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Let’s talk about national security

Anyone born in the 70s or earlier will remember the famous song, released in 1990, by the American hip hop group, Salt-N-Pepa, and titled “Let’s…

Anyone born in the 70s or earlier will remember the famous song, released in 1990, by the American hip hop group, Salt-N-Pepa, and titled “Let’s talk about sex”. The song, written by Herby Azor, promised listeners to talk about everything, including the good, the bad, the ugly, as well as the details of the players and “all things that may be”.  I reckon that most people that needed to learn a thing or two about the subject would have taken time to train their ears to understand every letter of the lyrics.

To support this belief, the writer stated in the lyrics, that the song would be prohibited by the radio services. However, surprisingly or even disappointing enough, the song was all over the radios at that time because so much was said and yet, so little was said.

The national security conversation in Nigeria for the last 15 years is akin to Salt-N-Pepa’s song on the aforementioned subject. While so much has been said about national security to the extent that it has influenced the decision on who sits at the apex of government in the revered Aso Rock Villa, the results we have consistently seen, suggest that “yet , so little is said”.  What then is the reason for this seemingly unfair conclusion?

First, what is national security, because discussion of any subject commences with a proper understanding of the concepts in use.  There are as many definitions of the concept of national security as the number of those that have attempted to define it. The definition adopted is, most often than not, a function of the understanding and experience of those defining it. While the definition of the concept has been developing and expanding over time, thereby increasingly blurring its meaning, what it is not has always been very clear.

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According to Robert McNamara, a former United States’ Secretary of Defence, “Security is not military hardware, though it may include it. It is not military force, though it may encompass it. Security is development and without development there is no security.” The narrow notion of the concept of national security is about the survival of a state from external aggression, and as witnessed in recent global events, survival from internal domestic subversive organisations or insurgents. This explains the focus of ‘unconscious proponents’ of this notion, on sheer military force and the consequent increased defense budgets, which are often erroneously tagged “security expenditure”.  A point to note and keep in a safe corner of our cerebrum is that security is not a synonym for defense.  Defense maybe an aspect of security but it is not security.

Flowing from the foregoing therefore, what is the Nigerian definition of national security?  A seat at any forum where national security is discussed, especially the academia, will more often than not, reveal one conclusion, which is, security problem in Nigeria is due to the absence of a Nigerian definition of National Security or even that we do not have a National Security Policy. While I will refrain from joining the exercise of controversy over the absence of a policy, though we have a strategy, I will focus on the conclusion that Nigeria does not have its own definition of national security. To achieve this, I will invite you on a very quick trip into Nigeria’s National Security Strategy 2019 (NSS 2019).

Let’s first take a look at the forward of the document, as signed by President Muhammad Buhari.  In the forward, President Buhari stated that “our vision of sustainable national security goes beyond reaction to physical threats. We must ensure clarity in our understanding of the dynamics of Nigeria’s security environment and address them in a comprehensive manner. We must optimize the effectiveness of the security sector by evolving systems and structures that encompass societal and governmental contributions. We must admit the evolution of new methodologies and technologies in contemporary national security systems. We will build national consensus to guide the implementation of the values and principles of our national security. Lastly, we live in a globalized world, so we must project our national security interests in a manner that promotes regional and international confidence and cooperation. These are the rationales for the review of the National Security Strategy 2014.  He further stressed that “The implementation will be driven systematically, transparently and accountably to ensure that all Ministries, Departments and Agencies key into it and deliver expected measurable outcomes designed to enhance our resilience, stability and national strategy. This process will involve relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Civil Society Organisations, Development Partners, the Armed Forces, Police, Security and Para-military organisations as well as the general public.”

Furthermore, Chapter 3 of the document outlined the security threats facing Nigeria to include terrorism and violent extremism, armed banditry and kidnapping, porous borders, cybercrimes and technology challenges, socio-political threats, fake news and hate speech, public health challenges and economic challenges, among others.

So, without outrightly providing the Nigerian version of the definition of national security, it is apparent that the NSS 2019 adopted the contemporary notion (comprehensive approach) of national security. So, if this is the case, “why then is the focus of national security efforts in the country, on the military? Why is it that the military commanders are always accused of ineptitude, when insecurity is on the rise in the country? Could this be a consequence of a history of prolong military rule, which has inadvertently implanted in our psyche, the erroneous impression that national security is the exclusive preserve of the military? Or is it a case of the view expressed on governance by David Runciman, in his book, “Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers.”

In the book, Runciman compared various elements of government to strings that are being pulled by what I may, in my own words, call the puppet master. He further stressed that the quick resort to military solutions is due to the ease at which the military lends itself to responding to the urging of the master. Suffice to say that Nigerians, tend to see problems of insecurity as exclusively the problem of the military, while forgetting that insecurity is a symptom of several other problems in the society. Can military option stop kidnapping? Is the military a law enforcement agency? We may do well to note that the puzzle behind the Boston Marathon bombing incident of 2013, was solved by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), assisted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Drug Enforcement Agency. I would imagine that, were that incident to be in Nigeria, the Army would have cordoned the whole city, make several arrests, clash with some other agencies and the service chief would have gone to face the National Assembly to answer questions on the bombing.

The example above may sound far-fetched for and to Africans because some people hold the opinion that our society is yet to be sophisticated to that level. However, an Interpol report, released on 9 June 2023, revealed that notices from the organisation assisted in the arrest of 14 terror suspects and recovery of explosives, in an operation within Africa, tagged TRIPARTITE SPIDER.  The operation, which included Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda, was organized to support the ability of national Counter-Terrorism investigation teams to identify suspected terrorists and disrupt the financial networks behind them. The operation involved police, customs, border forces and counter-terrorism experts, including Interpol’s Regional Counter-Terrorism Node in Africa, thereby underscoring the need for a  multi-stakeholder effort against, in this particular instance, terrorism. Perhaps, the military was involved in the one-month operation, they were apparently not the main effort. The major focus was law-enforcement and tracking of terror financing. This is a proof that multidimensional approach to mitigating threats to security is feasible and not totally alien to Africa.

While we are always talking about security, we should do so meaningfully, with the intention of developing a comprehensive and lasting response. One likely action is for the responsible authority to expressly state Nigeria’s definition of national security as a first step. This could be included in the next review of the NSS. Security is the responsibility of the whole of society, government and nation. Interrelatedness is a major characteristic of the modern society, and therefore, any talk of addressing insecurity by military force alone, is like using paracetamol to cure cancer.

Like one of my mentors, who would not like to be mentioned in this piece, will say; Nigeria needs complexity thinkers, who see things multidimensionally. Only then shall we be talking of security in a way that, unlike Salt-N-Pepa’s talk of sex, much will be said and done.

Adeyinka Famadewa is a retired major general from the Nigerian Army and currently a PhD student of Leadership and Security at the King’s College, London.

 

 

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