Nigeria’s national security nightmare

Nigeria does have a national security challenge. This is very serious. Nigeria’s strategic vitals are nonetheless, still strong, and she may yet survive the current situation. Perhaps I speak too optimistically. There are no better options other than to be optimistic. Despair will be pointless.  My optimism, in spite of the many red flags, is for a possible change of guard at Aso Rock  in the next thirteen months, with a new occupant,  and a National Assembly, that will usher in a new, robust security policy action plan to reset Nigeria.

Yes, we are in the flashing redlight zone. But Nigeria’s greatest challenge is institutional collapse. The failure of critical institutions of state may just as well be a reflection of a national security crisis. This is what should worry Nigerians: the internal systems collapse. That is what we are currently experiencing and it is rapid. Everything hangs by the thread. It is much like the impending failure of key internal safety systems in a nuclear plant.

If we do not do something before the time lapses, then a blowout is inevitable. That blowout will change the architecture of West Africa, much in the same way as the collapse of the massive medieval West African Empire of Songhai led to the catastrophic situation of unending wars which destroyed the internal cohesion of West Africa and led first to the slave trade, and later colonization by external forces.

The historian, Dr. Ibiang Oden Ewa, of the Department of History at the  Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu-Alike, in a very thoughtful paper published in the Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, on rethinking the fall of the Songhai Empire, notes that we should dispense with the “mono-causal” theory about the fall of Songhai.

Scholars have long promoted the single invasion theory of the ragtag Almoravid forces from Morocco. But Oden Ewa argues that we need to understand the dynamic stresses, the process of  internal decay that destroyed Songhai from within, including such factors as: “succession disputes, political dissension, civil conflicts and economic malaise,” which laid bare, her underbelly for “Moorish aggression.”Do these factors sound familiar? These factors which militate against the capacity of the state to govern will in turn lead to a very fluid and rapid collapse of the vital elite consensus.

There are still at the moment, shared interests around which a sliver of  negotiation is still possible. The lessons of the last seven years under Buhari ought however to make the key forces who still have interests in the preservation of the Nigerian state to pause, and ask that fundamental question: in whose interest is it for the Nigerian state to be preserved and secured? What are the causes of the stresses that threaten it? If we cannot answer these questions honestly, then of course, we may not be able to solve its major security challenge. There have been issues about the collapse of a national will. By national will, I mean, the continuous ideological grounds on which the necessity for Nigeria has long rested.

For an earlier generation, the idea was circulated that a secular Nigeria was destined to be Black Africa’s buffer whose rise to global power will ensure the defense and security of the black world in global affairs. That was the promise at independence: that Nigerians were to build a true “giant of Africa.” The promise to my own generation was that we were the “leaders of tomorrow.” Now, that was where that promise of a great African superstate, and its seamless generational change of baton began to falter. A generation of ignorant soldiers stole our future.

For my generation, “tomorrow” never arrived. We continue to live in a time warp. Most of us are going to be buried with our immense talents because this nation denied us the great opportunity of using it fully. There is always a great, imponderable weight on the soul when you feel the burden of your talent and genius, and which without question, and with no fault of yours, was allowed to waste.

I personally have watched the very best in my generation go to waste. Many of us now in our fifties sit with quiet despair, some in exile, some in a spiritual trap, and some watching the hurrying echo of time have gone mad. The generations following us are in an even more terrible state of alienation. They had no country to believe in. That is Nigeria’s worst security nightmare. A massively alienated population, which does not give a twitch about Nigeria. Give them an excuse, and they will burn it to the ground. Why? Because they no longer find meaning in Nigeria. They have no stake in its survival. Nigeria now represents a threat to their own human existence as far as they perceive it.

Our greatest threat is not from outside. It is not Boko Haram. A well organized nation will take out Boko Haram in a minute. Nigeria’s greatest security challenge is the collapse of its self-will. The daily flight of young Nigerians from this shore physically and mentally is Nigeria’s greatest security challenge.  The mantra now is: “anywhere but Nigeria.” Nigeria does not mean anything to them. If there is a visa today to Hell, young Nigerians will form a long line to get a visa to Hell. Anywhere, but Nigeria.

Now, it used to be that sports brought the last semblance of shared nationhood. But Nigerians now watch Chelsea and root for Liverpool FC – soccer teams in far removed and distant cities which none of them have visited  or might even ever visit.Their own city teams? What is that? That is an indication of the loss of a national will.  That loss of will; that depth of resentment against what Nigeria now stands for; the internal rifts from years of officialabuse and misuse of the public system, andthe deployment of “divide-and-conquer” methods against Nigerian citizens, have laid bare, Nigeria’s underbelly. It is fetid. It is so soft with putrefaction, a rag tag band of bandits or terrorists will pierce it, and break its will.

That level of vulnerability is Nigeria’s greatest nightmare. The terrorists are among us. They have seen and studied our internal weakness. They are inside our governments. Nigeria’s current National security leadership knows who they are; who recruited them; who supports them logistically; who provides them with key intelligence to counter security efforts; who supplies them; who carries their messages, and above all, where they are.

The problem is that the supporters of Boko Haram and ISWAP and other terrorists groups threatening the sovereignty of Nigeria are embedded in the top echelons of our security system, and our power pyramid. There are ministers who are professed terrorists. There are governors who have confessed to being part of their recruitment, even paying them off with money from the public coffers. The current president was once the go-between between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state.

Here is where Nigeria failed: over the years, the Nigerian public service was deliberately destroyed. It could nolonger function to maintain and regulate the executive capacity of the state. From a once independent Civil Service, we saw the changes to a highly political service. Permanent Secretaries became political appointees and subject to the direct sanction of their political masters.

The result is the corruption of the state. A highly politicized, insecure, and poorlyorganized Civil Service is a national security threat to the survival of the nation. A well-established, highly professional Civil Service would be the buffer against state capture. They would organize the National Intelligence Service.

Regulate and contain executive excess, and rebuild the National Security apparatus which in fact should depend on the expertise of the Civil bureaucracy. Without a Civil Service trained to create a highly efficient information gathering mechanism for the government, and operationalize the national security of the state, Nigeria is doomed. For too long, Nigeria has maintained a national security apparatus whose operational policies are still hung on military era policies and procedure.

It is about time to create a National Security Risk Assessment board within a reorganized Civil Service system, that would dispense with the “cone of silence” which has excluded the bureaucracy, the National Assembly, and the Judiciary, and confines National Security issues to exclusive presidential or executive power. The National Intelligence Services Must be reorganized to bring new skills, new talents, in a mix of military, Civil Service, and academic backgrounds, to rebuild its critical foundations.

Nigeria needs to create the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, and end the secret “Security Votes” allotted unaccountably to the executive heads. It has clearly not worked. It has created a sinkhole system in which public insecurity has become big business. One of the principal means of containing the current level of insecurity is to create security funding accountability. Even slush fund must be accounted for through the necessary parliamentary and judicial channels, otherwise we will keep manufacturing and funding instability from within government.

We must also have a way of investigating a sitting head of state in order to secure the basis of regime legitimacy. Because part of our national security nightmare is the possibility of state capture. A head of the Nigerian state, who either by blackmail, ideological control, or other considerations become the agent of an adversarial foreign interest in Nigeria is a great possibility. A National Assembly incapable of investigating state capture is a national security nightmare. And there, is where Nigerians are in the deep creek.

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