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Zaria conversations on improving security and national unity (I)

I spent the week in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria making two presentations and engaging the academic community in broad debates of the crises facing Nigeria…

I spent the week in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria making two presentations and engaging the academic community in broad debates of the crises facing Nigeria and West Africa. My first presentation was on setting 11 benchmarks for enhancing security and national unity.

The Nigerian State is undergoing a three-dimensional crisis. The first one affects the political economy and is generated mainly by public corruption, which over the past four decades, has created a run on the treasury at the national and state levels threatening to consume the goose that lays the golden egg. The second one is the crisis of citizenship symbolised by ethno-regionalism, the Boko Haram insurgency, farmer-herder killings, agitations for Biafra, militancy in the Niger Delta and indigene/settler conflicts. The third element relates to the frustration of the country’s democratic aspirations in a context in which the citizenry believes in “true democracy” confronted with a reckless political class that is corrupt, self-serving and manipulative.

These issues have largely broken the social pact between citizens and the State. That is why today, Nigerians find themselves in a moment of doubt about their nationhood.

The first benchmark is concerted state and society effort to stop the current drift towards anarchy. As a people, we love living near the precipice and the risk is that our dangerous behaviour could one day push us over. It has been said that in Zamfara State alone there are no fewer than 30,000 gunmen spread across more than 100 camps in and around the state killing, kidnapping, raping people and burning their food and housing.

General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chairman of the National Peace Committee, told Nigeria that there are about six million weapons circulating in private hands in the country. We are at a point in our national trajectory where young Nigerians feel sufficiently marginalized from the STATE and SOCIETY to procure arms and engage in self-help which they define variously as banditry, scorched earth attacks on innocent village communities accompanied by mass rape and other forms of sexual violence, in addition to killing security agents, and even declaring an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria. There are too many groups that have discovered that obtaining an AK47 can be their pathway to wealth because they are not in government where you can be wealthy by stealing without arms.

The second benchmark is the urgency of moving away from state-centric security provisioning. The Nigerian citizen has for too long endured a culture of intimidation by the country’s security forces. Law enforcement agents have since colonial times developed a culture of reckless disregard for the rights of the people. The legal framework has not helped matters given our colonial heritage of laws against vagrancy, illegal assembly, wandering, and illegal procession.

The state is constructed as an edifice against citizens who are assumed to have a natural tendency to break laws and must therefore be controlled, patrolled and constantly surveyed. Not surprisingly, citizens learn to fear and avoid law enforcement agents. The ordinary Nigerian sees security agents as potential violators of their security rather than providers of their security.

Thirdly, we need to edify the rule of law which is the affirmation of the principle that the governance of human society should be based on law rather than the whims and caprices of human beings. Nigerians fear the police and increasingly fear of the justice system where money or favour towards those in power overrides justice. Both the law and precedents now sway in favour of injustice.

The fourth benchmark proposed is to educate the people that virtually all Nigerians are marginalised so we should have a collective rather than sectional approach to contesting ruling class marginalisation of the people. A united band of criminal elements is ruling this country using divide-and-rule tactics that hide the reality that most of us are marginalised.

The fifth benchmark is the deeply felt need for true federalism which must be addressed. The 1951 Macpherson’s Constitution was adopted on the basis of an elite consensus. The regional elites were suspicious of each other, had no trust in the other and therefore decided that federalism is the best collective protection for all of them. As has been explained:

 “True Federalism implies power sharing, abandoning the notion of any one group dominating all the others, not secession but building interdependence. But we need to work hard on it and not merely pay lip service to unity in diversity.” Prof Ade Ajayi,

The First Republic failed because the ruling elite failed to respect the principles of power sharing. They still do.

Benchmark six is to negotiate an approach and timeframe for resolving the farmer-herder crisis. Pastoralists-farmers conflicts in Nigeria have grown, spread and intensified over the past decade and today pose the greatest threat to our national integrity. The activities of herders have often been recast in conspiracy theories of attacking people to take over their land. Government policies under the Buhari Administration such as the cattle colony and ruga policies were perceived by many communities as tacit, if not direct alignment with the alleged herders’ agenda of killing people and taking over their land.

President Buhari failed to undergo a Mea culpa stating clearly that it was not sectional in its approach to tackling the crisis of pastoralism. A new policy framework on the farmers-pastoralists crisis should be developed that is both comprehensive and mutually beneficial to both groups. Pastoralism is not sustainable in Nigeria over the long term due to high population growth rate, expansion of farming and loss of pasture and cattle routes. At the same time, pastoralism cannot end or be prohibited in the short term, as there are strong cultural and political economy reasons for its existence. The new policy should develop a plan for a transitional period during which new systems would be put in place.

Benchmark seven is on recovering our ungoverned spaces. Rural Nigeria is characterised by the absence of the State and its security agencies and it is therefore not surprising that the blight of armed banditry has spread and impacted negatively on lives and livelihoods. The massive proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the Nigerian hinterland has provided the means for agency in the spread of violence.

The phenomenon has dramatised the expansion of ungoverned spaces in the country. There are many factors that contribute to the growth of the phenomenon of rural banditry. One of the most important is poor governance and the virtual collapse of institutions of governance. Deep-seated corruption has eroded the capacity of institutions to perform their functions.

To be concluded


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