TOPIC: 2023 POLITICS, NATIONAL SECURITY, AND NAGERIA’S STABILITY BY Abdulrahman B. Dambazau CFR PhD Lieutenant General (Rtd)
Keynote Address for 2022 Blueprint Annual Public Lectures and Impact Series/Award held on Tuesday, August 16, 2022, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
Every election regime comes with its own challenges, which revolve around national security and stability. Since 1960, when the country got its independence, Nigeria has gone through a chequered history, culminating into the Fourth Republic we are in today. So far, we have had more than 20 years of uninterrupted period of democracy, the longest in Nigeria’s history. Within this period, we have recorded six general elections, while we are heading for the seventh in 2023. It is within this background that this Blueprint Annual Public Lectures is being organized with the theme “2023 Politics, National Security and Nigeria’s Stability.”
The process leading to the 2023 general elections is on course, and the political parties are so far adhering to INEC Timetable, but the real politics will start next month after the campaign whistle has been blown. So, what are the expectations? What are the most likely issues or factors that could influence the 2023 politics, and the general elections in particular? To what extent are issues of national security and stability major items on the agenda of the 2023 politics?
Now to answer the first question, I will say that the general expectation is that the 2023 elections will be free, fair, and credible. President Muhammadu Buhari has said in multiple times that the elections will not only be free, fair, and transparent, but also that he would ensure a peaceful transfer of power. President Buhari is sensitive to election integrity most likely due to his experiences in the 2003, 2007, and 20011 presidential elections, each of which he unsuccessfully challenged the results up to the Supreme Court. The 2022 Electoral law the President signed further confirm the President’s sincerity to learn from past mistakes by providing safeguards for more transparent voting and collation processes. In addition, the Act gives INEC more decision-making powers, particularly in cases of over-voting; use of electronic card readers for voting and electronic methods of transmitting results for collation; and how to handle a situation when a candidate dies before the announcement of results. The Act also provides for the appropriate response when duress and/or intimidation are used against presiding officers in declaring results. I think the pronouncements and actions of the President show the extent to which he is interested in the consolidation of democracy in Nigeria, and we must give him the credit for that.
So, what are the likely issues or factors that could influence the 2023 politics? Firstly, the politics of zoning the presidency between north and south, that re-emerged when the Southern and Middle Belt Leadership Forum insisted that for the 2023 presidential elections, the parties must produce candidates from the south, to which the Northern Elders Forum opposed. As a matter of fact, the zoning controversy was further reduced to the level of ethnicity with the agitation of what was termed “Igbo presidency”, meaning that 2023 was the chance of the Igbo ethnic group to produce the next president after Buhari.
Anyway, the political parties have conducted their respective primaries and decided on who their candidates would be for the February 2023 presidential elections. Although attention has been focused on the two major political parties, the ruling APC, and the main opposition, the PDP, there are not less than fifteen parties contesting for the presidency. From the roll call of presidential candidates, all the geopolitical regions have been adequately represented, and it is now left for them to strategize on how to campaign and win the elections.
Next is the restructuring debate, which has been in the public space for a long time, an issue that will also feature in the 2023 politics, as it did in the past. The most extreme view in the debate is that the 1999 Constitution should be completely discarded for an entirely new one. In general, however, the agenda of the restructuring debate consists of such items as true federalism, state police, devolution of power, regional autonomy, ethnic nationalities, sovereign national conference, and resource control. These issues are likely to resurface in the 2023 elections campaigns and debates as they did with the Obasanjo, Jonathan, and Buhari presidency.
Identity politics, resulting from the politicization of religion and ethnicization of politics, is another factor likely to have far reaching consequences on the 2023 politics. The fact that religion and ethnicity are currencies for political mobilization, is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria’s political environment. What is relatively new is its promotion by religious clerics, institutions, and organizations. The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), for example, fired the first salvo when they said that only a southern Christian should be elected the next President. The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) responded that only a southern Muslim should be voted to become the next President, arguing that since the first republic, no Yoruba Muslim occupied either the position of President or Vice President.
