The defence of the country and the protection of all who live in it is the primary mission public office in Nigeria. Across political parties, politicians are auditioning for the 2015 general elections with little regard to the mood of the country. They’re carrying on as if these are normal times for Nigeria.
The parties have priced access to political office beyond the means of all but the crooked or the compromised. The indication of desire to seek office has become the stuff of carnivals accompanied by gaudily dressed, raucous, boisterous, hired crowds, accompanied by expensive outside broadcasting units.
These times are anything but normal. The country is fighting a war in which thousands have disappeared; tens of thousands have been killed; millions have been displaced; and property worth hundreds of billions (if not trillions) destroyed. This war is also now costing significant chunks of Nigeria’s sovereign territory. Yet, few of our politicians of any persuasion seem to think these developments call for a change of tone or a more sober approach to their vocation.
While Nigerians are being killed, abducted and run out their places of habitation, our elected representatives in the National Assembly seek uncontested passage back to Parliament in 2015; if necessary, by means of a parliamentary work-to-rule. Governors are working hard to annoint successors and retire to the Senate. Several weeks after what was clearly an unfounded announcement of an imaginary “ceasefire”, the National Assembly has not seen fit to undertake any public investigation to find out how the country could be so profoundly mis-led on such an existential scale.
In a development that dramatizes the extent of our national embarrassment, the Chief of Defence Staff, who announced the phantom “ceasefire” is now himself internally displaced, his home since seized by extremist insurgents who seek dismemberment of our country and the destruction of coexistence in our communities.
There is no way to minimise the depth of this crisis. There is only one way to approach it: by being honest in owning our collective failures as both leaders and citizens. Our political leaders have been mostly unwilling and unable to take responsibility. They have also been irresponsible in politicizing in a partisan way a conflict that endangers the country. On the citizen side, we have allowed the politicians to get away with seeking to divide us along identity lines.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, therefore, we have to find a way to return safety and security to the top of the political agenda: to politicize it while taking partisanship out of it. We need a non-partisan manifesto on public safety and security that can be taken to the country. This manifesto must address five things:
- Restoring national cohesion: By placing institutional architecture for public safety and security under the direct charge of the President, who is hired and ultimately accountable to the Nigerian people, Nigeria’s Constitution underscores reality that is not always explicit: the essential foundations of any system for the protection of public safety and security are both psycho-social and political. In the former, we refer to the bonds of belonging on which communities are built, a sense of co-ownership that precludes those who share in it from harming that which is theirs. In the latter, we refer to the means by which the state earns the authority that it must dispense in keeping its people safe. In Nigeria, both are severely fractured and the progress of the insurgency proves this. Many of our politicians seem invested in deepening instead of healing these divisions. All persons seeking office in 2015 must be asked for and present a plan for reversing these divisions.
- Addressing impunity: If the crisis of national cohesion is a symptom of the things we must address, impunity is a principal cause of the crisis. It used to be thought that impunity was confined to “big” men and women. It is now democratized. Across the country, those endanger our security do so safe in the assurance that they’ll get away with it. The insurgents are exercising impunity and mocking us with it. To get out of our present predicament, Nigeria must restore the will and capability to enforce rules firmly. This must start with electing a leadership that must spell out how it will shore up the rule of law, enforce rules against its supporters and reinforce institutions established for that purpose.
- Rebuilding a capable Nigeria Police Force (NPF): Nigeria cannot overcome its present security crisis without restoring the capabilities of the NPF. In diagnosing the post-election violence in 2011, Sheik Ahmed Lemu identified the principal cause as “perceived political partisanship of the security agencies” and “the dwindling capacity of the security agencies, particularly, the Nigeria Police.” This trend unfolded over a long time dating back to and beyond the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida (under whom the capabilities of the police were dismantled in pursuit of regime security). Despite being the oldest and largest public institution, the NPF is the least funded of the security agencies with barely enough to fund its personnel costs. We need a plan for a reformed and capable NPF.
- Guaranteeing Nigeria’s territorial integrity: In this war, Nigeria is losing both people and territory. By the most conservative estimates, the insurgents have laid adverse claims to and possibly control over 21,000 square kilometers of the country in at least three States. This guarantees that many Nigerians will be unable to participate in the 2015 elections. We cannot go into a general election behaving as if the votes of any section of the country are expendable and not worthy of being counted. Thus all office seekers for 2015 must present a plan for winning back the territories we have lost and ensuring that there is no repeat.
- A plan to end the war, #BringBackourGirls and honour those we have lost: The costs and intensity of this war are rising. The defence budget has taken over 20% of our national budget in successive years. To free up resources for development, we must find a way to end this war honorably. There is no way to do so if we cannot return or account for all the women and girls abducted into almost certain sexual slavery by the extremists. Honoring them also means bringing to account those who enslaved them.
All elective offices in our system are time-bound to a tenure of not more than four years. The plans we need must, therefore, be credible with specific and measurable outcomes that can be attained within this period. We are part of the problem as long as we tolerate politicians who want us to believe that we’re in a clash of identities or between hemispheres, north and south. 2015 is about whether or not there will indeed be a Nigeria for anyone to rule. The contest will be defined by safety and security of the country and all who live in it. As citizens, we must find ways to ensure that politicians who don’t want to engage with these issues find other vocations.
Dr. Odinkalu is Chairman of the board of the Nigeria Human Rights Commission in Abuja