Given the number of these disaffected young persons who are arming themselves to find solutions to their problems, we can easily fall into anarchy and were this to happen, we will ALL BE LOSERS as our lives would become nasty, brutish and short.
Yesterday, I gave the lead paper at a National Town Hall Meeting organised by the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at Kaduna State University. The theme was setting benchmarks for enhanced security and national unity in Nigeria. It was well attended by a cross section of commanders of various security agencies and selected members of the public from all over the country. The thrust of the meeting was for all Nigerians to accept that the country is headed for the brinks and there is an urgent need to pull it back. It was the honesty of this concern that convinced me it was worth attending. I started with the following quote:
“There is no easy way to pull this country apart. The problems arising from such an exercise will be far bigger than the problem of trying to keep it going. The value of the size, the market, and the varieties of cultures etc. are important and should not be neglected.” – Professor Ade Ajayi, The Nigerian Social Scientist, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, P. 56.
I believe Professor Ade Ajayi is right on both counts. Breaking up Nigeria will be no easy task. Indeed, it would be much easier to keep the country together than to carve it up. Secondly, the potentials of Nigeria growing into a great and advanced country remains real. Nonetheless, Nigeria is confronting a number of critical political challenges that are raising serious questions about its identity and survival as a democratic federal republic. First, there has been a dramatic breakdown in security provisioning that has created a climate of disillusionment in the state as a protector of citizens. Secondly, there is a significant rise in and expansion of sectarian conflicts, both ethnic and religious, fuelled in part by massive disinformation and hate speech in both the traditional and social media. Thirdly, Nigeria’s elite consensus on federalism and the federal character principle as a guarantee against group discrimination and marginalisation is badly shaken. The risk, therefore, is that even if the drift towards disintegration is the worst possible outcome, the country is being pushed in that direction. We ALL have a collective responsibility to stop the drift and seek pathways to re-establish confidence in the nation building project.
As a people, we love living near the precipice and the risk is that our dangerous behaviour could one day push us over. On Monday, there were well-coordinated commando-like operations by gunmen who invaded an Imo State Correctional Facility near the State Government House in Owerri and set 1,844 inmates free.
The Nigerian state is undergoing a three-dimensional crisis. The first one affects the political economy and is generated mainly by public corruption over the past four decades, which has created a run on the treasury at the national and state levels, threatening to consume the goose that lays the golden egg. The second is the crisis of citizenship, symbolised by ethno-regionalism, the Boko Haram insurgency, farmer-herder killings, agitations for Biafra, militancy in the Niger Delta and indigene/settler conflicts. The third element relates to the frustration of the country’s democratic aspirations in a context in which the citizenry believes in “true democracy”, while confronted with a reckless political class that is corrupt, self-serving and manipulative. These issues have largely broken the social pact between citizens and the state.
That is why today, Nigerians find themselves in a moment of doubt about their nationhood. It is similar to the two earlier moments of doubt we have experienced – in 1962-1970 when we went through a terrible civil war, and the early 1990s when prolonged military rule created another round of challenges to the national project. We survived those two moments but there is no guarantee we will survive this third threat. We must, therefore, commit ourselves to addressing the current crisis as an opportunity to surge forward in fixing Nigeria.
As a people, we love living near the precipice and the risk is that our dangerous behaviour could one day push us over. On Monday, there were well-coordinated commando-like operations by gunmen who invaded an Imo State Correctional Facility near the State Government House in Owerri and set 1,844 inmates free. They also attacked the Imo State Police Command Headquarters and set about 600 suspects being held in custody free. Not done yet, the attackers also set the Police headquarters ablaze, burning down several operational vehicles of the force parked at its command headquarters. The attack started around 1.30 a.m. and lasted till about 3.30 a.m. without the resistance of any of the security agencies. More attacks were conducted on Tuesday. Some states in the zone have also witnessed confrontations between the Nigerian Army and members of the Eastern Security Network.
This is a time for hard questions about how we got to this situation and what we can do to return to peaceful co-existence. The first element is to unmask how the people came to perceive security agencies as their enemy, although the slogan of the Nigerian Police Force is that the POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.
Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State stated last week (The Nation, April 3) that there are no fewer than 30,000 gunmen spread across more than 100 camps in and around the State. He said such is the grip of bandits on the State that they collected N970 million as ransom from the families of their victims in the eight years between 2011 and 2019. During the same period, the bandits killed 2,619 people and kidnapped 1,190 others. For some years now, significant proportion of farmers cannot go to their farms out of fear, as such food insecurity is on the horizon. Given the seriousness of the situation, his approach is to negotiate with the outlaws. The dialogue led to the suspension of attacks and kidnapping for eight months but it resumed and in February, they invaded Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe and abducted about 300 of the students.
On Wednesday, April 6, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chairman of the National Peace Committee, told Nigeria that there are six million weapons circulating in the country. We are at a point in our national trajectory where young Nigerians feel sufficiently marginalised from the STATE and SOCIETY to procure arms and engage in self-help, which they define variously as banditry, scotched earth attacks on innocent village communities, accompanied by mass rape and other forms of sexual violence, in addition to killing security agents, and even declaring an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria. There are too many groups that have discovered that obtaining an AK47 can be their pathways to wealth because they are not in government where you can be wealthy by stealing without arms. Given the number of these disaffected young persons who are arming themselves to find solutions to their problems, we can easily fall into anarchy and were this to happen, we will ALL BE LOSERS as our lives would become nasty, brutish and short.
According to the Inspector General of Police, 20 police officers were killed in March this year. In October last year, during the EndSARS protests, 205 police stations all over the country were attacked and 22 Police officers killed. All over the country, the Police are being hunted and killed. This could be a turning point if more citizens define the Police as the enemy and expand these attacks. This is a time for hard questions about how we got to this situation and what we can do to return to peaceful co-existence. The first element is to unmask how the people came to perceive security agencies as their enemy, although the slogan of the Nigerian Police Force is that the POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.
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