The division along religious lines as it relates to the 2023 politics became intensified after the APC presidential candidate picked a northern Muslim as his running mate, even though religion was not a factor for the choice. If it were, he could have picked from the northwest, where about 90% of the population is Muslim. When strategizing for winning elections, all factors are put on the table for consideration. Tinubu’s choice of Kashim Shettima could not be by chance. Kashim Shettima had in the past demonstrated leadership as a two-term Governor of Borno state under the stress of insurgency, violent extremism, and terrorism. We are also aware that Borno state is one of the northern states that has been hard hit by the impact of Climate Change, resulting in land degradation. With the insecurity challenge in Nigeria, including climate-related conflicts, the choice of Kashim Shettima to leverage on his crisis management experience was apt. At the level of personal relationship, it is an open secret that Shettima had shown loyalty and support for the presidential aspiration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu. While it is not expected that everyone agrees with such strategic decisions, no one can also deny the candidate his right to make his choice, of course, after due consultations with party stakeholders, and this is applicable to all our fifteen or so candidates.
It is apparent that we have started 2023 politics with the mundane issues that brought us to the level of insecurity and instability we are today. We have more than enough challenges or issues confronting us. Rather than directing our energy on religious or ethnic controversies, we should be more interested in such issues as poverty reduction; food security; youth unemployment; improved power sector; quality and affordable healthcare services; and improved education system. The development of critical infrastructures is also a key area of concern, and although the APC government under Buhari has done remarkably well by completing many of the projects it met in 2015, in addition to new ones it originated, there are however approximately 60,000 abandoned projects in Nigeria, estimated to cost about N12 trillion. And what can we do to mitigate such waste? These are only a few critical areas the 2023 politics should focus attention on, not religion and ethnicity.
Our immediate concern today is the widespread insecurity. In more than twenty years, we have been dealing with emerging threats from non-state actors that have led to the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast; banditry and kidnapping for ransom in the northwest; and threats of secession and ethnic extremism in the southeast and southwest. There are also socio-economic related conflicts between herders and farmers and ethno-religious conflicts in the north central; and until late President Yar’Adua introduced the Amnesty programme for surrendered militants in the Niger Delta, militancy in the region posed serious threats to Nigeria’s national security. Still, the region is grappling with issues of illegal oil bunkering or theft, and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Practically, every geopolitical region has its own contributions to the insecurity in Nigeria.
When the APC government under President Buhari came in 2015, Boko Haram insurgency was at its peak, with 14 local government areas under its control, however, the group was dislodged and degraded as evidenced by the 2022 report of Global Terrorism Index. The report shows that recorded deaths from Boko Haram terrorism in 2021 fell to 448, from 2,131 in 2015, and this is as result of substantial decline of the terrorist group. However, we have also seen the birth of splinter groups, Ansaru, ISWAP and Bakura factions, in addition to the original JAS under late Shekau. Each of the splinter groups is further fragmented into hundreds of cells that are highly mobile. The implication is that the CTCOIN operations are now conducted in multiple fronts as against the original Boko Haram of about twelve years ago. But still the insurgents are not as formidable as they were before 2015, and we must give credit to the Nigerian armed forces and the Multinational Joint Task Force on this. How would this situation affect the conduct of the 2023 elections? Surely it would, because some of the communities would still be displaced and the terrorists would likely continue attacks on soft targets, INEC officials and ad hoc staff could be understandably apprehensive, despite the assurance of government to provide adequate security for the exercise. There is also no doubt that access to some polling units, especially in border communities, may pose some difficulties, the more reason why adequate security arrangement must be made well ahead of the 2023 elections. Security agencies should actively engage their personnel by deployments in likely hotspots, and simultaneously engage in gathering intelligence.
