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Security in Nigeria depends on human welfare, not state-centric bureaucratisation

The creation of a Ministry for Homeland Security further entrenches a militarized vision of security centred on the state. This is an internal version of 'peacekeeping', not the 'peacebuilding' the country needs.

As Nigeria grapples with persistent insecurity challenges – the Boko Haram menace representing the latest – attention has shifted to the call for the creation of a Ministry of Homeland Security. The call highlights the source, understanding and role of Nigerian intellectuals in the debate on post Cold War security. The thrust of post Cold War security theory and practice attempted to broaden and deepen security away from states and military, to human welfare and non-military matters. Once the debate was ignited, it filtered into the developing world where the term ‘security’ has become misrepresented. In Nigeria, the perception, source and practise of security prevalent amongst scholars and practitioners are outside prevailing Nigerian realities.

In Nigeria, the process of state formation ended with British colonisation. Colonisation imposed a pax Britannica while at the same time creating the conditions for new conflicts after independence. The struggle for control of the state by different forces was informed by the need to appropriate resources. These forces aggregated their interest in the name of pre-British communities and not the emerging Nigerian state. Military intervention in politics followed this partisan line. Thus while the West looked outside for its insecurity, in Nigeria it was – and is – within.

The issues of arrested development – incomplete state formation and adjustment, enforced union during colonial rule, mismanaged unity in pre- and post- independence eras and poor governance heightening abject poverty and unleashing conflicts – ripened the scene for permanent insecurity. Most restraints to conflict, such as familial, religious, moral and civic norms, weakened or collapsed against the growing child that was Nigeria. It was at this point the military entered the fray believing that the crisis of law and order required militarised regimentation and discipline to prevent the disintegration of the country.

Military rule mismanaged the state, perverted and centralised institutions, entrenched corruption and instituted a conception of security that dehumanises the human being. In the process the military diluted the function of civil and social institutions like the family, school, religious bodies, voluntary organisations and the workplace, whose contributions constitute security. Police effectiveness derived from the role played by these institutions, but with flagging confidence the police settled for the ogre of joint military-police operations. Nigerians believed the police had failed, hence the new order. Nor were the political class exempt. They grovel before the military in security matters even in spite of security sector reforms.

The everyday insecurity confronting Nigerians is beyond the comprehension of the military. It stems from the unsatisfactory and unhealthy food they consume; the poorly staffed and equipped hospitals available; inability to pay for drugs which can only function with a healthy diet; the unhealthy and confidence sapping clothes they wear; the resentment-breeding schools they attend with classes under trees or in dilapidated buildings; to ill motivated teachers constantly searching for greener pastures; to school children turned into farm labourers, to ill equipped and ill motivated secondary and tertiary education; to the poor and non existing transport infrastructure; to the inadequate public housing scheme; to insufficient infrastructure like pipe borne water, electricity, sewage, drainage and  sanitation; to corrupt service providers and public servants; to the irregular payment of salary; to insecurity provided by the dozen ill motivated and brutalised security outfits. This variant of insecurity is beyond the comprehension of the military or the political class it mentored. Indeed the military and political classes have used all means at their disposal to distance themselves from their fellow citizens’ daily ordeal because they now feel threaten and therefore act to fortify their personal security.

Years of military domination denied Nigerians a dispassionate knowledge of security. To recover, we need to purge society of their influence and reorient security knowledge beginning from the family.

There are two possible referents of security – the state or the people. State-centred security is realist in its approach and saddles its defence to the armed forces. The pursuit of realist and human security in Nigeria respectively produce ‘peacekeeping’ and ‘peacebuilding’. Since Nigeria favours a militarised approach which creates conflicts, peacekeeping rather than peacebuilding prevails. Peacekeeping as an exercise of the state results from the work of idle hands, inducing conflicts exacerbated by lack of economic opportunities, which bolster vote-seeking politicians and the Boko Haram, and ultimately sanction state-centred security.

People-centred security emerged post-Cold War exposing the inhuman living conditions of Nigerians due to poor governance. Ken Booth posited that insecurity is a life-determining condition because people understand what security is by knowing how insecurity feels. Direct and unavoidable danger is the determining condition of Nigeria’s people, since independence but particularly in the last thirty years. Poor governance and management of the Nigerian state is responsible for this. Peacebuilding thus begins with tackling poor governance.

The integration of military and state is itself the source of insecurity for Nigerians. Non-state actors like Boko Haram, ethnic militants and kidnappers are internally generated whether they claim affiliation to external patrons or not. These groups emerged because of economic dissatisfaction. There is unemployment; reduced social spending at the behest of the IMF and World Bank; decayed and inadequate infrastructures; ad-hoc pronouncements instead of short, medium and long term planning; unparallel corruption; low human development in spite of tremendous resources.

William Zartman has argued that states collapse because they can no longer perform the basic functions required for them to pass as states. Accordingly, he identified the state as the security guarantor for a populated territory as one of the three basic functions of the state with the other two as state as sovereign authority and state as an institution­. These views were not derived from the realities of Nigeria because states here have not performed the number one function of securing the material existence of their citizens. To argue that the security guarantor aspect of state function has been threatened thus requiring strengthening through creation of homeland ministry to escape the failed or collapsed state category is not the solution. The preceding decades demonstrate the failure of the options of more expenditure on the armed forces, weapon, equipment and bureaucratisation.

The creation of a ministry of homeland security is not security and will not guarantee security. The centralisation of power in the presidency created layers of bureaucrats and interests that have worked against the functioning of the existing institutions. These contradictory structures are cemented in the constitution. For instance, the governor of a state is the chief security officer of his state and yet all the law enforcement agencies are controlled by the central government. Creating another institution for security would not only enhance the power of the central government to the detriment of other federating units. It would entrench the prevailing bureaucratisation that has weakened the effectiveness of existing institutions.

What should constitute security is a multifaceted approach to addressing the degrading condition of Nigerians. Addressing the material poverty of Nigerians is security. The western world has succeeded in providing the basic necessities for its people hence they can dissipate energy on the pursuit of strategic interests. Indeed these strategic interests are in part geared towards maintaining or advancing their material interest. Catering for Nigerians is the first step to safeguarding the state because once the government puts Nigerians first, Nigerians will safeguard the state and not the armed forces. Security is too broad an edifice to be left to the military alone. The military play a minor role of defense in the security architecture. To attain relative degree of security for the country, the entire society has to be involved.

Nigerian scholars enhanced the dominance of state centric security rather than demystifying and indigenising it.  It is the opinion of Booth that scholars who study security, whether they recognise it or not, have a direct relationship with the real world conditions of relative insecurity or security; their ideas can contribute to replicating or changing people’s condition of existence in specific situation. Security is should be people-centric, not state-centric because human beings make up the state. As Booth argued, emancipation is the heart of security. We should study and practice security in a way that would emancipate Nigerians. 

About the author

Adoyi Onoja is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History, Nasarawa State University, Keffi-Nigeria, where he teaches History. His research interests are security, policing, governance, media and Central Nigeria.

Read On

Theory of World Security, Ken Booth, Cambridge University Press 2007

People, States and Fear: An agenda for international security studies in the post-Cold War era, Barry Buzan, New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf 2001

'The Increasing Insecurity of Security Studies: conceptualising security in the last twenty years', Steve Smith, Contemporary Security Policy 20:3 pp72-101 1999

UNDP Human Development Report 1994


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