Priye S. TorulaghaTuesday, October 25, 2011
[email protected]
Boston, MA, USA



n Nigeria, like in many other developing countries, there is a tendency for political leaders, high-level public officials, politicians and the citizens to blame the security forces, especially, the military, police and intelligence services, whenever an event which threatens public peace takes place. It seems that the security forces are held responsible for the failure to maintain an impregnable wall of security due to three major reasons. The first reason is attributed to the tendency of political leaders and high-level public officials responsible for coordinating national security to promise more than they can deliver to the citizens. The second reason is due to the fact that there is an unrealistic expectation that the security forces have the wherewithal to institute and maintain a leak-proof security umbrella around the state due to the first reason. The third reason could be attributed to the fact that a large proportion of the citizens, including political, military, police, and intelligence officials, tend to define national security narrowly to the point of rendering the concept meaningless and unworkable.


1. The Tendency to Promise More than is Deliverable

Nigerian officials who are responsible for national security tend to promise more than they can deliver. Quite often, in their quest to demonstrate that they are capable of handling the job effectively and to convince the citizens that the government knows what it is doing, the officials make public statements and hold press conferences about the readiness of the security agencies (military and police forces and intelligence agencies ) to handle any threatening situation. The citizens, in order to demonstrate their patriotism, buy into the idea that the government is capable of managing any threat to the national security. This leads to unrealistic expectations that security agents would be able to stop any troublemaker before he or she causes a major problem in the country.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

The promises of a leak-proof security system by political leaders and public officials lead to unrealistic expectations because most citizens have not taken the time to critically examine the factors that constitute "national security." They assume that since the government has a monopoly of power and has the ability to impose order on the state through the use of the armed, police, and intelligence forces, it has the capability and the appropriate resources to identify, tract, and intervene at will to stop any would-be-troublemaker from carrying out actions that could threaten public peace and the national security.

Then, when something happens and the security agencies are not able to prevent the incident from taking place, the citizens blame the security agencies for failure to act appropriately. In reaction, to quench the potential political fire that might erupt due to the failure to prevent the incident, security agents are forced to use excessive force and to arrest, detain, and possibly kill anyone who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Similarly, to demonstrate physically and psychologically that the government is doing everything possible to ensure public order, military and police units and intelligence agents are beefed up in the vicinity of the peace-shattering incident.

3. Narrow definition of National Security

Perhaps, due to unrealistic expectations about the capability of the government to provide a leak-proof security system, there is a tendency to define national security in such a manner that the concept is reduced drastically to reflect only the physical component of security, such as beefing up the military, police, and intelligence agencies, recruiting and training more operatives, and spying more on the population to ferret out potential troublemakers.

The belief that a beef up of the military, police and intelligence agencies is sufficient enough to guarantee national security seems to be deeply woven or ingrained in the psychology of those who make national security decisions. As a result, whenever an incident which disturbs public peace or threatens the national security takes place, the first psychological inclination is to blame the security agencies for failure to maintain security. For instance, after the October 1, 2010 bomb blast in Abuja, many Nigerians, including high government officials, politicians and some citizens immediately pointed their fingers at the security agencies for not being able to detect and stop the incident before it happened. Similarly, recent bomb blasts, including the one which destroyed a UN facility and killed a number of people, which have allegedly been attributed to the Boko Haram group, have been blamed on the failure of the security agencies to ferret out the suspects before they were able to carry out the acts.

The fact that whenever public safety or security is threatened, the security agencies are blamed, shows that increasingly, Nigerians are putting too much emphasis on the maintenance of physical security typified by the presence of military, police and intelligence agents and paying little or no attention to other critical variables that are necessary or essential for effective national security to take place. Thus, by excluding other factors, they are essentially contributing to the failure of the national security system in Nigeria. Perhaps, it is due to the recognition that it takes more than the active participation of security agents to maintain an effective national security system that compelled Ret. Gen. Owoye Azazi to say "Nigerians must come to terms with the reality that security is the business of everybody, not just officials of government" .

