Revamping Nigeria’s economy: Service chiefs to the rescue
...Experts list ways to win decade-long war against violent extremism
It is no longer news that President Muhammadu Buhari has relieved the service chiefs he appointed in 2015 of their appointments.
The President’s action was long overdue as Nigerians kept decrying the incompetence of the service chiefs who allowed insecurity to escalate under their watch, amid several calls for their sack.
But as the military flag moved from one hand to another, expectations are very high. In recognition of the huge demand on them, the new service chiefs went to Borno State, the epicenter of insecurity in the country, on January 31, 2021 to engage with stakeholder-communities.
The service chiefs are, Maj. Gen. Leo Irabor, new chief of defense staff; Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, chief of army staff; Rear Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo, chief of navy staff, and the new air force chief of staff is Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao.
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Before the announcement of the appointment of the new service chiefs, Nigeria had slipped into recession; twice in five years in the life of the current government.
A major contributory factor to the nation’s economic mess has been the rising spate of insecurity which has scared away investors and slowed down productivity in all sectors.
Before the appointment, Borno State, which has been the epicentre of the Islamist sect, Boko Haram insurgency has remained a no-go-area to many Nigerians and foreigners.
All the nation’s highways had become danger zones as kidnappers lay siege to travellers, hampering trade and commerce in the country.
While their visit was probably meant to hit the ground running, many Nigerians are not after speeches, assurances and promises, but real action that will recover the country from the hands of terrorists, bandits, kidnapers, and killer herdsmen, as well as, restore peace, investor confidence and boom in business activities across the country.
For many, considering that you need increased economic activities, improved money in circulation among other measures to exit recession, there is need for urgent and sustained onslaught against insecurity in order to restore peace needed for businesses to thrive.
According to Kene Onwordi, a lawyer and business owner, the expectations from Nigerians and even the world, are very high considering the level of damage on the country’s image by the many killings and other violent acts by gunmen and terrorist groups.
“I am a business owner and I know how difficult it is to convince my foreign partners on the safety of their investments in Nigeria. I lost a huge foreign deal the day a Briton was killed by kidnappers at Kajuru Castle in Kaduna. There are many in my shoe who earnestly yearn for action from the new service chiefs”, the lawyer and real estate developer, lamented
Speaking further, he noted that Nigerians want action and real performance, which are necessary to restore peaceful and enabling environment for businesses to thrive, boost economic activities and hasten the exit from the recession.
He doubts the possibility of existing recession in the first quarter of this year if the service chiefs do the same thing their predecessors did, saying, “You need to retake Nigeria from these haters of peace”.
In the same vein, Akeem Olubade, an Abuja-based hotelier and executive of Hotel Owners Forum Abuja (HOFA), noted that beyond moving the flag from one hand to another, Nigerians expect that the change of personnel will bring new dynamism and better result.
“We have been boxed to a corner for a long time by the hoodlums and the private sector is feeling the impact most because businesses need peaceful environment to thrive. But the fresh blood in the security system should realise this, leave politics and fight like soldiers in the battle field, which the terrorists have sadly turned Nigeria into”, he said.
Reeling out figures, Olubade decried that many businesses including enterprising farms, hotels, logistics, banks, and even hospitals have been closed in the north east of the country because of the high rate of insecurity there.
“I know about seven hotel owners who have converted their hotels to real estate due to little or no patronage. In Maiduguri, over 10 bank branches have not opened in the last five years, while supermarkets and other high target outfits by the terrorists have either closed or scaled down business. The number of job losses is huge,” Olabode said.
Also, the National University Commission (NUC) has also cried out that those granted license to operate private universities in some of the troubled areas are yet to start as their partners keep weighing the impact of insecurity on their proposed investment.
Many other businesses that are expected to boost employment opportunities and the gross domestic product (GDP) are also weighed down by challenges posed by insecurity; some are shutting down and many relocating to peaceful areas. The sad development has resulted in job losses, increase in crime rate and restiveness in such areas.
But Jonah Yakubu, a retired State Security Service assistant director, argued that the expectations should not be high until the military, which has been experiencing increasing resignations, especially by the junior ranks who fight the terrorists, puts its house in order.
“I have heard of many soldiers who abandoned the fight in the north east to safeguard their lives because of the double standard and unthinkable sabotage of their efforts by their own”, he said.
