As Nigeria’s worsening insecurity continues to attract international attention, The Economist, a weekly British magazine, has described President Bola Tinubu’s security plan as “worrying” amid the deteriorating security situation nationwide, marked by a terrifying spate of kidnappings.
But in response to The Economist’s critical review, a top official of the government, who preferred anonymity, revealed that security operatives were working round the clock to eliminate kidnappings and other forms of insecurity in the country.
In a scathing analysis on insecurity in Nigeria, the magazine argued that how much politicians in the country cared about national insecurity had long been correlated with how close it got to their mansions in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
It recalled that on the outskirts of Abuja on January 2, a father and his six daughters were kidnapped, prompting a rare outcry, with a crowdfunding effort to pay the ransom even backed by a former minister.
The Economist stated, “But the kidnappers instead killed one of the girls and demanded more cash. The wife of President Bola Tinubu publicly lamented a ‘devastating loss’.
“Yet such horrors are still appallingly frequent–and largely ignored by politicians. In one incident last week in the South-east 45 people were kidnapped and are still missing, yet few leaders spoke out.”
With hardly any part of the country spared, The Economist described the deadliest zone as the North-east, where jihadists linked to Islamic State, attack the army and villages.
The North-west, too, the magazine said, was riddled with gangs that routinely kidnapped for ransom, while a decades-long conflict between mostly Muslim herders and largely Christian crop farmers rumbled on in the country’s centre, where on Christmas Eve gunmen mowed down at least 160 people.
“Separatist violence still smoulders in the South-east,” it added.
The review said at his inauguration last May, Tinubu declared security his “top priority”, yet more than 3,600 people were kidnapped in 2023, the most ever, quoting ACLED, a global conflict monitor.
The snatching menace, the analysis said, rose sharply after Tinubu took office, with almost 9,000 Nigerians killed in conflict last year.
It said, “The government stresses that, in its most recent budget, spending on defence and the police took the biggest share, about 12 per cent in all. Defence got a fifth more than it did last year. Yet inflation is running at 29 per cent, so in real terms the defence budget has actually fallen.
“The government tends to splurge on fancy weapons systems that fail to tackle the roots of the problem, which is poverty, poor education and anger at army atrocities.
“The latest budget includes funds for six T-129 Turkish attack helicopters on top of the 12 costly Bell choppers bought last year from America for $1 billion, not to mention 12 Super Tucano attack aircraft. Buying strike drones has become so popular that the army actually runs its own fleet alongside that of the air force.
“But drones are not much good at guarding schools from kidnappings, and heavy weaponry risks disaster. A drone recently killed at least 85 civilians at a festival in Kaduna State – not the first such cock-up.”
The Economist said the army promised to “fine-tune” its operations, but explained that more radical change was needed.
According to The Economist, the police, well equipped but able to use better human intelligence, should lead on domestic security, not the army, which has been deployed in all 36 of Nigeria’s states.
Another huge problem, the magazine said, was graft in security spending.
“Defence is a really prime part of the budget where you can take large quantities of money out without people being any the wiser,” said Matthew Page of Chatham House, a think-tank in London, according to The Economist.
Much of the budget, Page alleged, was still about rewarding those who paid to get Tinubu elected. Sometimes the army failed to receive its budget allocation, the magazine noted.
According to the analysis, the situation is worsened by a system known as “security votes”, whereby parts of defence spending are deemed too sensitive to require public oversight.
The practice, which accounts for, perhaps, $700 million a year, The Economist said, increased sharply under the last president and might well jump more under Tinubu.
It stressed that the defence budget had nearly tripled since 2019. But thanks to inflation, wasteful purchases and corruption, Nigerians did not seem safer.
Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Christopher Musa, appeared to understand the roots of the insecurity, the magazine stated. It added, quoting Musa, “Military effort alone is incapable of restoring enduring peace.” It said the army had helped build hundreds of schools in the North-east under Musa’s command.
The Economist added, “Yet many politicians seem keener to spend on themselves, rather than create the conditions for peace or fill the country’s fiscal hole. Even if Tinubu resists the temptation to reinstate the petrol subsidy that he largely removed last year, debt servicing alone in 2024 may gobble up 61 per cent of revenue.
“In November the National Assembly approved new SUVs for all 460 lawmakers, at a reported cost of $150,000-plus per car.
“In two months, the government has budgeted $31 million to improve accommodation for the president and vice president in a country of around 220 million people where more than 80 million are reckoned to live on less than $2.15 a day and many fear being kidnapped.”
However, rising to the defence of the administration, a top official of the Tinubu government, who chose not to be named, said, “We have foiled many kidnap attempts and killed many kidnappers, which doesn’t get reported in the media. It’s only the few that succeed that make headlines.
“However, the situation is a call to arms to do more. We are not relenting. At the moment we are ramping up technology to target these criminals and eliminate them wherever they are operating from.
“We are having 95 percent success in our efforts to eliminate them and ensure a safe and secure environment for our people. We kill kidnappers every day in the North-west and other parts of the country.”