No matter what the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police Force say in the aftermath of the latest face-off with members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, this country cannot justify the measure of force its agents have continued to unleash on this religious group.
But this incident, in which an unclarified number of people lost their lives, is indicative of the precarious security situation the country is currently in as well as the questionable proactive conflict resolution credentials of Nigerian leaders. We shall return to this reality presently.
For three days this last week, the otherwise peaceful atmosphere of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, has been disrupted by violent clashes between the men of the Army and members of the IMN with numbers of causalities ranging from three to 50 depending on who you are speaking with.
No matter what account you have, however, the incentive for this crisis is the fundamental distrust between the government, its agencies and the Shiites. This distrust is immediately attributable to the December 2015 clash between the Army and members of the sect. At the end of the series of events which saw the Army advance on the sect in what looked like a retaliatory action, over 300 people including men and women had been killed!
But it did not stop at that. Leader of the sect, Sheik Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, was subsequently arrested alongside his wife and the two have been in what authorities call protective custody in spite of court orders for their release almost two years on. Members of the sect have continued to agitate for the release of their leader, while the Buhari government has held on to him like its survival depends on it.
To some extent, the mutual distrust between the two parties would account for the frequent clashes that occur. While law enforcement agencies understandably expect the sect to approach it for protection before embarking on processions like the ones that precipitated the recent skirmishes, the sect would, with government’s defiance of court orders for the release of their leaders, already assume a no love lost situation with the authorities; and there you have a recipe for an unending confrontation.
But Nigeria would be the bigger loser at the end of the day! True, the religious sect is likely to continue to lose its members but those are precious Nigerian lives that are illegally killed by the country that should protect them. Nigeria would not just be decimating its own human capital, it would by so doing alienate itself from the civilised world thereby accentuating its poor leadership.
What is more frightening however is the tendency that the IMN would be driven underground and Nigeria may before long have another guerrilla warfare on its hands. This was pretty much the trajectory of the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awatiwal-Jihad before it became the Boko Haram group to which Nigeria has lost at least 20,000 lives, with about two million people displaced and an estimated five million facing severe food shortages. The question of how much of this type of internal strife a country can bear is then best left to imagination.
This is even more so when cognisance is taken of the quantum of conflicts that Nigerian security agencies currently deal with. For the records, none of the six geopolitical zones of the country is conflict-free at the moment. While the North-West is dealing with the issues of banditry and religious conflicts like the one from which 70 people were killed in Kaduna State penultimate week, the North-East is under the terror of the Boko Haram insurgency while the North-Central is engulfed in daily scuffles between marauding herdsmen and farmers. Thousands of lives have also been lost on these turfs. And apart from the appalling loss of lives in the latter case, it bears a frightening indication of the food crisis that the country might end up with in no distant time.
Down South, Nigeria is grappling with temperamental militants holding the country at the jugular in the Niger Delta region, the incessant mumbles of agitations for self-determination in the South-East by the IPOB agitators as well as the multiple crimes of cultism, kidnappings and political violence in the South-West. That is not to speak of the alarming volume of small arms and light weapons that have found their way into the country or the unchecked access to psychotropic drugs amongst Nigerians especially the youths. The authorities have no answer to most of these challenges other than the deployment of troops, numbers, strength and capacity of which are indeed not inexhaustible.
Speaking at the second annual conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers recently, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, sounded the alarm on Nigeria. He quoted from a lecture delivered by the Minister of Interior, Abdurahman Dambazzu, at the National Defence College in June, 2018 as follows: “The nature and extent of internal security in Nigeria have therefore been redefined by the various emerging threats which are far more serious and difficult for the Nigeria Police to handle… the role of the armed forces has equally been redefined by this same situation. The role of the Nigerian armed forces in internal security seems to have gone beyond providing military aid to civil authority (otherwise known as MACA) or to civil power (MACP). The armed forces seem to be now spearheading all internal security operations due to the fact that the Nigeria Police is no longer in a position to handle such matters effectively… What we are dealing with currently are tilted more towards low-intensity conflicts and/or asymmetric warfare, which are within the purview of military operations other than war (MOOTW).”
If the interior minister was this point-blank about the security challenges that the country faces and the inefficiencies that exist in the security architecture, expectations would be that leaders of the country should be deliberate about reducing the areas of conflict. This is not just because the country’s military are nearly stretched out of its limits by duties that do not constitutionally belong to them but more so because there really can be no development in a country with the various levels of conflicts that Nigeria is dealing with.
Following the uncertainties attending these conflicts are the disruptions in economic activities and the erosion of public confidence in the ability of government to guarantee the security of lives and property. The Nigerian government seems to have reached a conclusion that these can only be achieved by force; but how much has that achieved so far? Now, it has not only failed to achieve the foregoing, it is unwittingly also worsening the security situation, the productive capacity of the populace and the prospect for new investments
With the reality that Nigeria will soon be entering a season of elections in which politicians are known to be at their most irresponsible best, the Muhammadu Buhari administration must lead Nigeria on a path to peace. A good place to start is obeying that court order for the release of El-Zakzaky on bail and moving on to commencing multilateral discussions for the resolution of the IMN situations and so many others that do not necessarily call for the display of military valour. And why is it so Herculean to empower the Nigeria Police to perform its civic duties? Would equipping the police and training its men to respond to these civil issues not save the country from unnecessary bloodletting perpetrated by the military?