Due to the overwhelming dependence on the military, police and intelligence agencies to maintain national security, Nigerian military and police officers and intelligence agents are pressured to do the impossible, which is to maintain a tightly sealed security umbrella that is not breakable by would-be-troublemakers. Thus, it is inferable that the political pressure to establish a security fortress that is not capable of being violated is responsible for compelling security agencies In Nigeria and in other parts of the African continent to use excessive force, engage in extra-judicial killings and carry out other abusive activities designed to inflict maximum pain against perceivable troublemakers. By using these tactics, the security agencies hope to dissuade other citizens from becoming potential troublemakers. This is why in Nigeria, the military and the police forces have, on numerous occasions, relied on the application of excessive force in order to deal with political crises. The country is filled with cases whereby demonstrators, political protesters and those who oppose any particular policy have been dealt with in a severe manner. The Tiv Riots were violently crushed in the 1960s, Fela Anikulakpo and his mother were severely beaten in the 1970s. Moslems which have for decades demanded the inclusion of the Islamic Sharia in the constitutional and legal framework of the country were brutally crushed, especially in the 1980s. Due to the heavy handed manner in which security forces crushed Islamic agitators, the remnants of those movements decided to return fire with fire and since then religious violence has escalated. Nigerians who demonstrated against the abrogation of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections were harshly treated by the security forces. Frustrated and angered, Yoruba youths decided to form the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in order to return fire with fire. The Niger Delta is filled with communities that have been devastated through unnecessary use of excessive force. It should be noted that Nigeria killed Chief Ken Saro Wiwa, sent security forces to rampage through Niger Delta communities that protested against oil companies for the destruction of their farmlands and fishing waters. When Nigerian troops bombarded, destroyed and burnt down Odi community, Ijaw youths who had previously used civil society means to address their grievances decided to return fire with fire and since then, the Niger Delta has never been the same. After the first Boko Haram violent uprising, the Al Jazeera Television Network showed a video in which some members of the Nigerian Police Force who were called upon to quell the uprising, literally arresting and forcing those arrested to lie down on the ground while executing them on the street. In the video, it was very obvious that the policemen on the scene were scrambling to have an opportunity to shoot those rounded up. Well, that heavy-handed police action to crush the Boko Haram, it appears, has contributed to escalating the violence as the group decided to return fire for fire. If the government really wants to resolve the Boko Haram issue, it must revisit that scene and use it as a basis for developing a comprehensive regional peace plan, otherwise, the violence will not dissipate, if the only means to deal with it is force.

The problem is that since national security is narrowly defined, the attempt to ensure it by reacting with excessive force and engaging in extra-judicial action to deal with alleged political troublemakers actually seem to exacerbate national insecurity. When people feel that the government has treated them badly, they are forced to react with a counter force in order to balance the level of violence being supposedly perpetrated by the state against them. This is why efforts to ensure national security has not been very successful in Nigeria and other African countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Angola, Egypt, Mauretania, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Algeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guinea, Tunisia, Zimbabwe etc.

The most glaring evidence that a national security system based merely on the maintenance of physical security does not guarantee national security is the ongoing Arab Revolution. Before the Arab uprising in North Africa and the Middle East, countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc., were noted for their massive institutionalization of security umbrellas in which thousands, if not millions of agents from the military, Police and intelligence agencies maintained a twenty-four hour watch over the citizens. The security umbrellas in these countries were so tight and suffocating to the extent that the citizens seemed to have been placed in perpetual political detention camps. Despite the tight security, when the citizens finally felt that they had enough, they revolted. Like a volcanic eruption or a massive tsunami, the citizens are literally tearing away the security umbrellas in their countries into shreds. As a result, the political, military, police and intelligence leaders and high government officials who thought that they had the citizens under control are now gasping for their own political and biological survival.


