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Next administration must take comprehensive review of security architecture – Adekoya

Next administration must take comprehensive review of security architecture

Onyekachi Adekoya is a security and risk management services consultant; a fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Industrial Security and managing director of PR24 Risk Management Consulting. In this interview with some editors, he assessed the outgoing administration’s effort in combating insecurity. He suggested that the incoming administration from May 29, 2023 should undertake a comprehensive review of the nation’s security architecture, by thinking outside the box (involving federal, state and local governments as well as the private sector) to address the root causes of insecurity instead of just symptoms. He also said that without the right thinking, higher personnel numbers, more funding or intelligence gathering on their own will make no significant difference. ZEBULON AGOMUO brings the excerpts:

Insecurity has continued to pose a serious challenge in Nigeria. The Federal Government had at a point claimed that Boko Haram had been degraded. Apart from the sect, the country has also suffered from the activities of bandits and others. From your own perspective, what is the current security situation at the moment?

That’s a very tough question to ask because in attempting to answer the question, we have to look at multiple angles to the problem. So, in general assessment, we will say that Nigeria is regarded to be a medium to extreme risk environment depending on where you are and where you’re travelling to. That will be the immediate assessment of what the general trade environment in Nigeria is like; again depending on where you are. In terms of how this outgoing administration has fared, I think that they made a promise to deal with the issue of Boko Haram; it is not yet Uhuru but they fairly dealt with that issue to some extent. At the height of Boko Haram insurgency against the Nigerian State, they held territory similar to the Satiru Insurgency we had in 1906 in Sokoto. They held territories in some parts of the country. We can boldly say they no longer hold significant spaces.

We used to have three divisions in the Northeast dealing with the issues of Boko Haram/ISWAP and today there has been a drawdown in the number of divisions that we have here in the Northeast dealing with some of these issues. So, life has returned back to the North East to a great extent; maybe we still have pockets of places and spaces where they still find some leeway to operate; the problem is not as it was if we’re looking at Boko Haram and ISWAP in the North East theatre alone but if you then look at the happenings in the North West – again, I’ve pointed out to the fact that some of the things you see in the North West have been there since the early 1990s or 1905 or 1906. So, the issues of banditry, Mahadist Type Islamic movements, Ansaru banditry, they’ve been there for a very long time and we are in a world where information travels faster aided by social media. So, some of these issues are coming to the fore. If you go through the annals of history and some of the research work done, you will see issues about banditry that go way back 40 years, 50 years. They’ve been there entrenched, much like the wars and counter-wars you find in Europe; there are a number of reasons for some of these social upheavals.

Now, the most unlikely part is what we see happening in the North Central with the incursions of ISWAP in Kwara, in Niger and some parts of Benue making threats to Ondo, that’s a bit of an issue. The protest by the South Easterners which pretty much encapsulates the agitation of IPOB, ESN, MASSOB, has been with us since the 1966 Civil War; so nothing new there. We can’t even say that the agitations in the Niger Delta are also new.

How would you assess the outgoing administration’s effort in combating insecurity?

There are lots of sides to look at to assess whether or not this administration has done fairly well within the eight years that it has had. On the issue of Boko Haram, we will probably say on a scale of one to ten, perhaps they have done seven because we must also be fair to the military personnel, that every day, put themselves in harm’s way to keep Nigerians safe. So, some work has been done but there are lots of issues to be addressed.

You made mention of the military in relation to the fight against insecurity. There is the question of looking at equipping, welfare and numbers (in terms of the numbers of personnel that are in the Armed Forces), these three key issues have probably been the difference in many instances between success and failure. Do you think there is the need to increase the number of personnel as has been promised by the incoming president?

In terms of the military, I want to respectfully disagree with those who think that it’s a numbers problem. No, it’s not a numbers problem. With the police, yes, we have a numbers problem. We should have by U.N standards, minimum 500, 000 policemen and maybe we can come to those arguments as to how we can increase that numbers and have the right balance. When you look at numbers, you can’t turn the entirety of Nigeria into a military barracks, you can’t flood the country with soldiers. The question is what is driving this insecurity? What is driving the unrest? What is leading people to take up arms against the state? Because if you have one million soldiers or members of armed forces and you have the entirety of the 36 states of the Federation experiencing one form of unrest or the other and then your numbers argument will fall flat on its face. Remember that the Army can do only as much as it can do within the context of a state that is stable. If we talk about national security, we also make another mistake when we talk about National Security. The term ‘National Security’ would mean something different to the Ijaw nation because they are a nation, it will mean something different to the Yoruba nation agitators or to the Hausa nation or to the Fulani nation. There are different nations, ethnic nationalities within the grouping called Nigeria and so national security itself is not what it should be. When we talk about human security, we begin to define some other issues.

So, it’s not a numbers thing because you can’t keep throwing numbers at the problem. It’s a deep-seated problem and I do hope that this incoming administration will dial back the rhetoric of always using force or considering force as a first option. We must begin to look at other soft power projection options that we have, we now begin to look at this societal fabric itself, what are the drivers of unrest?

We may need to go back to the definition of what security is. At a very base level, it means the absence of threat, the presence of peace and lack of conflict. So what are the things that will lead to the breakdown of peace? Conflicts, issues of social order, and social justice, access to resources at the very base level, etc are the issues that we need to begin to tackle. If we keep saying we throw more personnel at it, more equipment at it, we may not be looking at long-term sustainability in our approach.

Yes, we have a constraint of personnel, yes, the military and the police are doing the best that they can do but there is a deeper Nigerian problem that has to be addressed and it will not be resolved by mere means of arms or personnel.

