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  • Writer's pictureO. Olowo-Ake

Recommendations for Protecting our People and Their Territorial Spaces


*Adebayo Olowo-Ake


The next political leadership of Nigeria at the federal level already has its job cut out for it. Once it is sworn in on May 29, 2023 God willing, the President of the Federal Republic would have to hit the ground running and expectations of the citizenry are already quite high. One of the areas in which the next administration would have to deliver almost immediately is in enhancing the internal security situation of the country.

A short historiography of Nigeria’s recent threat environment

Before suggesting those critical areas that I consider that the next President has to urgently address, permit me to expound on the historiography of our country’s threat environment as this exercise is key to understanding the suggestions I shall offer.

The oil boom years of the mid to late 1970s saw Nigeria develop an activist foreign policy, under the Murtala-Obasanjo administration that made Africa “the centerpiece” of that endeavour. It was firmly held that as the largest Black country on earth, Nigeria would not fold its hands while fellow blacks suffered under the yoke of racial segregation and in sub-human bondage in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe. That resolve saw Nigeria fund most of the liberation movements in these countries and brought her into close foreign policy conflict with the Euro-Atlantic powers who supported the apartheid regimes. That state of affairs suggested that the threat facing Nigeria would be external or externally motivated.

The tension in relations between Nigeria and the Euro-Atlantic powers eventually ebbed with the liberation of Angola by the MPLA (heavily funded by Nigeria and backed by Cuban troops and Soviet weapons and equipment), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by the combined forces of ZAPU and ZANU and the commencement of disannulling the control of Namibia by the racist South African regime. The icing on the cake for Nigeria came with the first ever visit of an American President to black Africa when President Jimmy Carter visited Nigeria from March 31 –April 3 1978. That visit was of great significance indeed and marked a watershed in relations between both countries. It also cemented Nigeria’s credentials as a medium power globally and the number one power on the African continent.

Twelve years later, a threat of a different kind emerged, this time not against Nigeria directly, but against West Africa. The civil war in Liberia and later, Sierra Leone, posed enormous security challenges to the sub-region. The world was fixated on the American-led conflict to force President Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait and could not muster any response to the Liberian problem. This left Nigeria, under General Ibrahim Babangida, to moot the idea of the Economic Community of West African States Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), which intervened in both countries, though at enormous cost to Nigeria. After a very difficult start, ECOMOG, largely dominated by Nigerian forces, managed to stabilise major parts of the mission areas, becoming the first ever sub-regional pacific instrument in the world for the management of armed conflict.

It is instructive at this juncture to point out that Nigeria had become a major participant in United Nations (UN) Peacekeeping missions—from its first ever bilateral support to Tangayika (now Tanzania) in the early 1960s, to its forming part of the UN Mission in the Congo. Thereafter, the country contributed troops to virtually every UN mission, including deploying to the Middle East (Lebanon) and Europe (Croatia). Nigeria saw her role in these missions as helping to neutralise threats to global peace and international security, rather than direct threats to her own sovereignty.

Insurgency and related crimes—the new and persistent threat to Nigeria?

Although Nigeria had suffered from several dogma-inspired violence, including the Maitatsine “riots” in Kano that required the deployment of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to quell, many Nigerians still never believed that the country could become a victim of insurgency of the variety that emerged through Boko Haram. Today, an assessment of how well Nigeria has fared against the insurgency in the north east is often the subject of intense speculation. What is not in doubt is the fact that the threats posed by these groups well beyond the epicenter of the conflict in Maiduguri have been reversed, while elements of the insurgents still launch sporadic raids into areas reportedly liberated, these groups do not hold territory and cannot undertake sustained engagement against either the Nigerian military or the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJF) comprising of Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.

In their place, Nigerians came under threats/attacks from a combination of freelancing terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, ritual killers and armed robbers. It got so bad that it appeared as if the Nigerian state had been overwhelmed and this perception remain true of happenings today in certain parts of the country. In the east, separatist groups launched their own attacks at will and have significant influence over territory, if they did not physically control same. Many Nigerians wondered as to how the political elite could allow the security situation to generate to such an alarming level. As of today, measured progress is being made but the security situation remains precarious and the confidence of the citizenry has to be earned as renewed efforts are made to stabilise the polity.

Today, the main task of the in-coming President will be how to immediately enhance internal security and one good way to start in my opinion will be/ to critically and urgently enhance the operational status of both the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Nigeria Police Force.

Before embarking on that exercise, he must first of all undertake a short recourse to history and I will respectfully submit that every time we notice that the Police is overwhelmed by emerging challenges, instead of building its competence to enable it tackle those tasks, we simply take the easy way out by seeking alternatives. For example, when Nigeria felt that she needed to position herself to proactively detect domestic threats to security, instead of equipping the Special Branch of the Police that was then tasked with sniffing out such threats, the authorities instead created the National Security Organisation (NSO)—the forerunner of the State Security Service (SSS), now known as the DSS.

When the country also began to witness a serious increase in road accidents, instead of building the capacity of the Motor Traffic Division of the Police, she established the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRCS). When fraud cases began rising, instead of building the capacity of the Fraud Unit of the Police, the authorities simply proceeded to creating the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Finally, when we felt the Police has been unable to stem recent threats of banditry and terrorism, each State began creating its own parallel security outfit. (It is quite glaring that Nigeria will eventually opt for State police and I am fully in support of this, as it will bring policing closer to the communities being served and block many gaps in law enforcement that a federal police force is unable to deal with for obvious reasons).

