tough love

Nigeria: Solving insecurity a litmus test for Tinubu administration

By Ben Ezeamalu

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Posted on June 2, 2023 10:50

Nigerian soldiers deployed to prevent violence on Lagos Island
Nigerian soldiers work to prevent election-related violence in Lagos Island, Lagos, Nigeria, February 27, 2023. REUTERS/James Oatway.

On Bola Tinubu’s first full day in office as Nigeria’s president, a brawl broke out in Lagos between the country’s secret police and the anti-graft agency in what analysts say could set the tone for the security outlook in the next four years.

Armed State Security Service officials on 30 May cordoned off the office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and prevented staff of the agency from gaining access to the building, with the secret police saying they were reclaiming possession of the property.

“It is, sadly, an indication of how things will go depending on how the Tinubu administration responds,” Kabir Adamu, a security expert, tells The Africa Report.

“This, believe me, will be a litmus test for his administration.”

‘Doing the right thing’

Tinubu was sworn into office on 29 May as Nigeria’s president for the next four years but opposition parties have gone to court to challenge the outcome of the February presidential polls.

In the week before the presidential inauguration, armed men attacked communities in Mangu, in Nigeria’s north-central, killing over 100 people, according to Amnesty International. Dozens of villagers have remained missing since the attack.

Such incidents underscore the depth to which insecurity has plunged in Nigeria since 2015 when Tinubu’s party, the All Progressives Congress, took power.

In the eight years that Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu’s predecessor, presided over the country’s affairs, more than 60,000 persons were killed across Nigeria. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations, the deaths arose from terrorism, banditry, and farmers-herders clashes among others.

In his first inaugural address as Nigeria’s president, Tinubu said security would be the top priority in his administration.

“We shall invest more in our security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide better training, equipment, pay and firepower,” the president said.

But such rhetorical flourishes are common with Nigeria’s political leaders. Tinubu’s predecessor also talked tough on the same day in 2015.

“When every government comes, they have a lot to say and most of what they say comes from what we all have been saying,” Roy Okhidievbie, the national secretary, Retired Members of Nigeria Armed Forces, tells The Africa Report. He believes the government has to get out of the way.

“Over the years, we have been at the government’s throat begging and asking them to do the right thing and every government that comes goes straight again to say ‘I’ll give you security, good roads, power supply…

“My take on this is that you don’t need to give us [anything]. There is a system on the ground, if you allow the system to work, those things you mentioned as promises, they will be seamless and they will just take shape.”

Military spending

In the five years of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, between 2011 and 2015 Nigeria’s defence budget totalled $11.5bn. Jonathan’s successor, Buhari, earmarked $14bn in his first six years for military spending.

The latter administration’s massive investment in security did not, however, translate to improvement in the sector, according to Adamu, who is the managing director of Beacon Consulting, an enterprise security risk management and Intelligence solutions provider.

“While I will score him (Buhari) a pass for commitment, sadly, the outcome of that commitment did not indicate a pass,” says Adamu, who adds that the consultancy he runs documented 12,000 Nigerians killed in 2022.

“12,000 Nigerians were killed and, in any ramification, that is a failure.”

The new president, Tinubu, will be inheriting a 2023 budget in which N2.98trn ($6.5bn) was allocated to defence and security. Of the N1.2trn ($2.5bn) going to the defence ministry, less than 13% is earmarked for capital expenditure.

Security experts believe there is a need to expand the scope of training of Nigeria’s security agencies, which had hitherto focused on combating riots and civil disturbances, among others.

“Training is very important because it keeps the personnel in a drilled state, refreshes their minds, keeps them very sharp and effective,” Onyekachi Adekoya, the CEO of PR24 Risk Management Company, tells The Africa Report.

“I think that as the world continues to experience some state of flux and the training environment continues to be somewhat fluid and dynamic, it is also important that you have specific learning interventions for the security forces across a spectrum of risks that the country may face.”

Challenges before Tinubu

Tuesday’s face-off between the SSS and EFCC over property ownership was not the first time agencies of the Nigerian government appeared to work at cross purposes.

In 2019, the Police Service Commission, the police oversight body, sued Nigeria’s police chief over the recruitment of 10,000 constables into the Nigeria Police Force. One year later, two federal government appointees, Isa Pantami and Abike Dabiri-Erewa, were at each other’s throats over an office space in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

The Buhari administration also recorded cases of heads of security agencies defying the president’s orders. One such case was the presidential directive to the former police inspector general, Ibrahim Idris, to relocate and remain in Benue State until the resolution of the deadly clashes between the villagers and suspected herdsmen.

Although Idris moved to Benue, he did not spend more than 24 hours in the state. Analysts say the Tinubu administration would need to put its foot down on such actions by officials who blatantly disregard official directives.

“They are gonna try him,” Adamu says of heads of government agencies. “How he responds to those instances when they try him, the kind of accountability measures he introduces within the security sector will determine whether those trials will be repeated.”

According to Mustapha Musa, a security expert, by virtue of the president being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, his decisions would be respected.

“[But] his actions will determine the loyalty he gets from the military,” Musa, a security practitioner who has worked with the SSS, tells The Africa Report.

Civilian vs military background

When Buhari, a retired general,  assumed office on 29 May 2015, there was renewed optimism across Nigeria that his military background will provide the much-needed grit in the fight against insurgency. By 2015, the terrorist group Boko Haram had annexed around 20 local governments – a territory the size of Belgium – in Nigeria’s northeast.

In his first few weeks in office, Buhari sacked all the service chiefs – the heads of the army, navy, air force, and defence – as he launched an offensive against Boko Haram. Buhari’s efforts notwithstanding, the insecurity situation worsened over the years as attacks and kidnappings spread across the other regions in the North and parts of the South.

Adekoya says a president with a civilian background – Tinubu is a former accountant – would provide a different strategy in the fight against insecurity.

“That you are a general, retired general… the regimentation is not what we need now and I think, perhaps, Nigeria is now right to have a politician be the head of government,” he says.

“He understands how to negotiate a peaceful settlement of conflicts, enthrone more local government in terms of conflict resolution, and provide the enabling laws for the state to take the driver’s seat in issues of local and internal politics.”

Okhidievbie says he would rather not have a retired military person as president because such a person “will be running around with ego, unnecessary bravado.”

“So he comes in with that command and control attitude and misses the point on the need and use of mediation capabilities.”

‘Take action’

On Tuesday evening, Tinubu ordered the SSS to end the blockade of the EFCC’s Lagos office and allow the latter to return to work.

Adekoya says the confrontation between the two agencies was a manifestation of the long-drawn, bitter feud between their leadership, typified in the clashes between the attorney general of the federation and the director-general of the SSS.

Previous confrontations between government officials in the past had largely gone without sanctions, a situation, Adamu says, encouraged recurrent incidents.

He suggests that the president issue a query to the heads of the two agencies and direct them to respond within 48 hours.

“Whether he is satisfied with their responses or not, the president should take action, including dismissal,” Adamu says.

“That will set the tone that his administration is not going to tolerate incompetence and the incapability of regulatory and supervising ministries to carry out their actions.”

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