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PMB and the Economic Security of the nation

By Obadiah Mailafia

THIS column joins other Nigerians in welcoming President Muhammadu Buhari back home after 105 days’ medical sojourn in London. During his absence, his loyal and faithful deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, did his best in steering the ship of state.

Alas, tension continued to rise across the country, with ultimatums and counter-ultimatums by various youth groups sponsored by reptilian, shadowy so-called ‘elder statesmen’. Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charly Boy and his group went to the extent of taking their protest to the marketplace. Trouble was averted in Wuse Market after the Area Father was rescued from pro-Buhari hoodlums who were bent on clobbering the man down.

President Muhammadu Buhari and CharlyBoy

I can frankly reveal that some of my dear Southern friends were already preparing to leave Abuja by September ending. It is the stuff of which civil wars are made – a little match being lit in a tinder-box and then you have a conflagration. The president’s return at this moment is therefore godsend, because the political temperature was verging towards a boiling point.

His early morning address to the nation yesterday Monday also did not disappoint. It rebounded with the firmness expected of the occupant of the High Magistracy of our federal republic; but it was also conciliatory and compassionate.

The president made it clear that the indivisibility of our country is sacrosanct and that “irresponsible” mischief-makers will soon meet their comeuppance. He reaffirmed his commitment to fighting terrorism and to building the foundations for political stability. I particularly liked what PMB said about the need for widening the space for dialogue on political evolution while ensuring “economic security” for all Nigerians.

This morning, if my dear readers allow me, I want to dwell on this question of economic security that the president touched upon. As far as I am concerned, it is very central to the challenges that we face today as a country.

My starting point is that the current Boko Haram terrorist insurgency and herdsmen-farmers’ clashes are essentially a failure of human security. Linked to this we have the crisis of development itself and the failure of the state to deliver in terms of welfare for all our citizens.

The paradigm of human security provides an expansive framework beyond the narrow scope of ‘national security’ which is anchored on the defence of the state and its apparatus. If human development is broadly understood as the empowerment of individuals and communities and enhancing their capabilities, then human security should be seen as its natural counterpart. By securing the lives, livelihoods and well-being of people against hunger, disease, want, war and natural catastrophes, the state is expanding the possibility frontiers of welfare.

For decades political scientists have been preoccupied with what is termed the ‘security dilemma’ in international politics. The late Hedley Bull, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford famously described our contemporary Eurocentric Westphalian system as an ‘anarchical society’.

Where global society has evolved a body of norms and institutions to restrain the behaviour of states, the reality of insecurity is a permanent feature of the  society of states. Most often, when governments refer to ‘national security’ they are referring to the survival of the state and the rulers rather than the security of the people. The fragility of multi-ethnic states such as those of Nigeria and the developing world heightens the potential for conflict and instability which compounds the challenges of security. It is also true that the gaps in the structures of state formation can open up windows of greater vulnerability.

This traditional conception of security has to be distinguished from the new paradigm of economic and human security which transcends the narrow reference to the state and its institutions. The concept of human security has been defined in terms of “the obligation of the state to provide a facilitating environment for equality and individual participation through democracy, adherence to human rights and the participation of civil society”.

Indeed, so important has been the nexus between security and development that the World Bank devoted its world development report for 2011 to the theme of ‘Security and Development’. The report underlines security as the primary development challenge of our time, given how conflict and violence undermine livelihoods and lead to the collapse of national institutions. The European Union has identified human security as a major policy of internal as well as external relations.

According to Sadako Ogata and Amartya Sen, human security entails “the responsibility to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms…It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity”.

Human security embraces the responsibility to protect individuals and communities within and across nations from the physical and emotional insecurity from war, violence and conflict as well as natural and man-made disasters. Terrorism and the state of fear that it engenders is clearly one of the major threats to the security of individuals, communities and nations.

Conflict is, of course, inherent in human societies. Ever since Aristotle, politics has existed because human beings living in communities cannot always agree on what constitutes the Good Life or on how scarce resources should be distributed – how to decide on who gets what, when and how. This is also part of the reason why the institution of civil government exists and why we have constitutions, laws and the judiciary.

In democracies old and new, political parties provide the institutional framework within which political contestations are organised and channelled into electoral processes to decide who has the popular mandate to govern.

Ironically, political science scholars have found democracies to have a greater propensity to generate terrorist activities than military dictatorships and other repressive regimes. For example, as bad as he was, General Sani Abacha was ruthlessly effective in controlling religious extremists. During his time, it was said that even armed robbers had to soften on their act while petty criminals decided to abandon their trade.

On the other hand, new democracies that suffer from high levels of corruption and institutional weakness, such as Nigeria, would tend to generate considerably more levels of terrorist activities. At the other extreme are failed states such as Somalia, which provide a fertile ground for terrorism and all manner of terrorist groups.

What all this boils down to is that human and economic security must be embedded into all the public policies for rebuilding effective statehood and to all our nation building efforts. Economic security begins with securing the lives and properties of all citizens; providing jobs to our millions of teeming youths; preventing our road carnage which is considered the worst in the world; preventing child and maternal mortalities; fighting viral and communicable diseases; enforcing peace and societal harmony; provision of social and physical infrastructures and other public goods that promote the common good and happiness of all Nigerians.

Above all, PMB should overrule those of his inner circle who want to re-imagine him as an Arewa president rather than a leader for all Nigerians. I am persuaded that he is a patriot who genuinely wants to be the father of all. He must govern – and be seen to be governing – in the interest of all Nigerians instead of packaging him as an Arewa chauvinist who does not care about Ndigbo and Southerners in general.


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