Self evidently…one unintended consequence of economic policies that increase the levels of poverty in the land is not the ethical pressures it places on people as they struggle simply to stay alive… In Nigeria, today, nowhere is this distortion of perception more nuanced than in the slow-motion morphing of our economic woes into a security one.


In search of evidence of how bad a shape our economy is in, look no further than the prevailing security conditions. This is beyond the increasingly geo-strategic threat posed by Islamic militancy in the North. In most parts of Lagos, it is no longer advisable to leave the home before sunrise. Tales of residents mugged, especially by bandits on motorcycles, with an off-putting love for mobile devices, have been on the rise. As have of car owners, trapped in the infernal traffic that have resulted from the network of poor roads. In this latter case, the bigger threat is from fleet-footed young men, with an uncanny appetite for breaking vehicle windscreens and side-glasses. In either case, the trauma, even for witnesses, is a major mental health worry.

For gated communities, most of whom long since took up much of the responsibility for their security, the new challenge has ranged from burglaries to armed robberies. Affected residents speak of two kinds of frustrations. Looking on from your first storey quarters on a neighbour at the receiving end of a robbery – including trying to count how many assailants there are – and not being able to do much. Or raising the alarm, only to find out that in the approach to the neighbourhood, the bandits had disabled the community’s security infrastructure – including binding and gagging the security men. Thus, the alarm is never always a call for help, as it is an invitation to the robbers to treat.

Either way, each observer of these violations is then reluctantly but ineluctably complicit in the rape of his neighbour. Post-attack, in those cases where the casualties are not fatal, neighbours tell of a trauma that does not permit description. In a number of cases, victims simply relocate from where they suffered the invasion – not so much in search of a more secure place, but away from the location of their most recent violation.

…the gatherings are regaled with recollections of incidents where having attacked communities and being repelled by the local firepower, the bandits did, indeed retreat, but only to come back in larger numbers, and better armed. As far as this latter viewpoint is concerned, an armed citizenry is but a poor excuse in the Nigerian circumstance for a rash of low-intensity conflicts.


At discussions at meetings of community development associations (CDAs), participants have been known to bemoan the federal government’s clamp-down on private gun ownership. Would a democratisation of the means of violence not be the solution to this breakdown of the security situation? Barely is this question posed than all Hell breaks loose, verbally. With mutually assured destruction guaranteed were they to attack a community with access to small arms, proponents of this perspective insist that our felons will be more circumspect in their approach.

“Circumspect, yes”, the other side argues, “but, not necessarily dissuaded”. And then the gatherings are regaled with recollections of incidents where having attacked communities and being repelled by the local firepower, the bandits did, indeed retreat, but only to come back in larger numbers, and better armed. As far as this latter viewpoint is concerned, an armed citizenry is but a poor excuse in the Nigerian circumstance for a rash of low-intensity conflicts.

In weighing in on this conversation, in my opinion, it has helped that the police have a say. And despite the headline reports of the excesses of the officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force, there is nothing more reassuring than having a conversation on security with a divisional police officer (DPO) who knows his onions. One such reminded a gathering I was in recently, that a couple of years back, banks’ rollout of the ATM cards and point-of-sale machines meant that many small traders no longer had to return home with wads of cash for the next day’s business. And so, there was a tail-off of burglaries in our face-me-I-face-you tenements. He (unfortunately, DPOs are still largely male) reminded the house that those were also times when the economy’s growth rate was close to, or slightly higher than the population growth rate.

…we do not confront a security problem in these robberies, burglaries, and street muggings. Unsure where their next meal is coming from, not enough of our compatriots at the lower end of the vanishing income pyramid may be able to bear the (social and economic) privations and forbear the temptation of a call to arms against their oppressors…


In other words, we do not confront a security problem in these robberies, burglaries, and street muggings. Unsure where their next meal is coming from, not enough of our compatriots at the lower end of the vanishing income pyramid may be able to bear the (social and economic) privations and forbear the temptation of a call to arms against their oppressors that a populist government has made popular. Indeed, underscoring the surreal nature of the crisis, one such police officer describes how for the most part the arms used in these violations of citizens and their properties are mock-up versions of the real thing.

Self evidently, then, one unintended consequence of economic policies that increase the levels of poverty in the land is not the ethical pressures it places on people as they struggle simply to stay alive. Much more worrisome is the resulting inability to tell the real from the make-believe. In Nigeria, today, nowhere is this distortion of perception more nuanced than in the slow-motion morphing of our economic woes into a security one.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.