So, as a nation, we have never really tried to understand why the police wasn’t delivering on its mandate fully but chose instead to “circumvent” the force and find other means of dealing with the problem. If we do not address the challenges confronting both the police and the DSS, the military will continue to struggle because it is being largely asked to do what it is not trained for.

Solving the problems

Beefing up the size of the Nigeria Police Force

Upon return to democracy in 1999, the police reportedly had some 60,000 officers for a population of 120 million. That of course was totally ineffective to properly secure the citizenry. The current size of the police is put at 371,800 officers (Wikipedia), while The Guardian of 11 February 2018 reported that 150,000 police officers were attached to VIPs and “unathorised persons.” The VIP personnel taken out of the main force means we actually have only 221,800 police officers for 206 million persons in the country!

Whatever the true situation is, the gap in the force must be filled as a matter of national emergency. One would therefore suggest that a VIP protection Unit should be formally created and those presently undertaking those tasks retained in this division. The Police should then hire 150,000 new officers to replace them, as it is quite clear that, right from the Obasanjo Presidency up till the current Buhari administration, the Federal Government has never been able to withdraw those police officers carrying out VIP escort duties. The Police should charge commensurate fees from those who request for VIP escort duties and those funds should be paid into the account of the Federal Government.

Police Mobile Force

To tackle security problems beyond traditional law enforcement, the Federal Government created the Police Mobile Force (PMF). This force was to deal mainly with riots and it was trained for this and equipped to cope with the types of riotous behaviour largely exhibited by communities and students between the 1960s and the late 1990s. However, given the new forms of threats facing the country, it would appear as if the PMF has not been prepared for the modern-day challenge and this has been evident on many occasions and as recently as the End SARS protests (which was eventually hijacked by criminals leading to many police stations and public facilities being burnt and destroyed with the police virtually helpless). There is therefore the need to revamp the PMF. It should be rapidly expanded and given more comprehensive paramilitary training. It should be made composite—to possess its own armoured fighting vehicles, stores, drones, helicopters and armed appropriately. It should be commanded by an officer of the rank of a Deputy Inspector General of Police and should be deployable by the State Governor of the State where each squadron is located.

Police Railway Command

The Nigeria Police Railway Command was established and trained specifically to deal with security threats confronting the rail system. I found it somewhat strange that despite spending billions on a brand-new rail system for the country, we never upgraded this Command to protect our investment but would rather call on the Air Force to start patrolling rail lines. This informs why I humbly suggest that as a matter of urgency, the command should be revitalised and equipped with all required technological platforms and devices needed to spring into action. New formations should be established as part of the critical rail infrastructure that the present administration is developing and adequate welfare facilities (new barracks, recreational facilities, training facilities, etc.) should be set up accordingly too.

Police Air Wing

The Nigeria Police Air Wing has demonstrated its potential many times but it would appear as if the police authorities are torn between using it as a VIP platform than deploying it for operational missions. Key cities in the country like Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Kaduna, Ibadan, Asaba, etc. ought to have at least one police helicopter in the sky daily for surveillance and crime fighting. Lacking these, the police ought to be able to deploy drones to undertake a variety of law enforcement tasks. This however isn’t happening, raising questions as to what exactly is happening to the wing.

The official decision to deploy Nigerian Air Force (NAF) combat helicopters to patrol rail lines referenced above further suggested that the police air wing is not up to its billing. The political authorities ought to immediately take measures to upgrade the unit and position it to function effectively. One key suggestion I wish to make here is that this police unit should standardise most of its helicopters with that being used by the NAF. For example, the civil version of the Agusta Power 109 can be adopted by the Police, since the NAF has many in its inventory and have simulators for the chopper as well as engineers type-rated on that platform. The police will therefore not need to have a separate training facility or separate engineering unit but benefit from NAF in this regard thereby keeping its platforms airworthy and operational always.

Police Maintenance Division

The current Inspector General of Police started his posting with great ideas about how to re-position the service. To further help him achieve his laudable goals, the Federal Government should fund a revitalisation of the Police Maintenance Division. Vehicles provided for the police hardly last due, in my view, to the lack of proper maintenance facilities and logistics. Should the service therefore deploy drones and CCTVs, other needed devices and required technology, they would hardly last their lifespan if this division is not urgently revived and properly equipped.

Department of State Services

The DSS can be more effective in my humble opinion if it is restructured, well-funded, motivated and equipped. Its orientation should also be reviewed. It is the considered opinion of this writer that the service can be restructured into two: one service to be responsible for domestic intelligence and the other service to be responsible for protecting state functionaries. The next President should invest heavily in manpower training and technology to strengthen the and improve the capacity of the service. I believe strongly that if these two functions are separated, we shall witness greater efficiency from both services and see greater efficiency in domestic intelligence gathering for strengthening the protection of our peoples and their territorial space.

*Adebayo Olowo-Ake is Director / Principal Research Fellow at the African Resource Development Centre (Ltd Gte), Lagos.

This paper was presented at our policy dialogue, titled, 'An Agenda For The Next President', held in Lagos on February 7th, 2023.

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