Nigeria: For a Broader Strategy

3 March 2021

It was a great relief for the nation yesterday that the students abducted last week from the Government Girl's Science Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state, regained their freedom.

The cheery news came amidst the deluge of sad stories on the security front barely 48 hours after President Muhammadu Buhari said the Jangebe kidnap would be "the last" of such a crime.

The President's statement is the type that the people should expect from the commander-in-chief at this period of national anxiety. The assurance is important if only for its psychological effect. Doubtless, silence at a grave period like this from the commander-in-chief is far from being soul-lifting.

However, the cloud of insecurity hovering over Zamfara may not have been cleared as the release of the students coincided with yesterday's meeting of the National Security Council in Abuja. Among the outcomes of the meeting was the military step taken to declare Zamfara a "no-fly zone." The National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno, said the President has approved that no aircraft should be permitted to fly in the state.

Another significant step taken in the light of the peculiarity of Zamfara state was the ban on mining activities "until further notice." Mining of gold has been at the centre of the riddle of criminality in the northwest state.

Monguno also reiterated the charge to the security and defence forces to confront bandits and other criminals and recover parts of the nation's territory already occupied by these non-state actors.

The matter is made more complex by the fact that some of the criminals dominating the Nigerian forests are reportedly foreign elements.

The President put it more sharply last Friday with a statement that state governors should not pay ransom for kidnaps. He would rather the bandits are roundly defeated.

On that occasion, Buhari also reminded the states of their security responsibilities. For instance, the President asked state governors to keep their schools safe.

While the President sounded tough on the criminals, the approach of Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state appears to be less combative. In announcing the end to captivity of the girls, the governor attributed their freedom to "series of dialogue and mediation with repentant bandits and scaling of hurdles of those who want to scuttle our effort... "

Tragically, the policy dissonance between the federal government and the states on security has continued while ungoverned spaces abound in the country.

It is precisely because of this apparent lack of synergy of purpose that the National Security meeting at this period of emergency (even though it has not been formally declared) ought to be sometimes expanded to include the state governors.

This is, of course, without prejudice to constitutional provisions on the composition of the council.

Already, the governors are constitutionally members of the Nigeria Police Council. The functions of the council include the "organisation and administration" as well as the "supervision" of the police. But that body is not as active as it should be at this time.

If the governors have to frontally deal with terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals, they should be involved more intimately in shaping security policies and reviews for the purpose of coordination and coherent implementation. The truth is that state governments already make a lot of investments in the security and defence sector that should entitle them to a greater say on things.

The security map would also be broadened when state governments take advantage of the possibilities within the present constitution (pending restructuring) to perform their security duties.

In recent times, certain security steps have been taken by some state governments in this direction. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state has declared herdsmen bearing guns as "criminals," as a census of herders in the state is being taken. In Delta state, the police have warned that "gun-wielding" herders would also be treated as criminals. Benue state was once the epicentre of herders/farmers clash. Now the Benue state government seems to be taking some firm control of activities in the state. About 210 cows were seized the other day by the government for violating the law prohibiting open grazing.

They were released after the owners of the cows paid the relevant fines.

The point at issue is that state governors may not be as helpless at they often erroneously claim. After all, it is the duty of the state attorneys-general to prosecute bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminals. The governors should, therefore, be wary of taking actions that could be ultimately diversionary.

In view of the degeneration in the security situation, a case can certainly be made for broadening the strategy. Things should, therefore, be better coordinated between Abuja and the states with confidence- building steps.

This is more helpful in the circumstance than stoking ethnic and religious tensions that could only exacerbate the current crisis.

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