While the government records significant success in tackling Boko Haram in the northeast, the northwest caught the insecurity virus with several incidents of banditry, cattle rustling, and kidnapping for ransom. Banditry is multifaceted with a variety of events and activities, but unlike the Boko Haram insurgency, which is ideologically driven hoping to establish a state, the bandits have not shown such territorial ambition. It is a complex combination of violent business entrepreneurship through kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling by the criminal gangs, and attacks on rural settlements.
From the recent attacks on the Abuja-Kaduna train; the Shiroro mining site; the Kuje prison; military patrol in Bwari; and the attack on soldiers deployed at Madallah checkpoint, it is evident that Boko Haram insurgents are gradually establishing cells close to the Federal Capital, specifically in the neighboring states of Kogi, Kaduna and Niger. Yes, the terrorists are inching closer to the seat of power, so also the motorcycle bandits whom had almost taken control of the Abuja-Kaduna Road; and to some extent, the Abuja-Lokoja Road, and Kaduna-Birnin Gwari Road. These roads or highways must be constantly dominated by security activities, and the terrorists and/or bandits must pursued with adequate firepower aimed at eliminating them. It is clear that the violent activities of these groups are designed to make citizens uncomfortable, in addition to embarrassing and discrediting the government. To elicit emotions, raise tension, and influence public opinion against the government, the terrorists would normally post video of their helpless victims and/or activities. They extort money as ransom from family members of their victims, and sometimes they even murder their victims after payment. They make deliberate efforts to put the government on panic mode, leading to closure of schools, businesses, and other public activities. This situation will encourage their audacity, rather from now on we should take fight to wherever they are, put pressure on them and make them very uncomfortable, where the opportunity avails itself, eliminate them. We must live our normal lives, and not allow some violent gangs to make us live miserable lives, full of uncertainties.
As we are preparing for the 2023 elections, we are also thinking about the possibility of attacks or disruptions of the election processes by these violent groups. The security threats against the 2023 politics are not limited to the activities of the terror groups in the north, but also the proscribed IPOB in the southeast, which has not only been terrorizing the people of the region, especially while enforcing their illegal sit-at-home orders, but also killing and destroying properties of northerners seeking livelihood in the region. The group had earlier threatened that there would be no elections in the southeast in 2023, insisting that all they want is to secede from Nigeria to form the Republic of Biafra. IPOB or any violent group that threatens democracy must not be allowed any opportunity to carry out such threats against the corporate existence of this country.
As a matter of fact, INEC and the security agencies are not taking anything for granted, as they have been conducting meetings, organizing conferences and seminars, and carrying out practical training under the auspices of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). The concerns about elections security are not only on the activities of terrorists and bandits, but also on the use of political thugs to disrupt election processes in desperation to win through rigging, intimidation, and unleashing violence on political rivals.
In every election, the stakes are high, therefore there is great temptation to ensure victory by illegal or unethical and questionable means. The protection of INEC sensitive and other materials; provision of security to polling units, ad hoc staff, party agents, poll workers, media, observers, and INEC staff; the protection of the voters themselves; the provision of security covers at campaign rallies; and the protection of candidates and other VIPs, are necessary in fulfilling the President’s promise of free and fair elections.
While precautionary measures are being taken to ensure adequate security regarding the 2023 general elections, it is necessary to also take proactive measures against violent groups that have been putting immeasurable fears and pains in the minds of people. They are also sending the wrong signals to investors, and those interested in participating as elections observers. Likewise, they are not only enlarging the population of internally displaced persons and refugees, but also adding to the population of widows, orphans, and out-of-school children. With about 2.7 million people displaced, Nigeria is said to accommodate the third highest number of IDPs in Africa. This does not include the thousands of refugees in the neighbouring countries.
We must understand that we are dealing with non-state actors, who are mostly Nigerians, and who live within the communities, therefore the public must be made aware of its responsibility in reporting suspicious movements as we are involved in the processes towards the elections. Countering the activities of the violent groups requires a multi-dimensional approach, and the civilian population must be fully involved. If religious clerics could encourage their congregation to give maximum support to the security forces the way they directed them to register with INEC and collect their PVCs, the efforts of the security forces would greatly improve.
