Again, dire security concerns – The Nation Newspaper

February 1, 2020
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SENATE President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, started it all when he declared, on the eve of the Senate’s resumption from the Yuletide break, that the present security architecture cannot tackle terrorism, kidnapping, and sundry violent crimes. He therefore pledged the Senate’s commitment to working with the executive to forge a new, robust, efficient and effective system.

But no sooner had the Senate President spoken than new killings were reported. In Borno State, Boko Haram attackers razed a mosque, with many lives lost, no thanks to suicide bombers, after a long lull. Of course, there were other reported Islamist attacks, repelled by the military.

Outside the Boko Haram epicentre, death toll had risen to 33 in an attack by bandits in Plateau State, again throwing up the spectre of Fulani-Plateau indigenes bloody face-off. That forced Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, to order the arrest of community leaders of where the bandits allegedly came from.

Then from Niger State came equally worrisome reports of unprovoked attacks, which local leaders, visiting the president, claimed had lasted three weeks non-stop. That prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to order the Air Force to bomb the bandits’ base to rout them. It was during this visit, by Niger State Eminent Citizens, that the president made the rather controversial quip that he was “taken aback” by the new wave of attacks, which he explained differed from the Boko Haram insurrection; adding that it was another evil being plotted against helpless Nigerians. But he promised his government would be tougher on the criminals.

Meanwhile, in the Yewa part of Ogun State, community leaders held a peaceful protest against marauding Fulani herdsmen who, they said, had been destroying their farmlands with their rampaging herd. These herdsmen, allegedly from Mali, were reportedly chased away from the neigbhbouring Benin Republic, by that country’s gendarmes. A pair of kidnappers, captured in the neighbouring Ibarapa area of Oyo State, also claimed to come from Mali, thus confirming at least two things: Nigeria’s porous borders; and, the central security agencies’ ineffectiveness, to forestall these aliens’ entry, probably because the security troopers are too thinly spread.

However, what grabbed media headlines and fired popular rage was the president’s comment that he was “taken-aback”. Senate Minority Leader, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, caused an uproar, during the Senate debate on the matter, when he told the president to quit. That not only caused a partisan firefight in the Senate, it also caused an uproar outside, with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) backing Abaribe; but the president’s men countering that the opposition, for cheap political mileage, twisted the president’s statement out of context.

However, outside the formal opposition, not a few among the citizenry felt disturbed by the president’s statement, insisting it suggests the commander-in-chief could be well out of tune with the worsening security situation. That would be dire indeed, if true.

Still, after all the adrenalin invested in rage, what must follow is putting on a rigorous thinking cap to solve the problem, since security is not only key to everyone’s survival, it is the very basis for government, in the first instance.

For starters, there might just be a logical explanation for the flaring violence, as all could be mutations of the Boko Haram crisis, manifesting in sundry forms. Those bandits and kidnappers could well be stragglers from the main theatre of insurrection, who nevertheless escape with small arms, and little else. As these stragglers undetected, move away from the main theatre of Boko Haram, they band together and infiltrate other communities, far and near, wreaking havoc for economic gains. That could explain the flaring of kidnapping, even if it could not fully explain banditry and other mass slaughter.

That the present security architecture has failed to track, capture and neutralise these agents of death would appear easy proof that it is flailing, if it has not failed outright. That is a clear intelligence dysfunction. For the failure in this all-vital area, even of the basic human hue, it is time to embrace a more bottom-up approach, with the full involvement of communities nationwide.

That is why ‘Operation Amotekun’, and its other regional or geo-zonal variants, should offer new hopes to remake a buckled and bungled central security screen. But the communalisation of intelligence gathering and processing could only be a logical forerunner to establishing full-fledged state police.

Away with the conceit of over-centralisation! Nigeria’s current security challenges demand creative federalisation, with robust checks-and-balances, which should curb a sub-national police arrangement of its pre- and First Republic abuses that led to its replacement by the present central police; and be a win-win to all. That is the direction towards which the structure of the security architecture should be tweaked.

Then, the form — and that leads to the all-important question of the service chiefs. But before this, a caveat: security is a very sensitive issue, in which those without adequate information may not dabble. But this caution can only be justified and reinforced, if the public feels very safe.  That is not the case at present; and that would appear why the impassioned interest. Besides, regime security logically precedes and reinforces state security.  This is because self-preservation is the basic law of nature. That is why the president has a lot of leeway over who to, or not to include, in the personnel manning his security apparatus.

Even with that, there is popular belief that the present crop of security chiefs has over-stayed and is now plagued by diminishing returns. That would explain why both houses of the National Assembly have called on the president to dispense with them for fresh blood. That sentiment appears shared too by the bulk of the people.

The president should do the needful and appoint a new set. But it is not just the symbolism of it.  A new set of service chiefs must come with new dynamism, new flexibility and new dramatic results — and it won’t be a bad idea to tie their tenures to demonstrable results.

Over all, security is such of prime importance it is no area to play cheap politics. Partisan rage is welcome, just to underscore the angst of the public. After that, however, everyone should pull resources to rid the polity of this clear and present danger. So, the sitting government should be receptive, just as the opposition — and indeed, the general populace — is cooperative. Only the living play politics. The dead don’t — and can’t.

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