November 9, 2010

No to National Guard

OVER the past weeks, the media has reported the Federal Government’s justifications for establishing the National Guard. The main reason is to tackle Nigeria’s ever-growing security challenges. This is the second time a national security outfit going by this name has been mulled.

In 1991, with increased opposition to his perceived plans to again postpone the terminal date for the military to vacate power, former military President Ibrahim Babangida, set up the National Guard, akin to similar outfits which specialise in tackling security and emergency situations in other countries.

Babangida’s plan was seen in several quarters, especially the civil society and human rights communities, as another strong arm tactic to crack down on opponents of the military’s continuation in power. The National Guard, with Col. Abdulmumuni Aminu as commandant, was in its infancy when Babangida vacated office. The next regime disbanded it.

President Goodluck Jonathan, according to the media, returned to this idea following acts of terrorism and communal violence in some parts of the country — the Boko Haram fanatics in the North-East, MEND’s disruptive activities in the oil-producing zone and its extension to the 50th independence anniversary bomb blasts in Abuja; and the cyclical spate of communal attacks in Plateau State.

Saturday Vanguard reported that the new security package would help to: reorganise the nation’s security and intelligence community; introduce technology in the fight against terrorism and evolve a legal framework to strengthen the anti-terrorism war.

It would also lead to the creation of the Ministry of Homeland to co-ordinate internal security operations; and the formation of a National Guard to take care of civil unrests, kidnapping, electoral violence, illegal oil bunkering, and vandalisation of oil and gas facilities and militancy in the oil producing areas.

As much as we recognise the need for Nigeria to rise up to the challenges of modern day security management, we are worried that the resort to the establishment of a National Guard is just another badly chewed and ill-digested strategy, which will lead to another round of wasteful spending.

It has been the culture of our leaders to copy ideas from other countries without proper homework to ensure that they would work here. The result has been ideas that produce excellent results in other places flop in Nigeria.

Good examples include the parliamentary system of government we adopted from Britain at independence, but which, following our inability to apply the principles faithfully, ended the first republic after only six years of practice. We then turned to the presidential system of government in 1979, but that has not helped us to evolve a functional and satisfactory democratic culture more than thirty years later.

We have a second reason to worry about setting up another federal security agency when we already have the Army, Air Force, Navy, Nigeria Police Force, State Security Service, Customs, Immigrations and the National Security and Civil Defence Corps.

An addition would be a duplication of efforts and will worsen the problem of large, ineffective, poorly-motivated and corruption-prone federal bureaucracies.

There was a time the police was in charge of internal security. Now, these agencies — Immigrations, Federal Road Safety Commission, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, State Security Service, National Emergency Management Agency — do what the police did alone.

The argument, like now, is that their creation was necessary to stress the importance of some aspects of security that were specific and required more dedicated attention.

Did their creation improve security? Governments, over the years, failed to improve facilities, equipment and funding of existing security agencies. The creation of new ones seemed to have exacerbated the negligence of the police in particular, which was not modernised for so long that current efforts are wasted on it.

What is the point in adding to the constraints security agencies face when government is struggling to fund existing ones? What would the National Guard do that the existing agencies, if better funded, cannot handle? There are even further complaints about co-ordinating the security agencies.

Each time a crisis occurs it becomes obvious that the various security agencies have not been able to work together. The police with the widest spread are despised by other agencies, who look down on the police. How can they then work together?

Among the tasks before those who handle our security is to co-ordinate these agencies. There is no point adding to the burden of administering security agencies that have conflicting briefs yet operate within the same space. If the issue is terrorism, for instance, a branch can be created within the police to receive specialised training in tackling terrorism.

A more fundamental issue that is often ignored is the decentralisation of the security system, including establishment of community police. If local communities have a sense of ownership of national facilities in their environment, they will naturally be motivated to protect them from those seeking to sabotage them.

Communities are also best placed to know the criminals among them.

Our current chain of command for security agencies that places everything under Abuja cannot enhance security. It is cumbersome, makes decisions difficult to locate and inhibits proper policing of the country.

The creation of the National Guard is not only unnecessary, but it is wasteful in the same way that a Ministry of Homeland is a duplication of the Ministry of Interior. Resources these two proposals will consume can be applied to improve the operations of existing security agencies some of which may require streamlining for effectiveness.

Our security challenges demand new thinking, not creation of new bodies to continue doing the same things others are already doing so badly.