A spectre of generalised insecurity is haunting Nigeria. It has been a perplexing situation since early 2016 when Agatu in Benue State and Nimbo in Enugu State were the flashpoints. From Benue, it moved to Plateau and Taraba. That seemed to be the Northcentral version. IPOB then entered the fray. It was then the turn of Katsina, Zamfara and then Southern Kaduna/Birnin Gwari, all in the Northwest. Amotekun, a regional security outfit emerged in the Southwest. Now, Niger State and the forests of the Southwest are the flashpoints. Meanwhile, the counter-insurgency operation against Boko Haram rages in the Northeast. Nigeria has never heard it so bad is a common statement of exasperation nowadays.
The problem is that there is no consensus on where the insecurity is coming from. Instead of consensus, there are contending positions so far, a summary of which is needed if that would help throw any new lights. It is attempted below:
- The earliest position must be the one by Nasir el-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State. He said the problem was coming from those who had a raw deal in terms of loss of cattle during the 2011 post election violence and that they had reached out and paid ‘compensation’ to them to stop it. An amended version of the statement surfaced later which linked the payment to what the late Patrick Yakowa was said to have been doing as governor of Kaduna State.
- The second must be President Buhari’s intervention, describing the cleansing squad as renegade fighters from Libya. An April 12th, 2018 report by Premium Times quotes the president as telling Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury in London that the security situation in Nigeria had been made worse by arms the former Libyan leader provided to his supporters but which had filtered into Nigeria and are being used for the killings across the north-central. “These gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered some of them fighting with Boko Haram”, he added, contrasting the herdsmen he used to know who never carried anything beyond sticks and probably cutlass. This was the point he restated in a June 27th, 2018 CNN report which quoted him as saying ”…The present herder, I am told, carries AK47 and people are even blaming me for not talking to them because maybe (they say) I look like one of them. There is some injustice in these aspersions,’
- The Sultan of Sokoto has been speaking. Each time he always said it is not a case of Fulanis but of criminality and which should be dealt with as such. In other words, his own theory of the crisis is state incoherence
- It was in-between the president’s denials between April and June 2018 that General TY Danjuma came up with the claim of complicity of the Armed Forces, saying the armed forces now “collude with armed bandits” to attack innocent Nigerians” and that the way out is for popular self-help or they risk dying, “ one by one”. He was sure that Somalia would be Nigeria’s fate if there was no change of mind away from the perceived complicity of the military.
- Out-gone US president, Donald Trump added his own voice during a Buhari visit to Washington in April 2018 to stop the killing of Christians. The Nigerian president was to say later he was so caught off guard by that he did not reply Donald Trump
- Governor Ortom of Benue State articulated his own version too in the theory armed herdsmen incursions as a land acquisition and Islamisation project. Speaking while delivering the Professor Miriam Ikejiani-Clark Lecture at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, (UNN), May 2019, the governor predicted spreading of the menace towards the Southwest and the risk of becoming “an obvious national social and economic problem too difficult to contain”. “Those who think that the problem of herdsmen is only that of Benue valley and Middle Belt states should watch out. It was first with Plateau State and southern Kaduna and then Taraba, Adamawa, Niger, Kogi, Nasarawa, Delta, Cross River, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Enugu, Zamfara, Katsina, Rivers, Ogun, Ondo and other states”. Today, Ortom would say he got it right.
- Chief Olusegun Obasanjo unfolded his own theory of the crisis as something beyond lack of education or jobs but an agenda of “Fulanisation of West Africa, Islamisation of Africa and global organised crime of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, illegal mining and regime change”. Interestingly, Obasanjo and Ortom were speaking in the same month but saying very different things on issues in which both enjoy the status of ‘hierarchy of credibility’.
- Lagos State University, (LASU) academic, Prof Sylvester Odion-Akhaine pushes the argument that the trouble with Nigeria or the primary contradiction now is the nationality question, arguing that what is happening to Nigeria is how, along the line, one nationality has, by its domination of the rest, subverted the nationhood project. In his own words, the country is dealing with a state-nation problem, defined as the phenomenon in which a minority nationality has assumed control of the material forces the state, essentially the security forces. He goes on to argue how this minority, “by the fact of that dominance, has mainstreamed its own identity over the rest in terms of leveraging on that control”
- In June 2020, Col Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd) advanced the theory of President Buhari’s nepotism as the source and nature of the problem, warning that the Buhari’s nepotism is what is pushing the country to the brinks.
- In late 2020, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah asked if there isn’t a sinister plan going or gone awry, as could be seen in the contradiction involving the spread of the violence in the Northwest where the president comes from.
- Kawu Barage, a leading politician, sees all that has been happening from the point of view of blow back. The Fulani militia in question, he said while marking his 70th birthday in Ilorin, were imported into the country to ensure victory of the ruling APC in 2015. They came from Mali, Chad, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Niger Republic, he told Nigerians on February 4th, 2021, insisting that the right questions were not being asked.
