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Politics of Force Deployment and Nigeria’s National Security

By Priye S. Torulagha

Recent events in Nigeria have reinforced the positions stated in the article “ Politics of Force Deployment and Nigeria’s National Security.”   The article dealt with issues concerning the deployment of the armed and police forces in the country during conflict situations.  Nigeria’s political, military, and police leaders are held, in the article, for being primarily responsible for destabilizing the national security of the country through their actions and inactions regarding the deployment of security forces.

The article argued that the armed and police forces are deployed during crisis based on short-sighted political considerations, rather than on clearly stipulated national security interests.  To support the argument, five tactical steps often used by Nigeria’s decision-makers are identified.  They include:  (1) deployment based on ethnicity and region, (2) the use of excessive force to retaliate or punish, (3) massive destruction and killings rationalized on the basis of simply obeying orders, (4) the eagerness to deploy forces to powerless regions and the unwillingness to deploy forces to powerful regions, and (5) the maintenance of a benefit system that excessively rewards officers and excessively deprives the non-commissioned ranks, thereby, leading to anger among the lower ranks.   This anger is always unleashed against various communities ands targeted areas.

The article further argued that deployment policies and tactics tended to counteract the national security of Nigeria due to the political undertones of the process.   In other words, the security forces have a tendency to exacerbate or cause more harm than good in conflict situations, due to the manipulative, inciteful, an provocative tendencies of the decision-makers.   Seven reasons are identified and described to explain why Nigeria’s political, military, and police leaders deploy security forces in a way that actually causes instability and distrust of the security forces by the population at large.  They are: (1) the failure of political and military leadership, (2) tribalization and regionalization of force deployment and the use of force, (3) personalization of the armed and police forces, (4) vengefulness, (5) corruption, (6) the need for quick solutions to political crises, and (7) the lack of foresight by the leaders.

To show that recent events in the country have proven beyond doubt the main points raised in the article, three political crises, known here as cases, are cited and compared.  The cases are: (1) the killing of seven people in Benin River near Warri, Delta State, (2) the Selwa killings in Plateau State , and (3) the Kano killings in Kano State.  The policies and tactics used in the deployment of security forces in the three cases show clearly the inconsistency, short-sightedness, and the politics of who has power and who does not have power in Nigeria.

1.  The Benin River Case

Nigeria’s political, military, and police leaders overreacted toward the unfortunate killing of three naval personnel, two boatmen, and two US citizens by unknown assailants.  The president ordered the mobilization of the armed forces to fish out the culprits.  The presidential statement resembled the order given for the Odi operation in November 1999.  Governor James Ibori of Delta State too joined the declarative bandwagon when he “promised a robust military response to end the matter once and for all,” vowing that “security forces would crack down on armed gangs roaring the forest creeks of the Niger Delta”(Okhomina, 2004, April 27).   The Presidential Adviser on Petroleum and Energy, Mr. Edmund Dakoru stated that the government respond would be decisive (Ibid.).  Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, the Commander of the Joint Task Force applied the Odi principle of communal culpability by saying “ the task force wishes to state categorically and warn all community leaders in the Niger Delta, irrespective of their class or status that forthwith they shall be arrested and held liable for any attack on law-abiding citizens including troops of the task force in their domain” (ibid).

Due to the sweeping nature of the comments made by the political and military leaders, the indigenes of the affected area in the Niger Delta were terrified of the possibility of a military invasion of their communities.  Such all-sweeping comments and statements often serve as code words to signal to the armed forces to deploy maximum force to invade, ransack and destroy as much as possible any targeted community.   The all-sweeping code words led to the Odi and Benue massacres.   To avoid the possibility of an all-out military invasion, many residents of the region had to leave their communities.

Although very unfortunate, only seven people died in the attack, yet, the national political and military leaders reacted as if a full blown war had taken place and ordered a full military mobilization.  The threatening reaction shows clearly that the people of the Niger Delta do not have political influence in Nigeria, hence, any incident in the region is met by full military mobilization.   This is why people in the region feel militarily occupied, economically exploited, and politically deprived.  The people in the region also feel that national political and military leaders have conspired with the oil companies to dehydrate and annihilate them.

2.  The Selwa Killings Case

Around may 2, 2004, perhaps, in a retaliatory counteraction to avenge an earlier victimization by Moslem militants in February of this year, militant Christian elements of Tarok and other ethnic origins are alleged to have invaded the market town of Selwa which is inhabited predominantly by members of the Moslem community and inflicted extensive destruction and killings.  The number of those killed in the invasion ranged from 67 to 300, depending on the source of information. 

