USAfrica: Why Buhari cannot outsource Nigeria’s internal security operations. By Dr. Chidi Amuta, Executive Editor of USAfrica magazine and USAfricaonline.com — since 1993
Frustration and anxiety have driven major opinion leaders to a dead end of options on our worsening insecurity. President Buhari is being asked to literally outsource Nigeria’s internal security operations to some foreign power. Wole Soyinka, ever the incurable patriot, has pointedly suggested that the worsening security situation leaves Buhari no better option than to seek external military help. Similarly, on the floor of the Senate on April 27th, Senator Smart Adeyemi, an APC member, passionately pleaded with the president to waive sovereign pretensions and seek security assistance from whoever in the world can and is ready to render it. Predictably, even on a matter as existential and dire as this, the Nigerian Senate could not generate an informed debate let alone find a bipartisan common ground.
There is a possibility that the president may have come to grips with the helplessness of the situation. Almost in tandem with the outcries on the floor of the Senate, the president found occasion to sound swayed by the external assistance option. In his virtual exchange with Anthony Blinken, US secretary of State last Tuesday, he directly appealed for US assistance in dealing with Nigeria’s worsening security situation. Mr. Blinken generously acknowledged the spectacular nature and scope of Nigeria’s security situation. Buhari subtly alerted the Secretary that Nigeria’s unraveling could unsettle the international community with adverse consequences. As an aside, Buhari made the inconsequential suggestion that the operational base of the US’s African military command (AFRICOM) be moved from Germany to somewhere in Africa.
To the president and the respectable citizens in this new gospel of foreign assistance, however, I have a bit of bad news. There will be no substantial external help for Nigeria on this particular issue of internal security either now or in future. No other nation will devote its resources or risk the lives of its citizens to dig Nigeria out of a hole it dug itself into. Even if there was any such nation anywhere, what will be their interest? What will their leader tell his parliament or domestic audience? What does Nigeria have to offer anyone in return for sending a contingent of special forces to go after bandits, Boko Haram or ESN activists in the tropical forests of Nigeria?
Oil and fossil fuels are no longer hot strategic assets let alone ones that can be offered as a collateral for foreign military assistance. As matters stand today, the only strategic asset left for Nigeria is its diaspora population which remits $30 billion home annually. This population is mostly concentrated in the United States and parts of Asia. But as a guarantee of foreign sovereign interest and guarantee, no one will come to fight your domestic wars because of private individuals who are making their living abroad. A diaspora population only becomes a strategic asset when those citizens are embedded in the power structures and political influence network of the countries where they are located(Jews in America). Moreover, Nigeria’s previous strategic importance as a bulwark of security in the Gulf of Guinea has been pulverized by the decline of oil and decades of uncontrolled piracy and terrorism along our maritime window.
Predictably, when foreign security assistance is mentioned in Nigeria, the tentacles go out mostly towards the United States, Britain or France. I doubt that anyone in this new thinking considers China. After the end of the Mao communist revolutionary era in the 1970s, the Chinese have refashioned their foreign policy to steer clear of meddling in the internal affairs of countries where they do business. As a philosophical pillar, the Chinese do not spill the blood of their citizens on foreign soil or in the service of other peoples’ troubles. They are content with selling you iron, steel, dodgy spare parts and dubious loans to fund projects which they design, build, control and virtually own until you pay up. Chinese forces are preoccupied with defending homeland China, controlling Hong Kong, frightening Taiwan and shooting at Indian border guards.
France is too involved with our small African neighbours who are its traditional sphere of influence. It has defined its security interest in Africa to be mostly the Sahel, an expansive sandy terrain that spans from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Cameroun. Nigeria is important in this strategic focus on account of sharing contingent territory with countries where France has vital security, economic and residual historical interests. Any French security assistance to Nigeria in the process of securing the Sahel would be a collateral benefit of our location.
The United Kingdom hardly gets involved with the internal security of its former colonies except for humanitarian purposes. It could enter into bilateral defence treaties and arrangements as it tried to do with the attempted Defence Pact with Nigeria soon after independence which was quickly shot down by Nigerian student power. Under Tony Blair, the UK committed forces to the resolution of the Sierra Leone civil war mostly in concert with ECOWAS and UN partners. It was a quick surgical intervention which ended the war and morphed into a humanitarian mission towards restoration of normalcy after the war.
