Not given to inflammatory or arrogant declarations, it should count for something when General Abdulsalami Abubakar says Nigeria is at a cross-road. Looking at synonyms of the word such as boiling point, breaking point, clutch, conjuncture, crisis, crunch, crunch time, emergency, extremity, tinderbox, crossroad can be a discomforting word. This would naturally raise the question: how did the country move straight from hope in 2015 to a crossroad by 2020?
Many Nigerians today would answer the question by simply mentioning Buhari. Today, Buhari, like security itself, is a thick signifier. The exception is the domain of insecurity which a former Head of State as well as many senior citizens are using crossroad to describe. That makes a perfect paradox if there is anything like that. How did it happen that a president who campaigned on curbing insecurity is being basically decentered by insecurity?
Insecurity of the most perplexing dimensions has been the big story in Nigeria since 2016, starting from Benue State in February, moving to Southern Kaduna in December, then flashes in Taraba State, back to Kaduna as the Birnin Gwari dimension took its toll, then Zamfara, Katsina before it took a Southwest coloration. In one of his dash to the Villa, the Ooni of Ife said they could see strange faces in the forests. Individuals, groups and communities have suffered unspeakable encounters with hoodlums, terrorists, bandits and kidnappers all these years. And no one can be sure what happens to him or her next.
Naturally, people try to name what it is they think is happening. Some call it generalised insecurity, others call it the infiltration of renegade fighters from North Africa. Fulanisation is the preferred name for others just as state collapse is what yet many others call it.
Today, Amotekun – a regional self-help mechanism – is the site of the contending narratives. While some see it as a mere self-help in relation to the generalised insecurity, others think it is the military wing of the violent restructuring process. The contestation over Amotekun has seen contentions that are profound, grim, clownish, ill-informed, opinionated or fake, all rolled into one. It depends on who is speaking.
The overarching puzzle in the totality of the contestation over Amotekun is this question about how a presidential candidate who made security a key item for seeking power might end up a carcass of insecurity politics. Three key arguments may be worth considering.
The first is the claim that, armed with no more than ‘Values and Leadership in Sokoto Caliphate’ as his rule book, the president and the much talked about cabal are unable to look at Nigeria in all its contradictions. With a very narrow social base, the government denies itself the benefits of the socio-cultural intelligence upon which legitimation could have been based and, with it, the ability to deal with manifestations of insecurity. Popular with critics, most of whom do not go beyond just mentioning the cabal as if the cabal draws philosophical inspiration from nowhere, this position is held as the reason why recruitment into power is so skewed under Buhari. Without social base and worsened by the aftermath of the 2019 elections, so goes this argument, the regime has become simply cagey for its own good. This is the same as the theory of Fulanisation.
The second claim, popular with people in government is the notion that regime enemies have successfully manipulated unspoken regime self-help such as concentration of appointment in the security arena on one region. Even the president makes this argument, most times impliedly but sometimes directly in words such as ‘corruption fighting back’. The question is: why would the president not make peace with enemies he cannot or appears not to know how to defeat? Is he saying the citizens should continue to pay the price for his own inability to co-opt his enemies or defeat them? And why might anyone still be talking about concepts such victory or defeat which have become meaningless in a diffuse setting of today?
The third and last is the position that those who lost their ‘investment’ in the Buhari regime are out to undo the regime. This is similar to the second but different in terms of the specificity of those under reference. It is difficult to hear this very plainly from people in government but it is there in their language such as when they say that Buhari is set to make history. To make history is to do what no one has done before in the context of leadership and governance. The claim here is that it is those who are at risk in Buhari as history maker that are at work in framing the insecurity crisis, organizing foreign powers and blackmailing the government.
The main problem and the danger with this position and its proponents is the arbitrary notion of history making it subscribes to. While no one would argue against curbing corruption or ensuring that the state takes back what belongs to the state, the question is whether this process which can become historical leadership for any president in contemporary Nigeria can be accomplished outside elite consensus. Can a regime which is neither strong in terms of popular support nor in elite consensus make history the way this position is articulated without injuring national security?
Even if there is no Amotekun, the chaos in Nigeria today is mind boggling. The thin presence of the state is already frightening. It starts from the road where all manner of road users have created multiple traffic regimes right there before the seat of the government. How can you fight Boko Haram if you cannot order traffic in Abuja. The chaos on the road has a deeper meaning for the stateness of the state. The state has been reduced to just the Central Business District, even in Abuja. All entrances into and exits from Abuja except the Airport Road are clogged except at midnight. That’s a very frightening sociological indicator of state collapse. It is not clear if this sort of indicators signal anything beyond the eye for the government of the day. The theory is, how can a state deal with big things if it cannot manage small things? If you cannot manage traffic, then you cannot talk of running hospitals worth the name, manage education and the complexity involving remaking human beings. Not to talk of containing insecurity!
What a crossroad!