Thursday, April 24, 2014

Don’t be too afraid to take a Stand By Amenaghawon Joseph Idahosa


Joseph I.Amenaghawon

“We must not let the fear created by those who perpetuate violence of the most heinous kind to debar us from taking a stand. Let us not be afraid to take a stand.”


Fear can sometimes be such that you may feel yourself almost wanting to jump out of your own skin. It can be a very incapacitating scenario when one is faced with a life threatening situation. The chilling accounts of those who have survived violent situations are such that one can only pray and hope never to experience. Unfortunately, we now live in a country where prayers may not be enough but concerted individual, communities and proactive government efforts (especially by its agencies mandated to provide security) are needed to curb the incidences of violence. The security challenge that the country is battling with is a major source of concern to all well meaning and law-abiding citizens.

There seems to be no week in recent times that the media is not awash with reports of violence attributed to the actions of state actors – joint military operatives in trouble spots of the country and non-state actors – citizens acting out as suspected members of the Boko-Haram, criminal gangs and vigilante groups amongst others. The upscale of violence in recent times and over the years have been attributed to a number of reasons including the socio-economic challenges in many parts of the country, army of unemployed youths who have become ready “converts” of all sorts of criminal gangs, poorly trained and inadequately equipped police force resulting in its inability to provide adequate security for the citizens and the growing extremism and the attendant violent expressions of such groups.

Between October 2- 14, 2012 at least 85 Nigerians were killed in Mubi (Adamawa), Aluu (Rivers), Maiduguri (Borno) and Birnin-Gwari (Kaduna). The public outrage and condemnations that often greet these reports are sometimes deafening and essentially aimed at provoking better response from government and its security agencies /operatives.

However, it appears that these outcries only seem to beat the security operatives into a retreat and embolden the perpetrators of violence to attack communities and carry out dastardly acts in places that seem not to be within the radar of security and intelligence operatives. The seemingly intractable security challenge posed by the Boko-Haram especially in Nigeria’s North-East region is one that seems to back this type of analysis and suggests that there is a dip in the capacity of the security operatives to grapple with the tactics and strategies of the sect.

In all of these, we also find that different sections and interest groups in the country that have been affected by these security infractions continue to advance their own narrative and solutions to the problems with some of them going as far as making outright succession threats.

These narratives it seems have been emboldened because of the absence of timely and factual information by agencies of the state responsible for investigating security infractions and the placement of their findings in the public domain.

What stand can anyone truly take in the face of the complexity of the issues that have to be considered and clearly understood, before the contemplation of the designing and development of viable and sustainable solutions to the insecurity challenge? Is there a simplistic understanding of the security situation in Nigeria? What informs the narrative and analysis projected by government, national intelligence and security operatives, the academia, community actors, religious leaders and sometimes self-styled security-sector experts?

How do ordinary people in the most affected parts of the country view the security challenges that have become an everyday reality of their lives? What stand can they take? Will the stand they take be used against them?

People are certainly taking stands against the unabated spate of violence in different ways. The reaction of the students of the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria over the brutal killing of four of their students by a mob from Aluu community at Omuokiri village easily comes to mind. Was the manner of their reaction which included the razing of houses within the Aluu community justified or was it another example of pervading impunity which also sees aggrieved persons or groups taking laws into their hands? Was this possible because of the failure of the law enforcement agencies to be pro-active and anticipate such possible reactions or was it simply that the students wanted to register their lack of confidence in the criminal justice system to bring the killers of their colleagues to book?

What is the stand of the National Assembly –Nigeria’s national legislative body on these security infractions? Do the pronouncements and resolutions of the National Assembly provoke any response from security operatives? What impact does civil society (local and international) position on alleged extra-judicial killings by joint-military operations especially in Nigeria’s North-east region have on their operations? Are we likely to see full investigations into these allegations? Will the joint-military operations ever be subjected to any accountability checks and will any operative be prosecuted in the event of being found culpable? Certainly, there is a whole range of questions that have no easy answers.

In the face of all of these questions that seem to have no clear answers. Communities are upgrading their security consciousness levels and adopting preventive measures to counter possible security infractions and attacks. For instance, in Abuja metropolis, attending church service on Sunday has become cumbersome as one has to go through security checks – cars searched and metal-detector frisking processes all in a bid to ensure that worship centres are not exposed to possible attacks. Security operatives-Police personnel also take up strategic places in the course of masses held on a given Sunday. It’s important to note that some Catholic parishes now prohibit the parking of vehicles within church premises just as they also discourage women from coming to masses with their handbags.

The key question with regards these measures is that of sustainability especially as it concerns the continued coverage of these parishes and other places of worship by security operatives. At the moment there are no indications that the security coverage of the Nigeria Police Force is one that all Christian places of worship within and outside the metropolis will continue to benefit from. Is the provision of weekly security coverage to these places of worship a logistically and financially sustainable one? The affordability question is also one to ponder about. Places of worship it seems have to be consistent in making provisions for security coverage payments in their overhead costs. What is the back-up plan in the event that there is an urgent need for the massive deployment of security operatives out of Abuja for instance?

