Nigeria: President Buhari’s Scattergun Approach to National Security

It is unfortunate to have to conclude after over seven years that this government has yet to definitively demonstrate it has the capacity and interest to govern.

One of the hideouts of Bello Turji (or Muhammad Bellow), a famous terrorist, was bombed by the Nigerian Air Force in September. A media report on Turji’s reaction to the military action suggests he was disappointed that the government had reneged on a purported agreement to embrace peace. The bombardment also seemed to contradict a statement by the deputy governor of Zamfara state that Turji had “repented and embraced peace overtures by the state government”.

To be clear, Turji had committed mass atrocities and ought to have been brought to justice. However, this case raises broader issues about the micro-mechanics of Nigeria’s national security.

There are numerous instances of lack of coordination, poor communication and outright scattergun approaches within specific entities and in the relationship among components of the security architecture. For example, a letter sent to all service chiefs by Babagana Monguno, the national security adviser leaked in February 2020. The letter provided a sobering picture of major divisions within Nigeria’s national security top echelon. Monguno articulated “undue and dangerous interference” by Abba Kyari, who was the Chief of Staff to the president at the time. He criticised Kyari for giving orders that contradicted the president’s directives to military chiefs, arguing that such “acts and continued meddlesomeness by chief of staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts, but have slowed down any meaningful gain that Mr President has sought to achieve”. Kyari is long gone but chaos continues.

Dapchi and other school kidnappings, the Kuje prison attack, Kaduna train kidnapping incident and other security issues point to a level of dysfunction that supports the instructive notion that the fish rots from the head. The presidency is making giant strides in political intrigues and theatre, while there appears to be minimal interest in or concern for the safety of all Nigerians. The signals from the president have been largely vacuous rhetoric, unfulfilled ultimatums and a clear demonstration of lack of basic clues about governance.

The problematique may be distilled to various levels. These include disarray within the Presidency in and of itself on one hand and its direction to the national security apparatus on the other. There is also mayhem within each branch of the armed forces. For example, there is poor communication between the troops on the frontlines and the headquarters of each service. In addition, the relationship among the armed services is confused and confusing. One hand rarely knows what the other is doing. There is also bedlam between the Federal Government and state governments on security matters. The 1999 Constitution is clear about who has control of the police and the military. The Federal Government is yet to move towards a decentralised policing structure, therefore, it takes the largest share of blame for the cheapening of human lives in Nigeria.

The level of coordination between the Federal Government and security services as responsible entities and families of kidnap victims is also appalling. It shows insouciance to the trauma and suffering of the affected families. A recent report that President Buhari “credits” his government for the release of victims of the Kaduna train incident, six months after the attack, is vivid illustration that the standards of this government and the president’s performance threshold are too low and may continue to lead Nigeria deeper in the crucible of internal degeneracy. The attack should never have happened and the ensuing plan to have military helicopters accompany trains to and from Kaduna is proof of the poor quality of leadership in Nigeria. Nigerians are paying for it in tears and blood.

While there have been attempts to communicate with the public in recent times, such interactions remain sporadic and piecemeal, rather than part of a larger robust engagement vis-à-vis overall direction of security matters. The reluctance or in several cases illogical refusal to fire non-performing officials is another part of the security puzzle. This has sent too many Nigerians to kidnappers’ dens and early graves.

It is unfortunate to have to conclude after over seven years that this government has yet to definitively demonstrate it has the capacity and interest to govern. This is an issue that will be studied in the coming years, given the military background of the president and at least 16 years of running for office.

Security apparatchiks often speak of the need for an all-of-government and all-of-society approach. That presupposes a reasonable entity responsible for governance and national security. At the current rate, this government is racing towards being remembered for one major thing: The disembowelment of Nigeria.

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