Azeez Olaniyan is a professor of Political Science at the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State. He is also the Director of the University Advancement Centre. He speaks with IMOLEAYO OYEDEYI on how ethnic politics, perceived injustice and religious extremism, among other key factors, have compounded Nigeria’s security woes over the years.
In view of the wanton killings and unending spate of kidnapping that have enveloped Nigeria under President MuhammaduBuhari, a former governor of Jigawa State, SuleLamido, recently said that the country is bleeding; what is your take on this?
Thank you very much. Without doubt, Nigeria is in a very serious crisis in terms of insecurity, which is quite unimaginable. Nobody is safe in the country technically, as everyone is potentially a victim of the high rate of insecurity pervading the country. So the governor is correct that Nigeria is really bleeding. There is no doubt about it; we are facing very serious insecurity in this country.
In your own assessment, what do you think has brought Nigeria to this state?
It is a function of so many factors. And the problems started a very long time ago. So what we are seeing now is a manifestation of the problems that began years back. And some factors have really contributed to the current state of the country. One of these factors is the high level of unemployment. There are so many jobless youths around. And once you have young people without jobs, there is no how you won’t have this kind of problem. It is a demographic nightmare and that is what we are facing in Nigeria. We have a huge population of youths, but there is nothing for them to do. Just as a proverb says that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, there is no way we will not experience what we are facing now in Nigeria.
Secondly, we have a very bad economy. So many businesses have folded up, while many have also been relocated to other countries. Those that are still on ground have not been able to break even. So, we have a very terrible economy. More worryingly, the Naira is on a free fall. And this has affected virtually the cost of everything, such as food, building materials, clothing and all. Just mention anything; it’s just to show that the economy is really dying. But like insecurity, the economic downturn didn’t just start now; it began years ago.
Another key factor is the inadequate number of the country’s security forces. They are faced with many challenges. Imagine a police force with 500 operatives saddled with the responsibility of protecting the lives of over 200 million Nigerians. It is grossly impossible because there is no way that kind of security operatives can secure the large number of people that we have in Nigeria. Also, the police force is ill-equipped and the officers are not properly motivated and there is so much corruption within the system.
So, when you have this kind of situation, there is no way the operatives can deliver the kind of security they are expected to provide. In a democracy, the police are supposed to be in charge of internal security. This is because the military is not supposed to be visible in a democratic setting. But the reverse is the case now in Nigeria, where you have military operations in virtually every state of the federation. This is an aberration. So we have security forces that are inadequate, ill-motivated and ill-equipped to a large extent. But again, this problem did not start today.
In addition to that, we also have shades of politics. We know that most of the people that later became criminals were actually instruments in the hands of politicians during elections. Most of them were used as political thugs to disrupt elections and wreak all manner of havoc.
But in addition to this, there is also an increasing wave of get-rich syndrome. And when you have this among the youths, it will definitely compel them into all manner of immoral and illegal activities, which have saturated the country now. And then, there is also religious extremism among the contributing factors. The case of Boko Haram is an example of how unregulated extremism can result in serious crises and that is what we are facing.
But as I said, there is always a political undertone to every situation as there is no way you can separate politics from conflict. For example, there is no way you can remove the deepening of the activities of IPOB from the politics of 2015, because before the election that year, we never had them as strong as they are now. So we have a mixture of factors contributing to the current state of insecurity in the land. But largely, the Nigerian security forces have not been proactive enough; they have only been very reactive. This is because most of the current situations could have easily been prevented by a good intelligence system.
You just talked about religious extremism and the security forces being ill-equipped. But a few weeks back, the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna was invaded by these same bandits. And the manner in which they masterminded the operation made some people conclude that the country’s security system has been compromised with some bad eggs dictating the line of actions. What do you make of this?
Generally, I think it is a bit shameful that the security of the central station where we train our soldiers and defence officers was breached. NDA is serving not only Nigerians as it is more or less a military institution for Africa as people from different parts of the continent come there for training.
As such, it is supposed to be the most secure place in Nigeria after the federal seat of power. That its security can be breached is a real indictment on the security architecture in this country, particularly the military institution. It shows negligence and is very worrisome to know that the place which ought to be one of the two most secure places in the country is no longer secured. It means that we all have cause to entertain lots of fear in this country.
But I don’t want to speculate that there is complicity in the military institution as regards the NDA invasion as I know that within the rank and file of the military, we have very competent and highly educated officers. In fact, Nigeria has almost the largest size of military force on the continent. I have worked closely with them on many occasions and carried out some studies on them. So, I can tell you that there are competent officers among them.
