Sleeping With Both Eyes Opened!


Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai


Earlier this year, when this column stated that the Federal Government was spending over two billion naira every day (including weekends) on security without corresponding results, the State Security Service (SSS) made a fuss of arresting and detaining me for ‘incitement’ - a funny basis for infringement of a citizen's right indeed since the colonial era offence of sedition has been declared ultra vires our Constitution! But since that article was published, what has changed? Instead of an improvement, the security situation is evidently getting worse. Last week, the United Nations Headquarters in Abuja was attacked with a loss of over twenty lives. This week, an Eid ground was attacked in Jos, Plateau State, with the loss of about 50 lives and over 200 vehicles belonging to the worshipers burnt.
So for the second week in succession, this column is focusing not on policy analysis to further our debate on issues, but on yet another burning national issue: Insecurity. We also need to ask government why, despite the huge budgetary provisions for security – at the Federal, state and local government levels, most Nigerians are now forced to sleep with ‘both eyes open’ - assuming that unemployment, hunger and poverty will allow the majority to sleep at all.
Since October 1, 2010, when the Independence Day celebrations were disrupted by bomb blasts claimed by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), amid claims and counterclaims between Henry Okah and the Presidency, we have witnessed a spate of bomb blasts across the country with heavy loss of lives and property. The most audacious attack was on the Force Headquarters in Abuja from which the Inspector General of Police only narrowly escaped. If any doubts remained about how unsafe Nigeria had become, last week’s bombing of the UN Headquarters in Abuja was a bold statement: No one is safe.
But the deteriorating state of security didn’t happen overnight. After the ‘Christmas Day’ attempted terrorist attack aboard a US bound airliner by a Nigerian in December, 2009, the American government blacklisted Nigeria alongside Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan. That incident had very negative effects on our already battered image. Perhaps because of the power vacuum created by President Yar'Adua's 'disappearance', our leadership had no immediate, coherent response to the unfair label, then. We are not in that situation anymore.
But what has the Nigerian government done since then to address local and international security concerns? Is the attitude that human lives in Nigeria are no longer precious? Or is it that some human lives are valued higher than others depending on politics, geography, ethnicity or religion? Are we not on the road to state failure?
Dr. Pauline Baker, the President of The Fund for Peace (www.fundforpeace.org) defines a failed state as one where:
violence is erupting predominantly within societies in which the state - the central locus of authority and power - is disintegrating. These states may be losing political legitimacy in the eyes of their people because of repression, rigged elections, corruption, political exclusion, economic decline or a coup d’état.

