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Nigeria: A nation at war with itself

Insecurity: A troubled nation seeks solutions to multiplicity of problems


FELIX NWANERI reports on how government’s failure to come up with sustainable strategies to confront rising insecurity and violence across the country poses a significant threat to the unity and deve


More than six decades after the British Union Jack was lowered for the Green-White- Green, the optimism that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, would stamp its feet in the comity of nations in a record time still remains a mirage, leaving many to wonder if the self-rule has not been freedom mismanaged.


With an area of over 923,773 square kilometers, the largest single geographical unit along the west coast of Africa and the largest population in Africa, Nigeria has the most envious economic profile on the African continent. Notably, the nation is the leading producer of crude oil and gas in Africa and 6th in the world.


But, despite her huge potential, Nigeria has become a land of violence and poverty. This, many believe, was made possible, mainly by ineffective leadership, unbridled corruption and ethnicism, which have in turn, forced the various ethnic nationalities that make up the country to continue to lose interest in the union. Though the country’s fragmentation predates independence given her over 300 ethnic groups, efforts by successive administrations to cement the crack have not yielded the desired results.



There still exist a big gulf between the two geographical divides of the country – North and South as citizens along the divides have continued to view each other with suspicion. Apparently, this explains why each section of the country had at some point, used threats of secession to extract concessions from others.


In 1950, for example, the then Northern Region threatened to secede if it was not granted equal representation with the South in the federal legislative council. It was the turn of the then Western Region 1953, when it also threatened to secede over revenue allocation and making of Lagos the Federal Capital Territory. In 1967, the East (now the South- East and South-South) declared the Republic of Biafra in line with the tradition of using threat of secession as a political instrument.


Unfortunately, the nation paid dearly for the civil war that ensued. Over three million lives were lost during the 30-month old war but it seems no lessons were learnt. Till date, some Nigerians are still adopting the secessionist approach to national issues at the slightest provocation.


Often times there have been calls for disintegration by some aggrieved persons from the country’s various component units but the question most analysts have unceasingly asked over the years is: Will balkanization solve the country’s problems? Most stakeholders believe that disintegration is not the answer to the myriad of problems the country is facing as every region or geopolitical zone and even state is a miniature of Nigeria, with the same contending variables.


However, there is a consensus that the unitary constitution/system of government presently in place under the guise of a federal system, has not really helped to advance the nation’s course. Consequently, there has been unending calls for restructuring of the country to address issues of structure in order to save the Nigerian state from collapse.


The belief is that re-tooling of the Nigerian federalism by tinkering with items on the Exclusive and Concurrent legislative lists in the 1999 Constitution (as amended) cannot no longer wait as the centralised federal system has failed the nation.


It was against this backdrop that the 2014 National Conference convoked by the then Peoples Democratic Peoples (PDP) administration headed by Goodluck Jonathan came up with several recommendations to restructure the country and put it on the path to greatness. Areas addressed included power sharing formula between the federal and state governments as the later have turned mere appendages of the centre instead of component units.


Others were issues of local governments’ status; electoral reform; economic stagnation due to over dependence on oil revenue; resource control and state creation, among others.


Unfortunately, the confab report went the way of those of previous conferences. While the Jonathan administration that initiated national discourse failed to expedite action on its implementation, the Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government that succeeded it, considered the report good for the archives.


Emerging developments exposes nation’s fault lines


While Nigeria has remained an entity despite several threats to her unity, there is no doubt that growing insecurity across the country portends grave dangers to the country’s continued existence.


From the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the North-East to banditry and kidnapping in the North-West and North Central; farmers/herders clash in the North Central as well as the entire South; militancy in the South- South, and agitation for self-determination in the South-East and lately South-West, the picture is not only a nation at war with itself but one that its corporate existence is under serious threat.


The Boko Haram insurgency that is driven by Islamic extremists has not only claimed thousands of lives and property. It has turned millions of Nigerians to refugees in their own country. Across most northern states and even in neigbouring Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon, are camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).