Out of fear or sympathy, some civilians directly or indirectly support these violent criminals in carrying out their dastardly acts. Specifically, the assistance is in procuring logistics; smuggling weapons; and providing them information on the movements and operations of security forces. The security forces on the other hand, must ensure that they cultivate trust and confidence in their relationship with the civilian communities. Civilians want assurance of protection against terrorist or bandit attacks, and where they don’t get it, they succumb to the demands of these criminals, including payments of illegal taxes to them. These violent criminals may discourage voters from coming out on the days of elections, even by way of subtle threats, the reason why adequate security arrangement must be made ahead of scheduled dates.
Winning the “hearts and minds” is a necessary factor in winning counterterrorism and counter insurgency operations. With the total strength of less than 200,000 all ranks, the armed forces have serious deficiency in the required strength necessary to deal with the kind of security challenges we are confronting in Nigeria. This is in addition to the fact that they have the constitutional responsibility of defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country with land size of 923,768 sq km, and a population of over 200 million people. This situation the military finds itself underscores the fact that the institution is overstretched amidst inadequate funding to carry out these duties effectively and efficiently.
Between now and May 29, 2023, when a new government would be sworn-in, it is necessary to rethink and review the CTCOIN strategy, including putting the Nigeria Police in its proper position with improved capacity to ensure law and order. However, of great importance is that actions against these violent criminals must be intelligence driven and the deployments of smart modern technology to facilitate surgical operations aiming to destroy these enemies, with minimum civilian casualties or collateral damage. We must be proactive, using aggressive covert and overt operations, and those arrested must be thoroughly investigated, prosecuted, and if found guilty, punished according to the law. For all terrorists and kidnappers, the punishment must be severe and certain, to send a strong message to all violent entrepreneurs. They must be put under constant pressure, and there should be no respite for them. We must not allow violent criminals to hold the country hostage, making people live in perpetual fear and uncertainty, and regardless of party politics, all hands must be on deck in support of government efforts even while focusing attention on the 2023 politics.
There is no doubt that security will be the top agenda item for the 2023 politics. We must approach the issue of security from a wider perspective that involves both the physical protection of lives and properties and the well-being of citizens. The quality of life and well-being of citizens should be an item in 2023 politics agenda on national security. Nigeria’s population of about 200million is said to be approximately 70% young and this also reflect the voting population in 2023 elections.
The UN had projected that by 2050 the population would double to a little over 400million which also means that the young population would also doubled. The extent to which this human capital is developed, and its well-being adequately taken care of, is of utmost importance. The youth bulge is a matter of serious security concern now and in the future. What are our plans for the youth? This is a relevant question for 2023 politics. If we do not have positive plans for them in terms of poverty reduction, accessible and quality education, employment opportunities, skills acquisition, healthcare services, shelter, and other aspects of human development, there are readily available criminal and terror organizations that would easily recruit them for their violent activities.
In addition, related areas of border security and management due to the influx of illicit drugs and firearms should be of interest in the agenda of 2023 politics. SBM Intelligence, an Africa-focused geopolitical research organization, for example, indicated that the number of small arms in circulation in Nigeria in the hands of civilian non-state actors is estimated at 6.1million, about twelve times what is in the inventory of Nigeria’s military and other law enforcement agencies combined. The issue of firearms proliferation in Nigeria should be well captured in the political discourse, especially because of the on-going Russia-Ukraine war, the aftermath of which may result in the smuggling of excess weapons into Africa, and Nigeria in particular, just as we experienced with Libya. The truth is that Nigeria’s approximately 4,500 km borders are open and porous, requiring well articulated strategy for managing and securing it, but we require the full cooperation of our neighbors to succeed.
With the movements of terrorists, weapons, and drugs across borders, and the activities of terrorist groups in our immediate and strategic neighborhood, countering terrorism and insurgency must be approached from a regional perspective, requiring the interest and participation of regional stakeholders. It was the reason why the Multinational Joint Task Force located in Chad was formed in the first place, bringing together forces belonging to Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon. Although Nigeria leads this team operationally, and even provides bulk of the funds, France exercises a lot of influence on the Francophone members. The United States is also in the region having established two drone bases in Niger Republic, therefore Nigeria must take advantage of the situation by finding ways of sharing such intelligence assets.
