Security, economy, and corruption were the most outstanding issues in the 2015 and 2019 elections. Of the triune matters, security has already placed itself as the most contemporary issue of any credible campaign in 2022-23. Increased insurgency in the days ahead will make it more relevant and urgent. Unfortunately, Nigerians did not pay attention to what the presidential candidates were saying or glossed over it in the 2015 and 2019 elections. Candidates paid lip service to insecurity, and the rhetoric was jaundiced promises of “fighting insecurity from the frontline”, which meant nothing as a security strategy. The result is that in the past seven years, insecurity has continued to be the bane of Nigeria. The situation has become hopeless because it has defied all government actions to at least ameliorate it, not to talk of completely eradicating it.
We are at the same place again on the eve of a general election, and this time we expect candidates will provide comprehensive strategies for tackling insecurity to the electorate during the campaign to allow the people make an informed decision on whom to vote for based on their acceptance of a candidate’s security strategy that he will implement when elected. This will assuage the people’s concerns and give them hope for the future.
For many reasons, addressing our internal security challenges should be the thematic thrust of our presidential campaign. It is evident that 2023 campaign is about how severe internal insecurity is threatening the existence of the nation. Insecurity has ripple effects on our economy, starting from agriculture to manufacturing. Despite heavy investment by CBN in agriculture in the past seven years, agricultural productivity has been suboptimal, going by statistics. Besides, the massive destruction of lives and properties has created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. No severe and productive activity can flourish in such an environment. Foreign Direct investment has dropped or stagnated in the period under review as we continue to trail behind South Africa and Egypt despite being Africa’s biggest economy. Lack of investment in productive industries has widened the gulf in youth unemployment, which has aggravated social vices.
As part of the media’s role in the forthcoming election campaign in Nigeria, they must challenge the candidates to present their plans for dealing with insecurity to the electorate. It is a public service that the traditional and online media must critically evaluate these plans and strategies by the candidates and educate the public on them to enable the electorate know what each candidate has to offer in tackling insecurity. They must organise dialogues, fora, and debates focusing on security where the candidates would come forward with detailed, innovative, and practical ideas and solutions to the insecurity problems.
The media must provide a level playing field and open fora for disseminating campaign information on how each candidate will tackle insecurity without bias toward any of the candidates based on political affiliations, ideology, and patrimony. The media’s primary function is to educate the public and help shape public opinion. I suggest all media houses devote the necessary attention to covering presidential campaign issues on insecurity without discrimination. The issue of insecurity is central to the upcoming campaigns because you cannot have democracy without either free citizens or a secure sovereign national space.
The APC presidential candidate must go to work and develop novel and practical solutions to the issue of insecurity, as he faces the danger of being viewed from the prism of party platform . This is because it is under the watch of the ruling party that insurgency has risen to alarming heights in the recent times. Nigerians would rightly deserve to know what the candidate will do differently. . This cannot be time for business as usual. The electorate needs more from any APC government, and the presidential candidate must convince them to trust him to tackle insecurity. Although it may be a hard sell, I am convinced that a good and innovative security strategy, with the passion and conviction of the presidential candidate, will go a long way to get the buy-in of the electorate.
On the other hand, the PDP candidate needs a new narrative beyond the typical rhetoric on tackling security crises without any tangible and practical solution. PDP security strategy needs to be germane to the changing context of Nigeria’s deplorable security crises. This strategy may be a hard sell, too, because PDP has its fair share of failings in tackling insecurity at the initial stages, allowing it to get out of hand during its time in power.
The new political forces led by Peter Obi of Labour Party and , Rabiu Kwankwaso of NNPP and other candidates of other parties have their jobs cut out because these presidential candidates have the advantage of coming to Nigerian electorate with new thinking and of not carrying the baggage of failure in tackling insecurity unlike APC and PDP. Their security strategy, if fresh, deep and well articulated, may enjoy the acceptance of mostly youths who are ready to try new things and experiment with their future.
