Nigeria: Tearing at the Seams, By Jibrin Ibrahim

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This week, the former Director General of the State Security Service, Mr. A. A. Gadzama published an Op Ed (Trust 4/7/22) raising an alert on the President’s security legacy. He outlined the numerous security threats facing the country and lamented the poor handling of the security challenges. He recalled that the SSS had recently issued an alert on subversive elements threatening the corporate existence of the country. Who are the sub-services is our question this week? This week, the Nigerian Army issued a statement stating that it is not true that rogue soldiers attacked the convoy of Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum enroute to Baga. The Governor had said repeatedly that it was soldiers that attacked him. While hoping that the culprits behind the attack would be identified soon, the issue before Nigerians is the reason the Governor gave for his accusation.

Governor Babagana Zulum alleged that the Nigerian army has been involved in lucrative economic activities in Baga controlling the fish trade and therefore have a vested interest in the prolongation of the current state of insecurity. Nigerians are very alarmed at the possibility that there might be a grain of truth in the assertion. It would mean that the security threats would continue to grow and citizens would continue to bear the brunt of living in a Hobbesian state of nature where there is no real government or rule of law and life is “nasty, brutish and short.”

Many of us who are keen observers of the security situation in the country have been making the case that the rise of the “war economy” in which soldiers become more focused on enriching themselves than defeating the enemy has checkmated the war against Boko Haram and created opportunity for the insurgents to open more fronts in the country. This week, the United States shared intelligence with the Nigerian government, alerting that Al-Qaeda terrorists were gradually infiltrating the country through the North West zone. Specifically, the US Africa Command (US AFRICOM) warned that the Al-Qaeda terrorist group and ISIS were exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to progressively take over the West African Region after losing ground in Syria, Iraq and the Middle East. Commander of the US Special Operations Command, Africa, General Dagvin Anderson, who stated this during a digital press briefing two days ago, noted that the terror group was already deploying several strategies to silently re-establish themselves in the region and expand further in the entire continent without drawing attention.

Of course, we have all noted the surge in attacks in North West states, including Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna and Katsina, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to acknowledge in a rare interview last Friday that the scale of insecurity in the zone and its neighbouring North East zone were becoming “very, very disturbing”. Yes, he has finally noticed. Over the past decade, the security threat in the North West which started as a crisis of pastoralism had grown into cattle rustling, then rural banditry, sexual violence and rape as well as kidnapping. We now have bands consisting of hundreds of motorcycle-riding armed bandits zooming across the Savannah and killing, maiming and burning down villages with total impunity. They have established their own war economy, are accumulating vast stolen resources and when you now add a jihadi ideology to structure their activities, the future indeed looks bleak for Nigerians. If our security agencies cannot tame Boko Haram, it is difficult to see how they can defeat a larger and stronger movement as things stand.

The current crisis of the Nigerian State is insidious because the people have lost their trust and confidence in the national leadership and in the security agencies. The Presidency has been busy this week denying widespread rumours that it has enlisted repentant Boko Haram terrorists into the army and these elements have turned around to boost the insurgency against Nigeria. The suspicion followed the release of 601 deradicalized ex-members of the Boko Haram group to their communities. The deradicalization process, otherwise known as “Operation Safe Corridor,” was an initiative to create a way out for Boko Haram fighters who could be enticed to abandon the war and return to society. Its intentions are noble and the objectives if well managed could sabotage Boko Haram from within but we live in an atmosphere of breakdown of trust and citizens are no longer willing to give government and its security agencies the benefit of the doubt. That was why although none of them were recruited into the armed forces, people were ready to believe they must have been absorbed as some sort of covert support to the insurgency.

In the last few weeks, there has also been renewed flare-ups of ethno-religious and communal clashes in Taraba and Kaduna States. Traditional communal tensions have been growing out of control as certain communities fear that a final solution to eliminate them is emerging from the general climate of insecurity in which government is not a neutral arbiter but a partisan creating enabling conditions for their enemies to finish them off. Hardliners within these communities have been circulating hate and dangerous speech suggesting the apocalypse is coming upon them and they should seek arms to defend themselves thereby worsening the state of insecurity.

While Nigeria is tearing at the seams, security agents this week focused their attention on arresting members of the Omoyele Sowore-led Revolution Now Movement, who trooped out to protest the current hardships in the country. It is clear to me that there is inability on the part of security agencies to correctly rank-order our security threats. Sowore has voice but he has no arms and is not inducing violence in the country. His members who came out to protest were simply articulating the concerns of Nigerians on excessive poverty, corruption and injustice. In Lagos and Abuja, a combined team of Police, Department of State Services (DSS), army and Civil Defence personnel was deployed to stop the protests and arrest participants. Sowore had the audacity to deploy placards demanding for the immediate release of Lance Corporal Martins, who was detained by the Nigerian Army for uploading a video, criticising the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai. His protesters also demanded the sacking of the service chiefs over the worsening security in many parts of the North, while also lamenting the high rate of unemployment in the country. Frankly, are there still Nigerians who are not daily criticizing the poor performance of the security chiefs? I am aware that those arrested were charged for violating COVID-19 guidelines rather than for protesting but who does not know the millions of other Nigerians who have been violating the guidelines have not been arrested.

The climate of fear in Nigeria today is palpable. We are afraid of being kidnapped in our houses and we are terrified of being on the roads. The core of our fear today is we know not who is friend or foe. We are afraid of the insurgents, of the security forces, of the Civilian JTF and the vigilante groups we ourselves set up. We live in fear because the State has failed to provide for our security and welfare. We live in terror because each week, our President assures us that the situation would improve but it only gets worse. Since we are Nigerians, we pray to God for salvation in the here and now as well as in the hear after.

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