TOUGH talk, recent battlefield successes and seamless confirmation of their appointments by the Senate have raised cautious optimism among Nigerians that the newly appointed military and police service chiefs would make a difference and rescue the country from the grip of insecurity. The security chiefs look set to execute the charge given to them by President Bola Tinubu to stop the rampage of insurgents and sundry criminals, initiating a flurry of actions and deployments. They should be consistent, dogged and deliver quickly on their promises.
Encouraging words and actions have been coming from the military chiefs – Christopher Musa, the Chief of Defence Staff, Taoreed Lagbaja, Chief of Army Staff, Hassan Abubakar, the Chief of Air Staff, and Emmanuel Ogalla, Chief of Naval Staff; and from Kayode Egbetokun, the Acting Inspector-General of Police. Nuhu Ribadu, the National Security Adviser, has also assured the President and Nigerians of their joint resolve to crush insecurity.
But Nigerians have heard similar reassurances from, and witnessed early positive actions by past security agencies’ heads only to have their hopes dashed. Repeatedly, those efforts faltered shortly after, ruined by ineptitude, corruption, politicisation, and lack of commitment by the political leadership. Tinubu and his security chiefs should avoid that dangerous pattern and save the country from tipping over the precipice.
The 2023 Global Terrorism Index ranked Nigeria as the eighth most terrorised country, though an improvement on its sixth position in 2021. Amnesty International reported that more than 120 Nigerians were killed by bandits and other criminals between Tinubu’s inauguration on May 29 and June 30.
Bandits are rampaging across the North-West and carving out fiefdoms; Islamic terrorists continue to pose a mortal threat, extending their gangrenous tentacles from the North-East across the North; industrial scale oil thieves are stealing crude in the Niger-Delta creeks; terrorists hijacking a self-determination sentiment have made the South-East unsafe, while cult gangs, political thugs, and violent transport unions have laid the South-West low.
In its Global Peace Index 2022, the Institute of Economic and Peace ranked Nigeria the 21st “most dangerous country in the world.” Three groups –Boko Haram/ISWAP/Ansaru, Fulani herdsmen/militants, and the bandits – made the list of the six most deadly global terrorist groups. The Indigenous People of Biafra was briefly listed as the 10th deadliest, but was removed after its supporters petitioned to distance it from the shadowy “unknown gunmen” unleashing terror in the South-East. Nigerians expect a full and decisive assault on oil thieves who have deprived the country of meeting its OPEC production quota and crippled public revenue receipts.
Coordination is crucial. All the security services must work together, share intelligence, coordinate operations, and sustain the required partnership. Unlike his predecessor, Tinubu should invest the full weight of his office behind a nominated coordinator. The slightest deviation by any security agency head should attract immediate dismissal. The country cannot afford the follies of the recent past where the services worked in silos, while Nigerians were kidnapped in their thousands, others murdered daily, and many others rendered homeless.
The NSA’s office should be the clearing house for national security operations to drive effective collaboration, teamwork, and efficient use of resources, and deliver measurable results.
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Tinubu should also pay attention, demand daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly security briefings. Following the experience during World War II, when service parochialism hampered military operations, the United States formalised the creation of the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through the National Security Act 1947.
In response to new global security challenges, further legislation was made in 1986 to create the Unified Combatant Command System that brings all deployed military units in designated regions across the services – army, air force, navy, marines – under a central regional field commander to ensure seamless, effective operations.
There should be a thorough review of Nigeria’s armed services operations along these lines. Commanders who fail to meet targets should be removed. There should be zero-tolerance for corruption; those diverting troops’ allowances, equipment and vehicles should be identified, prosecuted, and disgraced out of service. Fifth columnists and personnel with doubtful loyalties should be fished out and prosecuted.
The military is engaged mostly in asymmetric warfare, against adaptable enemies familiar with the terrain and able to melt into the local population. Strategies to defeat them must also therefore adapt. Intelligence and technology are the critical tools, not kinetic force alone. A recommendation published in the Florida, US-based Journal of Strategic Security stressed that “insurgencies are flexible, and to defeat them the counterinsurgency must be equally flexible, if not more flexible.”
Increasingly, experts recommend deployment of ICT tools, including “smart technology” to fight insurgencies, and in law enforcement. These include drones, GPS tracking, CCTV, body cameras, advanced listening devices, and affordable Artificial Intelligence tools that Brookings Institution reported has been introduced in Kenya against poachers, and Turkish-made loitering devices deployed by a factional warlord in Libya.
The police should reinvigorate its intelligence capabilities; the Department of State Services should be thoroughly overhauled and reoriented to become an efficient, covert domestic intelligence service. Terrorism and insecurity are global challenges that require international cooperation. The service chiefs must strengthen relationships with international partners, such as intelligence, and law enforcement agencies, and military organisations, to enhance information sharing and joint operations, and for collaborative efforts in countering transnational threats.
Building trust and collaboration with local communities is essential for gathering intelligence, countering radicalisation, and smoking out criminals. The states and law enforcement agencies should initiate robust community engagement programmes, foster dialogue, and address local grievances. The welfare and morale of the troops are crucial for the success of the campaign. They should be well-equipped, remunerated and motivated.
The war against criminality is winnable; the IG and service chiefs should not fail. But rebuilding trust, fostering cooperation, and utilising community intelligence and pre-emptive actions against criminal elements are required to turn the tide. Moreover, the urgency of facilitating state and local policing is brought home every day; Tinubu should mobilise the entire country for this task. ,
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