July 29, 2022

Are armed non-state actors taking control? 

One day, one trouble

BEFORE proceeding, it is appropriate that we understand what a non-state actor is, given the context of what I am discussing today. Because of the diverse nature of interests, it may be difficult to give an all- encompassing definition of what a non-state actor is, but there is generally an agreement that a non-state actor, NSA, may be. 

A. A non-sovereign entity that (1) exercises significant political power and territorial control; (2) is outside the control of a sovereign government; and (3) often employs violence in pursuit of its objectives. 

B. By description, a non-state actor may be organisations and individuals that are not affiliated with, directed by, or funded through the government. These include corporations, private financial institutions, and NGOs, as well as para-military and armed resistance groups. 

C. They also include civil society organisations, CSOs, including NGOs (non- government organisation), business associations (excluding for profit enterprises), parliamentarians, academia, media, etc. They can be international, regional, national, and sub-national. 

For my purpose today, non- state actors are individuals or organisations that have powerful economic, political or social power and are able to influence or determine significant economic and political outcomes, most of the time using violence as potent tool. 

In our country today, the landscape is replete with many NSAs of the pernicious hue, whose activities bode ill for the country. Currently, the nation is grappling with insecurity issues being perpetrated by types of NSA that we all have come to label as bandits, 

gunmen, cultists, and after a court ruling, terrorists. In the North-Eastern part of the country, the Boko Haram sect has held sway for more than a decade, killing, maiming and displacing people from their communities. As a result, normal economic and social life has been disrupted, children are out of school, farmers have abandoned farms, while the nation itself continues to grope in the dark in search of a solution. In no time, other NSA groups have sprung up, and taken hold of territories in states like Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and others, using terror as a weapon to achieve their aim. They collect taxes from the people they terrorise, and where cash is hard, they take farm produce and livestock in lieu. 

Daily, people are being kidnapped for ransom and the security agencies seem completely helpless. The Abuja-Kaduna train kidnap was, and still is a gory spectacle of helplessness in the face burgeoning insecurity. Clearly, terrorists have shut down the train service and almost completely isolated Kaduna after the attack on the airport and making the Abuja-Kaduna highway a no-drive road. Abuja, the federal capital, was hitherto thought to be a safe haven, as most of the governors of states in Northern Nigeria abandoned their capitals, preferring to operate mostly from Abuja. Now that bubble has been burst with recent developments that included an attack on the presidential guard, after which universities, the Law School and other institutions have been forced to shut down. Neighbouring Nasarawa State has also shut down all schools to forestall mass kidnaps of schoolchildren. So, where we are now, terrorists now determine the school calendar! 

In the South-East, the silhouettes of “Unknown Gunmen” loom large. From Anambra, to Imo, to Ebonyi, Abia and Enugu, it has been an orgy of violence as bloodbaths continued unabated. The situation is that of naked, raw fear; and if you add the spectre of sit-at-home, people living in the South-East now operate a three-day week — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The South-South fares no better; rampaging cult groups are also perpetrating their own orgies, killing and maiming in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers and Bayelsa states. 

Where we are now, the South-Western part of the country, home to the nation’s economic powerhouse and the nation’s largest cities, is also feeling the heat as the terror wave blows southwards. A church in Owo, one of the big towns in Ondo State, was attacked with guns and explosives a few weeks ago, and barely recovering from that incident, the town was attacked again late Wednesday evening. While all these were happening, the President undertook a trip to Liberia, where, we were told, he would deliver a lecture on security. Great. Meanwhile, his beleaguered people are sweating profusely under a thick blanket of insecurity which has compounded economic woes. Since farmers could no longer go to farms, the little that could be harvested are being sold at cut-throat prices; the spectre of famine is looming. 

In the face of all this, it is clear that the most important duty of any government worth its salt is the provision of security. People must be free from fear and any other encumberance so that they can continue their pursuit of happiness as they see fit within the law. For the state to do this, it must have exclusive control of the use of violence. Nigeria had that. Has the Nigerian state, now, lost that control to non-state actors or not?