What is the greatest threat to Nigeria’s internal security today? A few of the usual suspects quickly spring to mind. The insurgency in the Northeast, rash of bandit attacks across the Northwest, farmer-herder conflicts, separatism in the Southeast and kidnapping as enterprise across the country.
But there is something missing in this list that suggests security agencies have different parameters for grading which is more dangerous.
Under military rule, expression of critical views or any display of independent thought was often viewed as near treasonable. Perhaps, because where such views captured the mood of the people they sometimes provided justification for a fresh set of coup plotters to move against the sitting junta.
That was why militant unionists, student leaders, university lecturers and journalists were always in and out of detention not because they were armed, but because the ideas they projected were considered just as dangerous.
Despite the fact that the country under civil rule has largely relaxed and permitted greater liberties, sections of the security agencies don’t look like they are about to “calm down” any time soon.
We have seen this recently in the travails of former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Deputy Governor, Obadiah Mailafia, who made the explosive claim that an unnamed governor of a northern state was a major sponsor of Boko Haram.
As far as sensational allegations against public officials go, it ranks up there with claim made in the 80s by the late social critic, Tai Solarin, that $2.8billion oil money had been pinched from government coffers. When the old man was pressed to reveal his source he said he picked up the tale in a bus.
Mailafia, for his part, has said he received his information from some equally unnamed traders. Intelligence can be gleaned from the most unlikely of sources – drivers, cleaners, housemaids, street urchins etc. However, this rather vague attribution of such a grave allegation to sources whose credibility cannot be vouched for was quite underwhelming.
For making his, as yet unproven claim, the ex-CBN chief has visited Department of State Services (DSS) offices a couple of times to clarify what he said.
Not satisfied with the job the DSS had done, the Nigeria Police has jumped in on the act with a summons for the man to appear before them. Although, they didn’t expressly state why they wanted to interview him, it was evident it had to do with the Boko Haram statement. It is a point his lawyer has made to justify his spurning the invitation.
A couple of weeks ago, a bunch of activists rallying under the so-called ‘Revolution Now’ banner made the grand announcement of ‘massive’ protests across the country. Anyone familiar with their antecedents would know that their bark is worse than their bite. But not so the police and other agencies.
They reacted as if another civil war was upon us. In the end a handful of protesters showed up at one or two spots in Lagos and Abuja – chanting slogans – just words – no Molotov cocktails in sight.
They were largely ignored by the milling citizenry who just walked by, more concerned with getting meals on their family table for the day.
But overzealous police chased them down with guns and teargas. In Abuja, some who were apprehended were made to lie face down in the grass. The episode produced images that were less than flattering for the authorities.
I am yet to understand how a few rabblerousing protesters constitute a threat to the might of the Nigerian state.
There’s a point to be made that certain utterances can inflame passions in a country that is forever seething with ethnic, religious and social tensions. But what is a democracy if people cannot hold contrary views – no matter how radical, or protest down the street however sensational their cause may be?
A protest is feedback of sorts. It shouldn’t always be viewed as adversarial activity.
In any event, these protests are nowhere near what the world has seen with the Black Lives Matter movement to be considered a threat to national security!
While security agencies are busy chasing after gadflies and attention-seekers, there is a greater security threat staring us in the face. It is one that unless creatively and urgently addressed cannot the contained using DSS or police guns, neither would there be enough prison space to house the offenders produced by the crisis.
The threat is economic. Lately, it’s been a rain of bad news. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) just reported that due to the crash in oil prices and the COVID-19 crisis, the economy would contract by 6.2% in the second quarter – the worst such performance in a decade.
According to the agency, unemployment rate has climbed to 27.1% – up from 23.1% in the third quarter of 2018.
Put differently, 27 million people out a national workforce of 80 million are unemployed. Among young people aged between 25 and 34, the rate is even higher at 30.7%. Is it any wonder that the devil is finding work for so many in this most active segment of the population?
It doesn’t get any better with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s Economic Sustainability Committee estimating that due to lockdown and social distancing measures put in place to stem the pandemic, more than 40 million Nigerians could lose their jobs by the end of 2020. More are expected to slide into extreme poverty unless pre-emptive measures are put in place.
With many sections of the economy yet to reopen, the gloomy picture isn’t about to change any time soon. Even areas that have returned to life are not seeing the same level of activity as pre-lockdown. The result has been the sort of retrenchment by some airlines of highly trained professionals like pilots. It’s the same story playing out in most sectors.
It doesn’t take clairvoyance to understand that with the unprecedented loss of livelihood by millions, the desperate may become a recruiting pool for all sorts of unsavoury activity – everything from illegal cyber activities to violent crime.
That is the greatest threat to internal security facing the country today and not some opinionated individual waving an anti-government placard at the bus-stop.