As a matter of security concern, President Goodluck Jonathan must learn to dialogue secretly.
There has been much talk about the security situation in the country. With every speech about how the situation is under control, every motion without movement in the nation’s security architecture and every condemnation of the bomb attacks, the security crisis has only worsened, and innocent Nigerians have been forcefully sent to the afterlife. Nigerians have grown weary of the killings, the bomb blasts and the government’s ever ready condemnation of the dastardly acts.
Now, news that the government has again initiated dialogue with the group responsible for the bombings is becoming wearisome too. As a matter of national security, some silence and secrecy should be accorded to the conversation until it yields substantial fruit.
It has been almost two years since a bomb blast caught the attention of the nation and the international community during the Independence Day celebrations on 1st October 2010. Since then, the bomb attacks and blasts have increased in frequency and intensity, and so have the casualty rates. Responsibility for most of these attacks has been claimed by the Boko Haram group operating mainly from Maiduguri, Borno State. Their activities have since spread to other states such as Bauchi, Yobe, Adamawa, Abuja the Federal Capital Territory and more recently Kano and Kaduna states. These attacks have been labeled as
domestic terrorism, with speculations of foreign influence. This label is both right and wrong in some sense.
It is right because the activities of these groups conform to those proscribed by all known legal instruments on terrorism. The motives for these actions are also immaterial. Nigeria ratified the AU’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism on 28 April 2002. Article 3(2) of the Convention provides that “political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other motives shall not be a justifiable defence against a terrorist act.” However, the label is wrong because Section 2 of Nigeria’s Prevention of Terrorism Act 2011 clearly defines how to proscribe an organisation as terrorist. It provides that a “judge in Chambers may on an application made by the Attorney General, National Security Adviser or Inspector General of Police on the approval of the President declare any entity to be a proscribed organization and the notice should be published in official gazette… and in two National newspapers.” One is yet to come across any official gazette or publication, in compliance with this provision of the law.
Most security experts agree that terrorism is a product and not a cause, a fruit and not the root itself. It is evidence that something is not in order in the society. For the situation in Nigeria – particularly looking at the political and socio-economic realities of the areas most affected – years of neglect by the state, corruption in governance and the absence of strong institutions have created an alienated populace. In the absence of opportunities to constructively engage the state and partake of the vast resources in the nation, sections of the society resort to violent expressions of their grievances. The best way to address the challenge of terrorism and insecurity in Nigeria is by dealing with the issues that birth it in the first place. The root causes here include an unaccountable political class, political marginalization, economic deprivation, social exclusion, prolonged injustice due to absence of the rule of law and decay in justice institutions. Religion and ethnicity are but mere colorations and amplifiers.
These are obviously very trying times for the Goodluck Jonathan presidency. But there are two things working in his favor and one thing he needs to do. The first is that Nigerians are generally tired of the level of public insecurity existing in the country and so will rally round him if or when he chooses to deal decisively with the situation. Second, the international community will throw its weight behind him both in building the capacity of the security agencies in Nigeria to deal with the challenges and in preventing international facilities for the group, presuming they are getting help from outside Nigeria. This places incredible resources at President Jonathan’s disposal.
The one thing President Goodluck Jonathan needs to do is to gather the political will to deal decisively with the situation. He has made a lot of speeches and with each speech, many promises. Now he has to muster whatever power accruing to his office as Commander in Chief and President of the Federal Republic and deploy sufficient energy and strategy into bringing an end to the security crisis in the country.
He must learn to dialogue discreetly but tackle the challenge sturdily. Most importantly, he should demonstrate an unquestionable ability to hold the political class accountable, by the rule of law, for what they do and say. At the end of the day, perhaps, how he handles this security crisis, more than anything else he does, will define his presidency.