The crisis, which has lasted over a decade, has equally brought economic activities in the affected states to a halt, while rebuilding efforts by the Federal Government in conjunction with donor agencies have gulped billions of naira. Sadly, the Federal Government in 2015 pronounced Boko Haram “technically defeated” but most Nigerians believe that the proclamation as the insurgents have remained an everpresent threat.


For bandits ravaging the North- West, kidnapping of school pupils and even university undergraduates as well as cattle rustling have become a lucrative industry. In the oil-rich but impoverished South-South, extortion through the sabotage of pipelines is legendary.


Similarly, the rising ethnic tension over activities of killer herdsmen across the country has not only exposed the heterogeneous nature of the country, but the tendency of the various ethnic nationalities towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness hence gradually driving Nigeria to the edge. The conflict, which has claimed thousands of lives, is mainly as a result of disputes over land resources between mostly Muslim Fulani herders and mainly Christian farmers.


Though the impact of the crisis has been more devastating in the North Central since 1999, the herders have recently advanced towards the southern part of the country, thereby shifting the battleground.


The crisis got to a height recently in the South-West, following clashes between the herders and their host communities in Ondo, Oyo and Ogun states.



By the time the dust settled, several lives were lost, while property worth millions of naira were destroyed. Activities of the cattle rearers also prompted the Ondo State government to ask all Fulani herdsmen in the state to vacate its forest reserves within seven days. Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who gave the ultimatum on January 18, said activities of the herders have long been causing a threat to security in the state. Expectedly, mixed reactions trailed the directive.


While most southern leaders threw their weight behind the governor, their compatriots of northern  traction, including the presidency headed by a Buhari (a northerner) faulted the ultimatum. It took the intervention of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF)-led by Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, to resolve the impasse.


However, tension over the possibility of an ethnic crisis is yet to abate as some highly placed individuals, particularly, political office holders have continued to make inflammatory remarks that fuel division along tribal and religious lines. Governor Fayemi, who seemed to have seen the dangers ahead in the wake of the herders and Ondo State government standoff, then warned against plans to destroy Nigeria.


His words: “What we are witnessing is terrorism; there is no other name for it. Yes, we may call it banditry, we may call it kidnapping; these are remnants of the actors of the North-East that have found themselves in other parts of the country whether they are known as ISWAP or Albanawi faction or known as Shekau people.


They are remnants of what we are still dealing with in that part of the country. “Their agenda is to destroy the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


That is the ultimate agenda. It is either we succumb or fight it with every fibre of our being. We will fight it in order to save our people. Some Nigerians are using the security challenges to foment trouble and destroy the Federal Government, which is their target.


We will ensure the Federal Government finds a lasting solution to the cycle of banditry, kidnapping and other criminality.” Besides insecurity, Nigeria is also being ravaged by poverty. The country has more poor people defined as those living on less than $1.90 a day, than any other country, including India.


The number of Nigerians, who are poor, was estimated to be 82.9 million in May 2020, according to the Poverty and Inequality report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NGS) and the situation is not expected to improve soon as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

Forecast has is that the national poverty rate is likely to jump from 40.1 per cent in 2019 to 45.2 per cent in 2022, implying that 100.9 million out of about 200 million Nigerians will be living in poverty by 2022.


Hope dims despite govt assurance


To allay the fears of most Nigerians on growing insecurity, the APC-led Federal Government has repeatedly declared that it will not yield ground to those it termed “divisive elements.”


It has equally continued to warn against the dangers of ethnic profiling of criminal elements.


According to President Buhari, “the government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute threat to innocent citizens across the country. Criminals are criminals and should be dealt with accordingly without resorting to ethnic profiling.”


Heeding to calls to overhaul the country’s security architecture to tackle the security challenge, the President let go of the former service chiefs, Decorating the newly appointed ones – Lucky Irabor (Chief of Defence Staff), Ibrahim Attahiru (Chief of Army Staff), Awwal Gambo (Chief of Naval Staff) and Isiaka Amao (Chief of Air Staff) – he gave them an ultimatum of “few weeks” to make the country secure again.