Some of the survivors of the carnage alleged that police units were either tactically withdrawn or dispersed before the invasion, thereby leaving them defenceless and unprotected against the heavily armed fighters to carry out a 24-hour systematic killing of people and destruction of property.  They wondered why the police left, knowing full well that something terrible was about to happen.  The BBC reported “The people of Yelwa feel that the security forces and local government have let them down.  They say that on 20 April the police withdrew from the town and didn’t come back until the killing had stopped” (BBC News, UK Edition, 2004, May 6).  The police responded by saying that “sometimes it makes sense to tactically withdraw – and that they weren’t able to come in during the gfiighting because of all the roadblocks” (Ibid.).  The police behavior is very questionable. If there were roadblocks, why was the military not called to assist the police clear the debris?    Why did the police waited until after the killings before redeploying to keep the peace? Did the police actually leave or withdraw?    Who ordered the police to leave or withdraw before the killings?   Was the attack intended to teach somebody a lesson?   

In this case, despite the severity of the conflict and number of deaths, no expansive open-ended threatening comments or statements were made by national political, military, and police leaders.  The president did not order a full military mobilization to fish out the culprits.   The president ordered the Inspector General to mobilize the police after the killings, to maintain order in the area (Akhaine, 2004, May 5).   The communities in the vicinity and community leaders were not ordered to arrest or produce the culprits or face the consequences.  Moreover, neither the president nor the governor declared an emergency in the area.  In fact, Gov. Joshua Dariye still insists that no emergency should be declared in Plateau State.   In the case of Odi in1999, the president gave the governor of Bayelsa State an ultimatum to arrest the culprits who killed the 12 police men.  The president could not even wait for the ultimatum to expire before giving an open-ended order to the military to invade Odi and destroy it.  In the Benue case, the president gave an order similar to the Odi case, hence, over 200 people were killed.   In the Benin River case in Warri, the president and the military leaders appeared to be so eager to teach the communities a lesson.  But in the Selwa case, there was no effort to teach anyone a lesson.  Instead, conciliatory language was used to encourage everyone to settle the conflict peacefully. 

3.  The Kano Killings Case

Since the government could not explain convincingly why the police behaved strangely in Selwa by dispersing or withdrawing before the outbreak of an ethno-religious attack against the Moslem community, it was obvious that the Moslems would react to the killings.  The reaction happened in Kano on May 13, 2004.  Moslem fighters rampaged through Kano and killed innocent Christians and non-Christians who had nothing to do with the Selwa killings.  The police estimated the number of deaths at thirty (30).  However, some survivors estimated the number of deaths at 500.  Some survivors also alleged that the police were also involved in the shootings and killings ( Obateru & Mamah, 2004, May 14).

Again, despite the severity of the killings, the president did not call for the full mobilization of the armed forces.  He ordered the police to mobilize and maintain order.  The farthest he could go was to order the police ‘to shoot on sight’ any troublemaker.  Likewise, there was no call for the declaration of emergency in Kano.   Unlike the Benin River killings in the Niger Delta, senior military and police officers did not scream at the top of their voices to show how decisive they would be in capturing or apprehending the culprits.    Of course, the Kano killings have the potential to cause a major counter-reaction in other parts of the country because many innocent people from ethnic groups that had nothing to do with the ethno-religious conflict were killed.   The Ohaeneze, through its spokeperson, Col. Joe Achuzia (ret.), seriously warned against further killings of  Igbos, Christians and others, threatening a serious consequence.   Due to concerns about counter-killings in other parts of the country,  Kano State officials are not too eager to release the bodies of the dead to their relatives.  If the police had acted properly in Selwa, the Kano incident would not have taken place.  Nigeria being what it is, the politics of force deployment clouded the visions of the decision-makers and thereby allowed a massacre to take place in Selwa.   In return, Kano boiled over revengefully. 

In fact, since May 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo ascended the pinnacle of power as a civilian leader, more people have been killed in the North due to ethno-religious conflicts than in the South.  Likewise, the number of killings and destructions in the Niger Delta have been far less than in the Northern and Western states.  Yet, it is in the Niger Delta where a coded military command is set up to deal with crisis.  Any altercation in the region is magnified hundred times in order to justify military deployment.  In other parts of the country, the military is only deployed as a last resort.   In the Niger Delta, the military is deployed as a first resort.  In addition, in the Niger Delta, community leaders and citizens are generally accused of the crimes committed by the few and punished in a collective manner.  In other parts of Nigeria, entire communities and community leaders are not held liable and punished in a collective manner, even when the scale of destruction and death far outweighs the numbers in the Niger Delta.  The exception was the Benue case in which entire Tiv communities were collectively punished.

