An expert’s point of view on a current event.
June 7, 2021, 2:00 a.m.
Nigeria is in the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. In addition to the Boko Haram uprising, the country was rocked by multiple outbreaks of banditry, kidnapping and violence that year. Around 600 schoolchildren were kidnapped between December 2020 and March this year alone.
Then a few days ago, unknown armed men shot and killed a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress party. Nigerians are appalled and appalled that the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (who was in part elected from his pedigree as a retired general and promises to crush insurgents) has been unable to quell the uncertainty. However, the causes are long-term and have their roots in the country’s military era in the 20th century. Ironically, Nigeria’s military is the cause and solution of many of the country’s security problems.
Even though Nigeria transitioned to democracy 22 years ago, the consequences of decisions made by previous military dictatorships still influence events in Nigeria today. Dissatisfaction over economic inequality, corruption, and the overly centralized structure of the Nigerian state has simmered for decades, but previous military governments have kept them under control – through ruthless violence rather than addressing the underlying causes.
During its three decades of military rule from the 1960s to 1999, the military assumed responsibility for more and more facets of everyday life. It has also sidelined the police, first by phasing out its information-gathering department and then by underfunding and underfunding. When the military left the government in 1999, the new civilian government inherited an under-guarded society and a police force with nearly 40 percent of their officers acting as escorts or guards for VIPs. Instead of protecting the public, many police officers spent their time protecting VIPs from the public.
A report by the Presidential Committee on police reform stated bluntly that the police force “is made up of a very large number of unqualified, underqualified and poorly equipped officers and men, many of whom are doubtful whether they can wear the prestigious police uniform”.
Democracy, ironically, opened avenues to violence, and the policies of civilian governments pervertedly encouraged violence. In the less repressive environment of democracy, divisive and inflammatory arguments such as the need for a fair distribution of national resources and the distribution of power between federal and regional governments that the military had previously suppressed have broken out.
Nigeria’s post-1999 democratic governments have chosen unconventional responses to crime and insecurity. In 2009, the government put an end to an insurrection in the oil-producing regions of the south (where most of Nigeria’s wealth is earned) by granting amnesties, including monthly cash grants and government-provided training, in exchange for agreeing to theirs, to more than 25,000 insurgents Lay down arms.
Although the amnesty program appeared to be a creative solution to ending the violence and allowing oil production to resume, it set a dangerous precedent by adding insurgents to the government’s payroll. Nigeria’s previous military governments would never have considered, let alone granted, an amnesty for insurgents.
However, the spirit of paying people not to be violent is already out of the bottle. To the horror of the victims, some have also urged the government to implement a similar amnesty program for Boko Haram and other bandit groups. As corporations and other Nigerians paid ransom to secure the release of hostages, further precedents have been set that suggest that crime and violence are paying off. The reward of violence has led to the commercialization of crime and kidnapping.
Kidnapping gangs are well organized and charge high ransom money for the release of hostages. The kidnappers are now so bold that they have kidnapped high-profile Nigerians, such as the mother of Nigeria’s former finance minister and the father of the then captain of the Nigerian national football team. The families of middle and working class hostages often borrow money from friends, employers, and their communities to pay the ransom.
After the family member is released, the money raised is converted into a loan that they must repay. This often leads them into an economic spiral of vulnerability in which they are both financially burdened by debts they have to pay and also more vulnerable to further kidnappings as the kidnappers are now ready to pay ransom.
If there is a solution to this uncertainty, the military will likely provide it. Since the police are overwhelmed, the military was assigned to act not only as an army, but also as a deputy of the police. The army is currently deployed in at least 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states. However, the army does not want to replace the police. A retired general complained: “In Nigeria today the armed forces are taking over the duties of the police”. But the military is not blameless. There is good reason to argue that the solution to Nigeria’s insecurity is to reduce the military presence on its streets instead of sending more soldiers.
The frequency of their use in civilian areas has intensified civil-military conflicts and human rights violations and has worsened their professionalism. However, the widespread use of the military across the country gives it influence and makes it part of the solution. Ironically, despite its frequent brutality and the abuse of many of its compatriots, Nigeria’s military is one of the few Nigerian institutions dedicated to the unity of the country.
Last month, the Nigerian army chief and ten other senior military officials died in a tragic plane crash. The appointment of Major General Faruk Yahaya as his successor a few days ago is one of the most important appointments of the Buhari presidency. Nigeria needs an army chief who has the courage to tell his government some harsh truths and remind them that the military personnel are soldiers, not police officers. Both the military and Nigerian society need an exit strategy to pull soldiers off Nigeria’s streets.
One reason so many soldiers are on the streets is because they are less susceptible to the type of blackmail police officers routinely practice against the citizens they are supposed to protect. It is extremely dangerous to give guns and ammunition to underpaid police officers. Instead of throwing more money to the police that may never reach the officers en route due to corruption, the solution could be to change the officers’ pay.
Possible solutions include granting benefits such as preferential banking, housing, credit, and mortgage facilities to encourage recruitment and retention and prevent corruption. Another more ambitious reform would be to revise the Nigerian Penal Code by introducing a distinction between federal and local police, allowing locally recruited police officers to investigate petty crime with a separate elite federal police force devoted to more severe violence.
Nigeria’s government already has representatives from what is perhaps the most influential constituency in Nigerian society. Both Nigeria’s national security adviser and the defense minister are retired generals, as is the president.
Nigeria’s group of retired generals is like its own private membership club. Their word is likely to carry more weight with the president, and they can use their influence to convince Nigeria’s leaders to address the giant elephants in the space the country has ignored for decades: the country’s militarized society and the exploding population of more than 200 million people plus the youth who regularly send out threats to national security.
As an institution that has the ears of the president and whose sudden absence from national life would wreak havoc, the military is best placed to persuade the government to stop throwing money and security problems at the military, and instead throwing them into them Investing in strengthening the police force.
It is the great irony of Nigeria that very little moves unless the military urges it.