Dire predictions about the 2023 general election are getting more strident. The prophecies are based on intolerably high levels of insecurity across the country. Almost everyone seems convinced the elections will not hold in a climate of fear, in an environment dominated by widespread violence, atrocities, epidemic abductions, angry demands by members of various ethnic-groups to be separated from Nigeria, and internal uprisings by terrorist groups seeking to occupy parts of the country. The prognosis is frightening. The future of Nigeria does not look good.
The general impression is that Nigeria lacks leadership. In such a free-falling state, everyone is free to do whatever they like. There is a sense that the security apparatus has crumbled. Militant groups have emerged and taken up arms against the state and security agencies. Citizens who are supposed to be protected by the state have turned their guns against the state that represents a symbol of national security.
In some parts of the country, police stations are attacked and incinerated regularly. Students who should be absorbed in learning are kidnapped systematically from their university campuses. Audacious criminals insist that ransom must be paid before they could free their hostages. Nigeria is full of hopeless and disheartened citizens.
When people are attacked by bandits and terrorists, they cannot run to police for protection because police stations have been ransacked and thrashed. Police officers who represent law and order cannot protect themselves and our society, just as the Presidency was unable to protect itself against armed robbery weeks ago. This shows that everyone’s security has been compromised. These scenarios suggest that Nigeria is in conflict with itself. All the signs point to a country that is fast imploding. We live in a country in which criminal groups are seizing control of our territorial borders.
These sentiments and fears were also expressed by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. In his critique of the security situation, he said: “This nation is at war, yet we continue to pretend that these are mere birth pangs of a glorious entity.”
Soyinka’s views echo serious concerns expressed by other high-profile citizens, including national security experts in Nigeria and in overseas countries.
A powerful editorial published in the Punch of Thursday, May 6, 2021, titled “Nigeria is sleepwalking into war,” stated unambiguously that “Nigeria is at war in many theatres. The human and economic costs of this anarchy are simply unsustainable. In the North-East, Islamic terrorists have regained the upper hand… Hitherto relatively safe, bandits have seized control of the North-West. Mass abduction at schools and random killings are their signature atrocities.”
Deteriorating conditions across the country were also captured in that editorial. The Punch noted: “All over, the threat level is higher than what triggered the Civil War in 1967. Several factors are to blame, some of them self-inflicted. The Buhari regime is mistrusted by the other regional groupings because of its divisive, clannish appointments into the security apparatus. The police are short-handed, their plight aggravated by the deployment of a third of the force in illegal VIP duties. Any President serious about security will clamp down on this anomaly and initiate a decentralised police system. The military is poorly armed, under-motivated…”
The Punch editorial reflected the diverse views, suggestions, and fears expressed by many people as Nigeria marches toward the precipice of disaster. According to The Punch: “Today, the country faces a break-or-save dilemma. As society breaks down, the breakup of the state is a foreboding reality. It will be dangerous to allow Nigeria to slide into a war it can ill afford…As an immediate step to counter this trend, the President should declare a state of emergency on security, initiate security reforms and take necessary measures towards running an inclusive government. Eventually, fashioning a constitution that truly reflects the plurality of Nigerian society remains the only viable option to prevent the country from falling apart.”
The ideas and suggestions to defuse the tension must be music to the ears of policymakers at Aso Rock. Their normal refrain is that there is nothing innovative in the suggestions, or that they have heard it all before now. That means it would be business as usual in the Presidency. There will be no need for the President to articulate and roll out practical policies and strategies to address the factors driving the current state of insecurity.
The depressing state of security was also highlighted by Olabode George, former national vice-chairman of the South West zone of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in an interview he granted to The Sun. His sharp and judicious views were published on Monday, May 17, 2021.
Asked about his assessment of the prediction that there may be no elections in 2023 if insecurity persisted, George responded: “I also have that fear. Who would you go out to campaign to? When you do, they will ask you the votes we had that time, what has become of it?” He continued: “The report from the 2014 National Conference has been submitted; they either add to it or subtract from it, but that is a starting point. We are not saying dissolve Nigeria, no. Let the system we are going to run make more sense so that it can positively impact on the people. What we are doing now is not working but the President can turn things around within one year. That report is very cogent. I was part of it, I saw it and read it and it is still very relevant.”
There is no lack of ideas on how to rouse Nigeria from deep slumber, laziness, poor governance, growing appetite for war, inter-ethnic suspicion, instability and discriminatory practices that hold the country back. As alluded in a previous paragraph, the biggest challenge is indifference on the part of national leaders, particularly President Muhammadu Buhari.
People have written open letters to the President but received silence in return. Others have offered insightful and profound suggestions on how to resuscitate Nigeria from its current state of stupor, anomie, lawlessness, and lack of direction. Again, their ideas were swallowed by apathy, coldness, insensitivity, and the penchant for a return to prehistoric times and ways of doing things.
Part of the reason why things have remained the way they are or why Nigeria has not moved forward in a meaningful and productive way is the assumption by the President and his retinue of servants, ministers, advisers and courtiers that they possess the divine wisdom to make decisions that are good for all of us. That assumption is flawed. There is no research-based evidence to show that only people in positions of authority are endowed with special knowledge of, and foresight about, how to govern a country.
One question we must pose to the Presidency is: To what extent has the President’s decisions been inclusive? Marginalisation and exclusion of members of different ethnic groups are at the centre of agitations for separation, rising demands by different ethnic groups for self-rule and feelings of deep dissatisfaction with the way the country is being governed.