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Nigerian National Security: Nationalists Versus Separatists and Sectionalists

--Cutting-Edge Analytics--

By: Franklin Otorofani
 Published February 6th, 2012

President Goodluck Jonathan may have inherited many of these problems and may have in fact fired some derelict security chiefs lately, but all things considered, he has been a little too clay footed and less proactive in addressing these security challenges. And that may be due more to inexperience and/or inadequate advice from his security operatives than lack of resources. A responsible government cannot wait until evil is upon a nation before reacting to it like fire brigade engine. ---Franklin Otorofani

I am pretty hawkish about national security because it is unquestionably the bedrock and foundation of all national progress and development. All human beings including those pulled into the vortex of violence and destruction by some dark forces innately desire development and progress if not for others at least for themselves and their communities.

I know of no-one who does not wish himself and his community progress and development. I am not unmindful, however, that the words “progress and development” are relative terms that have no universal meaning. As such, they are liable to subjective interpretation, because as the saying goes, one man's meat is another man's poison. Therefore, what may be regarded as progress and development in one society could be viewed in entirely different light as retrograde, egregious filth, immoral and corrupt in others of entirely different cultural make up and sensibilities. For example, the rise of the pornography industry, indecent exposures in dressing styles in public especially by females, prostitution, and the new social invention of same-sex marriage in the western societies are seen in many eastern and African societies as anything but progress and development. Resistance and opposition to and even prohibition of such “progress and development” by any society therefore is entirely justified on cultural and religious grounds because immorality cannot reasonably be allowed to find accommodation in the global index of progress and development. However, such resistance and opposition must be conducted by lawful means in a civilized manner and through constitutional processes rather than through violence. Thus every society is entitled to define “progress and development” in its own terms and there can be no one-size-fits-all recommendation or imposition on all societies. Differences in cultural tolerances makes for the extreme diversities that exist in our planet. No society or leader has the right to dictate its or his own cultural preferences for another because that would lead to an undesirable monolithic cultural universe that is fundamentally antithetical to the immense diversity decreed by nature for humankind.

Even so there are certain features that universally qualify as progress and development and accepted as such by all. And these would include advances in telecommunication, buildings, medicine, transportation, science and technology, and infrastructures. I know of no society regardless of cultural constitution that does not desire them. But I also  know of no investor domestic or foreign save perhaps gun runners and mercenaries fishing in troubled waters, who would put his/her money in a boiling cauldron for investment when those trapped in it are bailing out in droves as it's the case, for example, in war torn Iraq and Somalia. Therefore, for any nation that is desirous of economic progress and development in all fields of human endeavors, the construction of a robust security infrastructure is prerequisite which Nigeria currently lacks but which must be aggressively and expeditiously erected and properly serviced. In other words, progress and development cannot be attained in an atmosphere of insecurity of lives and properties. And this is self-evident truth.

But how could security of lives and properties, which is prerequisite for progress and development be attained in a society? The answer lies in the rule of law; in particular, law enforcement. Rule of law is the key that opens the door to security of lives and properties and therefore progress and development. All developed democracies have this in common. It is not by accident that law enforcement is far stricter in developed countries than in developing and underdeveloped nations both in common crimes and in specialized crimes such as insider trading, fraudulent financial transactions, and all the way to intellectual property infringements. Yes development is unquestionably directly correlated to the rule of law and law enforcement. However, rule of law is best attained in a democracy as opposed to autocracy and authoritarianism. But unfortunately and sadly enough democracy itself comes with extreme challenges that are extremely difficult to manage. The practice of democracy has torn nations apart and led to political instability that threaten their very existence. Iraq and Afghanistan are prime examples, so also are several African nations like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Republic of Congo, and Kenya, just to mention but a few. 