Read also: Afenifere leader, Fasoranti laments high level of insecurity, unemployment, economic crunch

Are you saying that funding may not actually be the problem that many think it is?

So, funding should not be our problem and I will just give you a good case in point. When people talk about funding and they say that Nigeria is running into a debt of about 77 trillion naira as we speak, the total value of our gas reserve as a nation – and this can be checked also – is valued at over 803 trillion dollars, and this is just only natural gas. Let me repeat, Nigeria has over 803 trillion dollars worth of proven gas reserves. Nigeria should not be a country that has a funding problem; we shouldn’t have the funding problem but because of the structural issues we have and because of the way we play our politics, because of the centrifugal forces that arm themselves up against the state, we are not able to focus on the enormous potentials that we have as a country. There is a lot of sit down that must happen. Let me just stop being theoretical. There’s conflict everywhere. There’s a conflict between the local government and the state governments; between the state government and the Federal Government; among the traditional rulers, local government and the state governments; between the Judiciary and the executive; among the legislative arm and the Judiciary sometimes and even the executive mostly. There’s conflict everywhere. We just have a contraption of ethnic nationalities created by colonial masters. What we failed to realise is that the military rule suppressed some of the agitations over the years; so at the turn of the Fourth Republic, with the experience of democracy, what people could not vent, they could eventually begin to vent and find a way to express some of those issues. And the conflicts that we see within society begin to air themselves to the fore.

Nigeria is faced with what we classically call a wicked problem, and a wicked problem manifests in the fact that you don’t have one simple approach to solving it. It cannot just be a funding problem, it cannot just be said to be a personnel problem, it cannot just be said to be an equipment problem. While you have some of those factors acting as contributors to the crisis we see but there is a deep-seated problem. Yes, there is a funding problem but no, there should not be a funding problem.

We are now looking at the national strategic security review which was carried out in 2019. It is four years old if it was 2019 and there are those who would say that with the incoming administration, it’s due for a review. What is your take?

I think that the conversations around private security would come but before we get to that point, even the military finds itself out of place. You train a military to shoot to kill not to be involved with internal security issues. So our military today have been grossly over domesticated, so they crowd out the space for the police and the police in turn, because the military seems to be even by policy lead agency for security, the police in turn have come to crowd out the space of the private players.

You have the NSCDC that should regulate the private players, themselves, sometimes we see cases of the police arresting NSCDC and some skirmishes like that. They also begin to crowd the space of the private players and while all these ‘forgive my friend’ shenanigans is going on, you have foreign operators who have no license, who have no business in any case operating security in Nigeria sneaking and operating very quietly, and we have lost a lot of revenue within the space.

There’s a big problem. What I hope to see is the state governors come down to a round table. A sincere roundtable and I hope that the president-elect can facilitate that session on security. Bring in independent thinkers, call a KPMG or any of the consulting majors for example to facilitate that session of frank talk on security, what must be done. You see the governors are on ground, they know the problems in the states, and have a discussion. Let that discussion be facilitated by an independent person not somebody with a background to the military because sometimes you first fall back to your constituency as we like to call it in Nigeria. Let’s have frank discussions and you will see, as I always say, security matters are just common sense issues, simple common sense issues.

We talked about the human security value that we espoused pretty much. It’s just being exposed in the country but you cannot do human security without a stable economy, functioning infrastructure, education being the bedrock upon which you drive economic development not even economic growth because both economic development and economic growth are two different aspects but they are about the same thing. Economic development deals with the quality of growth and you cannot drive quality growth without education.

So, what is the place of intelligence gathering and evaluation in the fight against insecurity?

It depends on what intelligence you are looking at because when you look at matters of how you project national interests whether in the defence intelligence, military or economic domain, intelligence is also information and within the information domain there’s also propaganda. It can be positive or negative and then we then begin to talk about influence operations. So, when you say intelligence in layman’s terminology, is it just that you are talking about actionable intelligence? A matter is about to occur or looks likely to occur, an analysts have assessed and provided the agencies to act with actionable intelligence, you then come to the issue of what do you do with intelligence.

You then look at the deep-seated problems we have in Nigeria. Maybe, a Yoruba man is seated and he has intelligence that if the state acts, it may be to the detriment, for example, of certain sentiments which he holds dear. The question is, will he act in the interest of the Nigerian State as against the Yoruba nation or you can flip that to say the Eastern person or a Fulani person or Ebira person or whichever? So, it’s how we define how to act.

The man at the shop floor sends up the intelligence and he has to wait for somebody in Abuja to give the go-ahead. So, do we have an intelligence problem? No, we do not have an intelligence problem, we don’t have. The DSS has its personnel in every local government in Nigeria; the National Orientation Agency also has its personnel in every local government in Nigeria. So, we don’t have an intelligence problem by any stretch of the imagination. We have the NIA, we have the DIA which is the Defence Intelligence Agency and we have the Department of State Services (DSS). These three agencies were brought by degree four, I mean 1985/1986 by then head of state Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, who morphed the national security organisation into three distinct agencies and then formed the office of the ONSA, which is the office of the NSA.

The Coordinating Officer for intelligence for this country is known and that person is the President of the NSA. We don’t have an intelligence problem; I can tell you for free if you know where to look.

But when we talk about the structural problems, the will to act, the capacity to act, the capability to act, the framework within which that action must take place, what are the consequences for failure and security and how do we interpret the values of human life within that National Security strategy which we published in 2019 when we said the Nigerian state will now begin to focus on the ideals of human security? We have intelligence but we also lack intelligence and intelligence in this space, it has to be information. What information are we putting out there to the agencies? What information are we putting out there to the Nigerian public?