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What is national security?

By Tonnie Iredia

At last, government has arranged for “security” to take the lion share of our nation’s budget for next year. According to President Jonathan who delivered the budget speech last Tuesday, government would spend ?921billion to ensure the security of lives and property.

When the overwhelming allocation is placed side by side with the enormous security challenges the nation has faced of recent, it may be difficult to fault the position of government. Indeed, at about the same time that the budget speech was being read, Maiduguri, the Bornu State capital experienced yet another bomb explosion.

There is no doubt that the insecurity situation in the country calls for extra-ordinary measures to combat it.  As a result, even if our entire budget were to be dedicated to dealing with the subject, many people may not raise an eyebrow. For us however, our discomfort is in our government’s definition of the term ‘security’ which seems to harp on the narrow dimension of defence and military might.

National security is wider than that. There are other rather basic dimensions like ‘job’ ‘water’ and ‘food’ security; otherwise a national security policy would be of no use to the unemployed and hungry citizens that constitute the majority of the population  in a poor country like ours may.  At the same time, while it is easy to see external coercion as a major challenge to national security because of its visible impact, there is doubt if it is more critical than the consequences of internal disequilibrium in a nation’s social system.

Thus national security cannot be equated to military might, defence or law enforcement alone. It goes beyond all of that to accommodate far more reaching issues. In short, national security is the ability of a State to overcome any of its challenges no matter what the challenge is.

It was probably on this score, that in 2010, American President; Barack Obama canvassed an all- encompassing world-view in his own definition of America’s national security interests which included “a strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that promotes opportunity and prosperity” .

The Obama approach does not appear persuasive to Nigeria whose body language implies that national security is the aggregation of the activities of security agencies.  That is the  only logical inference to be deduced from the huge budget for security which is bigger than those of 12 ministries combined.

We probably would have had no problem with the proposal if only the term ‘security’ was premised on its correct meaning because there is no proof that the higher the expenditure on our security agencies, the more the likelihood for us to have security of lives and property in the nation.  To start with, it is virtually impossible to remove our security challenges from issues of development.

As our National Bureau of Statistics testifies, there are about 35million unemployed youths in the country who are forced to resort to anything that can serve as a means of livelihood.  Former President Obasanjo was obviously not laughing when he raised an alarm the other day that Nigeria may witness the type of revolution sweeping across the Arab world if nothing was done to redress the problem of youth unemployment.

President Jonathan himself said as much at the governorship election campaign in Lokoja that a revolution by the youths was imminent if elected public officials took no steps to initiate policies that would create Jobs.  Interestingly, the priority which security is getting now over issues like job creation shows that for us, prevention is not better than cure and that we prefer to deal with the symptoms instead of the root causes of the challenges.

Well, although the security policy of a nation is no more than what government chooses to do or not to do; the government needs to gauge public opinion in determining its course of action. This viewpoint was persuasively articulated in 1990 by Harvard professor, Charles Maier when he described national security as “a capacity to control those domestic and foreign conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and wellbeing”.

Even where the public opinion is too distilled to be an instigator of policy it must be allowed to generally constrain its implementation and act as a catharsis. For instance, the generous security budget gives the impression that what we need to worry about is the security problem caused by deviants. What about security challenges posed by natural disasters? Midway through this year, heavy flooding nearly sacked some of our cities. Ibadan was the hardest hit by the floods.

According to the Nigerian Red Cross, some 102 people made up mostly of children and elderly women perished in the disaster.  In some cases, entire families were affected.  Indeed, the nation’s premier university located in the city lost valuable irreplaceable items worth over 10 billion naira to the floods. Were the lives and property lost here the handiwork of militants or Boko Haram? Of course, the problem would have been averted if the nation had listened to the prediction of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), some 4months earlier, that surplus rains which would result in coastal flooding and erosion would affect several parts of the country.

There is no doubt that water resource management would yield more security dividends to the nation than many other sectors because nothing is more important than water.  Like any other natural resource, it has many sides. When it is too much it causes flooding. When it is scarce, it can cause drought. Today only 50% of our people have access to water. When not properly managed, it can be handful as in the case of pollution. Malaria, diarrhea, typhoid are all water related diseases that can be tackled through a better management of water.

Even the popular argument that agriculture should be encouraged presupposes that irrigation which depends on water would be in place.  With water resource management getting only?39 billion, public affairs analysts must by now be wandering how?921billion security budget would be managed. Will it be shared among all security agencies; and will that not further widen the prospects of a coordination of their services? Will the Police for example recruit more hands and increase the number of VIPs who would now get guards posted to them or will the force change its uniform again?

Of course we hope not because this is probably the finest hour for the Police. It is time to follow best practices, time to institutionalized security by intelligence which has long overtaken the use of armoured carriers and guns; time to use advanced technology to gather information and data about all of us, time to utilize forensic labs to crack crime, time to discard post mortem strategies like operation ‘thunderstorm’ or ‘fire for fire’ and as the State Security Service has been doing of recent, it is time to develop effective communication strategies that should replace mundane slogans like ‘the Police is on top of the matter’. We have no objection to a better pay for our Police!!


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