Why is this so? The answer is not farfetched. At best democracy is a system of managed chaos that requires sophisticated actors, ordinary citizens and politicians, to effectively and successfully operate and very expensive to run too, in poverty stricken nations. Its inherent chaotic nature still finds robust expressions even in established democracies the world over, particularly in the western world. At worst democracy is an infinitely destabilizing system of government that has huge potentials for unraveling national security. While the freedoms and liberties afforded by democracy are more often than not routinely put to the test by several lawful groups, and anarchist groups taking advantage of them are willing to push the envelop well beyond their legal and constitutional limits, it behooves the state, not only to define, but to maintain the boundaries of civil actions by groups and individuals within its jurisdiction. This is the case because there are no absolute freedoms and liberties in any democracy. Freedoms and liberties come with constitutional and legal limitations that must be observed by those seeking to take advantage of them to pursue their individual agenda. It is in the observance of these limitations, for instance, that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protesters were forcefully evicted gestapo style from parks in New York City by Major Bloomberg's Police Department armed with anti-riot gears in the dead of night. The same scenario is playing out in “Occupy Oakland” in the state of  California and Washington, D.C., where battle ready police tore through and bore down heavily on “occupy” protesters camping in parks. The scenes playing out in American cities with bloodied protesters being batted and dragged out by the police and their criminal prosecution in courts are not significantly different from what we see in authoritarian states such as Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Iran and Kuwait in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” with the exception that protesters are not being mowed down in cold blood. But that is because protesters themselves are not armed or violent as their counterparts in the Arab spring, because law enforcement is law enforcement everywhere and anywhere regardless of the particular causes being fought. 

What was the reason adduced by the Bloomberg administration and other city Majors for moving forcefully against the protesters? Here it is: The protesters have no right to “permanently occupy” the parks and make them their homes thereby preventing other members of the public from enjoying the facilities to which to they are equally entitled. Sounds pretty reasonable and justified to me because the laws must be enforced regardless. And US courts agree, too. There may be right to public protest but it must not be exercised in such a manner as to deprive others the enjoyment of their rights---your right stops right where mine begins! It all goes to show that democracy offers neither room nor excuse for brazen lawlessness regardless of the particular causes being pushed by its perpetrators. There is a fine line between private and public rights and when both collide private rights are liable to yield grounds for public rights because the rights of one individual or group cannot override the rights of the general public as a whole. And who is better placed than the government to protect public right? Nobody! This subtle distinction can only be appreciated by sophisticated citizenry in a democracy that understands that civil liberties are not absolute but relative rights the exercise of which is subject to certain legal and constitutional limitations. This is the more reason why organizers of  public protests usually seek legal advice before embarking on public protests to enable them operate within the limits imposed by the laws of the land.

I am not exactly sure whether politically motivated protests organizers understand this requirement. Those seeking to secure political capital from protests have no incentives to operate within the laws and observe these limitations because their motivation is political and have no intentions of allowing the laws to limit their field of action. However, when lines are crossed the state has the responsibility and obligation to act to restore law and order because the observance of civil rights does not and cannot include blatant lawlessness or brazen challenge to lawful authority. When the state is challenged frontally in that manner all claims to civil rights disappear into irrelevance. The recent labor organized public protests in Nigeria over the removal of oil subsidy by the Nigerian government,  for instance, while largely peaceful, was in blatant violation of the rights of other Nigerians to move freely and conduct their businesses as they saw fit free from molestations by labor operatives to the extent that businesses were forced to close, including banks in the face of a competent court order outlawing the protests. The Jonathan administration must therefore demonstrate that it is capable of enforcing the supremacy of the rule of law. When competent court orders are flagrantly flouted with such impunity the authority and efficacy of the legal order is eroded and weakened and our democracy is imperiled. No violation of lawful orders is too small for sanction because  violations, big and small, feed into the general perception of the ineffectiveness and inefficacy of the rule of law. And every unsanctioned violation invites other and bigger violations. It is in this light that the recent jailing of the Edo State AG by the Federal High Court in Benin City, for allegedly defiling its orders is perfectly in order and a welcome development. It sends a clear message to tall that the law is no respecter of persons. Jonathan is well advised to demonstrate his understanding of the imperatives of the rule of law. His own AGF should lead the way forward. The labor leaders ought to have been jailed to send a clear message to others similarly minded as the Edo state AG.

