Nigeria’s alarming security situation

Last week’s call by members of the National Assembly for President Muhammadu Buhari to relieve the four service chiefs of their duties is a high-water mark in continued public frustration at the worsening security situation in the country. On Wednesday January 29, following a motion titled “Need to Curb the Incessant Attacks of the Boko Haram Insurgents in the North-East Zone,” and moved by Chief Whip Mohammed Monguno (Borno State, APC) and 14 others, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling on President Buhari to sack all the four service chiefs. The service chiefs, all appointed on July 13, 2015, by President Buhari are: Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin, Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, and Chief of Naval Staff Vice Marshal Ibok-Ete Ibas.

Earlier on the same day, though short of the Lower House’s formal resolution, some members of the Senate had urged President Buhari to fire the service chiefs for having failed to live up to the responsibilities of their various offices. The call came amid the lawmakers’ often emotional debate on the growing insecurity in the country. Unsurprisingly, the resurgence of armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents in the northeastern part of the country following a relative lull in activities constitutes the immediate backdrop to these calls.

For instance, on Wednesday January 22, a Nigerian army officer and seven soldiers were killed following a Boko Haram ambush of the army’s 156 Task Battalion at Mainok, 60 kilometers west of Maiduguri. The Mainok ambush apart, over the past several weeks, Boko Haram has renewed its attacks on military and civilian targets in the northeastern state of Borno, killing or kidnapping civilians and aid workers. In late December 2019, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), believed to be an arm of Boko Haram, released a video apparently showing the beheading of 11 Christian hostages. Such is the vehemence of Boko Haram’s renewed attacks that the road to Damaturu, capital of Yobe State is reportedly the only remaining operable road linking Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, to the rest of the country.

Given this grim situation, the calls on the president by both the Lower House and members of the Senate to sack the service chiefs are understandable. The logic is quite simple: if the service chiefs cannot deliver on their basic duties, which, all told, is ensuring security of life and property in the country, they should go. Accordingly, we throw our weight behind these calls and urge the president to act speedily in finding capable replacements. Nonetheless, even though we echo the calls for the service chiefs to be fired, and align ourselves with the underlying sentiment in both the House and the Senate, we are not unaware that tackling the problem of rising insecurity in the country is not as simple as disposing of the service chiefs. Though admittedly a serious problem, the Boko Haram insurgency is not the only security challenge facing the country. In other parts of the country, citizens daily contend with attacks by Fulani herdsmen, armed robbery and banditry, kidnapping, and random attacks by law enforcement on unarmed civilians. In short, there is an argument to be made that, across the country, the hold of the state is increasingly tenuous, forcing citizens to look for alternative means of providing security for themselves. The establishment of the neighbourhood security outfit, Amotekun, by the six South-West governors, is an eloquent testimony to the acute need for a reliable security architecture in various parts of the country. There must be state police. There must also be regional arrangement like Amotekun.

In other words, while the removal of the service chiefs is a welcome idea, it is not the panacea for the security problems bedeviling the country. The truth of the matter is that the country is literally falling apart right under the nose of the president. To say that he should act as a matter of urgency is an understatement.