The Chief of Defence Staff Seeks Holistic Solution to Insecurity in Nigeria

  • 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE ROUNDTABLE: Insecurity is Nigeria’s most difficult challenge – Shettima

The dialogue to find peace and security in Nigeria continued on February 23, at the Musa Yar’adua Cenre, Abuja, during the 21st Century Chronicle Roundtable titled “Going for broke: Fighting insecurity in Nigeria.”

General Lucky Irabor, chief of Defence Staff, and keynote speaker, reinforced his military diplomacy when he spoke on “Armed Forces and the fight against insecurity in Nigeria.” He said the Armed Forces were currently stretched as they faced many enemies from various fronts – Boko Haram/ISWAP, bandits, kidnappers, secessionist groups in the southeast and southwest, farmers/herders clashes, inter-communal violence, illegal oil bunkerers, pirates/gunmen, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, arms smugglers, and incursion by Ambazonian rebels.

He explained that the Armed Forces have many special ongoing operations like: Operations Hadin Kai, Hadarin Daji, Whirl Punch, Safe Haven, Whirl Stroke, Delta Safe, Awatse, and Udoka, across the country. He noted that some issues reducing operational effectiveness include: politicisation of insecurity, no common understanding or united front, and inadequate local support. The military has equally deployed non-kinetic means of conflict resolution through special programmes and key leaders’ engagements, and public awareness programmes.

Irabor summarized major achievements in the fight against insurgents and criminals to include: recovery of space, recovery of weapons/ammunition, protection of lives of civilians and infrastructure, enhancement of governance and development, surrender of several Boko Haram terrorists and other elements. Others include; preservation of our democratic values, increased awareness among the people, and uniting disparate groups/entities of Nigeria.

The armed forces are overcoming several challenges like: politicization of security issues, ethnicisation of security, resource constraints, porous borders, weak judicial procedures for management of terrorist/serious crimes, over-reliance on imported military hardware, limited involvement of other stakeholders, Inadequate bilateral and multinational engagements between Nigeria and some of her neighbors, including Sahel countries, and false narratives in favour of criminal causes.

On the way forward, he said a combination of many factors would be key to the final outcome: improved intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, heightened alertness, operational security and clearance operations to dominate various areas, enhanced synergy and coordination amongst the Services and MDAs. There would also be sustained psychological operations in conjunction with other agencies, strong and effective judicial reforms, patriotic media support for military operations, increased resourcing for defence and security. In addition, there is also need to de-politicise security scenarios across the country and focus on the development of a Military Industrial Complex to develop home-grown solutions to some basic technical needs.

“Why is it impossible for us to have a criminal get justice within a short period of time? That is why the police, who are the main prosecutor, as well as the men and women of the judiciary, should certainly look about this so that criminals get justice, and every intending criminal will take caution because there is a speedy judicial process on every criminal act. So, that remains a challenge,” Irabor said.

He noted the consequence of the crisis in Libya, which has escalated the proliferation of small arms. “With the free flow of these assets, if we do not have a secure border, then, of course, we are vulnerable because of these loose arms and ammunitions. So, the challenge of the porous border is profound, and we need to deal with it.”

Kashim Shttima, senator and former governor of Borno State, who was the chairman of the event, said the insecurity in Nigeria has caused serious damage to the country. “On the economic front, the Northeast had suffered an estimated $9billion, or ₦274.5billion; Borno State suffered the highest loss of $5.9billion. Loss of agricultural production in the Northeast as a result of the activities of Boko Haram, amounted to $3.5B.””

On the CDS, he attested “General Irabor is an officer and gentleman that I have the privilege of knowing very well because he was Commander of our forces in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency at the time that I was Governor of Borno State. I can speak for his commitment to very exacting professional standards in the forces that he commanded; his patriotism and knowledge, which led to his reaching the pinnacle of his profession, as the Chief of Defence Staff of our armed forces.”

He described the present insecurity as “a very difficult conjuncture in our country”, noting that “There’s no part of Nigeria today that we can go to without our hearts in our mouths because of the security situation. I come from the Northeast where our people have battled a long and sustained insurgency for over a decade. We have a first-hand experience of the destruction associated with Boko Haram and ISWAP: loss of lives; the wilful and unconscionable destruction of infrastructure; the emasculation of people who are already living precariously; the overturning of communities, and the deliberate imposition of the most heart-wrenching forms of violence on young women; forcible recruitment of young men and their drugging, to be able to commit crimes.”

Shettima said Governor Babagana Umar Zulum confirmed in February that Borno State actually lost 900,000 houses and 5,000 classrooms, 800 municipal buildings, comprising police stations, traditional rulers’ residences, and local government secretariats to the insurgency. “And these were just the official figures; the unofficial estimates paint a more horrible picture.”

He lamented that the psychological damage is tremendous. “Our people in the Northwest have also systematically been inflicted with a level of violence, loss of lives, humiliation and the destruction of communities associated with the spike in banditry; the mutation of farmer-herder conflicts into generalised rural warfare which manifested in cattle rustling; the extraction of money out of people in communities by roaming bands of very highly armed criminals, who also use rape and sexual violence, as part of a generalised criminality, that has torn asunder, urban and rural communities, in such North-western states as Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Kaduna and Zamfara. Some of the statistics available indicate that at least 12,000 people have been killed, and not less than 450,000 people have been displaced. In the extreme border areas of our country, many people have crossed the borders, and moved into neighbouring countries, like Niger, Chad and Cameroon, that also suffer the consequences of the insurgency.”

He regretted that “the consequences of this broad sweep of insecurity in the country, has led to the overstretching of our security forces, as they endeavour to deal with, or cope with, these generalised forms of security challenges.”.

He said the government has failed in its primary duty. “It is clear to all of us that the primary duty of government is to guarantee the security of lives of Nigerian citizens. This basic constitutional obligation has faced generalised challenge of insecurity. And the danger involved in the situation we face, is the increasing de-legitimisation of the processes of governance, amongst broad sections of the community. For many of our vibrant, educated and aspiring young people, the way out is to leave the country to more secure countries. We are hemorrhaging. Our best trained doctors, nurses, and other highly trained manpower are being lured with better salaries, more secure settings, and better working environments in the Western world and the Middle East.

“This calls for the most determined effort at understanding the nature of the security challenges that our people face in different parts of the country. We must similarly think critically and creatively, and in concert with the institutions of the Nigerian State charged with the responsibility of dealing with these security challenges, to find new ways to deal with the situation.”

Shettima said that security and economy are linked. “Security does not stand isolated, from the general economic health of the country. Is the economic situation such as to give hope to the huge majority of our young people, who enter the job market each year? Is the economy creating enough jobs or legitimate avenues for self-realisation by our people? Is there hope that economic choices that we are making, would, in the short, medium and long run, provide the types of opportunity that can see the flowering of our young people, in manners that can help us deal with consequences of underdevelopment that really are the roots of insecurity? In my view, these are not idle questions, and the more we find the links between the economy and security, the more authentic would be all endeavours to solve the problems confronting us as a nation.”

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