By Shola J. Omoregie and Ejeviome Eloho Otobo
(Originally published in THISDAY, Sunday 15 June 2014, page 18)
The abduction of the girls from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, has brought to fore the critical issue of how to combat terrorism in Nigeria. But it has also cast a spotlight on Nigeria’s national security policy. Briefly defined, every country’s national security policy aims to achieve three major objectives: protecting the lives of the citizens and of the political leadership; creating an enabling environment for sustained economic activities of the citizens; and defending the country from external aggression. It is the ability of Nigerian security forces to deliver on the first of these objectives that is at stake in fighting Boko Haram, in general, and rescuing abducted Chibok girls, in particular.
In managing the current national security crisis, the burden of public expectations and national action within the federal government has fallen mainly on the Law enforcement, Intelligence, Defense and Diplomatic (LIDD) institutions. Of these institutions, the military establishment has come under a harsh spotlight both because of the offer of international help to rescue the girls from government secondary school Chibok, which has been viewed by some analysts and political leaders as a sign of national weakness, and because of the damning remarks, made by senior officials of some of the countries providing support to Nigeria, on the capability and willingness of the Nigerian military to engage Boko Haram.
However, this is not the time to disparage the military establishment that has served Nigeria so well in the past or even the current Commander-in-Chief. Whatever problems now afflict the country’s security institutions have accumulated over time. Thus, this is a time to reflect on what has happened to its national security policy rather than play politics with national security or embark on a reckless blame game, politically appealing as that might be. Our reflections have led us to identify five major challenges in Nigeria’s national security policy, which must be addressed as part of a broader and long-term effort at strengthening its national security framework.
The first challenge is addressing the underfunding of the security forces. During the World Economic Forum, President Jonathan revealed that the military has been underfunded for the past 20 years. Although efforts have been made in the last three years to increase allocation to the security forces; yet at annual average of about a trillion Naira a year, the allocation is relatively inadequate both in relation to the needs of the military establishment, and in comparison to other African countries. One recent analysis shows Nigeria is placed seventh among African countries (after Algeria, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Angola and Sudan) in its expenditure on its armed forces. As the largest country with the biggest economy in Africa, Nigeria’s armed forces should be well funded and well equipped. Maintaining a modern military is not cheap anywhere. On top of this is the fact that since 2009 when Mohammed Yusuf, the first leader of Boko Haram was killed, the government has been engaged in a low intensity conflict with that terrorist organization, a conflict that has dramatically escalated in size, scope, scale and intensity in the last 18 months when the North East region has been under emergency rule.
The second challenge is the over commitment of the military for domestic purposes with the establishment of the JOINT TASK FORCES (JTFs) in various parts of the country [Niger-Delta, Middle Belt and Northeast]. No doubt, the military has made important contribution in ensuring the stability of the country. Yet, one wonders whether deploying the military for internal domestic purposes represents an appropriate use of the military whose primary function is defense of the country against external aggression. The use of the military for domestic purposes has created a fresh problem: Nigeria’s armed forces are increasingly being accused by segments of the international community, including NGOs, of human rights violations in their own country. There is a risk that this development could hinder their use in future peacekeeping operations, as they may be judged as not complying with the United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence Policy adopted a few years ago.
This brings us to the third challenge, which is the question of developing the capability for Special Forces that could be used in rescue operations such as in the Chibok abduction case. It is excruciating to listen to senior officials of foreign governments and foreign commentators denigrate the capacity of Nigerian forces to mount rescue operations. To be able to establish or strengthen such a capacity, funding must be assured. This capacity cannot be achieved over night: it requires sustained training and practice over time. Infact, the Chibok episode provides an excellent opportunity to undertake a thorough review of the preparedness of the armed forces for a range of new and emerging tasks that military establishments are increasingly called upon to undertake. These include commando-style rescue operations; complex humanitarian support; search, rescue and recovery efforts; and combating terrorism. The performance of military establishments is judged not only by their capability to fight conventional warfare but also their ability to undertake these range of tasks. The stellar performance of Nigeria’s armed forces in peacekeeping operations in the past is no guarantee of success in these areas, which is why providing funding for equipping and training in these areas will be essential to their future performance.
The fourth challenge involves empowering the police force because responding to internal security challenges should be a matter for the national police force, which should be well equipped and complemented by other security agencies such as the Department of State Security (DSS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), etc. It should be the responsibility of a well-equipped and trained police and the other agencies to detect, prevent and combat threats to internal security. The gathering and efficient use of intelligence is critical to each of these tasks in the current climate of insecurity in Nigeria. This should be a matter of priority for the police and the other agencies. There should be no room for interagency rivalries.
The fifth challenge is improving the strategic coherence of the national security policy. This turns critically on improving the coordination among the LIDD institutions mentioned at the beginning of this paper. A particularly surprising feature of public policy response to the Boko Haram insurgency is the extent to which there has been lack of strong coordination among the key national security institutions, reflected in inter-agency rivalry and sometimes-contradictory assessments and statements. This may well be a reflection on the pathetic lack of national consensus on how to tackle Boko Haram. If the nation, or more appropriately the political elites, cannot agree on how best to tackle Boko Haram insurgency, this not only adversely affects the morale of the security forces but their readiness and willingness to fight.
It bears particular emphasis that the phenomenon of terrorism, which is mostly transnational in nature, is beyond the capability of one nation as demonstrated after 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Following those attacks, the United States went to the United Nations Security Council to seek the support and cooperation of the international community to combat Al-Qaeda. Nigeria also took the right decision when it requested the United Nations Security Council support following the Chibok abduction. Now that the UN Security Council has listed Boko Haram as a terrorist organization on the same basis as Al Qaeda and now that the harm inflicted by Boko Haram has become too much to bear; a sense of national resolve to act and act decisively should permeate the conduct and management of the country’s national security policy in this time of crisis.
Shola J. Omoregie was the Representative of the United Nations Secretary General to Guinea-Bissau and Ejeviome Eloho Otobo was the Director and Deputy Head of the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in New York