The President also charged the new Inspector General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, to ensure policing reform policy of the administration are fully prioritised and implemented for the peace and security of lives and property of all Nigerians.


Despite the directives, the worsening security situation persists although most citizens are of the view that he has not really taken concrete steps to avert the rising threats to national security, and most significantly, the country’s unity. It was advanced that the crisis at hand is a serious one that must be addressed with the speed of light. While this assumption remains a subject debate,


Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, accused the President last week of working for his Fulani ethnic stock to take over Nigeria. Ortom spoke in reaction to the recent killing of more than 70 people within two weeks in some parts of his state by suspected herdsmen.


He said: “What is happening now, to me, is very clear; Mr. President is just working for these Fulanis to take over the whole country. His body language is what is being played out. The body language, the action and inaction of Mr. President shows that he is only the president of Fulani people; I have known this.


“We are becoming a Banana Republic. If we have a president who gave the security agencies order to shoot at sight, whosoever is having AK-47 and the Minister of Defence came out to say that they cannot shoot at sight, who is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces?


“Mr. President must rise up; he is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and over the 250 nationalities that are in this country. Mr. President is their president, we all voted him.


He has taken oath of office to secure the country and provide security for lives and property; this is unacceptable, this cannot continue.”


Citizens resort to self-help


The scary security situation has prompted some geopolitical zones to opt for self-help by establishing security outfits as the Federal Government seems to have failed to perform its core function of protecting citizens.


Consequently, several non-state security actors have emerged across the geopolitical zones, particularly the South – Sunday Adeyemo in the South- West and the revitalizing of Nnamdi Kanu-led Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in the South-East. From the protectionist agenda earlier canvassed by some of these non-state actors, the campaign seems to have shifted to that self-determination. In some areas, proautonomy flags have being hoisted, a development many have described as a road to balkanization of Nigeria.


But, the question against this backdrop is: Can Nigeria risk another civil war given the devastating effects of the Nigeria/Biafra War? Some stakeholders, who warned against a repeat of history, said Nigeria risks disintegration if citizens do not remain calm and united in the face of the security challenges.


A former Military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who shared this view, advised recently: “As if the continued insurgency in the country, the kidnap and armed robbery is not cup full, the recent happening in some parts of the country of ethnic attacks is unfortunate and is adding to the problems.


Tension is growing in the country and embers of disunity, anarchy and disintegration are spreading fast. If care is not taken, this might lead us to a point of no return. “We at the National Peace Committee wish to add our voice to the voices of millions of Nigerians calling for calm in these difficult times.


These times demand that we all join hands together to resolve our challenges so as to keep our country united.


We do not have the luxury of trading blames. “Thousands of our people are homeless and refugees across the length and breadth of their own country. We know the difficulties that our farmers have faced in the last few years and that the harvests will be a serious challenge this year. Therefore, let us all rally together in these hard times, make the required sacrifices and remain vigilant, standing by one another.”

National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who has also warned on the dangers of another war, said the consequences would be so grave that the entire West Africa sub-region will not be able to cope with.


“Nigeria is currently facing a crisis; a crisis of insurgency, banditry in all aspects of security, but God Almighty that made this country as one of the largest and most resourceful country will protect us. I appeal for us not to turn whatever challenges we are facing right now into ethnic, tribal and religion crises.

“If there is a crisis, where do we go? We will submerge the entire West Africa and there will be no enough space to accommodate us. Those who have seen the effect of war, the effect of tribal conflict, of religious conflict, will never want it for Nigeria.


We pray to God to strengthen our mind, guide our faith, put peace and bring peace unto this land.” Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who also believes that Nigeria cannot afford another civil war, told participants at an interactive forum of APC Anambra governorship aspirants organised by the state chapter of APC Patriots in Abuja, that strife will spell doom for all.


His words: “The thing about the kind of conflict in this part of the world, developing countries, is that it is usually a war without end. Everyone who thinks he has some monies stored up somewhere will eventually run out of money.