May be due to powerlessness or cowardice or extensive national godfatherism, the governors in the Niger Delta appear to be too eager to play along with the politics of deployment.  They are willing to support the use of strong-arm tactics by the security forces to “fish out culprits.”   The governors in the North and West seem to be bolder in resisting national intervention and insisting on a police action rather than a military one.   They are also more willing to argue against the declaration of emergencies in their states.  Thus, despite the repeated massive killings and destruction of property due to ethno-religious conflicts in the North, the governors there have consistently opposed the declaration of emergencies.  They are more proactive in trying to resolve conflict based on the interest of their people than the governors in the Niger Delta.  In other words, it could be inferred that Gov. Ibori does not seem to care much about the danger of making blanket statements in support of decisive military action that could lead to massive abuse of the rights of innocent people in Delta State while Gov Dariye seems to be very concerned about such things in Plateau State.   It should be recalled that Bayelsan officials did not vigorously opposed federal intrusion when an ultimatum was issued on the Odi situation while Gov. Bola Ige of Lagos State reacted furiously against Obasanjo’s order for him to stop the mayhem in Lagos during the heydays of OPC operations.

Thus, in support of the original article, Nigeria’s political, military, and police leaders continue to deploy security forces based on ethnic, regional, religious, personal, retaliatory, vengeful, and short-sighted reasons that have nothing to do with the national security of the country.  Due to the excessive political coloration of the decisions affecting the deployment of forces, Nigerian leaders are actually leading the country toward a point of disintegration.  The lack of security and the hopelessness is forcing various groups to arm themselves to the teeth, knowing full well that Nigeria’s security forces cannot be trusted to protect life and property.   They are too politicized, regionalized, ethnicized, and personalized to become effective national forces.

Why is it that in Nigeria, national security is always enforced against the opposition or those who are not in government?   Why is it that national security is never enforced against those who are in government?  Are the security forces not aware that public officials are mostly responsible for the political, economic, and social disasters that are befalling Nigeria?   Why are forces repeatedly being deployed for purpose of short-term political gains?  It is obvious that the deployment of forces in Warri, Yelwa, and Kano are based on manipulative politics, hence, the attendant insecurity.   The Niger Delta is a free-fire zone for military deployment while other areas are not free-fire zones.   In those areas, military deployment is initiated only as a last resort.   This accounted for the hesitancy to deploy full force to stop wanton ethno-religious killings in the NO FREE-FIRE ZONES.

In any case, Nigeria is being brutalized by highly politicized deployment policies and tactics.  For instance, if the police had not tactically withdrew, for whatever reason, perhaps, the Selwa killings would have been prevented.  The failure to reinforce the police or call for military support in Selwa convinced Islamic militants that somebody had scored a political knockout, hence, the revenge killings in Kano.  While the police tactically withdrew from Selwa before the killings,  they are being accused of taking part in the killings in Kano.  So goes  the sad story of Nigeria.  Of course, the possibility of a retaliatory counter-action to avenge the Kano tragedy is very high.  


Abdulsalami, I. (2004, April 30).  120 feared killed in Plateau, Taraba clashes.  The Guardian  (Online) http://www.guardiannewsngr.com/news/article05.  4/3-/04

Akhaine, S. (2004, May 5).  Govt orders police to end Plateau crisis.  The Guardian. (Online) http://www.guardiannewasngr.com/news/article27.  5/5/04.

BBC News, UK Edition.(2004, May 5).  Muslims seek Nigeria clash probe.  (Online) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3683015.stm.  5/5/04.

________  (2004, May 6).  Eyewitness:  Nigeria’s ‘town of death’. BBC News, UK edition.  (Online) hrrp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/Africa/3689615.stm.  5/7/04.

Obateru, T. & Mamah, E. (2004, may 14).  Alegations of police killings, Yelwa, Kano killings,Obsanjo spits fire, calls CAN idiot.  Vanguard.

Okhomina, O. (2004, April 27).  FG, US oil officials in crisis talks on Benin river killings.  Vanguard (Online) http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/cover/f227042004.html. 4/27/04.

Torulagha, P. (2004,April 16).  The politics of force deployment and Nigeria’s national security.  http://www.gamji.coom.news3411.htm/.  4/16/04.


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