The purpose of sanction is to deter future violations. The earlier the Jonathan administration understands this psychological bedrock of the criminal justice system the better for it and the nation at large. What the NLC did in ignoring the court order and proceeding on the protests could not have gone unpunished in a developed democracy such as the  United States or Britain. Those who willfully disobey lawful court orders must be prepared for the consequences of their actions and it is the duty of the courts and the executive arms to enforce the laws of the land. Now majority of Nigerians are for the most part law abiding citizens. Those who break the laws with impunity are in fact the elites and these are those that should be made example of by the government to send a clear message that the law is no respecter of persons regardless of political, ethnic, social, or other considerations. A democracy need not be and should not become a lawless society; in fact, it cannot endure in an atmosphere of pervasive lawlessness. That some individuals and groups are equating democracy with lawlessness is bad enough but that the government of the day appears to be condoning such behavior is outrageous and inexcusable. This attitude breeds contempt for rule of law and invariably leads to break down of law and order due to absence of vigorous law enforcement. 

President Goodluck Jonathan may have inherited many of these problems and may have in fact fired some derelict security chiefs lately, but all things considered, he has been a little too clay footed and less proactive in addressing these security challenges. And that may be due more to inexperience and/or inadequate advice from his security operatives than lack of resources. A responsible government cannot wait until evil is upon a nation before reacting to it like fire brigade engine. For example, it is only now the administration is thinking about building border plazas in the northern parts of the country when it knew or ought to have known that the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi had resulted in proliferation of small arms in our sub region, which by the way, is not a new development. It did nothing to monitor them so far as they affect the nation's security. Again, why in the world, for example, is the Nigerian police personnel still openly collecting bribes from motorists without serious sanctions? Why are our Customs officers still swimming in corruption at our international gateways unsanctioned? Why is our government seemingly resigning itself to the all-pervasive culture of corruption it had inherited? The answer is not lack of resources but lack of political will and the Jonathan administration had better wake up to its responsibilities. A transformation agenda that provides room and parlor to corruption and lawlessness is worse than no agenda at all.

When a government looks the other way when the laws of the land are being flouted with such impunity the government is perceived as weak invariably creating an atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity that ultimately leads to a frontal challenge to the authority of the government and the state. This is the stage that Nigeria has attained, unfortunately. Nigeria did not arrive there overnight. It is the cumulative effects of extremely weak law enforcement by the Nigerian government over the years and decades so much so that a “culture of impunity” has set in and taken deep roots, which is difficult to reverse. The culmination of this culture is the present challenge to the Nigerian state as indicated in the Boko Haram menace. It is a shame and disgusting to hear our government talking about “peace talks” with Boko Haram. What peace talks? Peace talks that would bring back the dead and soothe the pains of loved ones who have lost their relatives to mindless and cowardly terrorists attacks? What peace talks? To compensate terrorists for killing, maiming, and destroying homes and businesses of government and innocent Nigerians? What peace talks, Mr. President? Is it now Nigeria's policy to negotiate with terrorists? That is an open invitation to terrorism. The more you negotiate and meet the demands of terrorists the more terrorists organizations will spring up in every nook and cranny of the nation. Terrorists have to be defeated and punished to the full extent of the laws, not placated and certainly not negotiated with except of course they are ready to bring back the dead and undo the damage they have inflicted on the nation and individual families. A policy of appeasement only encourages more terrorism and a betrayal of the dead whose relatives seek nothing short of justice from acts of terrorism. Justice demands  that terrorists be brought to book and answer for their crimes against humanity, not negotiated with. It is not enough for the government to compensate victims of terrorist acts. That is not the issue. The issue is hunting down and bringing the culprits to book by all means necessary with full panoply of state power. Compensation of the victims is secondary to justice. That is why any talk about negotiation with Boko Haram is nothing short of government's capitulation and a sign of defeat which can only embolden the terrorists. It sends the message that those who resort to violence to push their points have a seat at the table with their crimes forgiven and forgotten.

