The presidency has reacted to the Economist’s article on insecurity in Nigeria which the international weekly newspaper said is the West African country’s “biggest test since its civil war 50 years ago”.
The London-based magazine has alleged that “jihadism, organised crime and political violence have grown so intense and widespread that most of the country is sliding towards ungovernability”.
It also noted that Nigeria may slip into a downward spiral from which it will struggle to emerge. The Economist which described the Nigerian army as only being “mighty” on paper, stated that there are two factors responsible for Nigeria’s increasing instability and they are “a sick economy and a bumbling government”.
The magazine added that Buhari-led administration is “inept and heavy-handed”, and has “has failed to curb corruption, which breeds resentment”.
The article reads;
Little more than six decades ago, as Nigeria was nearing independence, even those who were soon to govern Africa’s largest country had their doubts about whether it would hold together. British colonists had drawn a border around land that was home to more than 250 ethnic groups. Obafemi Awolowo, a politician of that era, evoked Metternich, fretting that “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression.”
The early years of independence seemed to prove him right. Coup followed coup. Ethnic pogroms helped spark a civil war that cost 1m lives, as the south-eastern region calling itself Biafra tried to break away and was ruthlessly crushed. Military rule was the norm until 1999. Despite this inauspicious start, Nigeria is now a powerhouse. Home to one in six sub-Saharan Africans, it is the continent’s most boisterous democracy. Its economy, the largest, generates a quarter of Africa’s gdp. Nollywood makes more titles than any other country’s film industry bar Bollywood. Three of sub-Saharan Africa’s four fintech “unicorns” (startups valued at more than $1bn) are Nigerian.
Why, then, do most young Nigerians want to emigrate? One reason is that they are scared. Jihadists are carving out a caliphate in the north-east; gangs of kidnappers are terrorising the north-west; the fire of Biafran secessionism has been rekindled in the oil-rich south-east. The violence threatens not just Nigeria’s 200m people, but also the stability of the entire region that surrounds them.
Readers who do not follow Nigeria closely may ask: what’s new? Nigeria has been corrupt and turbulent for decades. What has changed of late, though, is that jihadism, organised crime and political violence have grown so intense and widespread that most of the country is sliding towards ungovernability. In the first nine months of 2021 almost 8,000 people were directly killed in various conflicts. Hundreds of thousands more have perished because of hunger and disease caused by fighting. More than 2m have fled their homes.
The jihadist threat in the north-east has metastasised. A few years ago, an area the size of Belgium was controlled by Boko Haram, a group of zealots notorious for enslaving young girls. Now, Boko Haram is being supplanted by an affiliate of Islamic State that is equally brutal but more competent, and so a bigger danger to Nigeria. In the south-east, demagogues are stirring up ethnic grievances and feeding the delusion that one group, the Igbos, can walk off with all the country’s oil, the source of about half of government revenues. President Muhammadu Buhari has hinted that Biafran separatism will be dealt with as ruthlessly now as it was half a century ago.
Meanwhile, across wide swathes of Nigeria, a collapse in security and state authority has allowed criminal gangs to run wild. In the first nine months of this year some 2,200 people were kidnapped for ransom, more than double the roughly 1,000 abducted in 2020. Perhaps a million children are missing school for fear that they will be snatched.
Two factors help explain Nigeria’s increasing instability: a sick economy and a bumbling government. Slow growth and two recessions have made Nigerians poorer, on average, each year since oil prices fell in 2015. Before covid-19, fully 40% of them were below Nigeria’s extremely low poverty line of about $1 a day. If Nigeria’s 36 states were stand-alone countries, more than one-third would be categorised by the World Bank as “low-income” (less than $1,045 a head). Poverty combined with stagnation tends to increase the risk of civil conflict.
Economic troubles are compounded by a government that is inept and heavy-handed. Mr Buhari, who was elected in 2015, turned an oil shock into a recession by propping up the naira and barring many imports in the hope this would spur domestic production. Instead he sent annual food inflation soaring above 20%. He has failed to curb corruption, which breeds resentment. Many Nigerians are furious that they see so little benefit from the country’s billions of petrodollars, much of which their rulers have squandered or stolen. Many politicians blame rival ethnic or religious groups, claiming they have taken more than their fair share. This wins votes, but makes Nigeria a tinderbox.
When violence erupts, the government does nothing or cracks heads almost indiscriminately. Nigeria’s army is mighty on paper. But many of its soldiers are “ghosts” who exist only on the payroll, and much of its equipment is stolen and sold to insurgents. The army is also stretched thin, having been deployed to all of Nigeria’s states. The police are understaffed, demoralised and poorly trained. Many supplement their low pay by robbing the public they have sworn to protect.
To stop the slide towards lawlessness, Nigeria’s government should make its own forces obey the law. Soldiers and police who murder or torture should be prosecuted. That no one has been held accountable for the slaughter of perhaps 15 peaceful demonstrators against police abuses in Lagos last year is a scandal. The secret police should stop ignoring court orders to release people who are being held illegally. This would not just be morally right, but also practical: young men who see or experience state brutality are more likely to join extremist groups.
