Our turning point

If you are holding your breath waiting for response of the Nigerian government to the recently published, scathing report of  Susan Callamard, the United Nations Human Rights Council Rapporteur on  Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions  in Nigeria, it may be best to relax. It is quite possible that this report will be merely noted. The report is rich in language and details. The Rapporteur said that at the end of her two week visit to Nigeria which involved extensive engagement with just about everyone with a stake or knowledge of the state of the nation, the overall situation she encountered gives rise to extreme concern. ‘By many measures, the Federal authorities and international partners are presiding over an injustice pressure-cooker’ she said. Language such as this is reserved to shock; still the Buhari administration which may have become severely de-sensitized by unceasing criticisms over its record around the protection of human rights and conflict management ought to pay more that casual attention to it. The mention of international partners as strategic collaborators in presiding over this ‘pressure cooker’ is significant here, not only because it comes from an appointee of the global community, but because it states clearly that international partners are complicit in tolerating a pressure cooker. The choice of the metaphor, pressure cooker, is instructive. Injustice is the weakest foundation to build a nation on.

For what it is worth, Nigerian leaders and international partners and friends need to read this report very carefully and take steps to deal with some of the more damaging observations and recommendations. The Buhari administration needs to accept responsibility and admit that the nation has become a lot more insecure, and its responses to this development have created major threats to the rights of citizens. The bland statements routinely put out that the security forces are ‘on top of the situation’ is making a mockery of an administration which seems at a loss in terms of dealing with unprecedented levels of insecurity, except to shoot at everything that looks like a threat. Then the threat shoots back. Citizens daily battling armed criminals and stressed security forces who are sent to chase every perceived and actual threat with every means at their disposal wonder if the President and his spokespeople live in the same country with them.

Of the major threats inherited by the administration, only the restiveness in the Niger Delta is being contained, and even this at a cost that could allow the problem to resurface when changes in policy advise on the demotion of the threat of violence as the major impetus behind the activities of the state in the region. Boko Haram insurgency has fragmented and become more difficult to deal with by a state whose only strategy all along has been to fight it. Factions are exploiting the challenges of a stressed and hard-pressed military to create the impression of rolling back the successes of the Nigerian state against them. The administration does not appear interested in exploiting political options in dealing with the insurgency or some of its factions, unless, as is in the nature of political options, it has major problems in engaging the insurgency which is either content to remain holed up, or is content with making the military option  seem ineffective while permanently terrorizing local populations at will. The IPOB irritant remains a sentiment fed by weak political clout of politicians from the region and the strong arm strategy of the administration exposes the government to temptations to use force as its only response, the very strategy that the problem needs to grow.

The nation’s Shia has grown in confidence that it can take on the Nigerian state. The recourse to the use of force in dealing with its provocations and the use of the law in banning its organizations has merely fed its foundational inspiration as a persecuted people. It may not have been lost on the Buhari administration that even the drama about medical treatment in India is perceived as a victory, not of the rule of law, but of the persistent and noisy demands of El-Zakzaky’s followers. The state has to find a way that avoids creating the impression that it is punishing a faith rather than dealing with breaches to the laws of the land and the imperatives of national security in dealing with the Shia.

Many informed analyses have identified the dramatic collapse of the     nation’s capacities and strategies to deal with inter-communal conflicts and rampant criminal violence sweeping across the entire  nation. It is no longer a secret that policing as a basic tool of governance has virtually collapsed. With a mindset that sees every social problem as a threat to security, the use of the police by the administration has proved woefully inadequate. More and more, the military has been deployed to perform the basic tasks meant for the police, and neither the police nor the military does  the jobs well. The military assumes responsibilities vastly inconsistent with its capacities and mandate. The police and other law and order agencies are stretched to deal with old and new challenges, and then retreat as they became overwhelmed by professional inadequacies and new threats that suck them into new, uncharted criminal territories. Low morale, damaging setbacks and allegations of corruption at leadership levels of the policing and military institutions do not appear to have impressed President Buhari enough to affect changes in leadership of these institutions. The  political will to address poverty and impunity is weak, and this, more than any other weakness, may be the most telling failure of the administration to deal with criminality and breaches to basic rights of citizens.

The nation stands at a dangerous point where citizens are losing faith that the state can protect them at home, on highways, on farms, as communities or as citizens.  The respected Friday columnist of this paper, Jibo Ibrahim, captured a key part of the problem rather well:

‘Faced with multiple crises, the Nigerian State has a one track strategy – reliance on the military and the securitization approach. Often, this approach simply adds new grievances and fosters distrust. It is time to think outside the box’.

Thinking outside the box will involve an honest and thorough evaluation of the nation’s security and law and order assets as well as their limitations; dealing with threats to professionalism, size, incentives and welfare of personnel and prioritizing wholesale scrutiny of the value of leadership of security and law and order institutions. Political solutions should be examined as potentially valuable options in dealing with many of the conflicts and threats. Far-reaching constitutional changes should be contemplated with an open mind to see the degree to which they may address policing local communities and improving the principles of inclusiveness in the manner we relate with each other. Most important is the need to accept the damage which corruption causes, particularly manner it determines the perceptions of citizens to the commitment of leaders to their basic interests and the fact that it feeds impunity. Nations have turning points they must recognize and utilize. Nigeria is at an important one. We should use it, or we would have forfeited our future as a safe, secure and prosperous nation.

Abubakar wrote this piece from Abuja

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