When James Carville, a strategist in Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against then United States President, George Herbert Walker Bush, declared, “it’s the economy, stupid,” he underlined the failure of the incumbent government at that time to address economic problems plaguing the country. Strongly pushing his case that Bush had failed to do something tangible to arrest the recession in the US, he told Americans and the world that Clinton was a better choice and would address the economy more appropriately. His phrase not only became popular, but the Clinton campaign also won the argument and convinced Americans. Clinton won the presidential election and took office as the 42nd president of the United States in 1993.
Today, one borrows from this popular Carville clique to declare: It’s the security, stupid. This is apt because Nigerians are not convinced that the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari has done well in addressing insecurity in Northern Nigeria, in particular and across the country, in general. There are efforts by the government, quite all right, but the results are not positive. What everybody wants is not effort but result, a good result at that.
It is not in dispute that the North East and North West Nigeria have become a personification of insecurity. It is no longer news that Boko Haram insurgents, bandits and kidnappers are running riot in these two geopolitical zones of Nigeria. States like Borno, Yobe, Katsina, Zamfara and many others in the North have become dangerous places. People are killed in large numbers in these states. People are kidnapped and ransom paid to secure their release. Villages are attacked, devastated and sacked. There is generally lack of protection therein.
Just recently, Boko Haram insurgents killed 43 rice farmers in Borno State in their farms. The death toll rose to 67 as other farmers who sustained injuries from the attack later died. It was killing too many, in a country where the government promised to make protection of life and property its cardinal programme. There have been other killings in Borno. The convoy of the state governor, Prof Babagana Zulum, had been attacked severally. In Katsina, bandits are having a field day, attacking villages and kidnapping people, including district heads. On Katsina-Zamfara expressway, not long ago, bandits abducted 12 policemen travelling to Zamfara for special assignment. Nobody is safe.
To show the level of despondency in the North, owing to insecurity, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar 111, cried out to bring the attention of the world to the worsening security situation in the northern part of the country. Not a man known to ruffle feathers, but always forthright in things he is convinced about, the Sultan could not help but called a spade, a spade. He said the North had become the worse place to live in the country, while calling on Islamic clerics to hold special prayer sessions against insecurity.
A statement signed by Secretary-General of the apex Islamic body, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr. Khalid Aliyu, quoted Sultan Abubakar as saying there was a new trend in communities in the North.
According to Sultan, “wanton killings, acts of banditry, kidnapping for ransom, high rate of unemployment amongst the youths, rape and all forms of terrorisms have now become the ‘New Trend’ in our communities,” to the extent that “Nigerians have become so much terrified, as nowhere is safe: the home, the farms, and the roads.”
The Sultan said “the common man is now caught in-between two contending phenomenon: when he goes to the farm, he gets killed; and when he stays at home, he dies of hunger,” while asking some fundamental questions, to wit: “For how long would we continue to live a life in fear? For how long, can we continue to wait in vain? For how long shall we continue to condemn acts of terrorism without any concerted efforts in ending it? For how long would we continue to remain indolent? And for how long can we continue to remain hopeless in a precarious situation such as what we are in presently?”
No matter the answers government proffers to these questions, the truth is that Nigerians need permanent solution. The military, no doubt overstretched, has tried its best. To fight different enemies, whose motives are divergent and sinister, at the same time, is not easy. Many military officers have paid the supreme price. And many more would still die. The reality is that the more the government plays down the security challenges in the country, the more missteps and casualties we will make and record.
Before President Buhari came to office, it was a known fact that Boko Haram was a big threat to national security. The insurgents held territories in the North. On assumption of office, just like during his presidential campaign, President Buhari promised to arrest the situation. Efforts have been made at ridding the North East of Boko Haram. However, the mistake the government made was to declare that Boko Haram had been degraded and therefore made people believe that the threat was gone. This unnecessary lie by the government could have robbed it of whatever external support in the fight against insurgents. When a government declares that a terrorist group has been degraded, the general impression is that all is well. In such situation, those who could have rendered whatever assistance, in logistics, ammunition, intelligence and personnel, would hold their peace.
Whether the government admits it or not, there is no doubt that it needs help in fighting insurgents. There is no denying the fact that Nigeria cannot fight and win the insurgency war alone. The confidence that it could solve its security problem alone is part of its undoing. Our intelligence proficiency is not the best. There is glaring compromise, including in communities under terror attack. Help is needed to win the terror war. The United States SEAL recently sent its operatives to rescue a kidnapped American citizen in Nigeria. This operation was successfully done without the US agents recording casualty. With its high level of intelligence, the US SEAL located where the kidnappers were holding the victim and storm the place. This tells me that in a well-coordinated covert operation, this US agency, for instance, could take out insurgents easily, working with the Nigerian military. There is therefore the need to seek help, in areas where we are inadequate.
One of the things that is giving Boko Haram oxygen is the ease with which it recruits foot soldiers. In a region where religious indoctrination has become a tool for mobilisation and where poverty and illiteracy are high, insurgents get followers easily. This is why the governors in the North should do something about the Almajirai system. Without well-thought programmes to keep them engaged, Almajirai are vulnerable and could be enticed into undesirable things. It was not enough for governors in the North to order Almajirai back to their respective states. What the North needs is to evolve a programme that would educate the Almajirai and make them acquire skills, so that they could be gainfully engaged.
Traditional rulers are critical in the fight against insurgency. They should know that to keep their communities safe is also part of their responsibility. They do not command an army, but their invaluable help would make the army effective. To do this, however, the traditional rulers need to earn the confidence of their people, before they could make them realise that collaborating with insurgents would not be in their interest.
Much has been said about the Service Chiefs. My take is this: Inasmuch as the Service Chiefs ought to have retired long ago, nobody would say for sure that their continued stay in office is responsible for our inability to win the insurgency war. Some people believe that when new officers come on board, fresh ideas would be injected. This is true. However, it must be noted that without the requisite tools and knowhow, fresh hands and ideas would make no difference. We should not therefore treat the symptoms, but tackle the ailment.