By Kingsley Omonobi and Tunde Oso
The Nigerian Army fired back yesterday after the influential London based magazine, The Economist, claimed a collapse of insecurity and state authority in Nigeria has allowed “criminal gangs to run wild”.
The Economist, in a piece, titled, ‘Insurgency, secessionism and banditry threaten Nigeria: Africa’s biggest nation faces its biggest test since its civil war 50 years ago’, had written: “Jihadists are carring out a caliphate in the north-east; gangs of kidnappers are terrorising the north-west; the fire of Biafran secessionism has been rekindled in the oil rich south-east. The violence threatens not just Nigeria’s 200m people, but also the stability of the entire region that surrounds them”.
It stressed that most young Nigerians want to emigrate because they are scared of insecurity.
But the Army, in a statement, dismissed the report, saying it remained steadfast, unwavering and resolute in stamping out terrorism, banditry and other violent crimes assailing Nigeria and the West African region.
The Economist report read in part:
“Readers who do not follow Nigeria closely may ask: what’s new? Nigeria has been corrupt and turbulent for decades. What has changed of late, though, is that jihadism, organised crime and political violence have grown so intense and widespread that most of the country is sliding towards ungovernability. In the first nine months of 2021 almost 8,000 people were directly killed in various conflicts. Hundreds of thousands more have perished because of hunger and disease caused by fighting. More than 2m have fled their homes.
“The jihadist threat in the north-east has metastasised. A few years ago, an area the size of Belgium was controlled by Boko Haram, a group of zealots notorious for enslaving young girls. Now, Boko Haram is being supplanted by an affiliate of Islamic State that is equally brutal but more competent, and so a bigger danger to Nigeria. In the south-east, demagogues are stirring up ethnic grievances and feeding the delusion that one group, the Igbos, can walk off with all the country’s oil, the source of about half of government revenues. President Muhammadu Buhari has hinted that Biafran separatism will be dealt with as ruthlessly now as it was half a century ago.
“Meanwhile, across wide swathes of Nigeria, a collapse in security and state authority has allowed criminal gangs to run wild. In the first nine months of this year some 2,200 people were kidnapped for ransom, more than double the roughly 1,000 abducted in 2020. Perhaps a million children are missing school for fear that they will be snatched.
“Two factors help explain Nigeria’s increasing instability: a sick economy and a bumbling government. Slow growth and two recessions have made Nigerians poorer, on average, each year since oil prices fell in 2015. Before covid-19, fully 40% of them were below Nigeria’s extremely low poverty line of about $1 a day. If Nigeria’s 36 states were stand-alone countries, more than one-third would be categorised by the World Bank as “low-income” (less than $1,045 a head). Poverty combined with stagnation tends to increase the risk of civil conflict.
“Economic troubles are compounded by a government that is inept and heavy-handed. Mr Buhari, who was elected in 2015, turned an oil shock into a recession by propping up the naira and barring many imports in the hope this would spur domestic production. Instead he sent annual food inflation soaring above 20%. He has failed to curb corruption, which breeds resentment. Many Nigerians are furious that they see so little benefit from the country’s billions of petrodollars, much of which their rulers have squandered or stolen. Many politicians blame rival ethnic or religious groups, claiming they have taken more than their fair share. This wins votes, but makes Nigeria a tinderbox.
“When violence erupts, the government does nothing or cracks heads almost indiscriminately. Nigeria’s army is mighty on paper. But many of its soldiers are “ghosts” who exist only on the payroll, and much of its equipment is stolen and sold to insurgents. The army is also stretched thin, having been deployed to all of Nigeria’s states. The police are understaffed, demoralised and poorly trained. Many supplement their low pay by robbing the public they have sworn to protect.
“To stop the slide towards lawlessness, Nigeria’s government should make its own forces obey the law. Soldiers and police who murder or torture should be prosecuted. That no one has been held accountable for the slaughter of perhaps 15 peaceful demonstrators against police abuses in Lagos last year is a scandal. The secret police should stop ignoring court orders to release people who are being held illegally. This would not just be morally right, but also practical: young men who see or experience state brutality are more likely to join extremist groups.
