Funmi Ajala* writes on the worsening security situation in Nigeria, currently ravaged by a combination of a particularly brutal Islamist terrorism and widespread murderous banditry.
Loss of Monopoly of Control
In his explosive book, Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink, retired American diplomat John Campbell retorted that, “The (Nigerian) federal government has failed to provide basic security for its citizens and has lost its monopoly on violence, two basic attributes of a sovereign state.”
Campbell served as the US ambassador in Nigeria from 2004 to 2007; hence he could, to some degree, pass as an arbiter in that regard. Although the book has been criticized in some quarters and Campbell labelled a doomsday prophet for being too critical in his assessment of the country, events in Nigeria seem to vindicate some of the submissions in the work.
In his classical Politics as Vocation, the renowned German sociologist Marx Weber asserts that a state is a “human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”
In contemporary Nigeria, insecurity similar to a rapidly ballooning malignant tumour is fast reducing the country to a carcass. Though the nomenclature assigned the malady continues to mutate from Boko Haram to Islamic State in West Africa Province to banditry and so forth, yet the symptoms have always been constant.
Lives of innocent and vulnerable locals are needlessly taken daily by mercenaries whose expertise is to maim, steal, and destroy with no pint of mercy. Nigeria’s bouquet is filled with multidimensional security threats that leave anyone with a sour taste in the mouth.
On 12 June, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a national broadcast to mark the return to democracy 21years ago, provoked a grand consternation among fellow compatriots by phrasing (not for the first time) that insurgency has been “considerably degraded” across the country.
Days earlier, reports claimed that at least 100 people were murdered by criminals in Borno and Katsina States. And just a day after his rhetoric, another set of bandits called on Monguno, a hub of international humanitarian agencies in Borno killing 20 soldiers and scores of civilians and torching the UN office in the town.
These gory events are the latest in the unceasing killings across Nigeria in the past weeks. It then pushes one to question the genuineness of a recent assertion by army chief, General Tukur Buratai, that no fewer than a thousand terrorists were killed in battles with the military lately in the ravaged northeast region alone. Sounds farcical, isn’t it?
Between 2003 and 2011, Buhari contested to become the country’s president thrice but was unsuccessful. By 2015, he had warmed his way into the minds of the electorates as a solution to myriad shortcomings exhibited by the Goodluck Jonathan government with insecurity atop the catalogue of popular concerns.
Buhari’s supporters simply branded Jonathan “clueless”. In what is considered a renege on his electoral promise, however, data from the US Council on Foreign Relations put the number of deaths from violence in Nigeria between May 2015 and January 2019 at 9,154. Clearly Nigeria’s centre is shaky and could barely hold any longer.
Resorting to Self Help
In the face of the burgeoning insurrection across board, locals have resorted to self-defence with vigilante groups springing up under different umbrellas and sometimes bearing unlicensed arms in trying to protect their communities. Conscientious efforts by sub-national authorities towards divorcing from a struggling central police system have since increased in furtherance of the precariousness of the situation at hand.
Nigerians are weary of a government that has perfected the act of dispensing press statements to console the bereaved time and again. In states like Kaduna and Katsina, government initiative to enter into a pact with the criminals in exchange for blanket ‘amnesty’ boomeranged and exposed the people to further exacerbation of violence.
Thousands of so-called repentant Boko Haram members have also been granted official pardon in the last years with unconfirmed rumours that not a few of them were indeed eased into the army upon regaining freedom from government custody.
A group of twelve traditional rulers recently protested at the palace of the paramount head of Katsina where they registered the resolve to abdicate their thrones for fear of being kidnapped or killed after one of them suffered same fate. Staying in Katsina, a billboard displaying faces of Buhari and Governor Bello Masari was lit by enraged youths to demonstrate their frustration towards governments at all levels.
Recall that back in February in Borno’s capital, Maiduguri, vehicles in Buhari’s motorcade were petted with objects by angry crowd during a visit to commiserate with the people over the loss of fifty people in an overnight raid on stranded travellers on the outskirts of the town. The sight was unprecedented as the protesters ferociously chanted “Bama so, ka samu a kunya”, meaning “We don’t want, you have disappointed.”
These incidents point in the direction of a public vote of no confidence on Buhari and his handling of the insecurity in the land.
A Besieged Basin
For years now, the sweeping and difficult terrains of Lake Chad Basin has been lorded by soldiers of fortune who make vocation out of crimes. The cover afforded them by the remoteness and unfriendly nature of the Basin on the corridors of the Sahel in the shared border area of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad presents a joint challenge to those at the helms of power in these countries.
With the exception of Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who has shown occasional brilliance in dealing with the terrorists, governments in the region have maintained a criminal languor and lack of capacity in uprooting the cancer of insurgency region wide. The result of their failure is the disastrous humanitarian crises of thousands of displaced persons in camps which dotted the landscape in the region.
Nigeria under the current administration has not fared well in squaring up to its plethora of security tests. From insurgency and cattle rustling in north-east and north-west to farmers-herders conflict in north-central, to kidnapping and armed robbery in South-east and south-west alongside militancy in South-south, the list seems endless.
For a politician who is not allowed a shot at the presidency beyond his current mandate which terminates in 2023, it appears Buhari may have become a victim of delusional self-glorification or that of crass ineptitude. Either ways, he must be reminded, as it stands, that his legacy would probably be defined by failure around security rather than whatever successes affixed to his reign when it ends.
The author, Funmi Ajala, is a Berlin, Germany-based journalist and researcher on African affairs