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A whole new approach to security

Last Monday, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu retired all of his predecessor’s security chiefs, and in the same breadth appointed new ones. He also replaced the…

Last Monday, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu retired all of his predecessor’s security chiefs, and in the same breadth appointed new ones. He also replaced the Inspector-General of Police and Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, in addition to rather sweeping appointments down the lower rungs of the military services.

Notable among the new chiefs are the appointment of Malam Nuhu Ribadu as National Security Adviser (NSA), who is now the overall head of our security architecture, after the President himself as the Commander-in-Chief. Tinubu also appointed Major General Christopher Gwabin Musa, a former commander of the military’s joint counter-terrorism effort in the northeast, as the new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Maj.-Gen. T. A. Lagbaja as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Air Vice Marshal H. B. Abubakar as Chief of Air Staff, Rear Admiral E. A. Ogalla as the Chief of Naval Staff, and Maj.-Gen. EPA Undiandeye has also been appointed as the Chief of Defence Intelligence.

On assuming duty Friday, the new chiefs, reportedly resolved to use “maximum force against terrorists, bandits and other enemies of state”, in order to improve the country’s security. The new CDS said no one should be in doubt about their determination to bring peace, while the Chief of Naval Staff promised to “tackle crude oil theft and illegal refineries head on”. Meanwhile, the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Olukayode Egbetokun has promised a new strategy for fighting crime in the land.

Daily Trust welcomes these men—and they are still all men—to their new posts. We also welcome their promises to Nigerians of a revamped security system, and we wish them all the best as they go about this onerous task individually and collectively.

We must add, however, that the current security situation in Nigeria requires more than word of mouth promises. We are also convinced that while the threat or actual use of force is important, by itself alone, more force will not necessarily end the myriad of security challenges that Nigeria faces. Just more of the same strategies centered on force will not do.

Instead, the President and his government should see the appointment of the new security chiefs as an opportunity for Nigeria to holistically rethink how we approach and understand ‘security’ and ‘insecurity’, and by implication, how we mobilize human and material resources towards attaining the former and avoiding the latter. And to that end, three fundamental aspects of our security system require immediate and serious consideration.

First, nearly all of Nigeria’s external security forces are now aimed inwards at sections of its own citizenry, not outwards against external threats for which they conventionally and constitutionally designed to fight. Nigerian military personnel were said to have been on active deployment in no fewer than 30 of our 36 states in 2016, according to a report by SBM Intelligence, a strategic intelligence analysis firm, at the time. For a country not officially at war with any other, Nigeria must be the most militarized zone in the world.

The point, however, is that such a situation is not only abnormal and gravely concerning, but it should be completely unacceptable. It should worry us all that our army and naval officers have nothing to talk about than domestic threats. But domestic security threats are fundamentally different from external ones. All the four major security threats we face—militancy, insurgency, banditry and secessionist agitation—result from very complex mix of deeply rooted social, political and economic factors that, it must be said, cannot simply be shot down by military force alone.

All of them are borne out of or exacerbated by real or imagined deficits of representation, voice, and agency by one or more communities across the country. Therefore, as the President and his new security chiefs settle down to their respective new jobs, we at Daily Trust urge them all to rethink security not in terms of more deployment of soldiers and airmen in our towns and cities, but in the use of more civil and democratic approaches to building peace and inclusive prosperity.

Second, in addition to more civil and democratic approaches that give representation and voice to all those who feel left out in the Nigeria project in one sense or another, the new government and its security chiefs will do well to focus attention on the economics of conflict and war. As scholars of social dynamics know only too well, nothing sustains conflict and war than the monetary and commercial benefits certain interests derive from it. And those interests who benefit from conflict can be rather very complex, often not even among the ranks of the “non-state actors” who wage it. Therefore, we urge the new security approach to also “follow the money”, as the saying goes, as much as they deploy force across the numerous conflict areas in the country.

Finally, we must all realize that rising insecurity is de-marketing Nigeria and Nigerian businesses. Our regime of “forever violent conflict with self” over the past fifteen years is really hurting the Nigerian economy. It not only shuts out much needed foreign direct investment into our shores, but it also limits opportunities for local businesses and the Nigerian government to attract foreign productive capital and know-how. All of these, in turn, depress growth and entrench economic stagnation.

But as we cannot continue on this track forever, it is time then, for a whole new approach to security and insecurity in Nigeria.

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