It is argued here that it takes much more than the mere tightening and beefing up of the security forces to ensure the effectiveness of national security. As a result, the following hypotheses are drawn: (1) There is a relationship between good governance and effective national security; (2) There is a relationship between bad governance and national insecurity; and ( 3) There is a relationship between high rate of corruption and crime.

  1. There is a relationship between good governance and effective national security

    1. When a country is well governed, the fear of insecurity dissipates because the government has no reason to be afraid of insurrection or any violent opposition.

    2. Good governance entails a political system in which the leadership is responsive, transparent and accountable to the citizens.

    3. Good governance entails respect for the constitution and the rule of law by all, including the head of state, governors, high public officials and political representatives. If political and military leaders violate the constitution and the laws of the land by engaging in criminal acts, adopt extra-judicial methods to deal with supposed enemies, they create an environment that leads to violent counteraction on the part of the citizens.

    4. Good governance requires a fair distribution of the national wealth so that all citizens, groups, states, and regions of the country benefit. It is obvious that in Nigeria, in the last twenty or more years, it is only one percent of the Nigerian population that has benefitted most from the wealth of the country. The one percent also owns about 70 to 80% of the national wealth. An imbalance in the distribution of the national wealth tends to lead to insecurity because those who are left out are likely to react in a manner that threatens the national security.

    5. Good governance entails building accessible public health care facilities so that Nigerian citizens can take care of their medical needs without having to pauperize themselves by going to exorbitant private medical clinics. It is obvious that in Nigeria, neither the federal nor state governments have built major modern medical facilities and centers to cater to the teeming Nigerian population in the last three decades. It is obvious that the rich always go overseas for their medical needs while leaving the rest of Nigerians to suffer at home.

    6. Good governance requires the creation of sustainable economic ventures in both the public and private sectors that are capable of employing thousands of citizens annually. In Nigeria today, it is a reality that only those who are politically connected or are able to pay bribes that can gain lawful employment. Those who are not connected, regardless of their education, must feign for themselves one way or another. This breeds an intolerable level of crime, especially, armed robbery, kidnapping, and murder that leads to a high level of insecurity in the country.

    7. Good governance entails the development of the infrastructure and modernization of the country across the board. This means that the leaders should not discriminate in their national development plan. Well, it is obvious that in Nigeria for the past forty years, the regions with little or no political influence were utterly neglected in the national development plan while development and modernization were concentrated in the regions with extensive political influence.

    8. If the political leadership of the country and the states/regions create programs to maintain the public welfare, there will be less inclination towards being antagonistic to the government. In Nigeria, there is no public welfare programs geared toward reducing the suffering of the people. Thus, a generality of the population are on their own. The suffering can instigate actions that threaten the national security.

    9. Good governance requires the establishment, maintenance and perpetuation of a high quality educational system. It is obvious that in Nigeria today, the quality of education is questionable, due to massive corruption and neglect. This is why the one percent of the Nigerian population which benefits most from the national wealth sends their children to Ghana and other countries for higher education. It is also a fact that in Nigeria today, many female students are forced to engage in prostitution in order to pay their way through school. At the same time, many male students are forced to join gangs and engage in occult activities in order to boost their social, political and financial values. Some students who have money do not even bother to attend class in order to earn grades for courses taken.

    Thus, Nigeria is producing a generation of citizens who do not appreciate the significance of good education. Since many of these Nigerians were short-changed while they were in school, they are likely to pay back to society through ways that might create national insecurity, in the immediate future.

    Generally, it is quite easy to tell when a country is experiencing good governance. One of the signs that are readily identifiable is when the unemployment and crime rates go down. Another indicator is that the rate of inflation is down or manageable, thereby, affording most people an ability to live reasonably well. Similarly, the infrastructure is maintained, modernized and rehabilitated so that health care, public transportation, education and water and sewage management systems are functional. In addition, the government is responsible, transparent and accountable.

