Nigeria: Building a Peaceful and Secure Nigeria

From a keynote address to the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization Americas Annual General Meeting on September 4, 2021

We cannot build sustainable security in Nigeria if we, as a country, do not understand the exact nature and sources of today’s insecurity and then translate this understanding into deep-rooted security and political reforms.

Nigeria’s security threats since independence in 1960 have largely been internal, rather than external. To be sure, the country has faced threats from beyond its borders, from the situation in Chad in the early 1980s – when Libya’s army intruded into Chad several times in cooperation with dissident Chad factions – to the current crisis of cross-border terrorism in the region, such as ISWAP (Islamic State West African Province), an opportunistic rival of Boko Haram (BH),

But we can trace the prevailing collapse of security in Nigeria primarily to national political and economic factors, including violent herder/farmer conflicts and rising secessionist agitations in the southeast and southwestern parts of Nigeria, plus local ISWAP and BH militant groups.

Nigeria is facing an existential threat of insecurity and terrorism.

Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution states in Chapter 2 that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. There can be no doubt that today in Nigeria, the government has failed and is failing to meet this fundamental responsibility.

Arguments about whether Nigeria is now a ‘failed state’, a ‘failing state’, or a ‘fragile state’ are somewhat academic: Clearly, all is not well, and life increasingly is at risk, as marauders reign unchecked in parts of the country.

Political Dimensions

The powerful political dimensions of our security crisis can be seen in a failure of nation-building, in the absence of nationhood. Many Nigerians are disillusioned by the inchoate idea of Nigeria and identify far more passionately with their ethnic origins and religious affiliations than they do with citizenship.

While this has been the case to a significant degree throughout Nigeria’s post-independence history of 60 years, this tendency has increased sharply in recent years. Visionary leadership on what Nigeria means and should mean to us all – which could build consensus amongst Nigeria’s disparate ethnic nationalities – is lacking.

This has important implications. Nigeria’s security apparatus has failed to crush the BH and other forms of terrorism, including raids on farming communities from traditional herders in neighboring countries. It appears that the response of law enforcement authorities and the political leadership have been compromised by a lethal combination of lack of political will, corruption – economic gains accruing to vested interests from the continuation of a never-ending “war on terrorism”, and, possibly, divided loyalties between the Nigerian state and sub-national ethnic or other sectarian identities.

This is a manifestation of a weak and distorted formation of political order – the long process by which countries develop stable and united political communities and the institutions that make such communities viable. As the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama has written, the three components of political order, which have developed in different ways in different countries at different times, are:

  1. State building
  2. Rule of Law
  3. Accountable Government

None of these exist at anywhere near the level they should in Nigeria today.

State building includes the capacity to defend a country’s territorial integrity, to extract and make good use of taxes across a broad base of citizens, and to provide administrative services to citizens in an effective manner. Boko Haram, for example, had its roots in political thuggery, religious extremism, and a weak rule of law, demonstrated in the extra-judicial killing of its founder Mohammed Yusuf, which further radicalized the group.

The secessionist agitations in the southeast and southwest  of the country have been caused by the politics of exclusion, bad governance, and the increasing inability of the 1999 Constitution to serve as a viable basis for the stability and prosperity of Nigeria.

Economic Dimensions

The economic roots of our security crisis lie in the scourge of unemployment, lack of skills to maintain a sustainable livelihood, and the failure to invest adequately in education. Essential human security is absent, and a hungry person is an angry person. Such citizens, lacking education, skills and jobs can easily be swayed by extremist religious dogmas.

Only investment in education and training can bring the enlightenment, skills and jobs to keep us safe.

The large numbers of out-of-school children of school age, including the Almajiri in northern Nigeria, means that this problem will not go away any time soon, unless strong political will is brought to bear to address it effectively and permanently. Massive investments in education will be required to achieve the level of enlightenment, skills and jobs that can keep us safe.

The Path to a Sustainable Security Apparatus

The path to building an effective and sustainable security architecture in Nigeria runs through several necessary reforms and leadership approaches. In summary, these are:

  1. A comprehensive, independent audit of the Nigerian security system needs to be undertaken as a matter of national emergency, if this has not been done. An effective response to insecurity will be difficult without a 360-degree review of the security threats and institutional response capabilities that so far have clearly been overwhelmed.
  2. Political will to take the necessary actions to secure Nigeria and Nigerians, regardless of whose ox is gored, is essential. Without this level of political will, which essentially is a leadership issue, we cannot win the battle against terrorism in all its forms — BH, “banditry”, kidnapping, and killer herdsmen. Political will means the ability and fortitude to take whatever lawful actions are required to protect our country, and, just as important, to take such actions against any and every significant security threat.
  3. Nigeria’s border security needs to be revamped, physically and through the use of modern technology to monitor our boundaries. This again requires an ability to differentiate between the implications of citizenship and nationality, on the one hand, and ethnic identity on the order. While it is unfortunate that the European colonial enterprise on the African continent arbitrarily drew national borders  that divided ethnic nationalities, this is a fact of life we must accept. Modern international relations are organized on the basis of nation-states, many of which are heterogenous. Nigeria’s security should not be further compromised on the basis of an unwillingness or inability to make this distinction.
  4. Nigeria’s security architecture and its leadership should be configured on the basis of merit and inclusivity, not on the basis of parochial loyalties that in reality amount to regime protection as opposed to actual national security.
  5. Improved intelligence collaboration between and amongst relevant agencies. From media reports and other sources, it appears that this coordination is improving but remains hampered by the problem of political and leadership will in terms of making terrorists accountable.
  6. Better civilian-military/law enforcement relations and collaboration.
  7. Revamp the Nigerian Police Force and support a constitutional amendment to give police powers to federating units. Nigeria is perhaps the only federation in the world where the central government retains exclusive control of police powers.

Finally, I urge my compatriots in the diaspora to become involved in security issues by offering their expertise to the Nigerian authorities. Beyond this, given the political roots of insecurity in Nigeria, Nigerians abroad should not just have the ability to vote from abroad in national elections, but they need to invest a lot more financially in supporting progressive candidates for elective political office.

Nigerians abroad should invest to install a government that your children can be proud to call home.

Collectively, you send home an average of $20 billion annually as remittances. Unfortunately, these remittances are simply “survival” stipends for your relatives at home in an economic environment that is increasingly harsh for average Nigerians.

This is not a productive investment, as it does not create wealth or national prosperity, because it is not invested largely- in wealth-creating enterprises. Nigerians in the diaspora need to take the bull by the horns and invest to install – via elections – a government with the vision and capacity to create a country that you and your children can come home to, and one you can be proud to call home.

Professor Kingsley Moghalu, OON, is former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He is a trained attorney who has served in the United Nations system, including with the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and Malaria in Geneva and the Rwandan genocide tribunal held in Tanzania. He was a 2019 presidential candidate and is an aspirant in the 2023 presidential elections. He is the author of multiple scholarly articles and of books, including Emerging Africa: How the Global Economy’s ‘Last Frontier’ Can Prosper and Matter.


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