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Strictly Personal

Is Nigeria’s security challenge intractable? By Jide Ojo

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Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution says the security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary purpose of the government. Quite unfortunately, successive administrations have failed to meet these requirements, and the current Bola Tinubu administration is equally failing. Right now, instead of people’s standard of living improving, it is depreciating and everybody is worried about the intolerable level of insecurity in this country.

This newspaper, in its editorial of Monday, March 11, 2024, chronicled the spate of mass abductions that have recently taken place in the country. It stated, “Within the past week, Boko Haram insurgents and bandits have successfully abducted over 404 Nigerians across three North-East and North-West states. This is unparalleled and ominous for the rest of the fragile country. For the President, it calls for a swift re-evaluation of the subsisting national security strategies, which appear ineffective against the hordes from hell perpetrating this criminality.”

It went further, “Indeed, it is the familiar Salafist modus operandi all over again: The predation on women, pupils, and other soft targets. Fifteen pupils of an Islamiya school in Sokoto State were kidnapped in the early hours of Saturday. This is less than 72 hours after 287 schoolchildren were abducted from the LEA Primary School in Kuriga, in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State. A few days before the Kaduna incident, over 200 female internally displaced persons were forcefully taken away by terrorists in three IDP camps in Borno State. The women were kidnapped in Ngala, the headquarters of Gamboru Ngala, while fetching firewood in the bush to sell.” The PUNCH submitted that, “Data indicates that about 1,548 schoolchildren have been abducted in 11 separate incidents of mass abduction by terrorists and bandits in northern Nigeria between April 2014 and June 2021.”

What are the implications of insecurity in Nigeria? First, it hampers economic growth and development. Many businesses have shut down due to these ceaseless kidnappings, banditry and insurgencies. Many of those internally displaced have lost their means of livelihood and have become economically dependent on the government and charity organisations. Thus, rather than contributing to economic growth, they become liabilities. There is now low investor’ confidence in Nigeria, as no foreign investor will want to come and set up business in a volatile country like ours unless they are into the sales and marketing of security gadgets and bulletproof vehicles.

Insecurity is also one of the drivers of the ‘japa’ phenomenon, as many Nigerians besiege embassies of foreign countries to flee their fatherland. Many don’t even bother to go to embassies; they simply embark on a hazardous journey of being trafficked through the desert and the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to irregularly migrate to Europe for safety and a better life.

I saw a journalist friend of mine sometime in January after a long while. As we chatted, I asked how he was coping with the astronomic rise in the cost of living. He sighed and said it had not been easy. I then complimented him on living in his own house in Abuja when I, who had been in Abuja for over 20 years, still lived in a rented apartment.  He corrected me and said he had fled his house in the Bwari area of Abuja due to the incessant raids of kidnappers in his community and is now living in a rented apartment like me. That’s how insecurity has also impacted family life. Imagine the pain of having to relocate from your home, not because of any natural disaster like an earthquake or flood but due to the activities of bandits.

Food inflation, which has risen above 35 percent, is also a result of food production shortages linked to the activities of bandits who not only demand access and harvest fees from farmers but routinely raid farm settlements to abduct, maim and kill the farmers who are feeding the nation.  Health-wise, many Nigerians are suffering from panic attacks, paranoia, schizophrenia and trauma as a result of the scary news of abductions and acts of terrorism being daily reported in the media. Many of us could no longer sleep with our eyes closed. In many communities, people now live in fortresses and under self-imposed curfews. As described by the renowned English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 book titled Leviathan “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

It is not as if the federal and state governments have been standing akimbo, watching helplessly. Funding for security and defence has increased exponentially. According to the earlier referenced editorial of this newspaper published on Monday, “The Federal Government, as part of efforts to keep the country secure, disbursed N231.27 billion to procure arms and ammunition for security agencies and officers between 2020 and 2024. This is beside the yearly budgets of the Ministry of Defence and eight other forces between 2020 and 2022, put at N11.72 billion, N10.78 billion, and N9.64 billion, respectively. More recently, in the fourth quarter of 2023, the government procured N5 trillion worth of tanks and armoured fighting vehicles for the security forces, per the NBS report ‘Foreign Trade in Goods Statistics.’ This is in addition to other security hardware.”

