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Security, nationhood and development

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As we enter the year 2019 – into another electoral-political cycle — our country today stands at the crossroads of history. Never before have the Nigerian people become as divided as they are today, with possible exception of the crises of the first republic and the war years 1966-1970. Nigerians have become deeply divided along ethnic, religious and regional fault lines.

The insurgency and murderous armed rural militias have exacerbated our deepest national divisions. Although we thought the serpent was on its death-bed, it has risen Phoenix-like to occupy almost halve of Borno state today. Many of my friends from Sokoto told me they could not go home during the Christmas break because Zamfara, which they must traverse en route to Sokoto, is a no-go area.

Throughout our country, thousands have been killed and well over 3 million defenceless people and families are concentrated in rag-tag internally displaced persons (IDP) camps within and outside our borders. Insecurity has undermined food security across the country. Insecurity has driven out investors and has destroyed the prospects of long-term development. Our country has become a vicious vortex of poverty and despair rather than virtuous haven of peace, solidarity and prosperity.

The acts of genocidal violence committed by various armed bandits in our country have the backing of foreign interests working in connivance with local power and business elites. The government seems culpable in the ongoing genocide and de facto land dispossession. People are killed and driven out of their land. Foreigners occupy those lands and the authorities never send in security agencies to reverse the forcible dispossession. Nobody is arrested.

I make bold to say that without peace there can be no social progress. Peace is everything. We must therefore actively pursue it. Peace in our context is constituted by four elements: tackling insecurity, restructuring and nation building and wrestling down the monster of corruption. Underpinning the peace agenda is the necessity of reinventing our country as a just, peaceful and progressive democracy anchored on the rule of law, social justice and solidarity. At the heart of it is the forgotten agenda of nation building.

The great Swiss historian Jacob Burkhart, in his epochal studies of the early modern state in renaissance Italy, famously described the political state as “a work of art”. The metaphor is very apt. It captures the understanding that nation states do not evolve by sheer chance or sheer historical accident. They are created and nurtured by statesmen. A state, like a piece of art, must be built with vision, creativity, patience and dexterity. Franz Fanon also declared that the task of every generation is to discover its mission and to fulfil or betray it. The mission of our generation is to re-imagine and reinvent Nigeria as a country that is both forward-looking and democratic; a progressive country anchored on the foundations of the peace, positive science, the rule of law, freedom and social justice.

We believe that the first duty of civil government is to secure the commonwealth. This has been the first dictum of public administration since Aristotle and Plato. A government that cannot secure the lives and properties of its citizens has failed in its most elementary duties. We on our part are staunchly committed to securing the common peace by tackling the insurgency and demobilising the armed bandits to ensure that our people live in peace and without fear.

To enhance the security of our people we must modernise the police service in Nigeria; giving them better equipment and enhanced training in detecting, countering and prosecuting crime. We plan to decentralise the police service and develop a state police service so as to bring them closer to the people for more effective law-enforcement. We must dig deep into the roots and causes of crime. We are particularly committed to the model that has worked so well in Tunisia, where greater emphasis is placed on intelligence gathering to nip crime in the bud before it rears its ugly head.

We must also commit to building a virile and modern army. We see the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) as a model some of whose elements can be applied to our situation. We need a better trained, more disciplined and better equipped military that will defend our people and secure our sovereign territorial integrity as a nation. We need to create a military-industrial complex whereby the armed forces work with industry in developing our defence capability and doing research and innovation that brings value-add not only to the task of national defence but also to our technological development and capability as a country.

We must also create a new security architecture for our country. The first step is to create a National Security Council empowering the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and Coordinator for all the intelligence agencies. Agencies such as State Security Services (SSS), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) must be streamlined and rationalised to ensure that they work in concert and in a coordinated fashion rather than in their current anarchic and rivalrous manner. We must also decentralise the police to ensure that law-enforcement officers can leverage on local knowledge and local social capital to develop effective tools of policing at the local level.

In addition, we should create a new force of Forest Guards, to be largely recruited from local communities. Their role will be to patrol rural communities and ensure that rural bandits are apprehended and brought to justice. We shall patrol our borders more actively to ensure that criminal armed bandits will not gain untrammelled access across our borders.

Ultimately, tackling the security challenge requires re-visiting the arduous task of nation building. This entails mobilising all the youth and people of this country – men and women, rich and poor. We need a new coalition of Nigerians who genuinely believe in democracy and social justice. We must fight to take our country back. Nation building entails symbolic as well as substantive commitments to ensuring that the country is governed in a fair and representative manner. The government and leadership must reflect our diversity while the task of economic development must embrace every region and every section of our country; giving people a sense of belonging and hope.

Ultimately, tackling the security challenge requires the restructuring of our federation in a manner that allows genuine federalism to flourish. We need not only a strong union; we need a decentralised union that allows our diverse peoples and regions to enjoy autonomy, self-determination and internal government. We have nothing to fear except fear itself.

Those who fear restructuring are mainly those who have enjoyed unjustified privileges as a result of the illegitimate military-inspired constitution that has given them financial and other privileges at the expense of the rest of our country. Despite all this, the North remains the most impoverished region in our country. The incidence of poverty is as high as 92 percent in Zamfara, compared to 35 percent in Lagos State. Youth unemployment is as high as 70 percent in Sokoto state as compared to 10 percent in Ogun state. Disease, illiteracy and youth drug addiction define the anatomy of poverty in Northern Nigeria. Redesigning the structure of our federation cannot be to make some regions worse off than they are already. This is what my Northern brethren fear. Rather, we must build effective affirmative systems that enable them overcome poverty, disease, illiteracy and destitution. We must reinvent Nigeria as a conscionable and compassionate country that is genuinely committed to progress and happiness of all its citizens.

We are persuaded that the battle for a New Nigeria can only be won if we reinvent our country as a forward-looking, progressive democracy that is at peace with itself and its neighbours. It is evident that our life-chances and our survival as a corporate political community cannot be guaranteed under the current structure of our federation, with its nearly bankrupt states and non-functioning, egregious 774 local governments. It is clear that our country will survive and flourish only when we are at peace within our homeland – with institutions that are anchored on integrity, justice and the genuine will of the people.

Happy New Year to all my gentle readers! I count it an honour to be read by you. Blessings and peace. Shalom!


Obadiah Mailafia

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