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Re:  Politics of Force Deployment and Nigeria’s National Security

By Priye S. Torulagha

In politics, perceptions and symbolism are as important as physical action.   Therefore, for purpose of effective leadership, political leaders must pay serious attention to the three elements.   In Nigeria, political, military, and police leaders often ignore the three elements.  Instead, they always seem to assume that they can manipulate the situation to their favor through various Machiavellian means.   As a result, the national security situation is getting worse each day due to serious political, military and police miscalculations.  The Plateau and Kano crises are bringing to the fore the weaknesses involved in the deployment and management of security forces in the nation.

As stated in the original article “The Politics of Force Deployment and Nigeria’s Nationsal Security,” decisions to deploy security forces (army, navy, airforce, police, and intelligence ) are often colored and directed by certain political considerations or inclinations, rather than by an objective appraisal of the national security of the nation. Consequently, there is always a tendency to deploy security forces very quickly to regions that have less political influence while there is always an unwillingness to deploy forces to regions with extensive political influence in the country.  Likewise, the decision to declare “A State of Emergency” or issue “an ultimatum” is greatly influenced by the degree of political influence commanded by the area in conflict.  Quite often, excessive force is used quite readily in powerless regions while extreme caution is exercised in powerful regions.  In addition, excessive force is often used to punish individuals or communities or regions that refuse to cooperate with a given political agenda. 

As can be seen, the declaration of a “State of Emergency” in Plateau State, following ethno-religious killings, has sparked a national debate as to the efficacy of taking such a step.  Those who opposed the declaration argue that the action is antidemocratic and unfair since a similar action is not being taken in Kano State which has also experienced ethno-religious killings.   In particular, the removal of Plateau State’s Gov. Joshua Dariye and his replacement by a retired military officer, Maj. Gen Chris Alli (rtd.), is increasing the political temperature uncontrollably.  The action resembled the kind of action that a military regime would take.  In response to the furor, the president and his supporters have maintained that it is necessary to take such a drastic action in Plateau State.  President Olusegun Obsanjo, appearing on CNN World News, justified the state of emergency by explaining that the recent Kano killings were the direct result of the Plateau situation.   Therefore, the president insisted that it is necessary to control the Plateau situation in order to avoid further retaliatory ethno-religious killings in Kano and other parts of the country.

The most revealing thing about the current debate concerning force deployment and the declaration of a state of emergency is the degree of political influence that various regions command in Nigeria.  When an ultimatum was issued against the governor of Bayelsa State in November 1999, there was no national outcry or debate over the matter.   Nigerians from other regions basically accepted the imposition of a military-like order on the Niger Delta.  When the president ordered troop mobilization and approved the invasion of Odi, there was no recognizable national debate or outcry against an infringement of the democratic system.  Likewise, when a security task force (The Joint Task Force) was established for the purpose of ‘maintaining security’ in the Niger Delta, there was no national outcry or debate.  Again, Nigerians from other regions accepted the development as a necessary mechanism to ensure the free flow of oil.   On the other hand, as soon as a ‘state of emergency’ was declared in Plateau State, Nigerians responded by either supporting the action or opposing it.

The implications are very obvious, the Niger Delta region has the least political influence, therefore, it is acceptable to deploy security forces anytime national political, military, and police leaders think it is necessary to do so.  In addition, it is acceptable to use excessive force in the region.  On the other hand, there is a strong resistance toward the deployment of security forces in Plateau State.  This means that the state has more political influence than the Niger Delta.   This is understandable since many prominent Nigerian politicians and military officers originate from this state.  It is also part of the Middle Belt.   Comparatively, it appears that Kano State has more political influence than the Niger Delta region and Plateau State, hence, force deployment and the declaration of a state of emergency can only take place there as a last resort when the situation becomes very critical or totally unmanageable.

The debate, in support or against the declaration of emergency and deployment of security forces in Plateau State, has profoundly revealed the nature of power politics and politics of force deployment in Nigeria.  It appears that political, military, community, and religious leaders in the Islamic states support the declaration of emergency in Plateau State while opposing such deployment in Kano State.  On the other hand, political, military, community, and religious leaders in the Middle Belt want a state of emergency to be declared in Kano State while vigorously contesting the imposition of a state of emergency and the removal of the governor in Plateau State.  Political victory over the state of emergency and force deployment issues involving the two states and regions (Middle Belt and Islamic North) will most probably be determined by which side has the most lethal political power to influence the politics of deployment in Nigeria.   The president and his chiefs of services are most likely to respond favorably to the side that carries the biggest political stick .

Due to the high degree of political influence wielded by the North and the West, the president and the heads of the security forces would always meet serious opposition in the Northern and Western states if they try to adopt or apply deployment strategies and tactics that are frequently used in the Niger Delta and is being used in Plateau State today.    They can get away with adopting any tactics in the Niger Delta but won’t be able to do so in the North and in the West due to strong opposition.   The governors in the Niger Delta are more condescending due to their perceived sense of powerlessness while the governors in the North and the West would always be very oppositional to force deployment and declarations of states of emergencies in their states because of their perceived sense of powerfulness.