“Everyone who thinks he can go and hide somewhere, won`t even find a place to hide. At the end, everyone will suffer. Even if you don’t suffer, parents, children, young and old people and relations will suffer.


We cannot afford a war in this country, we can`t afford it.” The vice president charged the political class to rise up to the challenge by speaking the truth and taking actions to address the situation in the country.


“I pray that our country will never know conflict, but I know that every conflict is as a result of elite failure to speak up the truth and tell the truth to their communities.


At the end of the day, it is the political elite that determine what happens in every society, keeping quite could lead to a more dangerous situation. “If we don`t speak up against disunity; if we keep quiet and remain under the radar, the enemies of peace and those who want to promote disunity will have their way. And when this happens, we will find ourselves running helter-skelter,’’ he said.


Tale of failed state


The definition of a failed state is one where the government is no longer in control. By this yardstick, it is evident that Nigeria is teetering on the brink, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo was among the first to raise the alarm in in September last year




He then said: “Today, Nigeria is fast drifting to a failed and badly divided state. Economically, our country is becoming a basket case and poverty capital of the world, and socially, we are firming up as an unwholesome and insecure country. These manifestations are the products of recent mismanagement of diversity and socio-economic development of our country.


“Old fault lines that were disappearing have opened up in greater fissures and with drums of hatred, disintegration and separation and accompanying choruses being heard loud and clear almost everywhere, it would appear that anybody not dancing to the drum beat nor joining in chorus singing would be earmarked as ethnically unpatriotic or enemy of its tribe or geographical area.

“In short, the country is fast moving to the precipice. Let me say that we must remind those who are beating the drums of disintegration and singing choruses of bitterness, anger and separation that if even Nigeria is broken up, the separated parts will still be neighbours, and they will have to find accommodation as neighbours or they will be ever at war, and those who prevent justice to be done invite violence to reign.”


The former president did not stop at raising the flag; he proffered a solution by calling for a national dialogue. According to him, one of the major problems in the past was how people keep old prejudices and biases. But in its reaction then, the presidency described Obasanjo as the country’s “divider-in-chief.”


The poser since then has been: What are the indicators of a failed state to either justify or disprove Obasanjo’s claim?










The answers, however, come handy from Washington, DC, United State (U.S.) based think tank – Fund for Peace. The indicators are security apparatus, factionalized elites, group grievance, economic decline and poverty, uneven economic development, human flight and brain drain, state legitimacy, public services, human rights and rule of law, demographic pressures, refugees and internally displaced persons as well as external intervention.


Given these indicators, the questions are: Was Obasanjo right to label Nigeria a failed state? Can the Federal Government dismiss most of the indicators even as it would be recalled that the 2019 Fragile States Index ranked Nigeria as the 14th most fragile state in the world and the ninth in Africa. The report at the time, had Yemen as the most failed state, followed closely by Somalia.


A nation in despair seeks way out


No doubt, most Nigerians will rather agree that the problem with the country is poor leadership than accept the status of a failed state, but the truth is that Africa’s most populous nation is wobbling as insecurity prevails across its landscape. No day passes without reports of Nigerians, either being killed in their numbers or kidnapped; villages attacked and public infrastructure, particularly police stations being razed. Penultimate Saturday, the country home of the governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, was torched by unknown gunmen. A few days later (last week Monday), scores of security operatives, including soldiers and policemen as well as other Nigerians were murdered in some states.


There were also reports of Boko Haram hoisting up its flag in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State. Consequently, the United States and Canada had warned and advised their citizens to reconsider travelling to Nigeria as a result of insecurity in some parts of the country.


Stating their reasons, the U.S. in a travel advisory said: ‘Violent crime – such as armed robbery, assault, carjacking, kidnapping, hostage-taking, banditry, and rape – is common throughout the country.” A former President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who bemoaned the state of the nation, urged the Federal Government to seek help from wherever it could.