Some pertinent questions suffice: What essential elements of insecurity must presidential candidates articulate and expose to the electorate about tackling the problem in Nigeria under their presidency? What “ingredients” should the insecurity solution “soup” have? What contextual underpinnings must he consider when dealing with Nigeria’s insecurity? These simple questions provide the analytical framework for evaluating and assessing the level of integrity and potency of the security strategies of these candidates. The media and the electorate must critically analyse candidates’ strategies and plans to ascertain their efficacy, albeit on paper.
Statutorily, many of the internal security challenges prevalent in Nigeria fall within the responsibilities and purview of the Police. Persistent neglect of the Police and its misuse have combined to debauch its capacity to meet the people’s security demands. The increasing viciousness and veracity of violence across the country further call to question the capability of the Police to conduct its policing functions effectively.
There is no gainsaying that policing has virtually collapsed in Nigeria today. We presently deploy our military across 34 of the 36 states in the country, saddled with tasks that the Police should perform. That many Nigerians have lost confidence in the Police is an understatement and a significant challenge. For the presidential candidates, a complete reform and decentralisation of the Police must be the prime agenda in the security strategy, and this must be a focal issue in the campaign. Critical questions for candidates are: how do they intend to restore people’s confidence in the Police? How will they tackle the retraining, retooling, and general welfare of the Police? The pendent issue of state police deserves an intense conversation, and the people must draw commitment to its implementation.
Another critical issue is the porousness of our national borders, and this has exacerbated violence and criminalities because of the seamless access to sophisticated weapons across Nigeria’s borders and the unhindered movement of criminals into the country. Officially, Nigeria has about 84 approved land border control points but over 1,400 illegal border crossings. The stretch along the Northern boundaries with Benin Republic, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon are potential crossing points for illicit arms dealers, kidnappers, terrorists, and other criminals due to the dry Sahel vegetation and open Savannah terrain.
Security experts have continuously warned that unless we address the issue of border security, the success expected in the fight against banditry will remain a mirage. What will the presidential candidates do about our porous borders? The electorate must ask tough questions to candidates on the issue of legal and illegal border control.
The next issue is how to deal with ungoverned spaces and huge forests that provide a haven for bandits, terrorists, and criminals. Recent attacks in Kaduna airport, Kaduna – Abuja trains, and swaths of areas in Borno, Zamfara, Katsina and Nasarawa states were logistically possible because of insurgents and bandits in the Sambisa Forest in Borno State, Kuyambana and Ajja Forests in Zamfara, Birnin Kogo Forest in Katsina and Guma Forest in Nasarawa State. In Imo and Anambra states, secessionist agitators and the “unknown gunmen” have made the different forests in the States their hiding place.
Having a large mass of ungoverned areas in the hands of armed bandits is a precursor to becoming a failed state. Hence government, at all levels, must assert its authority and firm control over all forests and rural areas. How will the candidates manage this problem of ungoverned spaces to stop Nigeria from becoming a failed state under their watch?
The last issue is our military’s capacity and combat efficiency in terms of workforce and equipment to deal with kinetic and non-kinetic engagements. Given the asymmetrical nature of terrorism, banditry and insurgency, the Nigerian military needs all the support it can get, especially from a president. Compared with other armies in countries with similar terrorism and insurgency issues (like Pakistan and Egypt), our military personnel pales in number and defence spending as a percentage of GDP. Nigeria’s military personnel is about 190,000 whilst that of Pakistan is approximately 1,495,000, whilst our defence spending to GDP is 0.63%, that of Egypt is 1.2%. The presidential candidates’ strategy must explain to the electorate how they will deal with these anomalies.
The debate on the cyclical nature of insecurity and unemployment is raging. Some argue that insecurity has helped push Nigeria’s unemployment levels to about 40%, while others say that the high unemployment rate causes the youths to engage in all forms of criminality, insurgency, and terrorism. This chicken and egg conundrum of insecurity and unemployment is beyond the scope of this discourse ; however, we assume that the presidential candidates must articulate a way of reducing both social menaces crimpling our country. How they will do this should be the focal point of their campaign messages. Nigerians would like to hear from the presidential candidates their definitive position on issues of reform and decentralisation of policing, citizens’ involvement in security management, tackling terrorism, border security management, and youth unemployment. It is our duty as an electorate to demand these from the candidates. And cast our votes based on our conviction of who holds the best chance of making Nigeria great again.