The stand that individuals, groups and communities take on and how they choose to engage the critical security concerns that we are faced is vital to securing viable and sustainable solutions. Perhaps most important and foundational of all is getting the narrative around the causative factors right. Too many opinionated narratives have made it more complex for the designing of viable roadmaps to dealing with the problems. One way to address this could be a timely release of reports of government led inquiries (panels for instance) into incidences of security infractions that have occurred in recent times. There may be contestations about such reports, but they may help to enable people get a more objective view of the security issues within their domains.

Efforts, interventions and initiatives by faith-based institutions/organisations aimed at encouraging inter-faith alliances to promote peace-building and mutual co-existence between the different religious groups in our communities are still in their infancy. These interventions in my view bear great potentials for resolving some of the underlying factors that fuel distrust between the different religious groups. The two major religious groups need respected teachers to give alternative teachings to the extremist views of those using religious texts to advance violent activities against the state and other Nigerians.

These initiatives seem not to have captured the hearts and minds of those who are at the frontiers of perpetuating the “ethno-religiously” tainted dimensions to the manifestation of violence in the country. There seems to be a lack of harmony in the understanding of the two parties of the interpretations of the religious texts that are often quoted to advance extremist activities. Additionally there are seems to be no communication channels between the parties and it doesn’t appear there are any know efforts to establish such by any of the sides.

Continued attacks targeting citizens at the worship centers of Christians and Muslims attributed to extremist elements seem to justify these assertions. It is not unlikely that these ethno-religious campaigners are fuelled by their continued belief in the preferred narrative and ideas of their specific groups.

A political solution that may contribute to halting the spate of violence also seems farfetched and it doesn’t seem to be an option that the government has fully explored nor exploited. Reported attempts at engaging some of the key groups perpetuating the violence in the North-East of the country seem to have yielded nothing. A significant change in the hierarchy of the management of the country’s security sector has equally not produced the expected results despite the pronouncements of the new man at the helms of affairs that he had the telephone contacts of leaders of the Boko Haram group.

Projections by the Federal government to spend a total of N1.055 trillion in 2013 on security which represents an increase of N135 billion over what was appropriated for the sector in 2012 may also be seen as a demonstration of its stand and determination to deal headlong with insecurity in the land. A breakdown of the budget, presented showed that the security agencies combined will gulp more than one-fifths of the N4.92 trillion budget.

Further breakdown shows that the National Security Adviser’s office has N1.034 billion as security votes, satellite communication in the FCT will cost N6.782 billion, data signal centre N9.8 billion, iridium/communication platform also in the FCT N2 billion, motorised direction finder 12 4X4 jeeps N178 million, cyber security N142 million and presidential communication network got N1.3 million. Counter terrorism equipment will cost N3 billion.

The budget shows that the Police will spend N165 million on 3 armoured Toyota landcruiser vehicles and armoured hilux for GSM tracking, N310 million is for patrol vehicles, special operational vehicles got N340 million, N455 million is for bullet vests and ballistic helmets. Also, explosive disposals will gulp N250 million, dogs and handling equipment N50 million, operational vehicles for mobile police N150 million, mounted troops accessories N50 million, automated finger print identification system N70 million, forensic equipment and provision of DNA test and crime scene laboratories N105[1].

Do all these suggest that as a country we are ready to affirm our stand to fight insecurity and its causative factors with the matching security apparatus both human and otherwise? Should we lean towards one form of intervention package to the detriment of the other? Has the government closed the option of dialogue with groups behind the spate of violence? Nothing concrete seems to have been articulated by government to indicate the direction it now wants to follow regarding that.

Perhaps the ‘Proposed Further Alteration to the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999’ been undertaken by the National Assembly (the Senate version has already begun) may shed more light on how citizens project what amendments need to be agreed upon in order to advance the cause of the protection of lives and property in Nigeria. It is important to note that the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution has marked out 17 key issues that will be considered in the planned Public Hearings under the process. The vexed issue of residency and indigene provisions- a key source of security challenges and violence in the country is listed amongst the 17.

We all know how the settlers and indigene dichotomies and the attendant struggle over the resources of communities (rural, semi-urban and urban) have resulted in violence and continue to foster the distrust and mutual suspicion amongst Nigerians. It is hoped that Nigerians will through the process ventilate their stand on this crucial matter which is essential for the full enjoyment of citizenship rights; and that their aggregated views will show the path that the National Assembly should take in amending the 1999 Constitution.

As well meaning Nigerians we must join our voices to affirm a common position against all that is unjust and detrimental to the full enjoyment of citizenship rights by all Nigerians no matter what tongue and tribe they may be. We must not let the fear created by those who perpetuate violence of the most heinous kind to debar us from taking a stand. Let us not be afraid to take a stand.

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