  2. There is a relationship between bad governance and national insecurity.

    Stability and national security are not possible in a political environment characterized by the following policies, tendencies, actions and inactions which constitute bad governance:

    1. Lack of respect for the national constitution by political and military leaders who constantly amend the constitution or ignore the constitution in order to remain in power results in anger and frustration. The citizens begin to rationalize that their leaders only care about remaining in power and would go to any length to ensure that they remain in power. This leads to immediate insecurity because people begin to lose faith in the system. Countries like Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Rwanda, Sudan, Niger, Chad, Ivory Coast (Cote ivory), Zimbabwe, Gabon, Togo, Angola etc. suffer from the fact that the leaders remain in power endlessly. On this score, Nigerians have been very fortunate, hence, President Goodluck Jonathan is the thirteenth head of state since the country gained independence in 1960. On the other hand, Cameroon has had only two heads of state since independence.

    2. Lack of respect for the rule of law by political, military, police and business elites who violate the law with impunity without any legal consequences to them while those who are politically powerless are sent to prison for violating every imaginable act can create national insecurity. As you can see, in most African and developing countries generally, the leaders are not subjected to the effects of the law while the citizens are punished for violating the law. In Nigeria, as serious as embezzlement is, the crime is not taken seriously by those who enforce the laws because they realize that the political leaders of the country are not interested in taking serious and effective measures to curb the act. Meanwhile, ordinary Nigerians are sent to prison on daily basis for committing various criminal offences.

    3. It is bad governance when a country is characterized by too many security agencies. Quite often, in order to become relevant, security agencies and agents compete unnecessarily for attention from the political leadership. As they compete fiercely, they are unable to share and coordinate critical information, thereby, enabling security breakdown to take place. Similarly, when there are too many security agents, it is likely to lead to the destabilization of peace and stability of the state as the agents constantly snoop, probe, spy, threaten, arrest and secretly detain some citizens for no justifiable reason. Likewise, when there are too many security agencies and agents, a culture of mutual suspicion is established and perpetuated in society and people begin to shy away from openly communicating their feelings. Thus, instead of open communication, they operate clandestinely, thereby, increasing the potential for violent opposition to the state.

    4. It constitutes bad governance when political issues are not resolved politically, instead, are treated as security matters, thereby, resulting in the application of security measures. In Nigeria, there is a tendency for national and state government officials to view political agitations as threats to the national security instead of treating such matters as political issues that require political resolution. There are many examples to cite from to show that political issues are treated as national security matters. For example, the failure to resolve the substantive constitutional issues in the 1960s led to the bloody civil war in which more than a million people died. The refusal to listen to the moderate Islamic voices in the early 1970s led to the emergence of extremists who are now threatening the national security. The refusal to listen to those who expressed concerns about the deplorable situation in the Niger Delta resulted in armed opposition.

    5. It is a reflection of bad governance when security chiefs, may be due to the need to maintain their jobs or build future political careers, sacrifice national security by allowing their organizations to be used to solve issues that require political resolution. It is imperative that those who are responsible for maintaining the national security of the country should be able to tell political leaders that certain issues require political resolution and not security crackdowns.

    6. When political and military leaders rely too much on security forces and intelligence operatives to keep the peace, it means that the state is already suffering from insecurity. Quite contrary to the view that security forces maintain peace and security, they actually exacerbate insecurity. When citizens feel that they are surrounded by too many security agents, they feel violated since they can longer speak freely with their relatives, friends, and neighbors. It should be recalled that when Gen. Ibrahim Babangida instituted tight security measures within the military, military officers became apprehensive and very cautious in their utterances. They were fearful that if they say the wrong word or speak to the wrong person they might be picked up for serious interrogation by military security agents. The security cloud hanging over their heads led some of them to carry out the April 1990 abortive Maj. Gideon Orka coup. It should also be recalled that Gen. Sani Abacha escalated the security umbrella and literally turned the Nigerian Armed Forces into a Soviet-like military institution with massive intelligence clamped down on every segment of the forces. The security measures eventually culminated in the establishment of death squads.

