But for a scholar, it must be the equivalent of a suicide bid talking security at a time of insecurity nightmares in which even children are not spared, not to talk of women. Perhaps, it is the driving force of the wisdom handed down decades gone by demanding of the scholar to follow the conclusions of his research, even if it leads to the grave. How fitting this wisdom is remains an open question, particularly in a country where security is seen as something good, something only a mad person would not take seriously when it is, however, always a question of power, of who is securing who and from what.
The task in this review is to see what concept and implied practices of security Prof Usman Tar, an emergent voice in security studies in Nigeria, brings to the table in his massive treatise at the 11th Professorial Inaugural Lecture at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna last December. This is important especially for those who reckon with theories as what produce the realities we deal with since the world itself has no names for anything until human beings do so. More specifically, as a defence intellectual, Prof Tar talks directly to those who operationalise security practices of the most important order – the Nigerian armed forces.
There is something exciting as well as something uninviting in reviewing Prof Tar’s presentation. Let us start with what is exciting. It is in the conceptual currency that even a careless reader cannot but notice in the text in contrast to many recent works around security in the country. Very few works in security studies mentions virtuality in warfare just as even fewer makes use of surveillance theory in that realm, just to mention two. There is also the holism that ties together the pieces in the text, notwithstanding the structural tension that prevailed.
These are interesting features to see in a text by a key resource person in the Defence Academy which still has the image of a university burdened by the commandist orientation of the (Nigerian) military. This is hope inspiring because National defence and security starts with the theoretical and methodological clarity of products of the Nigerian Defence Academy as that is the even more difficult stage of the business of war.
Now, the uninviting part of the same text: unleashing a 91 page pdf stuff on a nation of headline readers. It could earn the Prof a charge of an act of terrorism in itself in the age of visuals and images, compounded by hunger in the land. It could only have happened because professors are beyond being edited, except the few ones who have powerful intellectual ADCs who can touch/re-touch professorial scripts without fear of reprisal. That is why most smart professors have such ADCs except if the wife or first daughter, (most sons are usually too restless to do this) assumes this role.
Jokes aside, one argument that can be made against the massiveness of the text is the main contention getting lost. This is the case here because, at some point, the main communication tended to get lost in the process of situating the discussion in its global context. It is compounded by the delayed and rather feeble declaration of the key contention. That is if we take the statement on page three where he declared as his main task “the problematic of combating insurgency and violent extremism in the 21st Century and the desire for a paradigm shift in the specific context of Nigeria” as such statement. Probably too vague for a major and interesting intervention as to be swallowed by the more robust engagement with some of the elements of the global context such as “the clash of civilisations’ image of international security that Samuel Huntington was selling to the world in the early 1990s and on which Tar passed an engaging comment by saying that, “By extension, clash of civilisation has placed a firewall between peoples of different cultural, religious and political enclaves”.
On page 51 where he starts pushing out his main thesis, it was not a paradigm shift he argued but a checklist of what may be necessary to overcome the terrorism threat he was dealing with. It is a useful checklist quite alright but which would find a different use in the hands of a Realist hook-up from that of a constructivist or critical theorist. Why did Prof Tar shy away from articulating a paradigm, even if by linking the checklist to the theoretical framework he declared earlier on? Could that have to do with the environment of work? It should not be since such a paradigm is about Nigeria’s greatest need today, a process in which the military constitutes a vital think tank in itself. Although the military is rarely the intellectual hotbed of the doctrines and practices it operationalises today, this job having been taken over by ‘intellectuals of statecraft’ mainly in the universities, research centres and think tanks, it would not be odd to see the military university in Nigeria intellectualise warfare and security since most of the conventional universities are barely existing due to lack of research resources.
For whatever reasons that he didn’t articulate a paradigm indicating the shift from and to which, he subtracts something from the totality of the text even as the manifestations of security turbulence he itemised from page 42 to page 51 is absolutely graphic and welcome. So also is the geopolitical factor in the explanation of the security crisis in the Northeast that preceded this section. He might want to expand each one into distinct works. Similarly, he does a good work in assembling various definitions of terrorism and associated concepts even as he, again, stepped back from the essential character of all the definitions he assembled. That essential character is how they are all statist framing of violent challengers to the monopoly of legitimate use of violence reserved for the state. The implication here for scholarship is the exclusion of the physical, structural and discursive terrorism that states are perpetrating across the world from the study of terrorism. This has been the objection from Critical Terrorism Studies, (CTS) as far as containing terrorism phenomenon is concerned. Prof Tar does not seem to object to this as he lists security highhandedness as a driver of terrorism or rebellion against constituted authorities in a part of his text.
Very few would deny Prof Tar the credit for raising the question of interrogating Nigeria’s defence and security practices and the architecture underpinning this. What he has done is placing the case for a paradigm shift in that regard on the table. His next task is probably taking this beyond the ritual of Inaugural Lecture which nobody critiques, rallying round a cohort of Nigerian scholars in the field to produce something beyond rationalist/Realist thinking in the field.
There are no reasons, for example, why Saudi Arabia should be more modern and more organised than Nigeria. Yet, that is where Nigerian elite troop into for medical attention, a country ruled by a King with little or no checks on his powers and where the citizens know nothing about voting or elections. How such a dictatorship could have delivered cannot be divorced from a concept and practice of security but not security as conceptualised by rationalists and Realists. It can only be the product of a more holistic sense of security – the state as a care giver.
Saudi Arabia is deliberately used to illustrate this argument just to show the absurdity of the Nigerian situation. Otherwise, the issue in question is the recurring poser of ‘democracy or development first?’. Beyond Saudi Arabia, countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, to mention a few, have been able to answer that question but not Nigeria. Of course, all these countries now face the challenge of opening up the political space for the modernized men and women now in charge, a realm in which quite a number of them have made progress. In the face of the most severe crisis in its history, it is time the academic study of a concept such as security takes a more inclusive notion of it in Nigeria. When that happens, it should manifest most clearly in the scholarship of the Usman Tars of this world. Great that he has made a move!