As Nigeria’s population is growing rapidly, climate change is ravaging the land and depleting water resources. This should also be a key area of focus for 2023 politics, especially because of its relationship with insecurity. There is no doubt that climate change is a major culprit to Nigeria’s insecurity, because by degrading the land, it creates scarcity of land and water, as main resources required by both herders and farmers for their livelihood. Climate change is the brain behind significant number of conflicts in the north central, but unfortunately such conflicts turn ethno-religious since most farmers in southern Kaduna, Benue, and Plateau are minority tribes and Christians, while most of the herders are Fulani and Muslims.
Likewise, in Zamfara state, it is majorly the impact of climate change that has turned conflicts over land and water resources into conflicts between Fulani herders, carrying out banditry attacks on the mostly Hausa communities, and Hausa farmers, represented by the vigilante, the “yan sa kai”, who attack Fulani settlements. It is also climate change impact that reduced the size of Lake Chad from 25,000 sq km in the 1960s to about 4,000sq km currently, denying about 40 million people in the region of their livelihoods, while also contributing to the insecurity in the Sahel. Climate change is a major culprit in exacerbating the violent extremism, terrorism, and the insurgency in the Sahel and the Lake Chad basin region, at the least it provides the platform for recruitment drive of persons who are jobless, hungry, and frustrated, into the violent insurgency groups. It is indeed a security threat multiplier.
We must commend President Buhari who not only understood the negative socio-economic impact of climate change and its consequences to our society, but also followed that with action when he led Nigerian delegation to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change on September 22, 2016 at the UN Headquarters, and has now started implementing the Nigerian Climate Change Framework Act 2021, by appointing a Director-General/CEO of the National Council on Climate Change, an administrative and authoritative body, to be chaired by the President himself.
Finally I want to end this Keynote Address with the recommendation for the reform of the entire Nigeria’s security sector, which I think is overdue. For this reason, I also think it should be of top priority in post-2023 politics, so as to strengthen the capacity of the security agencies to be effective and efficient in tackling current and future security threats. It is clear from our discussions so far that the threats to Nigeria’s national security and stability are existential. While some of these threats have existed since independence in 1960, others are emerging. Although the geographical size of Nigeria has relatively remained the same since independence in 1960, the population has quadrupled; towns and cities have expanded; thousands of rural settlements have emerged; information and communication technology has tremendously improved; there is widespread inter-connectivity because of globalization; and we are experiencing emerging threats from non-state actors; and warfare is mainly intrastate and asymmetric. This situation is at the backdrop of the impact of colonialism and extended periods of military rule.
The reforms of the security sector in line with the current and future security challenges are inevitable, and there are no options other than to carry them out. And the sooner we commence the process, the better. I believe that this should be the very first item on the agenda of the government coming in May 2023. Aside the issues or factors earlier mentioned, the reasons why these reforms are necessary are that firstly, there appears to be no synergy among the security agencies in terms of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration while carrying out their activities, rather they operate in silos with no role convergence; they hoard information; and are reluctant to share intelligence, as if they are in competition. Secondly, there is poor security governance, making accountability and transparency almost impossible; and thirdly, there are duplication of efforts, leading to wastages of resources.
Unsuccessful attempts at reforms have been made in the past, but using a stove-pipe approach, rather than looking at the sector holistically. There have been several committees of police reforms that ended with reports that were left on the shelves. Today it is the military that performs most routine policing duties, and in fact this is another cogent reason why security sector reforms are necessary. The police are only one of the three legs of the criminal justice system, and the other two legs, the courts, and prisons, are also weak institutions, a situation that leads to poor delivery of justice, being one of the major reasons for the insecurity in Nigeria, especially in situations where victims suffer neglect. The domestication and implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 would strengthen the criminal justice system by ensuring minimum delays in the investigations and trials of offenders; provide alternative means of dispute resolutions; ensure adequate rehabilitation of convicts; and provide non-custodial correctional services. By implication, these provisions in the Acts would lead to the reduction in prison congestion, and quick delivery of justice.