The Muhammadu Buhari administration established the Police Equipment Trust Fund just as a handful of states have similarly done. Many states have established vigilantes or state-owned security agencies, with the latest being Zamfara State, which early in the year established Community Protection Guards. Recall that the six south-west states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun, on January 9, 2020, established Amotekun to fight insecurity. Consideration has been given to the establishment of state police, with a committee set up to come up with a framework.

With all these aforementioned initiatives, why is Nigeria still largely insecure? The answer to this can be found in the hardware solutions without a significant component of the software solutions. I daresay that even the hardware efforts have been largely ineffective due to a lack of sufficient well-trained and motivated security personnel. We have not also adopted technology-driven security solutions. There are several modern tech gadgets such as satellite orbiters, drones, CCTV, scanners, jammers, communication gadgets and forensic laboratories, that Nigerian security forces do not have or have in insufficient quantities.

On the software side, unless and until we frontally tackle the challenges of unemployment, poverty and hunger, whatever hardware equipment we acquire will not resolve our security challenge. These variables drive crimes and criminality. People will not blink an eyelid to commit crimes if they are starving. The popular adage is also that an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. If people are not gainfully employed and are poor, they will constitute a nuisance and danger to the rest of society.

I think the time has come for the Nigerian president to seek international assistance to bring the security challenge effectively under control. We should also mobilise our able-bodied retired security personnel to help combat the increasing insecurity. There is also a need to do something about our porous borders, where small arms and light weapons are indiscriminately smuggled into the country and used by bandits to terrorise innocent Nigerians.

Strictly Personal

This is chaos, not governance, and we must stop it, By Tee Ngugi

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The following are stories that have dominated mainstream media in recent times. Fake fertiliser and attempts by powerful politicians to kill the story. A nation of bribes, government ministries and corporations where the vice is so routine that it has the semblance of policy. Irregular spending of billions in Nairobi County.

 

Billions are spent in all countries on domestic and foreign travel. Grabbing of land belonging to state corporations, was a scam reminiscent of the Kanu era when even public toilets would be grabbed. Crisis in the health and education sectors.

 

Tribalism in hiring for state jobs. Return of construction in riparian lands and natural waterways. Relocation of major businesses because of high cost of power and heavy taxation. A tax regime that is so punitive, it squeezes life out of small businesses. Etc, ad nauseam.

 

To be fair, these stories of thievery, mismanagement, negligence, incompetence and greed have been present in all administrations since independence.

 

However, instead of the cynically-named “mama mboga” government reversing this gradual slide towards state failure, it is fuelling it.

 

Alternately, it’s campaigning for 2027 or gallivanting all over the world, evoking the legend of Emperor Nero playing the violin as Rome burned.

 

A government is run based on strict adherence to policies and laws. It appoints the most competent personnel, irrespective of tribe, to run efficient departments which have clear-cut goals.

 

It aligns education to its national vision. Its strategies to achieve food security should be driven by the best brains and guided by innovative policies. It enacts policies that attract investment and incentivize building of businesses. It treats any kind of thievery or negligence as sabotage.

 

Government is not a political party. Government officials should have nothing to do with political party matters. They should be so engaged in their government duties that they literally would not have time for party issues. Government jobs should not be used to reward girlfriends and cronies.

 

Government is exhausting work undertaken because of a passion to transform lives, not for the trappings of power. Government is not endless campaigning to win the next election. To his credit, Mwai Kibaki left party matters alone until he had to run for re-election.

 

We have corrupted the meaning of government. We have parliamentarians beholden to their tribes, not to ideas.