Things don’t have to fall apart
“Second, Nigeria needs to beef up its police. Niger state, for instance, has just 4,000 officers to protect 24m people. Local cops would be better at stopping kidnappings and solving crimes than the current federal force, which is often sent charging from one trouble spot to another. Money could come from cutting wasteful spending by the armed forces on jet fighters, which are not much use for guarding schools. Britain and America, which help train Nigeria’s army, could also train detectives. Better policing could let the army withdraw from areas where it is pouring fuel on secessionist fires.
“The biggest barrier to restoring security is not a lack of ideas, nor of resources. It is the complacency of Nigeria’s cosseted political elite—safe in their guarded compounds and the well-defended capital. Without urgent action, Nigeria may slip into a downward spiral from which it will struggle to emerge.
Dismissing the claims made by the London based magazine, the Army, in a statement by the Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, said its exploits in ensuring peace and sustenance of democracy in several parts of the world is widely acclaimed and globally respected.
The statement read: “Even as the real intention of the otherwise respected Economist magazine in publishing such toxic concoctions weaved up as report on Nigerian Government’s response to the multi-faceted security challenges assailing the country is yet to be unraveled, the source of the article is very clear.
“It is one of those deliberate falsehood and noxious narratives orchestrated by a network of detractors and coven of dark forces working very hard to adorn the Nigerian Army in an unfitting garb of infamy.
“The vile report which the Economist chose to offer its platform for publication, spared no effort in trying to vilify and rubbish the image, character and reputational standing of the Nigerian Army, but failed woefully.
“As a professional, hard-fighting and globally respected institution that has continued to occupy deserved glorious position in the comity of global defence forces, the Nigerian Army is certainly not what the so-called report by the Economist tried to characterize it.
“Even more ludicrous was the embellishments of the said report by the notorious unprofessional media outlets that were quick to republish the obvious falsehood.
“How is it conceivable that an international magazine worth its name and professional reputation would agree to lend its medium for a hatchet job of an article without as much as committing little effort to finding out the real truth about the Nigerian Army?
“How is it imaginable that the Nigerian Army that has distinguished itself as a worthy contributor to global peace and security through regional, continental and international peace keeping and peace support operations would be characterized as “Mighty on paper”?
“How can the Nigerian Army that has restored democracies, brought peace to troubled lands and stabilized the sub-region through the dint of hard work, commitment to duty, discipline and professionalism be so denigrated?
“Is it the ‘ghost soldiers’ of the Nigerian Army that have weathered the storm of terrorism and insurgency of Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province Terrorists (ISWAP) in the north eastern part of the country and parts of the Lake Chad region?
“In case the Economist magazine and those who fed it all the lies it published do not know, the Nigerian Army working in a joint environment, has been able to stop ISWAP, a very formidable international terrorist organization in its tracks, in spite of all the obstacles, including arm sale blackouts on its way.
“The Economist and its ilk ought to have known that the Nigerian Army has long distinguished itself as a professional force that does not toy with accountability nor shirk from its statutory responsibility of defending Nigeria from external aggression or internal insurrection.
“Is it not curious that an otherwise respected international magazine could so easily be sucked in by the antics of conflict merchants and agents provocateurs who are uncomfortable with the steadfastness, patriotism, unwavering commitment, sacrifice, ruggedness and resoluteness of the Nigerian Army in stamping out terrorism, banditry and other violent crimes assailing the country and the West African sub-region?
“How the Economist magazine failed to do simple due diligence on the said fabricated report is worth interrogating by those who are interested in distinguishing between rogue journalism and professional one.
“Let it be known to the Economist magazine and those who concocted the lies they published that the gallant officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army are undeterred, undistracted and totally unfazed by the harebrained assertions contained in that silly report.”