Yesterday, I gave the lead paper at a National Town Hall Meeting organised by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at Kaduna State University. The theme was setting benchmarks for enhanced security and national unity in Nigeria. It was well attended by a cross section of commanders of various security agencies and selected members of the public from all over the country. The thrust of the meeting was for all Nigerians to accept that the country was headed for the brinks and there was an urgent need to pull it back from the brinks. It was the honesty of this concern that convinced me it was worth attending. I started by giving the following quote:
“There is no easy way to pull this country apart. The problems arising from such an exercise will be far bigger than the problem of trying to keep it going. The value of the size, the market, and the varieties of cultures etc. are important and should not be neglected.” – Prof Ade Ajayi, The Nigerian Social Scientist, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, P. 56
I believe Professor Ade Ajayi is right on both counts. Breaking up Nigeria is no easy task. Indeed, it is much easier to keep it together than to carve it up. Secondly, the potentials of Nigeria growing into a great and advanced country remains real. Nonetheless, Nigeria is confronting a number of critical political challenges that are raising serious questions about its identity and survival as a democratic Federal Republic. First, there is a dramatic breakdown in security provisioning that has created a climate of disillusion in the State as a protector for citizens. Secondly, there is a significant rise and expansion of sectarian conflicts, both ethnic and religious fuelled in part by massive disinformation and hate speech in both the traditional and social media. Thirdly, Nigeria’s elite consensus on federalism and the federal character principle as a guarantee against group discrimination and marginalisation is badly shaken. The risk therefore is that even if the drift towards disintegration is the worst possible outcome, the country is being pushed towards that direction. We ALL have a collective responsibility to stop the drift and seek pathways to re-establish confidence in the nation building project.
The Nigerian State is undergoing a three-dimensional crisis. The first one affects the political economy and is generated mainly by public corruption over the past four decades that 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. It is similar to the two earlier moments of doubt we have experienced, 1962-1970 when we went through a terrible civil war and the early 1990s when prolonged military rule created another round of challenges to the National Project. We survived those two moments but there is no guarantee we will survive this third threat. We must therefore commit ourselves to address the current crisis as an opportunity to surge forward in fixing Nigeria.
As a people, we love living near the precipice and the risk is that our dangerous behaviour could one day push us over. On Monday, there was well-coordinated commando-like operations by gunmen who invaded an Imo State Correctional Facility near the State Government House in Owerri and set free 1,844 inmates. They also attacked the Imo State Police Command Headquarters and set free about 600 suspects being held in custody. Not done yet, the attackers set the Police headquarters ablaze, burning down several operational vehicles of the Police parked at the command headquarters. The attack started around 1.30 am and lasted till about 3.30 am without any resistance any of the security agencies. More attacks were conducted on Tuesday. Some states in the zone have also witnessed confrontations between the Nigerian Army and members of the Eastern Security Network.
Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State stated last week (Nation, 3 April 2021) that there are no fewer than 30,000 gunmen spread across more than 100 camps in and around the state. He said such is the grip of bandits on the state that they collected N970 million as ransom from the families of their victims in the eight years between 2011 and 2019. During the same period, the bandits killed 2,619 people and kidnapped 1,190 others. For some years now, significant proportion of farmers cannot go to their farms out of fear so food insecurity is on the horizon. Given the seriousness of the situation, his approach is to negotiate with the outlaws. The dialogue led to the suspension of attacks and kidnapping for eight months but it resumed and in February, they invaded Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe and abducted about 300 of the students.
On Wednesday, 6th April, General Abdulsalam Abubakar, Chairman of the National Peace Committee, told Nigeria that there are six million weapons circulating 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, scotched 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. Given the number of these disaffected young persons who are arming themselves to find solutions to their problems, we can easily fall into anarchy and were that to happen, we will ALL BE LOSERS as our lives would become nasty, brutish and short.
According to the Inspector General of Police, 20 police officers were killed in March this year. In October last year, during the EndSARS protests, 205 police stations all over the country were attacked and 22 police officers killed. All over the country, the police are being hunted and killed. This could be a turning point if more citizens define the police as the enemy and expand these attacks. This is a time for hard questions about how we got to this situation and what we can do to return to peaceful co-existence. The first element is to unmask how the people came to perceive security agencies as their enemy although the slogan of the Nigerian Police Force is that the POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.