Finally, the president sacked or “retired” his service chiefs on Tuesday and appointed new ones.
As is usually the case for our “Baba Go Slow” president, because he procrastinated for two years before acting, he gets no accolades for removing them after the country had been driven into a frenzy of belief that our president was keeping the service chiefs because he did not care about the deteriorating security situation in the country.
I believe that the president does care about our security and safety and I am glad he finally removed them. In response to the standard question from procrastinators: How do we know the new ones will be better? The response is straight forward: We do not know.
What virtually all Nigerians had concluded over the years was that the ones on duty had failed woefully and by supporting them to stay on in office, the president was endorsing failure.
The requirement for good governance is that those who perform badly are punished and those who perform well get the goodies and that was what elicited concerns when the president resisted waves of demands to remove the former service chiefs for poor performance. The message to the new ones can only be to tie their stay in office to good performance.
At this time, what is required is not just new hands on deck. We need a new security paradigm in which our forces take the war to the insurgents, bandits, militants and other killers, rather than perpetually wait for them to make offensive moves and then offer a slow, belated and ineffectual response.
We must strengthen the capacity and morale of our security forces to ensure that they know where the enemies are, what they are planning and engage them in surprise attacks before they do harm. It is true that in guerrilla warfare, the enemy engages in hit-and-run tactics, while operating in small mobile groups, but it is possible to infiltrate them and study their patterns of operation, so that appropriate responses can be prepared and implemented.
In the war against Boko Haram, the “strategy” of setting up garrison towns where security forces are concentrated, essentially leads to the abandonment of the rural hinterland to free unhindered movement by the insurgents, thereby strengthening them.
Central to the new security paradigm is the imperative of building trust and close collaboration between affected communities and security agencies. One of the legacies the new security chiefs would have to confront is that too much distrust and antagonism had been allowed to develop between the two.
Too many communities still have bitter memories of the double jeopardy they have suffered from terrorists, as well as either non-challance from or actual harm by the security agencies. Moving forward, there is urgent need for continuous and more effective intelligence gathering, in which communities are able to monitor the movements of strange persons around their territories and report these to security agencies without leaks to terrorists who might come back to punish them.
Communication systems need to be developed, whilst and security agencies educate communities on the best methods of getting quick responses and interventions.
With the persistence of the Boko Haram insurgency, the spread of rural banditry, the growing concern that the crisis of pastoralism is transforming into a land alienation agenda, the expanding industry of kidnapping-for-ransom, all of which are supported by the mass circulation of small arms and light weapons, the security challenge is huge.
It is therefore necessary that the military, police and other security and intelligence agencies develop new doctrines and capabilities for effective detection and response to the new security challenges and vulnerabilities. The specialised training of soldiers, police, intelligence and security agents should also be continuous, as should be the updating of their weapons, strategies and tactics, and the rules of engagement.
One of the biggest challenges for security provisioning today is on the ideological front. There is a widespread belief that an ethnic group, in collusion with the president and his people are implementing a strategy to drive indigenes out of their lands and take these over. It was Voltaire who made the point that: “Those who can make you believe absurdities; can make you commit atrocities.”
Unfortunately, that is where we are today with massive disinformation and fake news that is weaving narratives of criminality into certainties about land alienation. It is a massive failure about the lack of understanding of social dynamics in our society that has allowed the tale bearers of apocalypse to have a monopoly on the construction of our national narratives.
This failure is also clear when we look at the Boko Haram insurgency, where we have failed in the task of the development and popularisation of counter-radical narratives, to dissuade potential recruits into violent extremism. The Islamic themes in the Boko Haram ideology have already been deconstructed by many Islamic scholars.
The tragic consequences of violent extremism against the innocent are an important issue around which powerful counter-radical narratives could have been articulated and widely circulated.
It is not too late for massive media campaigns and preaching to dissuade the youth from taking the slippery slope from radicalising discourses to violence against relations, neighbours and compatriots.
The new security paradigm must therefore place priority on counter-radicalisation, de-radicalisation, and strategic communication.
Central to the new security paradigm must be the reformation and rebuilding of the police. Nigeria’s internal security infrastructure is composed of the Police Force, as the lead agency for law enforcement.
Over time, the capacity of the Nigerian Police has been eroded due to severe resource constraints and, above all, a mindset that prioritises regime, or rather, VIP protection over security provisioning for the people. Nigeria’s thirty years of military rule created a climate in which the Police did not receive sufficient resources for its development.
Police credibility also dropped, as it resorted to “short cut” operational methods based on brutality to citizens, rather than painstaking investigation and adherence to the rule of law. The use of torture and the degrading treatment of suspected criminals in local Police units became widespread.
Nonetheless, the Police are the principal criminal investigation agency responsible for investigating all crimes covered by the penal and criminal codes, hence the need to refurbish the Force and make it functional. According to Mike Okiro, former chairman of the Police Service Commission (PSC), Nigeria has about 400,000 police officers.
However, a good proportion of these officers are not available for routine police work because more than 150,000 of them are assigned to guard VIPs and others who ordinarily shouldn’t qualify for police protection. Other officials say the real picture is even more bleak. The assistant inspector-general of Police (AIG) for Zone 5, Rasheed Akintunde, was on record stating that only 20 per cent of police officers are engaged in core duties of protecting lives and ensuring peace in the country.
“The remaining 80 per cent are just busy providing personal security to some ‘prominent people.’” Clearly, we cannot make progress in improving security without addressing police reform in the new security paradigm.
The way forward for the Police has been extensively mapped by three Police reform panels that have done extensive work on what needs to be done to improve performance in the Force. They are the Obasanjo regime’s Dan Madami Commission (2006), the Yar’Adua government’s M.D. Yusuf assessment (2009) and the Jonathan administration’s Parry Osayande study (2012). All these initiatives reported the same core problems: Insufficient personnel and funding for operations; poor training; dilapidated training institutions and barracks; limited firearms skills, leading to frequent shooting mishaps; and the demeaning obligation for officers to pay for their own uniforms. Perhaps the most important factor they emphasised is the deep culture of corruption.
As the tenure of the inspector general of Police is just about to expire, this reform task should be determinant in making a new appointment.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.