By Tonnie Iredia
Some two months back, I was part of a delegation of the International Press Institute which paid a courtesy call on our Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki. I honestly didn’t know that there was so much security built around the National Assembly. From about a kilometer away, several security personnel were positioned at more than one gate to ensure that no one was allowed in without a thorough screening to unravel who he is and the purpose of his visit.
I found that, no visitor can drive beyond the gates, except he has a driver who would drop him and return to the car park. To ensure the driver does exactly that, he has to surrender his driving licence as a collateral. On the day of our visit, the place looked so well organized. Our delegation was on appointment, with foreign journalists in the team, but the able-bodied personnel recruited for the assignment handled it as a serious business.
One of my colleagues who tried to question the arrangement was promptly educated by others that our legislators deserve respect and honour and if the arrangement gives a semblance of that so be it. Apart from the fact that the large security personnel we saw showed that the legislature was helping to tackle unemployment in the country, our lawmakers are exceedingly important people who deserve to be guarded and served.
So, the tight security we met could not be faulted. Anyone who has ever visited the Presidential villa in Abuja may readily assume that the National Assembly probably has more people at its own gate but the process of entering the villa is not comparable. Every visitor to the villa must not only be on appointment, he has to be accredited before entry and would be recertified at several designated points.
In the states, seeing a governor is almost as tedious. In fact, at some point, every visitor must drop his mobile phone, notwithstanding that it is an inevitable social media gadget especially for our own type of media delegation. We experienced it in two states- Kwara and Rivers that the delegation has so far visited. It is not that Nigeria is not in tune with current global realities on media technology; the real issue is that our political office holders are our masters unlike many other nations, where they are servants of the people.
Consequently, whatever must be done, security inclusive, to show that our politicians are the most important citizens has to be done. In other words, security in Nigeria does not necessarily mean safety, it means importance. Security operatives are therefore not sensitized to bother about the safety of those they guard, their main relevance is in the visible paraphernalia of armed men around their principals.
Quite often however, the only weapon the security operative has is uniform, no real arms; and more importantly no intelligence making him essentially a symbol of decoration. This explains the rationale for the entrenched culture in Nigeria where a ‘big’ personality who has an address to present at a gathering must have another citizen in uniform standing behind him.
Somehow, this reality of symbolic protection has remained in the front burner of Nigeria’s security architecture. While many people were shocked over last Wednesday’s security breach in the nation’s highest legislative body, I only laughed and as at the point of this write-up, I was still laughing remembering the security bottlenecks we had to go through when we visited the Senate President in February.
In all honesty, our pretentious security framework is not designed to forestall paid hoodlums from achieving their goals at any location. Consequently, those who invaded the Senate and took away the mace did so with relative ease and the reactions have been interesting. There are those who think that the goal of the invasion was to disrupt a Senate that has suddenly become recalcitrant; only the day before one of its members had the effrontery of calling for the sack of security chiefs!
Many people think the invasion amounts to treason and that the nation needs to quickly apprehend the invaders and their sponsors. But none of the analysts has placed the event side by side other security issues in the country. What for instance is the difference between snatching a mace and snatching a ballot box? The latter in my opinion is more significant because it suggests that no one knows those who are validly elected to enjoy the mace as a symbol of authority.
Whereas, last week’s seizure of the mace by hoodlums hardly happens, hoodlums disrupt every election by snatching ballot boxes in the full glare of several security operatives. For example, before a typical governorship election, security language is used to announce that: “there would be 25,000 personnel along with three police Aerial/Surveillance Helicopters, ten gun boats, 15 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) and 303 police patrol vehicles to cover the entire state including the riverine areas and difficult terrains…then, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) would deploy 11,000 officers and 300 dogs, four drones, ambulances and medical teams as well as 115 vehicles for the same event.” Amidst all of these, ballot boxes and election result sheets are still snatched!!
Meanwhile, reactions to security breaches always take same pattern. First, everyone condemns it, then different authorities set up several panels to unearth what happened. The legislature in particular would summon the Inspector General of Police and other security chiefs and a few ministers to explain their roles in the subject especially how to prevent a recurrence.
Security organs on their part would then begin aggressive post mortem security arrangements where the breach occurred. All car booths would be subjected to tight searching while some citizens would be detained and humiliated on the spot for inexplicable offences. Few weeks later, the situation would return to normal until another breach occurs again. What then is the big deal about last week’s breach; is it because it concerns the senate? Is anything done when it concerns the ordinary man the legislator purports to represent?
This time around, because the elite is at the receiving end, our political parties did not as usual turn it into an election debate; they all condemned it. In addition, our proactive police have recovered the mace well before the deadline of 24hours dictated by the senate. So, with everyone anxious to contribute to the search for the culprit, let’s remember that if thieves are part of a team looking for a stolen jewel, it is probably stolen forever.