Time to demilitarise the polity
As things stand, the Nigerian polity is experiencing several upheavals, which are shaking it to its very foundations. While it is not as if these upheavals are entirely new to the Nigerian experience, there are many who are asking fundamental questions revolving around when the time would come for Africa’s giant to overcome its multi-faceted challenges.
For many concerned, close watchers of Nigerian affairs, the regular descent into anarchy is prompting feelings, which suggest 2015, as the beginning of the end of Africa’s most populous national entity, as predicted by America, could have some veracity after all.
When it is not some Boko Haram fiend using Improvised Explosives Device (IED) to cut short the lives of defenceless citizens in the North East, it will be terrorist-herdsmen wreaking havoc and pillaging the farms of people who are supposedly their hosts. On the whole, the triumphant mood, which heralded the peaceful and historic clinching of power by the political opposition in 2015, has gradually been replaced by a feisty and virulent national conversation that has tended to be more divisive than uniting. At a time when the political elite should be galvanising the rest of the country to confront extant challenges, and work out solutions to the most pressing problems facing Nigerians, all they seem interested in is the contest for political supremacy and advantage.
Just as the onslaught against the Boko Haram fiends in the Northeast was beginning to yield positive outcomes, the hitherto quiet Niger Delta started to rumble again. No thanks to what came across as a tactless strategy to engage the oil-bearing region, key officials of the Buhari administration once again stoked resentments. Specifically, the divisive and hyper-partisan rhetoric of former Rivers State Governor, and now Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, contributed in no small measure to the anger that suddenly erupted in the region.
By introducing a controversial dimension to a Maritime University that had long been established, the former Rivers helmsman created political baggage for his principal and gave the impression that his home region had become a conquered territory.
The President himself added some fuel to the fire when from far away China; he threatened to give militants bombing pipelines the Boko Haram treatment. In recent times, he has suddenly realised that the problems are much more complex than mere Presidential warnings can address.
While all law-abiding citizens were eager to see economic saboteurs held to account, many have argued that the loud threats tended to betray the absence of a holistic strategy towards addressing the problem in the Niger Delta. A few security analysts would have preferred it if the President deployed an engage, shock and awe strategy.
What this entails is the use of the carrot and stick. This is a process in which the government would firstly extend the olive branch to the militants, knowing that they have the capacity to ground the economy. In the process of that engagement, a treasure trove of information and data would be generated for the “shock and awe” part of those that continue to remain recalcitrant. Instead of this nuanced approach, the government choose to militarise the Niger Delta, thereby escalating the conflict to a point where it had to start begging for dialogue.
Critically too, the strategy of blind brute force also alienated the local communities, which were occupied in the Niger Delta. All security strategies are clear about the fact that the cooperation of the local populace is indispensable to the success of any intervention.
This clearly showed that vital lessons had not been learnt from the mismanagement of the various sectarian conflicts, as well as the key national security challenges that Nigeria has been faced with in recent years.
It has remained clear on record that force, and the threat of the use of force have all failed in previous attempts at managing conflicts. This trend is also discernible in the manner the discontent in the Southeast, which is being ventilated through calls for the separate State of Biafra, is being handled.
The bloody encounters resulting in the death of scores of citizens have further inflamed passions, thus creating more problems for an already stretched security system.
Those who know the origins of the current resentment in the Southeast have made it clear that the agitations for self-determination might not necessarily be about balkanising Nigeria as a State. The resentments have more to do with repositioning Nigeria in such a way that all its ethnic nationalities can find the space to determine their destinies in terms of development, and what they choose to be their own priorities.
The counsel, therefore, is that the Federal Government should explore ways to get all the agitators towards putting their demands on the table. The realistic ones among those demands would be treated, while the ones not too realistic would be shelved. This means the current drivers of the system must admit the fact that the current structure of the Nigerian polity is too incongruous to support good governance and peaceful co-existence. It also means the polity must be redesigned to give breathing space to all its constituent units.
Similarly, when it comes to the problem of the herdsmen, the current administration has been accused of lethargy. The Presidential silence that has been maintained in the face of acts of terror by cattle herders has riled many citizens. The talk about sourcing lands across a number of states to serve the grazing needs of the herdsmen has not been backed up by a meticulous national enlightenment to help Nigerians and particularly those states concerned understand the nitty gritty of this intervention. Again, the serious limitations of communicating government policies in ways that are clear, concise and impactful have continued to erode trust and national understanding.
Another arena from which the polity has seen so much heat has to do with the anti-corruption war. At least, from the figures that have come into public domain so far, it is clear that there was an organised attempt in the recent past to clean out financial resources belonging to the Nigerian people. As it stands, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has had its hands full charging several suspects to court. However, beyond the dramatic value of seeing suspects docked, has the anti-graft agency been able to shore up its capacity to deal with the gaps in its prosecution process? There are several instances where charges have to be amended midway, while some charges initially pressed are eventually dropped.
While it is true that there has been a renewed vigour in the recovery of looted assets and in the push to hold those who stole to account, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of fighting corruption in a way that is intelligent and efficient. This point is critical because those who have stolen from the commonwealth of Nigerians, have the resources to let all hell loose whenever any perceived infraction is observed from the way the graft busters are doing their job.
Finally, the shape of the anti-graft war as it is today is yet to be owned by the Nigerian people. That ownership is critical because if the people do not come to the point where they understand that corruption will directly affect them, there will be no concerted citizens’ effort against graft. This is why institutions like the National Orientation Agency (NOA) have to up their game in informing Nigerians. Once this is done, and the anti-graft war stays within the boundaries of the rule of law, Nigerians would be on the road to stamping out corruption. That approach would also reduce the noise in the polity due to claims and counter-claims that the responsible agencies are using extra judicial means to achieve their goals.