 

We have incompetent and corrupt judges. We have a civil service where you bribe to be served. Police take bribes to allow death traps on our roads. We have urban planners who plan nothing except how to line their pockets. We have regulatory agencies that regulate nothing, including the intake of their fat stomachs.

 

We have advisers who advise on which tenders should go to whom. There is no central organising ethos at the heart of government. There is no sense of national purpose. We have flurries of national activities, policies, legislation, appointments which don’t lead to meaningful growth. We just run on the same spot.

 

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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Strictly Personal

Off we go again with public shows, humbug and clowning, By Jenerali Uliwengu

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The potential contestants in the approaching elections are already sizing themselves up and assessing their chances of fooling their people enough for them to believe that they are truly going to “bring development” to them.

 

I mean, you have to be a true believer to believe that someone who says they have come to offer their services to you as your representative in the local council or in the national parliament and they tell you that they are going to build your roads to European standards, and your schools are going to be little Eatons; your hospitals are going to be better and more lavishly equipped than the Indian hospitals, where many of our high-placed people go for treatment, and your water supply will be so regular that you have to worry only about drowning!

 

I mean no exaggeration here, for the last time we had the occasion to listen to such clowns — five years ago — we heard one joker promise he would take all his voters to the United States for a visit.

 

He was actually voted to parliament, or at least the cabal acting as the electoral commission says he was. He has never revisited that promise as far as I can remember, but that must surely be because he is still negotiating with the American embassy for a few million visas for his voters!

 

Yes, really, these are always interesting times, when normally sober people turn out to be raving mad and university dons become illiterate.

 

Otherwise tell me how this can happen: Some smart young man or woman shows up in your neighbourhood and puts up posters and erects stands and platforms for the campaign and goes around the constituency declaring his or her ardent desire to “develop” your area by bringing in clean and safe water, excellent schools, competent teachers, the best agricultural experts as extension officers, etc, etc.

These goodies

At the time this clown is promising all these goodies, you realise he has been distributing money and items such as tee-shirts, kitenge prints, khangas, caps as well as organising feeding programmes, where everyone who cares can feed to satiation and drink whatever they want with practically no limitation.

Seriously, I have been asking myself this question: Would you employ a young man who shows up at your front porch and tells you he is seeking a job to develop your garden and tells you that, while you are thinking whether to employ him, “Here is money for you and your family to eat and drink for now!”

Now, if we think such a man should be reported to the police or taken to a mental institution, why are we behaving in exactly the same way?

Many a time we witness arguments among countrymen trying to solve the conundrum of our continued failure to move forward economically, despite our abundant resources, and it seems like we haven’t got a clue.

But is this not one of the cues, if not probably the most important clue, that we have not found a way to designate our leaders?

It ought to be clear to any person above childhood that this type of electoral system and practice can never deliver anything akin to development or progress.

Now, consider that we have being doing this same thing over and over — in many of our countries elections follow a certain periodicity like clockwork — but we have not discovered the truth.

Put simply, our politics is badly rigged against our people, and elections have become just devices to validate the political hooliganism of the various cabals running our countries like so many Mafia families.

Knee-jerk supporters

We have so demeaned our people, whom we have turned into knee-jerk supporters of whoever gives them food and drink around election time, that now they say that at least at election time it is their turn to eat, which means, naturally, that at all other times it is the turn of the ones who “bring development” to the people.

Clearly, this is not working, and it is no wonder that dissatisfaction and frustration are rife, as our people cannot put a finger to the thing that holds them back.

Apart from these sham elections, from time to time, the rulers organise shows designed to make the people believe that somebody is concerned about their problems.

We have one such masquerade happening in Tanzania right now, where public meetings are organised so people can vent their frustration. But these will never solve any problems; they are just shows.

If the elections we have been holding had any substance, there would not be any need for such public shows, except those organised by those people we elected.

Where are they? What is the use of spending so much money and other resources to erect and maintain a political system that has to be propped by public shows, where people come to vent their grievances over the hopelessness of the system in place?

I am just asking.

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