He also reiterated the need for President Buhari to convene a meeting of all those who could help in finding solutions to the problem at hand. It would be recalled that Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, had while lamenting the nation’s security situation, also called on the President to seek help and stop playing with human lives. He made the call through a statement titled: “The endless Martyrdom of youth.”


The statement read in part: “One’s greatest fear, with this latest feat of cowardly savagery, is that the nation must brace itself for a Beslan scenario, yet strive to avoid Nigeria become Africa’s Chechnya. Those who have been proven weak and incapable must learn to swallow their vain pride and seek help.

“Again, this is no new counselling, but of course the dog that will get lost no longer heeds the hunter’s whistle. I envy no one in the task ahead, terminating the toxic harvest of past derelictions. Blame laying is for later. Right now is the question of what needs to be done, and done urgently. “We keep avoiding the inevitable, but that very unthinkable now hammers brutishly on our gates, the blood ransom arrogantly insatiable.

This nation is at war, yet we continue to pretend that these are mere birth-pangs of a glorious entity. “To this government, we repeat the public cry: Seek Help. Stop improvising with human lives. Youth-that is, the future – should not serve as Ritual Offering on the altar of a failing State.”

A former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, who also suggested a way out, advised Nigerians, irrespective of party affiliations, to join hands in tackling the challenges facing the country. Obi, who was the vice presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 general election, listed the challenges as insecurity, poverty and unemployment. According to him, Nigeria is fast becoming a failed state, adding that the downward spiral should not be allowed to continue.

“All Nigerians, irrespective of party and other affiliations, should immediately join hands to tackle the spectre of insecurity, poverty, and unemployment that are now ruling and ruining our dear country. We are fast becoming a failed state. We cannot allow the downward spiral to continue.


The government should also urgently seek foreign help,” he wrote on Twitter. A chieftain of apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Chekwas Okorie, on his part, said that restructuring of the country remains the way out of the impasse. “Political restructuring, inclusiveness, justice, state police and community policing, hold the key to addressing the vexed issues of divisiveness, separatism and insecurity,” he said.


Buhari looks beyond Nigeria’s shores


Apparently heeding to calls to look beyond Nigeria’s shores for solutions, President Buhari, last week, stressed the need for the support of the United States and other “important and strategic partners” in combating the security challenges facing Nigeria.


The President, who made the call during a virtual meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said the support is necessary given the fact that the consequences of insecurity in Nigeria would affect all nations.


Buhari, according to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adesina, titled ‘Security: President Buhari asks US to relocate headquarters of AFRICOM to Africa, warns of likely spillovers,” also called on the Joe Biden administration to consider relocating U.S. Africa Command from Stuttgart, Germany, to Africa, nearer the theatre of operation.


The statement read in part: “The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively, by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region. “Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing them and addressing their root causes.


“The support of important and strategic partners like United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.


“In this connection, and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider re-locating AFRICOM Headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation.”


The President said Nigeria will enhance collaborations in all forms, with friends and strategic partners, to work together for greater security for all, which remain the most significant condition for overcoming the existential challenges.


Many had applauded the President for his plan to seek U.S. partnership, but their hope may be dashed given the damning verdict from the British government through its Minister for Africa, James Duddridge. Nigeria’s security situation was described by the UK government as massively complex, and that no partnership will resolve them, Duddridge, who fielded questions from journalists in Abuja during his courtesy visit to Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, averred:


“The situation is massively complex and no partnership is going to resolve the multiplicity of problems whether it is Boko Haram or a number of other issues.” He added: “In the UK, you have a strong partner across the full gamut of issues


. So, it’s not just about intelligence and hard security and military, it’s about societies, it’s about humanitarian support, it’s about education and development partnership. It is not an end game, we don’t get to a point where we would say ‘this is the end of our relationship with Nigeria’ because we got what we want, we set a higher bar, we’re long-term partners.”


While there is no doubt over the capability of the Federal Government to ensure law and order, there is also the need for all relevant stakeholders to ensure that the trending hateful vituperations and violence-inducing remarks are curbed before they snowball into a large scale crisis. Osinbajo Alkali Soyinka




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