Nigeria’s National Security Fallacy
On December 10, 1974, then United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger- a revered figure in global discussions of foreign policy- directed the completion of a paper entitled ‘National Security Study Memorandum 200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests (NSSM200).’ This document articulated what was later adopted as official US policy by President Gerald Ford. A significant portion of the paper asserted that the United States should consider population control in some 13 countries of ‘paramount importance’ as a matter of national security. The peoples of these countries, it seemed, could mount a ‘destabilising opposition’ against the strategic interests of the United States if allowed to flourish and, of course, the leading democracy in the world could not let that happen. The memorandum was declassified in the early 1990s and researchers revealed that of the threatening thirteen, India, Pakistan, Mexico and Brazil were on Kissinger’s List. Disconcertingly, so was Nigeria.
There is a bias in coverage of national security matters in Nigerian news media which slants toward military might and police power, that is, the rhetoric concentrates on the expression of force both in its state-sanctioned expression and its state-defying version. The continuing spate of violent crime across the country as perpetrated by fundamentalist Boko Haram fighters has been the primary focus in the years following the group’s emergence into the national conversation in 2009. Prior to that, an equally self-righteous militancy had plagued (and by some accounts, continues to be a factor in) the creeks of the Niger Delta where armed activists, claiming the dispossessions and destruction of arable land and fishing waters as cause for battle, courted publicity with guerrilla warfare. In Lagos and other metropolitan cities, violent abductions for a fee turned into the latest cottage industry. Young men in Aba were often reported to be kidnapping the unsuspecting for returns as little as recharge cards for their phones. Armed robbery remained a terror for people across the different states of Nigeria. Inevitably, national security has become a term that describes a means to combat these forces with superior aggression and to maintain sufficient protection from them by force. Any discussion about national security begins and ends with armed conflict and the victory of Nigeria over its enemies.
In fact, there are several factions who have attributed the success of General Muhammadu Buhari-the President-Elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria following the general elections on March 28, 2015- to his campaign against insecurity and corruption. The International Business Times hailed the former military head of state as a symbol that would spearhead greater resistance to the jihad in the country’s arid north. Other foreign news outlets towed this line. At home, in informal discussions in beer parlours and mama put joints where people feel freer to talk than they do when faced with a rolling camera and a microphone, much has been made of the stern-faced septuagenarian’s battle-worn credentials. On nairaland, a social media website which is a simulacrum for public opinion, discussions have swirled on about the personal involvement of Buhari in the effort to contain a Chadian insurrection in North East Nigeria while he was General Officer Commanding of Jos Military Command in the early eighties. The word on the street is that Buhari is the finest champion for national security in these beleaguered times. There lies the rub.
The website for Mi5, the British Secret Service, acknowledges that national security refers to the ‘security and well being of the United Kingdom as a whole’ and points out that the government of that state is careful not to define the phrase to permit flexibility in its protection. This means that the prevalent concept of national security as the exclusive preserve of the military and militarised forces is not expansive enough. Adopting this viewpoint, Robert McNamara, a former US Defence Secretary and President of the World Bank (thus well-placed to judge the characteristics of systems of security and of the preservation of well-being) intoned in The Essence of Security: Reflections In Office “We have come to identify security with exclusively military phenomena and particularly with military hardware. It just isn’t so.” By this impression, any attempt to corral national security into the specific context of military might or police power is reductive. The ‘well-being’ pillar of the national security debate means that any champion who volunteers to battle the evil that lurks in wait must be prepared to construct the shield of defence of Nigerian sovereignty out of economic, social and political policies which tackle the many threads to the broken body of public life in the country.
The Harvard professor Charles Maier advances a theory of national security in which a state has the “capacity to control those domestic and foreign conditions that the public opinion of a given community believes necessary to enjoy its own self-determination or autonomy, prosperity and wellbeing.” Again, this mantra of wellbeing. His theory hints at economic security which is a matrix of food security, water security, energy security and adequate response to environmental change. The well-being of the Nigerian peoples, if national security is indeed to be the watchword of the Buhari regime, will be protected only when these virtues are upheld. At present, the lack of access to clean water, a healthy diet and electric power are defining features of the Nigerian condition. Massed millions do not enjoy the benefits that accord wellbeing and guarantee continuing welfare. On top of these ills, high illiteracy levels and the degeneration of the education system mean that the Nigerian people are largely unable to better their lot in a way that can prevent the root causes of extremism and fanatic pursuit of sectarian ideology. The Boko Haram philosophy, which decries Western education, has taken hold in parts of the country were there was severe under-exposure to modern formal education anyway. In other parts of the country where people have taken up arms and crime, the allegation levelled against the state is that severe maladministration of societal welfare has driven them to the mattresses.
Now, the question is whether Buhari has the savoir-faire to manoeuvre Nigeria away from this dangerous insecurity paradigm through vital policy decisions that can transfigure the handicaps into national well-being. In his previous incarnation as military head of state, it is said that he ran a brutal campaign against press freedoms and cracked the whip against dissent. The quest for order was approached with no attempt to install measures that protect the people’s right to self-determination and autonomy as propounded by Maier. Rather, the wilfulness and exuberance of Nigerians, so often said to be the reason for thriving enterprise and productivity, was ruthlessly subjugated to manifestations of the jackboot of justice. Granted, all this was perfectly legitimate under a military government. And, as described by ThisDay Newspaper, Buhari has had his Damascene moment following the fall of the Berlin Wall and of the dictatorial, communist governments of the East from which he drew inspiration. His has been a reversal of mentality such as to sustain him through three losing tilts at the office of President, culminating in good luck at the fourth roll of the dice. The President-Elect is a man tempered and toughened by the ballot box, a thing impervious to the strong individual will, yet conveyor of the collective autonomy of the populace. A fitting paradox.
When Kissinger unveiled his policy of population restriction and contraception and identified the mineral resources of Nigeria as potential US national interests that must be secured, he made clear that the US sees national security as an all-encompassing political and socio-economic imperative. The Buhari regime must do the same, diverting the talk amongst Nigerians from the manic chatter about killing and rescue and heroism-although the last of those is a great thing to aspire to. It is in the finer points of national security, in restoring the Nigerian people to the dignity that comes with true well-being that he will have fulfilled his national security mandate.