In any event, given Britain’s known historical culpability in the imbalances that define and haunt the Nigerian state, I doubt that any British Prime Minister will risk going to Commons with a motion to send British troops to the streets of Maiduguri, Owerri or Lagos to chase after hoodlums, bandits, cultists and jihadist terrorists. The best we can expect from the UK is technical assistance by way of police and military training by a handful of experts. A similar programme was initiated under the Jonathan administration at the onset of Boko Haram and the height of the Chibok Girls uproar. No one knows what became of the technical assistance and training arrangement.
That leaves us with the United States which is an even more remote possibility. No US President today can go to Congress to seek authorization to commit US personnel and resources to assist Nigeria clean up its internal security mess. The most that can happen is for the State Department and the Department of Defence to provide technical support to Nigeria as part of existing global counter terrorism commitments. Such assistance will be mostly in the form of special forces training, intelligence sharing and electronic surveillance support. Again, something along those lines was initiated under the Jonathan administration but I understand most of it was discontinued as a result of failures and avoidable leaks from the Nigerian end.
Besides such technical assistance, America can only sell us military hardware and equipment as it is already doing with many platforms especially the soon to be delivered Tucano mid intensity combat aircraft. The Obama administration was reluctant to allow sales of critical military equipment and supplies to Nigeria on account of the dismal human rights record of our military. The more transactional Donald Trump lifted the ban in order to collect the dollars. Buhari paid up for the Tucano almost as a gate pass for a White House audience with a barely impressed Trump.
The limitation to American assistance possibility is both historical and technical. America’s strength in security issues is really not internal security. The FBI can be brutally efficient in forensic investigations. But the madness of gun violence on the streets of America does not recommend America’s policing culture to any sane society. Maybe US special forces capability and vast experience in dealing with Middle East Islamic extremist terrorists can help us in engaging with Boko Haram and some classes of bandits. But that capability is hardly on offer to foreign countries except where such assistance will enhance the safety of the American population at home (Mexico, South and Central American states).
It is mostly in the area of national defense and strategic technology intensive military security that America thrives and maintains a global edge. Iron Dome Missile Defense systems, Apache helicopters, F-16s, assorted precision drones etc. However, only America’s traditional allies and strategic friends can readily hope to get assistance in these areas. Such alliances and friendships are mostly historical, rooted in America’s long standing strategic and economic interests. Thus, North Korea, Israel, Japan, Egypt, a bit of Kenya and Djibouti can count on the US for military assistance either under existing bilateral treaties or under special relationship arrangements. Outside these known allies and ‘friends’, America’s involvements in other places have either been part of collaborative short term international effort or in pursuit of its own national interests as in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. All three ended as disasters because America is poor at nation building and unconventional warfare.
Specifically, recent American history has demonstrated the futility of the US getting involved in nation building and internal security missions abroad. Iraq and Afghanistan have proven to be sad and costly lessons. While 9/11 necessitated both exploits, the subsequent political and military complications exposed America’s weaknesses in matters of internal security and insurgency management. The Iraq invasion helped bring Al Queda and ISIS to Iraq. After twenty years of active involvement with an initial troop level of 120,000 US personnel in Afghanistan and a cost of $850 billion dollars in total, America is withdrawing in quick stampede. But the suicide bombs and IEDs are still going off. Assassinations and abductions are still rampant even in heavily protected Kabul. US personnel and their Afghan trainees hardly stray out the protected corridors around Kabul into the provinces where the Taliban and other militant factions hold sway.
As the US withdraws, Afghanistan will revert to a state in which Taliban Mullah’s will violently jostle with other factions for supremacy and control of an insecure nation. It will still be up to the local political elite factions to solve their political and security problems after two decades of reliance on US and coalition forces.
