Security is Everything

by Okey Ndibe

Nigeria has hardly been a safe haven, but the recent spate of violence in different parts of the country, and in particular the ratcheting up of bomb blasts in Abuja, ought to give pause to all of us. And the man who runs the shop, President Goodluck Jonathan, ought to lose sleep until the crisis is addressed.

The war against terror is one that all Nigerians of good will should enlist to fight, but without strong leadership from Mr. Jonathan, the effort will come to naught.

In the final analysis, security is everything. The first duty of any government – perhaps the most compelling justification for the existence of the state – is to provide a safe, secure environment to enable citizens to pursue the fulfillment of their dreams. Without security, a state is close to an illogicality. A nation’s developmental ambitions are liable to frustration in the absence of security. Why build a structure that some terrorist can raze in a flash of explosives? Investors, domestic and foreign alike, take a serious look at a nation’s security index as they consider whether to commit – or take their resources elsewhere.

Let me repeat: until he gets a handle on the nation’s security, Mr. Jonathan cannot afford to sleep much. He presides over a nation that’s on the verge – if care is not taken – of disintegration into utter chaos.

In a little over two months, terrorists have hit two high-profile targets in Nigeria’s capital, wreaking grim havoc. In June, they detonated bombs at the police headquarters – the very heart of Nigeria’s law enforcement. Then, just a week and a half ago, they struck the UN office in Abuja, leaving more than twenty dead.

Clearly, the perpetrators’ choice of targets reveals their high level of organization and sophistication. Few office complexes in Nigeria would boast the level of security and mode of fortification enjoyed by the police headquarters and the UN address. What the bombers did is called sending a message. That message is that they have the resolve as well as wherewithal to strike anywhere they wish, and any time they choose.

Mr. Jonathan has labeled his government one of transformation. He has the opportunity to demonstrate his mettle in the area of security. It’s a challenge he must take on, or risk the doom both of his presidency and the country.

So far, unfortunately, Mr. Jonathan has appeared set to combat the scourge of terrorism with the old, ineffectual tool of words. As Boko Haram struts the Nigerian capital and several other states on deadly sprees, Mr. Jonathan and his aides have responded with “reassuring” and “tough” statements. The president recently stated that his government had “strong leads as to those involved in this terror war on Nigeria and Nigerians.” And then that he had “directed security operatives to go after them no matter where they may be hiding.” He also warned, “those who choose to hide under our new freedoms to perpetuate evil against our people shall have no hiding place.”

This rhetoric would be well and good if it were not old speak, as smug as it was familiar. But nobody who has witnessed the temerity of the Boko Haram assaults is going to be comforted by mere words. And those who strap explosives to their cars or their bodies are not likely to fret because the president or one of his officials issued another “powerful warning” boasting of vanquishing a faceless, nimble enemy.

The recent spate of bombings seems to signal a new character and impetus in Nigeria’s history of terror attacks. The most significant conjecture – which Nigerian security officials have spoken about – is that some foreign terrorist group, most likely Al Qaeda, has linked up with Boko Haram, and has further radicalized the group, enhancing its logistics and reach. Doubtless, it takes a superior level of preparation, daring and organization to pull off the high-profile blitzes against the police headquarters and the UN office.

The possibility of foreign involvement in recent terrorist attacks in Nigeria changes the dynamic. It means that Nigeria’s intelligence agencies must be especially alert to the maneuvers and tactics used by, say, Al Qaeda. In addition, Nigeria would have to tap into the intelligence and other resources of a coalition of nations currently fighting terrorist groups.

Even at its best, the Jonathan administration is at a disadvantage in any war against terror. Boko Haram has the edge when it comes to the critical area of surprise. The government can narrow – even potentially erase – this advantage if it had a professionally astute, motivated and equipped intelligence apparatus focused on the war.

From all accounts, this is far from the case. Since the blasts at the UN office, many newspapers have detailed grave lapses by the nation’s security agencies. Last week, the Tribune reported that Mr. Jonathan had been briefed on some of the lapses. The paper wrote: “A top administration official told the Nigerian Tribune that President Jonathan, in his determination to find lasting solutions to insecurity, has discovered a number of sensitive and disturbing internal lapses which he was previously not aware of.
“Contrary to earlier reports, President Jonathan was said to have discovered that the morale of security operatives was very low, leading to their inability to infiltrate the Boko Haram sect and secure details of their internal operations and organizational structure.”

The Tribune’s portrait was of a dysfunctional security outfit that cannot even get its internal affairs in order. The paper wrote about “alleged low funding or improper prioritization of security expenditure, which led to reported under-funding of expenditure considered by many operatives to be critical to the smooth execution of their task without possibility of compromise.” Then it revealed “the lack or non-application of technical capacity in the area of intelligence gathering, a weakness said to be associated with improper placement of qualified and skilled personnel and wrong focus in terms of purchase of security infrastructure.”

Neither Mr. Jonathan nor Nigerians can afford an intelligence outfit that is burdened with such inept leadership. At the very least, the president should demand the immediate resignation of the intelligence boss who has served the nation so poorly. And he should then move with alacrity to appoint a replacement who is professionally accomplished, who is able to keep one step ahead of the terrorist networks, who understands that nothing else will work in the country until the terrorist threats are addressed, and who can command the respect of those whose job is to secure the nation.

In the end, Mr. Jonathan and the country’s broader political leadership ought to realize that good governance is the ultimate antidote for the violence that has spun out of control in Nigeria.

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