It is obvious that the politics of force deployment is causing the fragmentation of the country into “Hot War “ zones among ethnic, political, and religious groups.  It is also obvious that the politics of force deployment is destroying the rubric of national unity.  It is obvious that the politics of force deployment is leading people to distrust the security forces.  As the level of distrust increases, various ethnic, political and religious groups are mobilizing militarily to provide security for their members and possibly carry out preemptive and retaliatory attacks against their perceived enemies in the country.  Thus, ethnic militias and private armies are proliferating, thereby, increasingly turning the country into armed camps.  Nigeria, in short, is gradually mimicking Somalia, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as various groups armed themselves with sophisticated weaponry and fight bloody wars to score political points. 

The president is not helping the situation by putting undue pressure on the governors to act as security chiefs of their states.  First, the security forces do not take orders from the governors.   If the security forces were answerable to the governors, Governor Ngige of Anambra State would not have been put in a situation where the police refused to provide security for him while eagerly wanting to do so to chief Uba.  Second, the governors are members of political parties.   This means that their concept of security would most probably be influenced by the dictates of their political parties.  Third, for fear of a repeat of the Plateau situation, many governors would now be tempted to save their jobs by clamping down real hard on perceived “troublemakers” in an authoritarian manner.  Already, Gov. James Ibori is threatening to launch major security sweeps that could end up displacing some communities in Delta State.   Other governors in less powerful states might follow suit and act dictatorially in an attempt to save their jobs.

Thus, the political atmosphere is looking more like a military dictatorship rather than as a democratic government.  The removal of Gov. Dariye amd his replacement by a former military officer is disturbing since the action was so sweeping and extraordinarily beyond the constitutional process.  In addition, Administrator Alli’s statements about threatening to use force to quell any threat to security in Plateau State reminds one of statements often made by military administrators and officers during the military era.   So, is President Obasanjo gradually remilitarizing the country, under the pretext of trying to maintain peace and security?   Neither the president nor any top national public official has made any serious policy statement about wanting to solve political problems in a genuine political manner, without having to resort to manipulative tactics.    Already, leaders of the Oodua Liberation Movement have made serious allegations that the federal government is trying to forment crises in Lagos and Delta States so that states of emergencies could be declared in those states.  There is an unquenchable belief among the political and security chiefs that peace can be maintained by sheer force.  What Nigeria needs most is a serious political effort to solve thorny ethnic, religious, economic, and social problems

Nigeria’s political, military, and police leaders can reverse the deteriorating situation if they act quickly to restore respectability to their actions and government institutions.  To do so, they need to do the following:

a.  Stop playing manipulative and exploitative politics that incite intra-communal and inter-communal conflicts. The deployment tactics are tearing the country apart.

b.  Apply the law equally to all Nigerians. Right now, there is no respect for the law because the law is applied unfairly against those who are not in power.  Those in power (the PDP members) are above the law and get away with so many things.  

c.  The president, in consultation with the chiefs of the security forces, should draft and publish an official policy spelling out when security forces can be deployed and when a state of emergency can be declared in the country.  This is necessary to eliminate guesswork, emotional responses, and political favoritism that are so common in the deployment of forces.

d.  Make sure that political crises are resolved politically and not through the application of force.  Force should only be used as a last resort, in all regions.

e.  Encourage transparency and accountability in government.

f.  Minimize the role of the SSS in arresting, detaining, and imprisoning Nigerians.  Due process of law must be allowed to take place whenever any Nigerian is accused of any crime, regardless of whether such crime involves national security or not.   The SSS can gather intelligence without having to detain people unnecessarily in the name of national security.  Too many Nigerians have suffered severely in the past 35 years under the pretext of national security.   Detention without trial, as in the case of the Odi youths, can ignite militant reaction.  It is amazing that the cases of the Odi youths and Maj. Al- Mustapha have not been resolved, after more than three years.  In fact, one of the Odi youths died recently in detention.

g.  Make sure that any military or police officer that is accused of using excessive force  is punished through a legally constituted means.

h. The president should persuade his comrades in the PDP to allow other political parties to function effectively as opposition parties.  Right now, the PDP behaves like a one-party dictatorship.   The dictatorial tendencies negatively impact the security forces because they are forced to dance to the political tunes of the PDP and not the national interest.  The pervasive presence of the PDP assists immeasurably in heightening the politicization of force deployment.

i.  The president and the security chiefs should support the convocation of a national conference, so that Nigerians can discuss their destiny in a democratic manner.

So far, it is obvious that the politics of deployment that influenced the attack and  destruction of Odi continues to haunt the country.  Nigerians are becoming very jumpy due to concerns about ethno-religious reprisal attacks or uprisings.  It is very necessary to standardize the procedure for force deployment in the country.

"The most revealing thing about the current debate concerning force deployment and the declaration of a state of emergency is the degree of political influence that various regions command in Nigeria.  When an ultimatum was issued against the governor of Bayelsa State in November 1999, there was no national outcry or debate over the matter."

Links to:

Torulagha 1
Torulagha 2
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