Let’s Disband the State and Create Another One, By Jibrin Ibrahim
When those who run the state tell us to rely on God, we have a problem. When, in addition, the army commander says his troops are refusing to protect us, then we have an even greater problem. It is for this reason that I have always argued that our core problem is that we have not really reflected on the type of state we want and how to improve it.
The title of my column today draws from the idea offered by a great writer. In his most famous poem, “The Solution”, Bertolt Brecht, in referring to how Germany could move forward in the context of the people being a huge disappointment, rendered the following lines:
After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
I begin by making three preliminary points that struck me this week. The first one is that only God (not the State), can solve our problems. On Monday, at least thirty people were killed by suicide bombers in Konduga Local Government. Part of the reason the death toll was very high was the lack of immediate medical attention. First responders could not reach the spot of the incident as the military had closed the road to traffic and the hospital in Konduga did not have enough facilities to handle the situation. President Muhammadu Buhari commiserated with families of the victims, according to his special adviser on media and publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina. He said that the president sent a message of condolence to the government and people of the State over the suicide attacks, stating that: “judgment awaited perpetrators of evil acts, not only from man, through the long arms of the law, but also from God Almighty” (ThisDay, June 18). Adesina said President Buhari also urged security agents to sustain surveillance in all flash points in the country, bearing in mind the unconventional methods deployed by terrorists to harm innocent and unsuspecting victims. Yes, we know that God will deal with our killers but before then, the “long arm of the law” seems to be completely impotent.
When the culture of self-help moves from the mundane – providing water and electricity for our households – to the highest level of protecting ourselves from armed criminals and terrorists, then we cannot say that we have a state. That thing that we have, whatever it is, let’s disband it and create a good one that can provide for our security and welfare.
My second observation this week is that while the president is relying on God to resolve security issues, the boss of our army is telling us that he cannot rely on his troops. This week, the chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, again lampooned Nigerian soldiers for allegedly failing to curb Boko Haram and other security challenges that have dogged the country for so many years. He directly accused his troops of displaying a poor commitment to defending the country in almost every task they had been assigned, a situation he described as “unfortunate” and responsible for sparse promotions in the military rank-and-file. He castigated them for insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks. The alleged laziness of soldiers could also be traced to “simply insufficient commitment to a common national/military course by those at the frontlines,” General Buratai was quoted as saying.
It is indeed true that in recent months, so many officers and men of our armed forces have been killed by Boko Haram terrorists, sundry bandits and kidnappers. The Islamic State combatants in Borno, in particular, have been attacking military formations in the State, killing soldiers and taking their arms. It would be recalled that in August last year, the same General Buratai had blamed soldiers on the frontlines for the Boko Haram scourge. He accused military commanders and soldiers of cowardice, according to a report by PREMIUM TIMES. The army chief said soldiers were abandoning their positions in the face of Boko Haram firepower, an act he said should ordinarily demand court-martial of suspected personnel.
My third observation from the news this week is that if you are really important, the security agencies can do something. Just two days ago, the police announced that they had arrested the kidnappers of Mahmoud Abubakar, chairman of the Universal Basic Education Council (UBEC) who was abducted alongside his daughter on April 29, 2019, on Kaduna-Abuja expressway, while his driver was shot dead. We recall that immediately after the kidnapping, a ransom of N60 million was paid and they were released. Two months after the kidnap, the intelligence response team of the inspector-general of police said it had arrested one Abubakar Ahmadu, who led a five-man gang for the operation. We are all very happy for the release of Mahmoud Abubakar and his daughter and for the dogged determination of the “long arm of the law” to seek out and deal with the criminals. If only this diligence could be applied to all Nigerian citizens, poor and rich, nonentities and important people – wouldn’t Nigeria be a great country?
The reality in Nigeria today is that we are already in an arms race and all segments of the community are arming themselves in our regime of self-help and self-protection. The problem is that as more people purchase arms to defend themselves or commit atrocities against the other, the real coming crisis is a Hobbesan scenario of all of our lives being: “nasty, brutish and short”.
These observations lead me to my concern this week, which is about two trends. The first very bad trend is that criminals are beginning to avoid brutalising the high and mighty. Consistently, when very important people have been killed, kidnapped or brutalised, the security agencies have devoted themselves to thorough, painstaking and efficient efforts to trace these criminals. When Major General I. M. Alkali disappeared near Jos, Nigeria witnessed one of the most thorough intelligence-led investigations, leading to the discovery of his car, then corpse and finally to the criminals who carried out the atrocity in Du, Plateau State. I did not know that we had such skills and was very impressed and proud that we could do this. Now to my concern. Why do we act in this manner only for those some consider important? Why not for all citizens? Even more important is the stories we are now hearing that criminals who are not stupid are now focused mainly on ordinary people. Concordant reports from our villages are filtering through that maybe as many as tens of thousands of ordinary people are being kidnapped daily with the limited objective of getting small ransoms of as low as N50,000. Such “petty” kidnappings never get reported in the media and relations simply tax themselves, pay the ransom and wait for the next kidnapping. If the only safe Nigerians will be the rich and powerful, you can be sure that neither they nor the country can survive.
The second trend that concerns me is that the ordinary people too are not stupid. If they know that they are not safe in their homes and villages, they too will procure arms to protect themselves. The reality in Nigeria today is that we are already in an arms race and all segments of the community are arming themselves in our regime of self-help and self-protection. The problem is that as more people purchase arms to defend themselves or commit atrocities against the other, the real coming crisis is a Hobbesan scenario of all of our lives being: “nasty, brutish and short”. There will be no winners in this war. It is precisely because of this fear that we have the armed forces and the police. If our new reality, however, is that they are not ready to face the bad guys; and indeed, some of them are part of the bad guys, the future could be, or maybe is already very bleak for us ordinary citizens.
We live in a constitutional regime where our Grand Norm says that the state will guarantee the security and welfare of all Nigerians. When those who run the state tell us to rely on God, we have a problem. When, in addition, the army commander says his troops are refusing to protect us, then we have an even greater problem. It is for this reason that I have always argued that our core problem is that we have not really reflected on the type of state we want and how to improve it. When the culture of self-help moves from the mundane – providing water and electricity for our households – to the highest level of protecting ourselves from armed criminals and terrorists, then we cannot say that we have a state. That thing that we have, whatever it is, let’s disband it and create a good one that can provide for our security and welfare.