The Federal Government’s decision to withdraw soldiers from internal security postings and hand over such locations to the Police deserves further scrutiny. In a National Security Council meeting at the end of last year, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a closed door meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; the National Security Adviser, Major-Gen. Babagana Monguno and Mr. Abba Kyari, the President’s Chief of Staff, reached decisions on wide-ranging security issues, one of which was to withdraw soldiers from volatile areas in the first quarter of the new year. The withdrawal of troops will be done after an ‘assessment’ to determine areas where peace has returned to enable civil authorities (Police) to assume control of security fully in such areas.
Naval Chief, Ibas, who spoke with the press at the end of the Council meeting, explained that the withdrawal was to allow the military to focus on its primary duty of defending the nation against external aggression. “It is the work of the Police to handle internal security since Nigeria is not at war. The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps will support the Police to provide internal security. Also, you will remember that additional 10,000 personnel were approved for the Police recently for recruitment,” the Admiral recalled. However, he did not name the geo-political zones and states where the military would withdraw its operations.
But the anxiety over the proposed withdrawal was such that the President has had to speak again a week later to calm frayed nerves. On January 4, 2020, President Buhari reassured Nigerians that the withdrawal of the troops from where peace had been restored will not be done in a manner that will expose communities to more risks of attacks. The withdrawal, he said, would be gradual and carefully planned, not abrupt or arbitrary. He was reacting to a deluge of concerns and appeals from state governors and community leaders, and he was assuring them that his “administration will not abandon citizens in need of protection.”
It is natural to sympathise with the President’s decision, but it is difficult to take his assurances to the bank, given similar ineffectual assurances in the past. It is preposterous for Rear Admiral Ibas to assert that it is time to hand over internal security to the Police “since Nigeria is not at war.” But, indeed, Nigeria has been at war for nearly 11 years, a war that has become intractable by its sheer cost, by our lack of information on the sponsors, and by the administration’s estimation that the insurgents have been technically defeated. In the last fortnight, Boko Haram and the Islamic State blew a bridge in Gamboru, killing more than 30 persons, attacked the convoy of Theatre Commander Major-Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, killing his driver. The withdrawal of the 1,200-man Chadian contingent near Lake Chad has destabilised the area, forcing the local population in the small town of Gajiganna to flee in their hundreds to Maiduguri, an indication that the withdrawal had surprised Nigerian forces, and that the military alliance of the West African multinational force is being poorly managed. Michika and Madagali in Adamawa State have been attacked several times in the last fortnight. Boko Haram may not be the only security challenge facing the federation, but it is the most immediate, the most costly and until it is sorted out, a spectre of insecurity will continue to hover on the country.
We, therefore, think that the withdrawal proposal must be handled with extreme circumspection as it does not jell with the reality of our security situation until such a time that the nation can see its way through to implement it. The constitutional security division of labour is very clear, yet in addition to defending the country against external threats, the armed forces are also required to help out with internal insurrection and to assist the Police in dire situations such as we have had in Nasarawa, Zamfara, Taraba, Kaduna, Benue and Katsina states. Indeed, in a recent workshop on Nigeria’s security, experts agreed that 30 of our 36 states need extra help, over and above what the Police can provide, to create adequate security. It is not a surprise that most Nigerians are beginning to invest in the general security of the nation through such initiatives as the forest guards of Enugu State, the regional initiative inaugurated last week in the South West. These are excellent security formulations that would go a long way to help restore to the country, once again, a new sense of security.