    7. It is indicative of bad governance when political leaders allow corruption to run wild. Due to massive corruption in the last two decades, Nigeria has been reduced to a mere shadow of itself. It is obvious that the country finds it very difficult to move forward. The nation's wealth disappears into private pockets of the same officials who suppose to use the wealth to build the state. Corruption is perpetuated through some of the following ways:

    8. When bribery becomes part of the culture for conducting government business in any country, insecurity increases. The reason is that bribery has a way of turning everything upside down. Official procedures and business conduct are compromised by the fact that bribes have to be paid for any activity to take place. In Nigeria today, it is almost impossible to engage in any official or business activity without offering bribes.

      1. The police roadblock has become an institutionalized means of collecting tolls and fees from anyone who drives on Nigerian roads. This is why commercial vehicle operators always carry with them extra money to rub the palms of the police officers on the roadblocks. Some Nigerians have been killed for failing to pay the unofficial fees before driving through the roadblocks.

      2. Even obtaining certain official forms and documents require payment of some bribes. It is not unusual for someone who tries to apply for something to be told to come back repeatedly until bribes are offered before the application forms are released.

      3. It is indeed a sign of bad governance when members of the National Assembly earn considerably more than the rest of the population without any plausible justification. In Nigeria today, it is obvious that legislators, both at the national and state levels, do not really represent their constituents. Otherwise, they would have reduced the incredulous salaries and perks that they receive while the rest of the Nigerian population goes hungry everyday.

      4. It is indicative of bad governance when the political and military leadership of a country receive medical treatment overseas. In Nigeria, even the heads of states receive their medical treatments outside the country, thereby, blatantly violating the national security of Nigeria. It should be recalled that Nigeria was at one time treated like a colony of Saudi Arabia when the late President Musa Yar'Adua was sent there for medical treatment. It is bewildering why Nigerian leaders refused to build up-to-date medical facilities in the country and waste millions of dollars sending high-level government officials overseas for treatment.

      5. In Nigeria, it is a herculean task for those who have retired to get their retirement benefits. Sometimes, they go for years without payments. Some actually die before the completion of paperwork for their retirement. Even retired military and police personnel go through the hellish task of trying to obtain their retirement benefits. This problem exists at both national and state levels.

    Thus, bribery is a source of national insecurity because it offsets everything and turns government business into self-enriching enterprise for officials. Citizens' rights are seriously violated when they are forced to pay bribes before any government business is conducted. Bribery prevents the government from effectively serving the citizens. In Nigeria, it is obvious that national and state governments are not able to serve the citizens in a manner that arouses an overwhelming support for the state. Consequently, Nigerians cannot satisfy the statement made by Gen. Awoye that national security is the business of all citizens, since most citizens are prevented from enjoying the services of the state.

  3. There is a relationship between High Rate of Corruption and Crime

    There is no amount of money spent on security that can deter insecurity if political and military leaders of the country are perceived by many citizens to be very corrupt. Since embezzlement and bribery are criminal offences, there is a tendency for these vices to drive up the rate of other crimes. The reason is that embezzlement and bribery take away public funds that would have been used to provide services to the citizens. Deprived of the opportunity to thrive and succeed in a normal way, some citizens become desperate and are driven to commit heinous crimes in order to survive. The perception that many political leaders and high public officials in the country are embezzlers tends to justify the need for others in society to engage in crime. Thus, kidnappers, thieves, armed robbers etc. are able to justify their acts by saying "if the politicians and high government officials can steal with impunity why can't we do the same? If the politicians can hire political thugs to intimidate and kill their opponents, why can't we do the same?" Obviously, one major way to reduce crime is to drastically reduce corruption, thereby, stabilizing the socioeconomic system. This, in turn, will lead to a reduction in insecurity.


  1. In order to achieve an effective national security system, it takes more than merely building up the armed and police forces and intelligence agencies. It requires good governance. Good governance implies an able leadership which is transparent, responsive, and accountable to the citizens and not only to one percent of the population.