Speaking further, he advised that if Nigerians want to win the fight against terrorism, the military needs to boost the morale of soldiers, track cases of ambush, sabotage, and punish the offenders because soldiers cannot be fighting and watching their back against enemies within.
Toeing Yakubu’s line Olabode pleaded that the military leadership should improve on the welfare of soldiers, and incentives, as well as, give adequate compensations to families of those who died in the fight against terrorism, especially junior ranks.
To meet the expectations of aggrieved Nigerians, Yakubu noted that the military needs to work in a more coordinated manner now, sharing information and security intelligence needed to defeat terrorists.
According to him, the former service chiefs failed because there were many voices, many uncoordinated actions, distractions from politicians and neglect of vulnerable soldiers resulting in lack of morale to fight to finish.
“Some foreign interests are willing to collaborate with Nigeria in the fight, but surprisingly we do not engage them. I think it is time to think and act differently, collaborate, share information and work for a common goal. If our neighbours can push Boko Haram back to us, we can engage and defeat Boko Haram if we are sincere in the fight because we are stronger, more populated and have money to buy more sophisticated arms. There is no excuse for the new service chiefs”, Yakubu said.
Banji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka, a professor and special adviser to the President of African Development Bank (AfDB), said that in the case of herdsmen, the pastoralists must be stopped from grazing on people’s land.
“They need to know that when you move into somebody’s farm, there is a cost to it. It is a business and must be seen to be so,” he said.
It is expected that the new service chiefs would advise the President on how to permanently address the herdsmen’s issue in the country.
Meanwhile, some security experts who spoke with BusinessDay said that Nigerians bear the brunt of insecurity and must see changes; they have proffered some strategies which they believed would go a long way to degrade criminality and improve businesses, if implemented.
Improved inter agency coordination and cooperation
They urged the new service chiefs to work in harmony if they will make any headway, especially in Air-Ground Operations.
Senator Iroegbu, a security analyst, noted that there was a subtle rivalry between the Ex-Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Army Staff which affected the war against criminality.
“The rivalry between the different security organisations must stop. This dispensation must strike the rhythm for effective coordination, collaboration and synergy,” Iroegbu said.
Improved welfare of frontline troops
The experts also suggested that the new service chiefs should make the welfare of frontline troops a top priority to boost morale in the battle field. They need to be provided with the right facilities, soldiers in frontline should be rotated out of the battle field after a minimum period of six months interval to avoid battle fatigue, they have to heard their entitlements in full to effectively deal with the insurgents and avoid cases were soldiers become frustrated and scamper out of the battle fields, experts said.
Non-kinetic and people-centred approach
Chidi Omeje, a security analyst and coordinator, Citizens’ Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA), wants the service chiefs to put down weapons and explore non-kinetic approach in tackling insecurity.
He noted that the country has for many years focused on a Kinetic approach to tackle the many security challenges in the country, stating that a new approach that is people-centred could not be more apt.
According to the security expert, a non-kinetic approach will enable the military to win the trust and cooperation of her citizenry and boost intelligence gathering. He also said that the non-kinetic approach will address the gap between the Armed Forces of Nigeria and foster cooperation between the military and affected communities, especially in the area of intelligence gathering.
Secure release of Chibok/Dapchi girls
One of the suggestions is that to win the confidence of the people, the rescue of the Chibok and Dapchi girls who have been in Boko Haram captivity for a very long time is paramount. The past service chiefs failed in bringing the students home despite several operations in this regard.
Review de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme
The DRR programme has been widely criticised by many experts and stakeholders. They want the new security chiefs to review the programme and include victims’ rehabilitation. They stress that deradicalisation without victims’ healing is not productive and may encourage criminality. This is because people believe they would still be forgiven and be given a second chance at life, if they engage in violent extremism, but victims are neglected.
Effective communication strategy to counter the narratives of violent extremists through strategic stakeholders
Experts want the new service chiefs to explore deeper the development of communication strategies to win the war of the mind. This is the most difficult aspect of the war to fight. Until the government and religious leaders are able to counter the narratives of criminal elements effectively, through strategic stakeholders such as traditional and religious leaders, women, only very little progress can be made in the war against terror.