If Boko Haram has issues with the Nigerian government, what has that got to do with the bombing of a Catholic or other churches and the killing of innocent citizens? Is the  Catholic Church, or any church for that matter, part of the federal government? Boko Haram says it wants an Islamic state. Fine. Boko Haram is entitled to whatever political agenda it desires so long as that agenda does not include declaring Nigeria an Islamic state, because Nigeria was not founded as an Islamic state but as a secular, multi-religious and multi-ethnic state and it will remains so forever. If Boko Haram wants an  Islamic state it must of necessity break away from Nigeria to establish it; in other words, get parts of the North to secede from the union. Is that the desire of Northerners? Hardly so. If that was the desire of the North both Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello would not have agreed to be part of a multi-religious and multi-ethnic Nigeria but would rather have opted for an Islamic theocracy for the Northern region before independence. It could not have because of the large population of Christians in the Middle Belt portion of the North. 

For those seeking separation or secession here is the pointed answer: The Nigerian state, to the best of my knowledge and understanding, is not a political entity that was created by force of arms. On the contrary, it is a product of consensus that was achieved through a series of constitutional conferences that culminated in the Independence Constitution in 1960. Nigeria's founding fathers, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, representing  Eastern, Western and Northern regions respectively, took up arms neither against British colonial rule nor against each or one another. There was no single shot fired to create one Nigeria; no suicide bombs going off in churches and mosques. The amalgamation of Norther and Southern Nigeria in 1914 was not opposed by any group either. The Nigerian union therefore was  an entirely voluntary construction. And if there was any region that was reluctant to throw out British colonial yoke on grounds of alleged unpreparedness it was the Northern region as both Eastern and Western regions  just couldn't wait to kick out the Brits. Ironically, it was the same reluctant North that became the greatest beneficiary of Nigeria's independence as it wound up producing all but one of Nigerian leaders—well until now. Having thus settled for secular state called the Federal Republic of Nigeria that issue has been settled and put to rest and cannot therefore be re-litigated 52 years after independence. And anyone trying to reopen that as an issue in the 21st century and does so with suicide bombs can therefore only be described as public enemy number one, and dealt with as such. Therefore, the idea that any group of citizens can, for whatever reasons, take up arms against the state at will without serious consequences is the very antithesis and negation of statehood as defined and laid down in the Montevideo Convention. A state is only so called if it is able and willing to maintain law and order and protects the lives and properties of its citizens, which is its primary responsibility within its territorial boundaries, not temporarily but permanently.

Now there are lots of people running around with some weird and crazy separatist notions of secession swirling in the their heads. And I have some news for them: Those suffering such separatist delusions must first prepare themselves for war because the re-litigation of Nigerian statehood will be settled not with handshakes across conference tables or gentlemen agreements in the nature of  so-called sovereign conferences being called for by some naïve individuals, but on battlefields. Nigeria will not be broken up in peace but in war. And those suffering from such verbal diarrhea are well advised to make their war preparations before publicly voicing their delusions.

And, by the way, why can't Nigeria's problems be addressed within the present constitutional settings? No one has come out tell why. In the past the excuse was that the National Assembly members were not true representatives of the people allegedly due to faulty election processes under the Obasanjo and Yar'Adua administrations. But can we say the same thing about the present crops of lawmakers? And if our National Assembly representatives and governors cannot represent our constituencies, who can? Hand picked individuals by Ohaneze, Arewa, Afenifere and OPC?  I perfectly understand the concerns of those calling for Sovereign National Conference (SNC) given the security related developments in the polity. But there are fundamental issues that must be addressed by proponents of the so-called SNC. They need to tell us what issues the nation is having that would be resolved through SNC that cannot be resolved through the normal constitutional process. They also need to tell us the source of authority of the SNC, and whether its decisions would be binding on all governmental bodies and agencies like the constitution and if so by what authority would that come to be. Would the decisions of the SNC override the provisions of the constitution? That means overthrowing the present constitution. Isn't this delusional, to say the least?

