shiite-protest

The Nigerian Defence and Intelligence establishment has recently declared the IMN a security threat to the country. I believe that we need to be careful not to push this group towards an insurgency. Already, the group has a strong sense of victimhood after the army killed hundreds of their members. The transition from victimhood to insurgency through martyrdom can be a swift one.


Two weeks ago, I participated in a Ministry of Defence Retreat on civil-military relations. It took place at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru. In his keynote address, the minister of defence, Mansur Dan-Ali commended his troops for turning the tide and moving to the winning side of the series of violent conflicts affecting the nation. He announced that in the North-East alone, over 12,000 people abducted by insurgents have been liberated and set free. Nigerians, he said, are increasingly beginning to appreciate the role played by the armed forces in providing for their security. He stressed the importance of cordial civil-military relations within the context of the constitutional supremacy of elected civilian leadership in consolidating our democracy.

Cordial civil-military relations is indeed the base on which the modern state is constructed. Military might is conceived as a tool for protecting members of the society from external aggression. In this context, the military are seen and appreciated as protectors of citizens and the community. This democratic conception is a radical departure from the previous approach where power was conceived as being an instrument for the gratification of the ruler. Indeed, for much of human history, rulers and the law were synonymous. The law of the land was what the rulers wanted and the exercise of power was rooted in arbitrariness. No wander, the French King, Louis 14th could pronounce the state in whose name laws are made as synonymous with him, “l’Etat c’est moi” – he was the state.

The modern state is able to promote cordial civil-military relations on the basis of the exercise of the rule of law. It was J.J. Rousseau who first made the point that the new human being is a citizen and citizens don’t like obeying human beings; they prefer obeying laws. The rule of law, therefore, developed in the context of the transition from authoritarianism to a democratic culture. The point is that although force is a central element in political systems, it cannot sustain a polity on its own. Rousseau reminds us that even the strongest is never strong enough to remain the master unless he is capable of transforming force into law and obedience into duty. It is important to recall that in Nigerian history, the colonial security apparatus was established to control and extort the people and not to protect them. Not surprisingly, the security culture that developed was one of coercion and general lack of civility towards the civilian population. The result has been corruption within the services and an attitude of serving the power elite, rather than the people. Following independence, the democratic regime lasted only six years before the military took over. This meant that democratic culture did not have enough time to impregnate the security forces. The Second Republic was short lived and the Third Republic was stillborn. The Fourth Republic, which has lasted over eighteen years so far, has been our opportunity. Unfortunately, the fact that the first president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was from the military tradition and tried to force through a third term in office meant that things have been slow to change. Since then, we have had a succession of presidents.

…the purpose of state security is not to protect the people who occupy positions of state power but to protect the ordinary people. Our reality is that ordinary people have suffered from various forms of insecurity, such as the Boko Haram insurgency, rural banditry, militancy in the Niger Delta and so on.


The Nigerian citizen has long endured a culture of intimidation by the country’s security forces. Law enforcement agents have, since colonial times, developed a culture of reckless disregard for the rights of the people. The legal framework has not helped matters, given our colonial heritage of laws against vagrancy, illegal assembly, wandering, and illegal procession. The state is constructed as an edifice against citizens who are assumed to have a natural tendency to break laws and must therefore be controlled, patrolled and constantly surveyed. Not surprisingly, citizens learn to fear and avoid law enforcement agents. The ordinary Nigerian sees security agents as potential violators, rather than providers, of security. The reality of state security for ordinary people then becomes the perception of insecurity.

It is universally acknowledged that security is a good thing; it is a value that all societies seek to provide. It is the function that guarantees that people and states are free from violence at the local, national and international levels. Security is conceived in modern states as providing the framework that guarantees that ordinary people are free from external aggression by enemies of the community and internal subversion that can ruin their lives. This means that the purpose of state security is not to protect the people who occupy positions of state power but to protect the ordinary people. Our reality is that ordinary people have suffered from various forms of insecurity, such as the Boko Haram insurgency, rural banditry, militancy in the Niger Delta and so on.

Two conflicts are today developing very fast as new centres of insecurity. One is the conflict around pastoralism and rural banditry. The other which has a huge potential of expanding is between the State and the Shiite religious movement, known as the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN). The Kaduna State Government in its Whitepaper on the Commission of Inquiry report on the 2015 clash declared the IMN as an “insurgent group” and an “unlawful organisation”, and thereby proscribed its activities. Although the government made it clear that it was proscribing IMN and not Shiism as a religious practice, it’s difficult to see how the “secular” activities of this Shiite organisation can be separated from Shiism.

It is important to emphasise that the clash of December 12 to 14, 2015 was an incident of monumental gravity involving very weighty human rights matters and the all-important and critical issue of national security, peace and stability. The IMN has been a victim of extra-judicial killings. Six out of the seven children of their leader have been killed by the Nigerian military. The group leader has been incarcerated since December 2015 and in spite of court orders to release him, government has refused to honour these. Currently, the IMN members have been demonstrating for the release of their leaders and the police have been harassing them. These frustrations might push the group into an insurgency mode that can only do more harm to Nigeria.

…the military have not been traditionally trained to engage in this arena and their rules of engagement might not be suitable for this newer role thrust upon them. It is important in this context to publish, debate and revise the rules of engagement of the Nigerian military to ensure that they are in conformity with human rights principles.


The Nigerian Defence and Intelligence establishment has recently declared the IMN a security threat to the country. I believe that we need to be careful not to push this group towards an insurgency. Already, the group has a strong sense of victimhood after the army killed hundreds of their members. The transition from victimhood to insurgency through martyrdom can be a swift one. It is important to underline the fact that there have been very disturbing allegations that some of the features of violent conflicts include human rights abuses and other horrendous crimes perpetrated by members of security agencies. There have been in the theatres of conflict, too many incidents of law enforcement extremism by security officials. Alienating the civil populace is the wrong direction to go if we want to end violent conflicts.

Given the huge security challenges facing the country, it is important that Nigeria as a nation devises effective strategies that will stem insurgencies and create conditions for the protection of human rights and the deepening of democracy. The armed forces have a significant role to play in this regard. The first element is to engage the process of defining the legal framework within which counter-insurgency operations are going on in the country. Nigerians are particularly concerned about the rules of engagement for military operations within the civilian population. There are military operations in 32 states of the country. This means that the normal process of the police being in charge of internal security issues no longer operates. At the same time, the military have not been traditionally trained to engage in this arena and their rules of engagement might not be suitable for this newer role thrust upon them. It is important in this context to publish, debate and revise the rules of engagement of the Nigerian military to ensure that they are in conformity with human rights principles.

To improve the efficacy of security operations, it will be useful to properly demarcate and streamline the areas of engagement and authority of the various law enforcement and security agencies to eliminate or, at least, reduce incidences of inter-agency rivalry and conflict. Improving the levels of professionalism in the security agencies, including their indoctrination on the fundamentals of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Law would also be helpful. The willingness of security agencies to work with civil society to address the problem of keeping to international human rights best practices in this regard would be an asset.

foraminifera

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of PREMIUM TIMES.