Ben OkoloWednesday, August 5, 2009
Johannesburg, South Africa



hen the CIA report of 2005 predicted the collapse of Nigeria in about 15 years time, patriots and critics alike reacted differently to the report. For my part, as much as I wanted to dismiss it, something kept nagging in my mind that this might be a true predictive analysis of the state of Nigeria. Not because the CIA is infallible in its security analysis, after all, they didn't get it right to prevent 9/11 2001 from happening, but events in Nigeria seemed to suggest that while other countries in the sub-region were developing, Nigeria was retrogressing despite its claim to democracy. On the other hand, while it looked a gloomy prediction, I also felt that it was an opportunity for Nigeria to look inwards, engage with the report, and work on those predictive indices that could lead to failure. But, alas, the Obasanjo government dismissed the report in its entirety.


The general state of insecurity in Nigeria presently seems to lend credence to the report. It must be recalled that while the report was released at the advent of the so-called Niger Delta crisis, the offshoot of that insurgency has thrown a huge cloak of insecurity not just over the entire south-south geopolitical zone, but also the southeast, and southwest. For instance, it is no longer news that kidnapping gangs have made the two zones their fiefdom. No person is spared in this new wave of crime that seems to have supplanted armed robbery and other non-contact crimes. The above does not however suggest that one is advocating for a return to such crimes, but it provides us with an analytical understanding of the migratory trend of crime in Nigeria, where criminals migrate to other genre of crimes that seem to offer better financial reward. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests that armed robbers, except those that target the banks, and cash-in-transit vehicles, find it more lucrative to kidnap for ransom.

The security challenge this poses to the state of Nigeria is better understood against existing evidence that even government officials and traditional rulers are not spared. We have read of kidnappings targeted against the executive, legislative, and the judicial branch of the government, and also their family members. This, unfortunately, has led to some of these officials relocating their families outside the geopolitical zone or outside the country, thereby leaving the civilian population at the mercy of the marauding gangs. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Abuja, and Lagos; that once regarded insecure state, are now destinations of choice for many, and Ghana, for those that can afford it. What the state governments of the south-south and southeast have shown by such acts is that they do not have the capacity to protect their people against violence or threats of violence, and that they do not care about the welfare of the people. This attitude is setting a dangerous trend as individuals might be forced to approach the issue of their security from the realist perspective and resort to self help. This would of course immerse the zones into further security dilemma. While one is not saying that the security apparatus of the country is not doing anything in the zones, one is of the opinion that they are not doing enough. One expects that the security apparatus should make use of available intelligence in the zones to crackdown on the criminal gangs that have trivialised the Niger Delta struggle, premised on sincere agitations for equity by the Niger Deltans.

While security in the south-south, southeast, and the southwest has been compromised, the northern zones that have always shown a propensity for violent conflicts did not disappoint security watchers. Starting with the usual religious/ethnic oriented conflicts, to the Jos ethnic/religious/political conflict of 2008, the northern states have shown that security of persons and properties is still far from being realizable. However, the current crisis which started in Bauchi and has engulfed other states in the north has elements of theocratic political ambitions in it. While the fundamentalist group - Boko Haram's - demand for the jettisoning of a western behavioural pattern, and the imposition of strict Sharia law can be described as absurd to say the least, we should equally view it with all the seriousness it deservers. A pal of mine rightly called the attempt at the enthronement of such fundamentalist idea, treasonable felony against the state of Nigeria. His reasoning is that for the Islamic group to achieve its goal, it would first get state power through acts of violence. It must be stated that the problem here is not about the Islamic religion, but the bent that the sect has given to their understanding of the teachings of Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be upon Him).

What the current trend of violence is imprinting on the psyche of Nigerians is that the government security apparatus is incapable of guaranteeing the safety and security of its people. This would, therefore, impact on the general human security of the people as the situation promotes fear, while at the same time limiting the peoples' ability to develop economically. At the same time, the state's capacity to attract investors becomes limited as a result of the insecurity. For instance, states like Enugu that have huge tourism potential would be losing out on this front. In a recent discussion I had with a few colleagues, they informed me that the insecurity in Enugu has made them limit their trip to the state to very essential ones, and they do all that is possible to avoid spending any night in the state.

The failure of the security cluster in Nigeria to make use of its intelligence network to decode the security challenge the Boko Haram and all such sects poses to the peace and security of the nation leaves much to be desired. The country's Early Warning System Mechanism in preventing such deadly conflicts from erupting needs to be developed. An eruption, the type that was witnessed in the northern states recently could not have happened without extensive planning. That the intelligence sector and the conflict prevention mechanism of the country failed to pick up the tell tale signs is indicative of failure of the state structure. What the Yar'Adua government needs to do is to develop the Conflict Prevention Mechanism in the country, including the establishment of an Early Warning System. The EWS must not be confused with intelligence gathering mechanism. The different states in the country should also establish their counterpart Conflict Prevention Mechanisms in order to feed into the national structure. Through the early detection of impending conflicts and its prevention, the government will be providing a safe and enabling environment for the civilian population, and for economic development to thrive.

Ben Okolo has just submitted his Doctoral thesis titled; The Responsibility to Protect Civilians; at the International Relations department of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa