argued that some of the leaders of our security agencies deliberately plot their serial underperformance in the war against terrorists to prolong their illicit access to arms procurement budgets and funds. Such indirect aiding and abetting of criminals is a poignantly significant feature of our security governance architecture. To a considerable extent, its ubiquity – albeit in varied forms – in the DNA of the police is primary to the ineffectiveness of that security agency. The same challenge also exists at different degrees in other agencies.
Another source of security agency induced insecurity is ineffective interagency cooperation. Each agency operates on a quasi-island or silo. As silos, they are substantially oblivious of what goes on in the diaries of other agencies, even when they are together within a small location. We witness many security agencies claiming ignorance about sister agencies’ containment strategies even within a small area where they both operate. The culture and governance mechanism for cooperating and interdependently creating combined success is absent. What seemingly exists is the structure of specially designed collaborative efforts, when and where the necessity for such concerted efforts is apparent. But what will undoubtedly deliver sustainable success is a structure supporting ongoing intelligence sharing and regular joint operations that ride on the back of such cooperation. For instance, one would expect special military operations in some locations to have fusion centres for seamless and continuous information sharing among the police and other security agencies within the area.
In any case, most of these challenges are fallouts from the over-centralization of the security infrastructure command structure at the federal level. Almost daily, the Executive Governors’ rehash the frustrations that attend to this concentrated command and control structure. While the law dresses them up as chief security officers of their various states, none of the prime security agencies is answerable to their authority. Thus, their best bet in responding to any security situation is lobbying the goodwill of their state commissioners of police or other applicable agencies who essentially take order from the centre. The ensuing response lag is apparent but worsens when the political party at the state level differs from the one at the centre or where the president and the state governor in question are not best of friends. This structural challenge deepens the reactivity of the security system.
Restructuring and strengthening our security architecture should predicate five essential pillars that can enhance intelligence gathering, proactivity, and good response time. The first is refocusing our security objectives on what matters most to the public and not necessarily defending the sovereignty of our country. By correctly concentrating on realizing the public’s expectations, the rest of the suggestions are easily achievable. The government and its security apparatchiks must recognize that delivering the most positive benefits equitably for the people is core. The second pillar is heeding calls for state police that should be complemented by a federal government-controlled civil defence corps and strengthening community policing architecture. This kind of interspersed structure is necessary to counterbalance the potential abuse of state police by the Governor and other key politicians at the state level. The third is creating and effectively managing solid artificial intelligence technology-powered fusion centres in all states and seamlessly integrating them across geopolitical zones and the country. Fourth is the strategic integration of civilian security components at the state and national level security arrangements. Aside from the Executive Governor’s at the state level, legislators and some strategic traditional institutions need to be part of the interagency security relations. The fifth pillar is the government’s prioritization of adequate security strategy financing and the monitoring of its implementation.