The Nigerian picture is different and somewhat complicated. President Buhari has not quite decided whether Nigeria is at war or at peace. For practical purposes, we are supposed to be at peace. Yet our the daily level of exposure of our citizens to danger and the daily casualty rate befits an open war. We are at war with ourselves, a situation that requires a slew of homegrown solutions because the nature and manifestations of our insecurity is a diverse and a home made concoction. We have violent religious extremism and terror. We have poverty induced organized criminal activity. We have transactional banditry in quest of massive ransoms. We have urban cultism fed by unemployment and residual superstition. We have politician –induced armed gangsterism. We have separatist insurgency. We also have resource agitation militancy. This combination will unsettle even the best trained foreign helper.
The causes of these forms of insecurity lie deep in the heart of Nigeria’s many political and economic troubles. We cannot outsource the causes of our insecurity. We cannot outsource the bad management of resources that has created a poverty republic of over 100 million people. We cannot outsource the disorder in our security apparatus and establishment that guzzles money and produces no result. Which foreign country wants to deal with a political leadership that is so incoherent and disconcerted. So, the futility of the outsourcing option throws the problem right back to our current leadership.
Yet the current state of thinking on our security challenge is a quantum of discord and a basket of incoherence backed by a near absence of strategic direction and political will.
The Yellow Pages of official pronouncements on government efforts to contain our insecurity reads somewhere between Comedy Central and Tom and Jerry. Hear a sample of what we are hearing: Defense and security experts are at work. They are designing a new ‘security architecture’ for the country.,, God is using the present insecurity to prepare Nigeria for future greatness. (VP Osinbanjo). Some shiny new Tucano combat aircraft ordered from the United States will arrive shortly and once they do, insecurity will be a thing of the past(Garba Shehu}. We have appointed new Service Chiefs who know the problem and the solutions. Let us watch them do their best. (President Buhari). We have the silver bullets to flush out Boko Haram and end the irritant insurgencies(Chief of Army Staff). We have a new Inspector General of Police. He was carefully selected by a committee that found him the best. He has been around and will soon deal with lawless people(President Buhari). The violence and insecurity is the work of desperate politicians; they will soon be exposed.(Imo State Governor, Uzodinma). Bandits mean well for the nation. Once we can negotiate with them and give them amnesty, our troubles will be over (Sheikh Gumi).
We can only initiate lasting solutions if we understand why the insecurity has become an epidemic. The capacity of the state to maintain security would ordinarily depend on a clear superiority of armed capability over all contestants of power and sovereignty. But the state’s armed superiority has evaporated in favour of non state actors. The state cannot afford an arms race with criminals and non- state actors. It can only prevail by overwhelming all rival forces.
The social and economic origins of criminality, banditry and insurgency are known. Nigerians, mostly the youth, have in the last ten years gotten poorer at a phenomenal rate that far outstrips the growth rate of the economy. Criminals and outlaws have found work in armed criminal exploits. Arms are easier to procure than farming and artisanal tools. We need a new economic map that will replace illicit income with opportunities for honest work and enterprise.
Formal democracy has been overrun by crude mercantilism. Political thugs have become invaluable instruments for the acquisition of state power which in turn is a gate pass into unimaginable wealth and affluence. The better thugs are the better armed ones. In the process, the dividing line between political thug and mindless criminal has disappeared. Outside the election season, political thugs morph into bandits, militants, insurgents and free agents of anarchy. Politicians have now to regulate their own trade if they expect the rest of society to abide by other regulations.
Non- state actors have discovered the use of ungoverned spaces. Conventional security operatives cannot operate in forests, bushes and swamps. Our forests and bushes have become the camps and bases of all manner of insurgents and bandits. Attacks are launched on the governed spaces and institutions of state from the ungoverned spaces. The effective instant solution would be to reverse the picture. Our security forces should quickly retake all ungoverned spaces and thus expose all their illegitimate occupants.
We live in the age of technology and electronic surveillance. Our security forces must embrace the new technologies of electronic surveillance, drones, night vision surveillance, satellite eavesdropping and real time motion detection over wide and remote spaces. Forget about squad of semi literate foot soldiers in pick up trucks. That hour has passed.
Ultimately, our current insecurity nightmare is a challenge of leadership and political authority. As our Commander in Chief, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, can no longer continue to be missing in action. This is the hour to step forward resolutely to lead a nation in desperate need of strong leadership. It is time to send out a clear message.
Let the agents of insecurity know that somebody is in charge in this place.