April 3, 2016

The Security Question

The Security Question

*File photo: Policemen

By Obi Nwakanma

On Wednesday, my friend and fellow old Umuahian, Chuks, came to dinner with his family at my home. He is a family doctor in Union, New Jersey, and has been vacationing with his family in Orlando for the Spring break. Our postprandial talk normally drifted to Nigeria, our “Ogbanje nation” and old homeland. Chuks has not visited Nigeria since his mother’s funeral some years ago, and it is not for lack of love, or interest, but from a deep phobia – a fear of getting mucked into the Nigerian criminal maelstrom of accidental deaths from robbery and kidnapping. It is a genuine fear. This fine doctor and gentleman is not alone.

There are literally hundreds of professionally trained Nigerians who are “trapped” outside of Nigeria; who cannot even vacation with their families any longer in their ancestral homes, and Nigeria is the greatest loser in all this. They are also possibly the last links to Nigeria as their children generally do not wish to have anything to do with Nigeria, and have little interest in maintaining any links after the first generation. Chika, Chuks’s wife had traveled home last Christmas on vacation with their daughter, and literally had to escape into the underground, from her village in Imo state. Her cousin, a US soldier, on vacation with his family also, had been kidnapped with his family, and this had caused not only a ruckus, but the trauma is only to be imagined for this family visiting Nigeria for a holiday.

It took serious pressure by the US Ambassador in Nigeria on behalf of the US government on the Imo state government, the Nigerian Police command, and security agencies in Owerri, to find and arrest the kidnappers of this US military personnel on official vacation in Nigeria. He was found unharmed, luckily, and it does say a few things: these kinds of kidnapping cannot happen without the highest involvement of people in government and the high echelons of the security services. When it came down to it, the police worked: they deployed their strategic capacity apparently, and secured the release of this American soldier and his family, and arrested the gang. But without the pressure of the US government, things were mostly likely to go south for this visiting family, who had been surrounding by Ak-47 machine-gun wielding goons. The police and the security services would not work. Nigeria has become, not a place to holiday, but a place to come to die. If you wish to commit suicide, go home. This is a far-cry from the old image of home as a place where you came to, to be embraced and protected from the buffeting winds of travel and adventure. This disappearing idea of home has both emotional and material implications. Soon, people are going to stop investing at “home.” Why build a house where you no longer will visit, and where the inheritors are going to be some “Maiguard” from the North, who by the way is guarding and cleaning the family house currently? Why join a Town Union, and send money to a town where you have no more emotional commitments because your children will never return there even to visit, and you have been hounded out by insecurity? It is a development that people have not really given much thought to. The loss of direct funds sent home from many of these Nigerians from their bases abroad which provides significant oil to the economy will be devastating in the long run.

It is a slow development, but it is bound to be an incremental response, as people are forced inevitably to cut any direct links to Nigeria as a result of trauma and fear of personal violence, and for the security of their lives and property. Nigeria’s increasingly global image as a place which is too dangerous to visit is not only deleterious to its economy, it is dangerous to its capacity among nations that can compete, attract and retain strategic work force for the economy of the 21st century in the emerging global environment. Nigeria wants to generate revenue from tourism: but tourism cannot develop where a critical component, the sense of personal security is missing. Every summer or winter, young people from wealthy nations travel, drawn by the curiosity for other places and cultures, and the freedom of the open road. They spend money, they engage people, and they become economic ambassadors, through the stories they tell about the lands they’ve visited to their own people. Nigeria is not one of those places that draw young visitors.

Ghana, just across the border, yes. But try telling people to go to Nigeria, and only the mentally ill might really consider such a proposition. The number of international visitors to Nigeria is thinning rapidly, especially as the oil economy, which was really about the only thing that drew foreign travelers to Nigeria declines, and I do not know if the Nigerian Bureau of National Statistics has numbers on this, but a nation that is unable to attract visitors become in-bred and non-regenerative.

This is the great risk Nigeria faces as its security situation keeps away, not only Nigerians living outside, but potential international visitors, who come not only to spend money, but also to bring a part of themselves, which ultimately renews and keeps national culture alive. Last week, at the National Executive Conference of his party, the APC, President Buhari drew a little attention to this fact of Nigeria’s deeply troubling security situation when he described Rivers state as the “most deadly state” in Nigeria.

The president was speaking, of course, from a rather partisan position – after his party had received a drubbing at the rescheduled elections in Rivers State, which had recorded reports of terrible violence and bloodshed. The president had, prior to the election, ordered a vast number of army, police, and security personnel to Rivers State for the elections. That did not stop the terrible bloodshed and mindless violence. A great legacy which President Goodluck Jonathan leaves behind is the legacy of peace. For the period he was president, Nigerians felt the powerful relief of peace and a higher sense of security.

Aside from the Boko Harm episodes, Nigeria was relatively secure. Jonathan had brought an end to the spate of political killings and assassinations. Incidents of kidnapping had largely disappeared in Nigeria, although there were still blights like the yet to be explained kidnapping and disappearance to this day, of Mr. Ihekweaba, an Architect and Permanent Secretary in the Imo state government under still suspicious circumstances which the police command is yet to explain. But insecurity is returning with full force in Nigeria, and the president, and the National Assembly seem yet to take these threatening developments seriously. President recently announced the moves to recruit 10, 000 new police men. This will not solve the problem.

There has to be a complete overhaul of the entire security architecture in Nigeria that would re-orient, reposition, retool, and redirect the mission and operations of the Nigerian police Services and the agencies responsible for domestic intelligence and security, to anticipate, eliminate, and contain crime in Nigeria. It has come to a national emergency, and the current police and Department of State Services, in their current states and orientation can no longer guarantee the security of the lives of Nigerians. Perhaps to protect themselves, various communities must devise, in defiance of the police act, their own local policing initiatives by recruiting, training, equipping, and arming Community Police and Intelligence Services, and creating a network of patrol and emergency services. That way, for instance, some armed “Fulani Herdsmen” cannot simply come and attack a community, and when they respond, some police or military personnel cannot just simply come to arrest folk without consequence and resistance.