They may be losing their monopoly on the use of force, confronting private militias, warlords, drug cartels, organized crime, secessionists or armed rebellions.
Failing states cannot sustain essential public services, promote equitable economic growth or provide for the public welfare. They do not maintain domestic tranquility or provide for the common defence. They are dysfunctional polities - in large part because they are institutionally incompetent’.
Clearly, many of these words resonate with the current state of our nation. As things stand, Nigeria is now confronted with the real and present danger of becoming a Failed State. Please do not take my words for this assertion; since 2005, The Fund for Peace, (a US based think tank) and the magazine Foreign Policy, have published an annual index called the Failed States Index. In the Failed State Index Data for 2011, Nigeria is ranked 14th most likely state to fail out of 177 countries.
We were ranked 15th in 2010, so slipped one rank under President Jonathan's watch. Placed in proper perspective, Nigeria now ranks just ahead of Pakistan and Yemen in 12th and 13th positions respectively, but considerably worse than Liberia and Sierra Leone that are ranked 26th and 30th! The latter being countries that are emerging from civil wars, where we had played the big brother role of peace keepers; yet we can hardly safeguard the lives and property of an average Nigerian back home.
It is noteworthy to emphasise that Nigeria was NOT in the danger zone of being a failed state when the Index was first published in 2005; only to witness a rapid deterioration ever since from the then 54th in 2005 to 17th in 2007, to the current 14th position. So, how did we get here; so fast? Why has government failed to tackle the group? And while attention is centred on Boko Haram, what about the spates of communal clashes, armed robbery and environmental disasters like the recent floods in Lagos and Ibadan, that result in loss of precious Nigerian lives every day?
A careful analysis of the components that make up the index score indicate that election rigging, internal displacement of peoples, poor delivery of social services, and the demographic explosion account for some of the deterioration. Most of it though points to ineffective governance at all levels, and the monetization and politicization of our domestic security.
The security of Nigeria is too important for government to play politics with: the Boko Haram phenomenon did not start under President Jonathan’s tenure, and any suggestion that the attacks are calculated to undermine his administration is simply not true. The transformation of the group from a fringe, largely peaceful sect into a full-fledged terrorist group remains one of President Yar’adua’s legacies. The late president gave the directive to ‘crush them’ in 2009 before jetting out to Brazil. The brutal assault on the group and subsequent extra-judicial murder of its leader and many others by the police transformed the group into a full-scale terror and revenge machine! And initially they attacked the police and state government targets within the North East of Nigeria, that they considered the enemy. Nothing was done to nip this in the bud in a proactive and thoughtful way. Now, everyone is a potential victim of this terror.
The proposal for an amnesty for the group similar to that offered to the Niger Delta militants has not been articulated, perhaps in recognition of the fact that the root causes of the two conflicts and motivation of the actors are not exactly the same. As it were, the Amnesty Programme which has N99 billion budgetary allocation in the 2011 Appropriation Act has not entirely solved the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta. Based on the budget and the number of militants, government proposes to spend over N3 million per militant per annum. Are some people not using the Amnesty Programme to as a gravy train on the one hand and short-change the ex-militants on the other?
But all of that aside, the attack on the UN building in Abuja has exposed how unprepared and unskilled Nigerian security agencies are in preventing terror attacks or dealing with the aftermath. Reports indicate that the US Federal Investigation Bureau (FBI) has taken over the investigations into the UN bombing while sidelining the Nigerian Police and SSS. In an organized environment, security should be hinged on intelligence gathering and be technology driven, instead, our police and soldiers rely on manual physical checking of passengers and motorists on roads and entrances to detect bombs and other explosives.
Available information indicate that there were about 8 armed anti-riot policemen at the inner gate of the UN building when the suicide bomber forced his way into the building and detonated his deadly cargo. But then, how can the intelligence gathering mechanisms succeed when the military are using such heavy-handed tactics, killing and raping innocent citizens? This government has also demonstrated a knack for turning around and blaming those who offer to help; in the aftermath of the violence after last April’s elections, government accused Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of not speaking out. The moment he condemned the violence and appealed for calm, the same government and its attack dogs turned around and attempted to blame the General for the violence.
There is hardly a family in Maiduguri that has not lost a member, killed not only by Boko Haram, but more likely by the Nigerian police and military who still remain in the city, killing and raping. How can intelligence gathering work in such an atmosphere of mistrust? President Jonathan missed a golden opportunity to moderate the crisis when some Borno elders asked him to withdraw soldiers from the state. A more pragmatic leadership would have listened to the elders and tasked them on finding a peaceful solution. Jonathan preferred the military option, but despite two full scale military assaults in 2009 and this year, the group has demonstrated that it is capable of hitting at will. Obviously, there cannot be a military solution to what is in reality a breakdown of social cohesion and trust in the government.
After the UN attack, the Police and the Presidency issued another stale, futile and ineffectual threat of fishing out the culprits, their sponsors and bringing them to justice. We have heard that over and over and the public is fed up with such rhetoric. So we must ask government: how long shall Nigerians continue to sleep with both eyes open? Are there no emergency measures within the purview of the law that could be adopted since the security challenge appears to have overwhelmed government? Is the Federal Government still ruminating over how to secure the lives and property of all citizens?
It would be wishful thinking to imagine that Nigeria would be among the 20 biggest economies in the world in the year 2020 without even the most basic form of security of lives and property. The earlier the government realizes that its indecision and inactivity is costing the lives of Nigerians, scaring off investment and weakening our national cohesion, the better. The situation we have found ourselves requires the best of statesmanship and thoughtfulness, not petty politics or trading blames of any kind.
If government cannot provide Nigerians with good roads, better health infrastructure, stable electricity, and functional schools, the very least it can do is to give us a sense of security. It is the number one duty of any responsible government.
No more and no less.