It is not enough to dress the proposition in sovereign robes. Short of complete abdication of power only naïve and dreamy individuals would expect legitimately elected NA, the president and governors to step aside and allow an extra-constitutional contraption like SNC to takeover their roles. And, by the way, who says SNC would agree on anything in a divided nation like Nigeria? Can we stop this nonsensical wishful thinking? This distraction must stop because it is total distraction. Nigeria's constitution might not be perfect, but properly implemented and amended, its provisions can take care of many of the pressing issues besetting the nation at the moment. The idea that we must call for the break up of the nation each and every time some lunatic fringe groups stir up trouble in parts of the north is itself lunatic. Big countries like Nigeria have bigger issues to deal with and these things will always flare up every now and then. The solution is not to wish for break up but to deal with them as and when they arise, because in the end they are fundamentally security issues. And most nations have grave security issues to deal with. Must it always be break up? If Iraq and Afghanistan with hundreds of thousands killed by terrorists have not broken up what right has Nigeria to break up because Boko Haram bombed a catholic church or mosque or police station in the North? Isn't that suggestion itself not criminally insane? Those touting such suggestions on account of Boko Haram are just as insane as Boko Haram.

And for heavens sake utopians should quit misrepresenting doomsday prophesies of some Washington think tanks about Nigeria's demise as representing the opinion of the US government. Washington think tanks are private entities and do not work for nor represent the US government. The US government regards Nigeria as a development partner and in fact helping Nigeria in the fields of democracy and security through the Bi-National Commission. The US has no interest in seeing the demise of Nigeria given the role the nation has played in international peacekeeping operations and her peaceful disposition not to mention the traditional warm relations between both nations. On what basis therefore would the US government wish Nigeria broken apart? If the US wanted that it would have taken advantage of the Nigerian civil war to dismember the nation when it had every opportunity to do so. But it didn't. The US is not interested in acquiring overseas territories because it is not an imperialist nation like Britain and France, for instance, seeking territorial expansion. What is more, Nigeria is a democracy dear to the heart of the US. People should stop dragging the US government into their doomsday fantasies about Nigeria generated by publicity seeking Washington busy bodies. 

Finally, there is no guarantee that the outcome of yet another  constitutional conference jamboree that is bound to inflame passions of different ethnic groups will be any better than what we have now. If anything it will definitely overheat the polity and absolutely no good will come out of it. There is no guarantee either that recommendations of the SNC, if that is at all possible in our fractious polity, would not be subjected to different interpretations that could set the nation on a slippery slope and on a perilous path to perdition. If that is the goal of those agitating for constitutional conference at this point in time, they should be man enough to say so publicly rather than hiding under subterfuge of sovereign national conference to prosecute their separatist agenda. Therefore, regardless of the present security challenges which by the way will only make Nigeria stronger in the end like every other nation that has had similar challenges in other parts of the world, and regardless of the wishful thinking of those hoping for Nigeria's demise,   the nation has come to stay as a going concern and a million Boko Harams will not alter, divert, change or abort her manifest destiny. Nigerian nationalists will in the manner of our great founding fathers prevail over the evil machinations of separatists and sectionalists because there is somebody out there that believes in the existence and unity of that great nation. That is what keeps it going that has put and continues to put to shame doomsday predictions in the past, present, and future. But for how long will doomsday dreamers continue to wait for a non-event. Eternity! But hey, many who had wished Nigerian dead are already dead and Nigeria is still here, alive and vibrant!  Now that is some food for thought.


Franklin Otorofani is an attorney and public affairs analyst

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