  2. At any moment in time, there are always more civilians than the men and women in uniform. Therefore, even if a country like Nigeria has more than a million men and women in the armed and police services, they are still dwarfed by the general population. This means that in a general uprising, as is taking place in the Arab world, the security services would be easily overwhelmed.

  3. It is strategically unwise and impossible to ensure national security without taking care of the other critical variables that contribute to instability.

  4. It is strategically unwise to threaten citizens with the application of force when genuine negotiations can end a dispute peacefully. The reason is that if force is used regularly, people will become psychologically acclimated to it, thereby, minimizing its impact. In return, those who feel violated would want to retaliate by hitting back at the state.

  5. It is strategically and tactically unwise to rely on the application of force unless it is absolutely necessary due to the fact that arms have been democratized globally. This means that unlike thirty or forty years ago, it is much easier today for any individual or group to buy arms. Consequently, if a group believes that its existence is being threatened by the state, the group could be tempted to arm itself by buying guns from various sources. Similarly, it is very easy for any individual or a group to establish a private army. The reason is that the world is filled with military veterans who are very eager to offer their services to the highest bidder. Nigeria, for instance, has thousands of military veterans and they can easily offer their services and become trainers to private armies. This means that just as the state can use force to threaten or even kill, so does the individual and or group. An individual can easily create a private army to confront the state. Boko Haram, for instance, is confronting Nigeria with its own group of dedicated fighters.

  6. Due to the easy availability of arms and the ability to form private fighting forces, in some countries, such as in Afghanistan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Somalia, Uganda, and so forth, the non-state armed groups are as powerful as the state armed forces. This explains why the national security forces have not been able to defeat them. The non-state forces are able to acquire weaponry as much as the states. In a country like Somalia, the non-state forces have actually overwhelmed the state forces to become dominant. This is why the government of Somalia depends on international forces to maintain itself.

  7. Those Nigerians who blame the Nigerian security forces for failure to prevent bombings from taking place are putting too much faith on physical security and ignoring other essential elements that are necessary to build a stable society.

    h. The Nigerian security forces are already overworked and overburdened because they are expected to solve political problems with physical security means. In the last four to five years, the security forces, operating under the Joint Task Force, Operation Restore Hope (JTF) had their hands filled with trouble in the Niger Delta. These forces have been called upon again, under another JTF, to carry out security operations in Northern Nigeria to contain Boko Haram. They are gradually inclining toward a point of exhaustion. If utmost care is not taken, they could disintegrate due to exhaustion if another crisis erupts somewhere in the country.


Unnecessary application of force can turn Nigeria upside down if political problems are not resolved through genuine negotiations. Therefore, it is highly recommended that political leaders try very hard to resolve those thorny political issues that have tended to generate violence and armed opposition. In this regard, a national constitutional conference is needed to enable Nigerians to freely discuss the nature and character of the Nigerian state. Likewise, it is very crucial for the Federal Government to fight corruption and drastically reduce the menace. It is strongly believed that a reduction in corruption will result in the reduction of violent crimes generally.

President Goodluck Jonathan should have patience and continue to explore various means of resolving political issues peacefully, regardless of the challenges. He should be very careful in dealing with the Boko Haram matter. Caution is necessary because when armed militancy was at its highest in the Niger Delta, some Southern Nigerians accused the Northern political leadership of using the JTF to brutalize the oil region. Now that the JTF is operating in the Upper North, some Northern Nigerians are accusing the Southern political leadership of using the JTF to brutalize the North. He should avoid creating any impression that he is doing to the North what the North did to the South. A northern perception of southern motive could complicate the Boko Haram issue. He should maintain regular contact with the political leaders of various ethnic, political, and religious groups throughout the country.

Indeed, security forces should only be deployed as a temporary means of controlling violent situations and not as a means of resolving political conflicts. The reason is that today, the state no longer has a monopoly over the use of force because it is much easier for any individual or group to raise a private fighting force and buy arms to cause mayhem. Obviously, if current security operations against Boko Haram fail, Nigeria could gradually move towards a point of no return.