Former President Obasanjo attempted reforms of the military when he assumed power in 1999, but he did not go beyond retiring politically exposed military officers (PEMOs), and subsequently contracting a US-based private military company, the Military Professional Resource Inc. (MPRI), to carry out audit of the armed forces. However, later the Nigerian Army under General Martin Luther Agwai came up with attitudinal change project aimed at re-professionalizing the army. I also had the privilege to continue with this project by emphasizing on civil-military relations, particularly of subordinating the military to political authorities, realizing that the institution’s long exposure to military rule had done a lot of damage to it.
A significant part of security sector reforms is security governance, centered on strengthening the effectiveness of security institutions. One of the areas we need to focus our attention on is emergency response planning and coordination. National response to emergencies must be robust and people-centric, taking advantage of the unique competencies and resources of each entity at all levels. If we had effective and integrated system that responds to national emergencies, the terrorists would not have had the audacity to conduct their Abuja-Kaduna train and Kuje prisons attacks, and even left the scenes without trace after spending hours conducting their operations.
The second area of focus, also relating to our experience, is defence materiel needs identification, procurement, and acquisition procedures and processes. Who has the mandate for defence procurements? We are aware of the controversies following allegations of diversion of funds meant for arms procurement for the northeast operations by the Office of the NSA, during the administration of former President Jonathan. As far as I am aware, the business of the NSA office in defence procurement process is to issue end-user certificates only. Is defence procurement not the exclusive mandate of the Ministry of Defence? Or do the individual Services also have the mandate for not only needs identification, but also procurement and acquisition? What are the processes and procedures in a democratic environment like ours? Answers to these questions should provide clear guidelines that would streamline aspects of defence procurement for better transparency and accountability. Inadequate oversight, lack of transparency, and poor accountability allow corruption and abuse to thrive, thereby weakening the capabilities of the armed forces.
The misplacements, underutilization, and misuse of civilian security agencies and personnel are issues of interest for security sector reforms. The Nigerian Customs Service, for example, aside the revenue it makes for the government, what informs the positioning of such a strategic border security agency to be under the supervision of Ministry of Finance? Likewise, why should a public safety agency, the Federal Road Safety Corps, be under the supervision of the Office of the SGF, when it is clearly the mandate of the Ministry of Interior? Or the National Agency for the Control of AIDS, a health security outfit, not under the supervision of Ministry of Health? These are only a few examples. With these misplacements of supervision and oversight of civilian security agencies and institutions, we cannot guarantee effective and efficient performance, neither can we guarantee accountability and transparency. The police are both underutilized and misused, a situation that poses difficulties in efficient law enforcement. With a strength of about 400,000, a significant percentage are deployed for private security for individuals, organizations, and institutions. The best example for an agency being under-utilized is the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), and they could serve same purpose as the US National Guard, thus creating a force between the military and the police. If my push, as then Minister of Interior, for the establishment of the Agro Rangers unit in the Corps had been funded to take off, most of the attacks on farmers and cattle rustling, would have been checkmated, thereby protecting our food security.
Your excellencies, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we urgently need to reform nigeria’s security sector for efficiency and effectiveness, if we must guarantee the nation’s peace, security and stability. The reforms would redefine, restructure, and re-professionalize the entire sector in a holistic manner, and would provide a security sector that is effective and efficient in matching contemporary and future security threats to Nigeria. I must draw our attention here that to be successful, the reforms of the security sector must also consider the importance of the welfare of security personnel, their salaries and allowances; medical backup; housing; education for their children; death benefits; gratuities and pensions; and any incentives that would boost their morale and make them sacrifice more in the interest of the security and well- being of Nigerians.