War Clouds In The North: A case for normative restraint?, by M.K Ilyasu


“It is outrageous that in many parts of the North, bandits walk around openly carrying AK-47 rifles without being challenged by any security agent”.

Quote from the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, during the 4th Quarterly meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, in the Federal Capital City, Abuja.

For more than a decade, Nigeria has been caught up in a ”Great Debate” over profound issues on National Security policy. The range of debate has varied, perhaps even unique in several respects. It has been sustained for a longer period over the unrelenting killings, kidnappings and other criminalities bringing a wider segment of the public engaged than with earlier controversies in the polity.

Discontent with recent mass murder in the rice fields of Zabarmari in Borno State spans the political spectrum from APC to PDP, (although to be sure, the reasons for the unhappiness of the critics vary considerably from those aspiring for political offices in 2023).

Unhappily, in a society whose politicians and intellectuals tend to sectionalize/tribalize/polarize the country as in North versus South on security and other important national matters, our people must choose between uncritical support for the ruling class and controversies directed against the military establishment in the fight against the insurgents in general. I agree that a stronger defence through military reform is a better rallying point for the future.

I would argue that preventing internal collapse or self paralysis of our military at the hands of some popular front coalition like the #ENDSARS can never be a remedy for the fight against terror. Indeed, the #ENDSARS has not been very effective in coordinating “Transnational Politics” or learnt to transfer practical politics and public affairs.

Many commentators, of course, argued that our security has been breached while insurgents operating under the doctrine of secrecy and surprises have shocked the nation with thousand deaths in our communities, a fearful price for our political leaders to pay.

The question often asked is how much human waste we can suffer while remaining a viable society.

Of course, we have problems other than those of security and defence which #ENDSARS pressed the claim of reform as a deserving high priority. Claims of domestic reforms as a deserving high priority should be heard and, as appropriate heeded. But the defence and security of our people can scarcely be deferred until our political houses are in order or regarded as a simple trade-off for more desirable welfare programs.

In the late 1960s and 1980s, Nigerians endured the plagues of Civil War and MAITATSINE respectively.

Since the dissemination of Maitatsine group, which brought the downturn of its fortunes, the fear of appearing weak provoked the emergence of Boko Haram in order to show its strength. In voices of fear and sometimes hatred, Nigerians talked of marginalization, unemployment, corruption, police brutality, executive’s excesses and attempted sit-in of the President beyond the constitutional term of office.

Perhaps fewer than 1% of Nigerians were concerned about Boko Haram marshalling our youth whose combined capacity for mischief was soon to revolutionize our military strategy and place all of the North-East including most of the Northern part of the country under our troops. What this says of our society is that Nigerians were not troubled by the mass recruitment of youth into sectarian religious orders that would send thousands of them to
early grave.

Gloomy as these prognostications sound, however, it is worth stressing that there is nothing inevitable about the end of the insurgency in Nigeria. These ideological and sectarian groups have hidden flaws, unreliable allies and internal weaknesses that could become future vulnerabilities. What then, might be some positive objectives in overcoming insurgency?

As we recognize that we can no longer afford to pay every price and are unwilling to mount every roadblock?

1.Since Nigeria is an open society, we cannot be secretive and indifferent to causalities caused by Boko Haram, so it is for the Government to use its economic strength and creative management to create a condition under which our peace-loving communities can live.

2.Safeguard the stability of the Lake Chad by adhering to all agreements among member state of the Lake made up of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic. The most important of the agreements is the Joint Military Patrol/operation which grants member state the right of hot pursuit into another member’s territory.

The Lake Chad basin is inseparable from the future security network of the North
and Nigeria in particular. Not even ECOWAS is more important to our security than the Lake Chad Basin.

3.We need a task force on reform to all Armed Agencies. Membership should include members of National Assembly, Labor leaders, Business Moguls and Academic experts who are sympathetic to the need for improved defence and security innovations.

4.Maintain; even enhance the credibility of our military presence in the north-East in particular and all trouble spots countrywide. From my viewpoint additional military power in the North-East can be justified for the following reasons;

a.Nigeria status with her partners in the African continent is rising at an astonishing rate, and a better share of our future economic well being will depend on a healthy investment
climate, especially in the LCBC region uncoerced by Boko Haram.

To avert further catastrophe, a substantial gamble is justified. Of course, we should not delude ourselves that Cameroon will like us, but its leadership needs at least a demialliance with us to create uncertainty in France concerning possible Nigeria’s reaction to the ongoing civil war on its territory. We can cultivate this ambiguity in our own interest, by being firmer in our relations with all allies like Niger, Chad and the Central Africa Republic. To avert a policy of ‘divide and rule’ in the LCBC Nigeria’s initiative to remedy a weakness in our common defence was already evident in the 1994 declaration to include the CAR.

It is my considered view that Nigeria should move to enlarge this alliance with the admission of states such as Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Libya and Algeria. This initiative has tremendous advantages in containing insurgency/terrorism.

b. This proposed new alliance cannot be a form of AU paternalism, instead, it must generate a truly deliberate partnership based on multinational real politic that links the
economic, energy and security concerns of members. The alliance would recognize the major status of the group as well as the need to substitute hostility for cooperation. The task of statesmanship, therefore, is to innovate a diplomatic framework inside which mutual security trade-offs can compensate for economic forbearance by all parties.

c. Owing to the proliferation of small arms and ammo, increased political polarization in some African Countries, with massive migrations due to political, economic, religious as well as border issues, Nigeria will continue to slide into protracted crisis without an increase in recruitment of personnel into its security agencies. The proposal put before the Federal
Government Delegation to Borno led by the Senate President to approve the engagement of “Mercenaries” to help in fighting Boko Haram can be accommodated by this proposal.

No prudent planner can discount Governor Babagana Zulum’s position. It is imperative to prevent Borno State from the feeling of hopelessness over Nigeria’s intentions and as a
consequence seeking alternative sources of security for the State. The State might be driven if she concludes that the Federal Government is unable to protect the people’s lives
and properties into some authoritarian politics with its attendant attractive feature for security.

5. There is growing evidence that, notwithstanding the rhetoric employed, a number of states have concluded that the Federal government cannot handle security challenges the country is currently facing.

There is a growing agitation for State police, with the South-West creation of Omotekun and Kaduna State Vigilante Services in Kaduna.

Indeed, we should not lose sight in the fact that insurgency/terrorism may have an extremely useful agenda-setting function. If the reasons behind the violence are skillfully articulated, terrorism can put the issue of political change on the public agenda. This is what Nigeria experienced during President Goodluck Jonathan years in governance. It attracted attention and the government was blamed for not doing enough.

Mr Sowore of Sahara reporters came out with a demand for revolution, a total transformation of all existing conditions, and a new form of human existence, an entirely new relationship of people to each other and also of people to nature. He wanted a total and radical breach with all that is, and with all historical continuity. We called him a Utopian.

To end this narrative, I want to appeal to the Vice President, the Chief Of Staff to the President or any Vice-Chancellor of our University to arrange under a very distinguished Academic or former Head of Government a series of lectures in the National Assembly Complex for senior members of the Senate and House of Representatives who have professional responsibilities in the area of our National Security.

The lectures should examine the various dimensions of the current security challenges which in my view would constitute an important contribution to the ongoing debate over the future of our National Security Policy.

M K ILYASU can be reached via kabirilyasu@yahoo.com


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