The Geo-Politics Of Nigeria’s Insecurity by Dakuku Peterside

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In the past ten years, the South-East and North-East geopolitical zones, more than other geopolitical zones, have been sites of experiments on insecurity and militia reign. Either terrorists, kidnappers, or militias were testing the will of the government to see how long it would take for a determined state to take charge, or it was just a playground of absurdity. The result is known. Political leadership and the elite failed the people irredeemably. Admittedly, insecurity on a national scale abhors partitioning. The factors at play in a place may owe their origins to factors emanating from a totally different region, but there is good reason to focus on the two zones.

In the two zones, the persistent violence had three distinct features: first, the impunity with which Boko Haram and its affiliates, and unknown gunmen have been allowed to operate; second, the helplessness of the residents; and third, the seeming indifference of the political elite. These defining features fuel existential anger among the people.

Somehow, lately, it appears governors from both regions have found their mojo and courage to rise to the challenge, and that deserves examination and commendation. The source of this new energy and focus is unknown. One thing is clear: the federal government has done its best to redeem the situation, but its best is not good enough. The federal government just did not know how to deal with the situation beyond a military-centric option, and the military deserves commendation for the successes they have recorded so far. Both regions have never been safe places for residents and businesses.

The connection between concrete development and the decimation of militia-led insecurity and related complications has long been established as a theoretical and practical fact. This has been lacking over the years in both regions. Save for a few cases, there has been a substantial disconnect between the people’s development aspirations and the area’s government. Actual development, especially education, helps fight violence, terrorism, and its like. Lately, we have begun to see development programs in a handful of states in both regions, which impacts insecurity in the area.

Besides, the people, too, are beginning to resist the domination of their areas by these non-state actors. Community leaders are now more involved in intelligence gathering. The locals have started organizing themselves into quasi-security formations and are beginning to be the first resistance point even before the organized formal security apparatus of the state is involved. This calls for more synergy between the informal and formal security structures and systems in these areas for better operations.

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Also, the people’s sensitization to the fact that these non-state actors purportedly fighting for unknown causes are not doing so for the collective interest of the locals. Instead, the locals in their various communities are the casualties of the needless violence and murderous orgies meted out on them. This new consciousness must be harnessed efficiently to the advantage of the communities. The fight against insecurity is becoming local, and interestingly, the public sphere and media framing the conflicts as banditry and criminality rather than a fight for freedom, self-determination, or religious zealotry is helping matters. I sincerely think that even the perpetrators recognize the impact of this new approach and have turned to symbols of the state for their attacks to legitimize their acts as actions against the state when they are not.

There is a temptation to believe that the insecurity in the northeast and southeast is a scam and a cash cow for interested parties due to its persistence and nature. Additionally, there is a general belief that the security establishment deployed to secure the southeast has found collaboration with criminals and conflict merchants to exploit the separatist agitation. In the northeast, we also find that Sahelian jihadist insurgency had been increased by socioeconomic pressures from the most impoverished states in the nation.

The southeast represents a false agitation for self-determination, whereas the northeast’s insurgency is neither ideological nor religious. Both cases involve ordinary criminals acting as agitators and religious zealots. The criminal colonization of both regions for an extended period is horrible and disastrous. The political and traditional establishments of both geopolitical zones, led by the governors and National Assembly members, must band together, seek support from wherever possible, and bring this tragedy, which is economically strangulating and socially demoralizing, to a stop. Tomorrow is too late.

Recent attacks have shown the ruthlessness of these criminals and demonstrated unequivocally the need for exorcising this evil madness from our communities. A pattern is beginning to emerge: shoot-and-run attacks on soft targets and targeting military/police personnel to instill fear in the people. Unknown gunmen, who were said to have been enforcing the sit-at-home directive of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), on May 21st opened fire on a military checkpoint in Obikabia junction in Aba, killing five soldiers. The response of the state government was decisive. The least we expected from the federal security apparatus was to fish out these culprits and use them to demonstrate the new vigor of fighting criminality posing as agitators. We seem to have lost this opportunity to prove a point. This applies to the recent twin bombing in Gwoza, Borno state.

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In Ebonyi state a few weeks ago, gunmen invaded Ishieke Divisional Police Headquarters and started firing sporadic shots. They killed and maimed people, although the report shows that five of the gunmen were killed. Hours before the attack in Ebonyi, gunmen wreaked havoc in Okigwe Local Government Area of Imo State where they killed six people. A few days later, gunmen killed two police operatives and injured two others in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia state. Between 22 and 26 May 2024, a non-state armed group attacked communities in Gujba local government area in Yobe State. The incident displaced 732 households and resulted in three fatalities and 12 injuries. Among the affected were 2,720 children, 1,038 women, and 976 men. These incidences are ongoing, and the casualties are increasing daily. There is a need to quickly optimize the power of collaborative strategy between the federal security apparatus, emerging regional architecture, state governments, and communities.

On the issue of historical injustices, especially in the southeast, unfortunately, the FGN since 2015 has not addressed the grievances; they just looked away. However, the elite of the southeast have realized that there is a need to change their strategy. One of the manifestations of this change in strategy is the resolution by South-East Governors, supported by members of the National Assembly from the zone, to approach the president to release Nnamdi Kanu. Governors of the South-East had earlier resolved to fight insecurity decisively in the region, individually and collectively, in partnership with the federal government of Nigeria and other stakeholders. Though the details of how they intend to fight insecurity are scanty, at least they have found their voice.

As Chief Security Officers of their respective states, governors must demonstrate significant commitment to confronting perpetrators of violence and resolving core causes of insecurity in their states and, by extension, the geopolitical zone. The sign that governors appreciate the enormity of the challenge is there. The next logical step is to confront the monster from its root. The battle is not just kinetic in nature. It is a battle to win the hearts and minds of people, both the perpetrators and their victims. The perpetrators of these heinous crimes are often community members and are known to the local people.

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The ideological prism which has held many people hostage to support the call for Islamic militancy or Biafra romanticism resonates with people who are disenchanted or dissatisfied with the existing system. This is rooted in deep-seated anger against a system they feel is holding them hostage and from perceived development. I am sure that when we put good governance and leadership that brings dividends of democracy such as economic and infrastructural development, social justice, and the rule of law, the level of agitation will reduce, and people will have little reason to want to upturn the system.

It is time the states addressed the interconnected concerns such as unemployment, poverty, bad governance, injustices, resource competitiveness, and the development of an inclusive society. Effective governance at the state and grassroots levels is critical to resolving the issue of extreme violence and criminality. Regional cooperation among states and between states and the center is beginning to bear fruit, albeit only in terms of psychological effect and public perception.

We must all work together, irrespective of geopolitical zones, to create a better future for the affected communities, states, and regions. Conflicts have their place in the agitation for change. However, as we see in these and other regions, permanent conflict will only reduce the affected areas to barbarism and put them further away from modernity.

Dakuku Peterside is a public sector turnaround expert, leadership coach, public policy analyst, and columnist.

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