Things don’t have to fall apart.
Second, Nigeria needs to beef up its police. Niger state, for instance, has just 4,000 officers to protect 24m people. Local cops would be better at stopping kidnappings and solving crimes than the current federal force, which is often sent charging from one trouble spot to another. Money could come from cutting wasteful spending by the armed forces on jet fighters, which are not much use for guarding schools. Britain and America, which help train Nigeria’s army, could also train detectives. Better policing could let the army withdraw from areas where it is pouring fuel on secessionist fires.
The biggest barrier to restoring security is not a lack of ideas, nor of resources. It is the complacency of Nigeria’s cosseted political elite—safe in their guarded compounds and the well-defended capital. Without urgent action, Nigeria may slip into a downward spiral from which it will struggle to emerge.
The presidency has however countered the report, describing it as “flawed and anti-Nigeria”. Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu insisted that no administration has tackled insecurity like the Buhari-led administration.
The presidency which also maintained that the arrest and present trial of IPOB’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu is the beginning of the group’s demise, also said that the present administration is redoubling efforts to have IPOB rightfully designated as a terrorist group by allies outside of Nigeria, an act it said will collapse their ability to transact gains from “crime and extortion” in foreign currencies.
The Economist is correct: Nigeria faces four key threats to the stability and prosperity of the nation – namely: ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorism in the North-East; kidnapping and crime in the North-West; herder-farmer disputes in the central belt; and the delusions of IPOB terrorists in the South-East.
The Economist is also accurate to state that they have come to a head under President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, (APC) administration. Yet they do so, because for so long, under previous administrations, whether military or democratic, tough decisions have been ducked, and challenges never fully met – with the effect of abetting these dangers and allowing them all to fester and grow. Today, all four threats are being fought concurrently and it is only this President’s administration which has finally had the will and determination to confront them.
The Buhari administration has sought to push back terrorism which has been a threat for more than two decades since the first emergence of Boko Haram. It is only the Buhari administration that has now sought to intervene against the kidnapping and banditry that has been a simmering threat for far longer. It is only this President’s government which has taken on IPOB, the violent terrorist group which bombs police stations and offices of security agencies, while also threatening those who break their Monday-sit-ins whilst claiming the mantle of forebears who half a century ago fought a civil war. And it is only the Buhari leadership which has sought – ever, in over one hundred years – to identify the root causes of the herder-farmer clashes and find durable solutions.
The forms may have altered, and the threats posed by each may have waxed and waned, but what has been constant is that administration after administration since independence – whether military or democratic – none sought to fully address these threats to Nigeria as President Buhari’s government does now.
Today, the military is engaged in almost all the states of Nigeria because the President has insisted upon addressing these decade-after-decade-long issues during his time in office.
In the North, Boko Haram members – many of whom now fight under the breakaway banner of Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) – have been pushed back. At the start of the President’s tenure, Boko Haram was launching attacks across the majority of the country – including in southern states and Lagos. Today they are cornered and confined along with their ISWAP compatriots in our country’s outermost fringes of the border, unable to spread further.
In the South-East, IPOB – which the Economist rightly describes as “delusional” – the arrest and present trial of the terrorist leader of the group is the beginning of its demise. The President’s administration is redoubling efforts to have IPOB rightfully designated as a terrorist group by our allies outside of Nigeria – an act which will collapse their ability to transact gains from crime and extortion in foreign currencies. It is important to remind the Economist and the global media that this group’s aggression and widespread presence on social media does not reflect their public support, for which they have none: all elected governors, all elected politicians and all elected state assemblies in the South-East – which IPOB claim to be part of their fantasy kingdom – reject them completely.
On farmers-herdsmen clash, the presidency said;
The only government of Nigeria which has ever sought a solution to the centuries-old herder-farmer disputes of the central belt is President Buhari’s administration. The Federal ranches programme, launched shortly after the President’s re-election is the first of its kind – and it is working: during the last 12 months clashes have significantly reduced. The government now calls on State governors to have the imagination to join forces with the Federal administration and expand this programme by making available state lands for those interested, now that its effectiveness has been demonstrated.
On banditry, the Presidency wrote;
The Economist opinionated and reported on banditry and kidnapping in the North-West. While this has been simmering for generations, it is the newest of the organized threats Nigeria faces to her stability. But this too the Economist inaccurately described: “bandits” who have the resources and technology to shoot down a military fighter jet are not bandits at all – but rather highly organised crime syndicates with huge resources and weaponry. Yet they are essentially no different to Boko Haram in this regard who are now cornered. It will take time, but the President is unwavering in his determination to collapse this challenge to public order.
The Economist is correct: Nigeria faces multiple threats. They confluence now not because of this government; but on the contrary, it is this government which is addressing them concurrently, and simultaneously – when no other prior administration sought to adequately address even a single one. That is the difference between what has gone before and what we have now. It is why the President and his party were re-elected with’ an increased majority in national elections two years ago.