• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
businessday logo


Nigeria’s security architecture is due for a review

New service chiefs

Congratulations to the new service chiefs. Reaching the apex of one’s profession is something few achieve, as such, their success is worth celebrating. However, Nigerians should not just celebrate the men now in charge of our armed forces. Neither should we denigrate their chances of turning around the security challenges plaguing our country. We ought to, instead, consider how our republic can create a system that guarantees the most basic of public goods: security.

The history of Nigeria has left us with a peculiar institutional problem. The roots of our security forces cannot be traced to the need to defend Nigerians. The heritage of the Nigerian police force begins in British rule. The army, navy and airforce, in their current incarnations, are the creations of dictatorships. The Department of State Security is a secret police created to protect juntas.

The result of all of the above is that Nigerians have never really taken the time to plan and structure our security forces to serve us. Instead, unrepresentative cabals have been the ones to develop and direct the security forces.

Resolving Nigeria’s security challenges is not just a matter of shuffling chairs at the top or recruiting more Nigerians to be sacrificed to a failing system. What is needed is roots-and-branches reform. We must redesign our entire security architecture.

A few things jump out for me regarding our security structure. First, it is over-militarised. Second, the composition of military forces shows little original thinking. Third, there are far too many institutions, some of which duplicate their functions. Finally, there is no indication of meritocratic, uniform training and promotion standards. Their resolution strikes me as a necessary step in turning around our dire security situation.

Our neighbours are peaceable. The military population should reflect that reality, while the policing numbers and their budget should reflect our internal security challenges

At present, the Nigerian military is deployed in all states of the Federation. That is not out of necessity or strategy. It is the case of a man with only a hammer for whom everything is a nail. The military was expanded beyond its necessary numbers to fight a civil war caused by military intransigence. Since, it, rather than the police, has been at the centre of Nigeria’s security planning. It should not be so. Our neighbours are peaceable. The military population should reflect that reality, while the policing numbers and their budget should reflect our internal security challenges.

Why do we have an air force? None of our neighbours are threats. It is unlikely that we will ever go to war with any of the major powers. We should replace an air force we do not need with police forces capable of moving alongside, policing and protecting our nomadic populations and far-flung rural areas, like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Despite being plagued by security challenges along our internal waterways and being one of the global centres of maritime piracy and oil bunkering, we do not have riparian police or a coast guard and our navy is an afterthought. The reality is that we have an airforce because we are that unprepared student who copies even the name of the person they are copying. Our unoriginal duplication is an institutional blight. Disband the airforce. It would be a cost-saving exercise, and other institutions can procure air-assets according to their requirements.

In addition to unnecessary institutions like the airforce, we seem to think that the path to security lies with more security agencies. It is likely the opposite. Security agencies proliferation is a mark of inefficiency. Why have an ICPC and EFCC? What is now the purpose of the Civil-Defence corps? Especially since one of its tasks of guarding oil pipelines has been appropriated by private security agencies. Ethnic-based security networks like the recently introduced Amotekun are reprisals of earlier failed attempts like the Night Guards in the British era and the local vigilantes of the early 4th Republic (remember the Bakassi Boys?). None of those institutions will have access to the resources they require. That means poor and poorly trained operatives. Should we be surprised that they are corrupt, extort or are subverted by criminal networks? I think not.

We ought to set up our security institutions for success most of all. That is impossible without reform. First, the military must be replaced by the police force as the centrepiece of our security architecture. Second, security institutions must reflect our security needs, not foreign assumptions. Third, proliferating security institutions must be disbanded. There should be one police force with multiple departments that focuses on different crimes. While the chain of command within states should end with state governors, recruitment must remain a Federal responsibility. There must be a single, standard rigorous programme of tests and training through which all members of the police pass through. Successful candidates can then be dispersed from the centre to the states.

I have no expectations of change in the short-term. We are still at the stage where we think that more effort is the path out of a hole. It is not. A time must come when we realise that the first step we must take is to stop digging.

Emmanuel-Francis Nwaolisa Ogomegbunam is a Nigerian by conviction.