- But, barely had he finished speaking did Sheikh Ahmad Gumi come up with a theory of the crisis as the reaction of herdsmen against neglect, military highhandedness and exclusion. He said so after meeting them in their turf
- The last theorist on the matter so far is Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State who tells us it is all about self-defence by herdsmen who have discovered they needed AK47 because men have learnt how to get at them and their cattle without missing.
These can be argued to be the most significant standpoints on Nigeria’s toughest moment in its history. It cuts across: intellectuals, professionals, politicians, religious leaders, retired military leaders and foreign leaders, (Welby in his silent presence and Trump in his outburst), Christians, Muslims, northerners, southerners. Only the poor are missing.
Nobody disagrees that a militia of Fulani composition is the issue. The disagreement is on what it is all about. Is it renegade fighters as Buhari says or storm troopers for ‘Fulanisation’ as Obasanjo insists? Interestingly, Buhari and Obasanjo should know what it must be about. The fact that each has a different interpretation is where the trouble lies.
That there is no consensus shows a massive crisis of elite fragmentation. Ordinarily, even Obasanjo, TY and Buhari sitting together should have been enough to resolve the issue if there had not been a serious elite fragmentation whereby consensus has become impossible among the topmost layer.
In all the standpoints captured above, Buhari emerges as the question and the answer, either as a Fulani man or as the incumbent president and symbol of the state.
What is clearly demonstrated is Nigeria’s lack of a calming voice as almost all those with that power are also partisans. There is a problem here though and which is whether it is that this is a problem of lack of a Mandela or where a Mandela would have been drowned even if there were one?
There are certainly some people working behind the scenes to stave off the worst but behind the scene efforts are not helpful when a situation has degenerated to what is going on in Nigeria now. What are needed are open actions that undercut the escalation of anarchy at all levels that testifies to this country as an ungoverned territory, an objectionable phrase.
The next question would be the question of which of the above standpoints is the truth, a very useless question to ask though. Yes, a useless question to ask about which of these theories about the security situation in the country is true. It boils down to what is the truth and how truth may be determined. Unfortunately, all the means which philosophers outlined for determining the truth have led to dead ends. There is an impasse in social theory today on the issue of how truth could be established. Rene Descartes, the all time big name French philosopher who launched the debate on how to reach the truth tragically ended up creating what is now known as the ‘Cartesian anxiety’ in the philosophy of (social) sciences. But neither has any of those who tried to solve the ‘Cartesian anxiety’ after him succeeded. All of them – from the British empiricists to Immanuel Kant, Hegel, the dialectical materialists right up to the neopositivists – are afflicted by the crisis of ‘Cartesian anxiety’ – the impossibility of producing secure knowledge of the social world by a world independent mind reading a mind independent world. No philosopher has succeeded in resolving the matter and social scientists have now accepted that science or truth is what a community of scientists makes of it. This is not to deny that Immanuel Kant has risen powerfully in profile the past 40 or so years but has he consolidated?
So, we are back to the unimpeachable, received wisdom on this to the effect that “every theory is for someone and for some purpose”, a position supported by both conservatives and radicals, meaning that each of the thirteen claims on the security situation has a power agenda behind it. That is power not in terms of hidden agenda but in the sense that any of the claims can become the truth through an uncanny combination of factors and forces. So, each of them is a struggle for power. The tendency or group whose theory manages to become commonsensical as to become the framework for action becomes the truth.
The struggle facing Nigeria is, therefore, the struggle of believers in each theory of the current situation to convince others that theirs is the best consensus position. If this is accepted, then what is going on can be said to be a blessing in disguise in that Nigerians have a golden opportunity to deconstruct whatever they do not like about the nation. The problem though is that this is coming at too great a cost – the unbelievable loss of lives, the rising misery, the fear of the unknown and the humiliation of the self-regarded ‘giant of Africa’ being unable to manage itself well domestically. How can anybody look up to it as far as shielding the continent when it is always on the verge of state failure?
But the relativity of truth means that anyone waiting for so-called fact-based truth to guide the resolution of this impasse will be waiting for Godot. It is in the politics of articulation that the resolution lies, not in truth.
This is the significance of what the #EndSARS generation are doing, whether one likes or hates them. They are discursively constituting a new reality by infusing new meaning and symbolism to banal instruments such as the flag, the National Anthem and specific sites such as the Lekki Tollgate. They are bidding for power through what is now the acme of politics – deploying sound bytes, slogans, images, graphics, metaphors and/or the manipulation of them. That is the new game in town. As in politics, so also in war, hence the notion of Revolution in Military Affairs, (RMA). Others should learn from them instead of threatening war all the time because war does no one any good!