And then, I am very confident that the military has what it takes to deal with the current situation in the country. But something is definitely missing and not just adding up. And that is why we are still having the issues. For instance, a Kaduna State that has so many military establishments is today being ravaged by bandits. I know that something is fishy, but I don’t just have the inclination to conclude that it is a kind of sabotage within the military institution.
Although incident such as the attack on the NDA is not peculiar only to Nigeria as we have seen several of it across the world. For instance, the Pentagon, which is the headquarters of the US army, was once attacked. But the case of the NDA is too shameful, because the bandits came on motorbikes and couldn’t even be caught after carrying out the attack. We have had incidents where military bases are attacked all over the world, but this does not justify its occurrence in Nigeria, especially because of the way it happened, which is condemnable.
Recall that one of the basis upon which Buhari was brought to power in 2015 was his military background, which Nigerians believed would go a long way in addressing the country’s security challenges. But six years down the line, how will you rate his performance in the area of security, considering the fact that the country has expended over six trillion naira on war against terrorism?
Thank you very much. As a political scientist, who has devoted much of his research work on peace, conflict and security, I want to say that the administration has not really done well in the area of security. This is because security is the essence of the state. In fact, it is the primary duty of any state. And when a government fails to secure its people, there will be a problem, because without security, nothing can work as everything revolves around security. That is why the current state of insecurity has brought about chaos and a world of all against all. So, the government has not performed well in the area of security. And it is all levels of government, both the federal and the state governments, because the state governors also collect monthly security votes. The truth is that the people are going through a lot now as the roads and cities are not safe. It is terrible. So I scored them very low in the area of security.
Just like you said, we had thought that the military background of the president would go a long way in reducing the insecurity. But to be fair to him, I will say he has made some successes in the fight against Boko Haram. Some people have said that the groups have been technically defeated, but they have not. They were only down at a point in the past, but they were not really out. What the current administration has done is to push the terrorists to a particular place in the North-East. But they have still been wreaking a lot of havoc. They are still killing and abducting people and destroying villages. So to a large extent the effort of the administration has not really been enough in terminating the Boko Haram terrorists.
As calls for secession and self-determination continues to rent the air in different part of the country, former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, has said that the challenges posed by banditry, terrorism and kidnapping are some of the factors fuelling the embers of division in the country, do you agree with him?
Well, to some extent, the statement has some merits. This is because in recent times, we have been having rising cases of kidnapping and a particular ethnic group has often been fingered and alleged to be culpable on the issue. And overtime, certain narratives have been built around the allegations, one of which is that the alleged ethnic group wants to take over Nigeria and that the president is shielding them. So when you read through the statements of each of the separatist groups, you will discover that they are all profiling the particular ethnic group. And in their actions and words, you can see that this is part of their reasons for demanding to pull out of Nigeria. But it is deeper than that and we have to assess the narratives that people are using to hit up the polity against the government.
And then, you have the massive youth unemployment, bad economy and injustice and instigation by political actors as the basic reasons for the agitations. There are also roles being played by Nigerians in the diaspora, who actually are not satisfied with the present situations in the country. So you have these and many others as factors that are pushing the separatist agitations. But there are different levels.
The main shakers in the Yoruba lands have really not been outspoken in support of the Yoruba nations. So you have the agitations more among the pro-masses. But the elite have not really been making pronouncements on the agitations. Same thing goes for the IPOB, which has a political undertone. As I said initially, we really didn’t hear much about them before the 2015 elections but their voices became louder after the elections. And since then, the group has been growing in number. And it has been getting support also from the Igbos in the diaspora and from their political class in the country. Even some religious leaders have supported them.
But it is like the Yoruba nation agitation has experienced a dip since one of its movers, Igboho, was taken into detention. The struggle is not as pronounced. But it hasn’t been the same for the IPOB, because after the arrest of Kanu, their activities never nosedived. Instead, it has continued to be hot. So, that is why I said there are different levels in the agitations. And it just shows the levels of involvement of the elite in the two ethnic groups.
The masses can be at the forefront of the struggle, but it is the elite that will be providing the resources that will make the agitations succeed. So the former president is right as it is the worrisome level of insecurity that has been behind some of the agitations from the groups. Though a particular group has always been indicted in the spate of kidnappings, other people even from the West have been hiding under this to engage in crime too.
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