Why Buhari is Implicated in Insecurity in Nigeria – Prof. Shedrack Best, (Part 1)
By Adagbo ONOJA
Professor Shedrack Gaya Best did not just study Peace and Conflict Studies, he researched it, taught it and also operationalised it in government, thereby becoming a cross between the academic, the technocrat and the politician. He is thus a position to speak with analytical authority on the viral conflict situation that has gripped Nigeria – from Boko Haram to Niger Delta insurgency, from the south east regional contestation to herdsmen banditry across the country, from Shiite conflict and Southern Kaduna violence, all in Kaduna State to the banditry in Zamfara State. Of course, Prof Best is not a disinterested party. But, with a First Class in International Studies from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for his Bachelors, a MSc in Political Science from the University of Jos and a Doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, he is a voice capable of disciplining his subjectivity with the contextual caveats as and when due.
It is not a problem persuading Professor Best to grant an interview because his only reservation about it is that there are some who would think it is Jonah Jang speaking through him, (He was the Secretary to the Plateau State Government under Jang as the governor). In the end, he agreed and, for 53 minutes on December 31st, 2016, it was an intellectually stimulating encounter. Broadly, Professor Best’s contentions include:
*Why Buhari is implicated in the insecurity in the country
*Where Goodluck Jonathan messed up
* Why restructuring is inevitable
*Why those who read Islamisation agenda to herdsmen violence might not be off the mark
*The central role of climate change in the spate of violence
*And why the last 7 of the military Mohicans (Gowon, Obasanjo, TY Danjuma, IBB, Abdulsalami, Buhari and Aliyu Gusau) cannot save the country.
The interview is published unedited below. As usual, all questions are in bold while answers are in the normal. Enjoy:
What is your conception of the upsurge of conflicts in the country even after a near hitch free transition in 2015?
I think it has largely got to do with the priorities of the Nigerian State and the elite. It says a lot about the capacity of the state to perform the most fundamental objective of the state anywhere which is guarantee of law and order. But if you take the state from the psychological disposition or the mindset of the current government, there is a vindictive chasing of enemies. You will hear some people call it anti-corruption war but I call it chasing enemies, as far back as the elements in the military who pushed him out before, to the judiciary for frustrating him from getting to power earlier, to the electoral system equally for blocking his earlier ambition and every politician he linked to that. There is a lot of energy into the pursuit of enemies or perceived enemies.
Then when you look at the lopsidedness of the government and what he actually said in an interview about how those who didn’t vote for him weren’t going to get patronage, then you wonder why the president might be so keen on cleavages after being sworn in. The places where the president got the weakest electoral support are out of this government. They are not of interest to him. And the president has a lot of interest in counter-insurgency, (Boko Haram). The other area of interest is Zamfara where there is a problem between Hausas and Fulanis. He visited there in person and established a framework.
The US has declared herdsmen terrorists. I am not interested in that classification but I am interested in why a problem with the greatest national spread has not attracted a comment from the presidency. Look at the carnage and mayhem. The silence of the presidency is shocking. So, to go back to your question, the high degree of partisanship in the management of peace and security, the lopsidedness in the constitution of the government, all these go to implicate the president in the insecurity crisis.
It is not disputed that the president in Nigeria is, indeed, powerful but power is also diffuse. So, why does the president matter so much in your analysis in this particular situation?
What the president does is vital. The president must show leadership and commitment. The coercive apparatus of the state rests with the president. Governors do not have any operational strength in terms of security. I have been part of the Executive Council at the state level. The Commissioner of Police has to talk to the IG of Police in Abuja. The Army man has to talk to his GOC or somebody like that and so on. The security architecture extremely empowers the Federal Government. That is why some of us have since been canvassing for state police. It is simply because there has been never a time when the Federal police successfully quelled an uprising or any other serious security challenge. Why continue with something that has not worked? I have heard the argument that governors will abuse state police but the presidents are abusing it. How do you explain a situation where an armed group go about committing murder without any consequences for it?
So, you support state police?
Absolutely! I have no reservations whatsoever. The Federal police has not maintained security anywhere. If that is not so, we shouldn’t be seeing criminals everywhere unmolested. Our population in Nigeria now is such that a centralised police structure cannot do the job. How would such a police maintain law and order in Kano which has a population of 10 million? It won’t happen. But the state police can do it because they know the terrain and they are familiar with the cultural framework of the people. That is to say that state police has the job of maintaining law and order at that level. What it means is that the Federal police will still be there but concerned with other things. Of course, the other fear is the question of how to fund the state police. I have always said the answer is to disburse the fund stashed there in Abuja and send bulk of it to the states. That means there has to be revision of the entire budgeting system. And then the state police process will grow through teething problems. But I always say that we can equally break the Civil Defence and let them retrain and form the nucleus of state police across the board.
Why do you think these are not sailing through?
It is because of the nature of our federal system. Some people believe the present system is in their interest and they need the police to secure their domination of the system.
How do you relate this to the campaign for restructuring?
Well, we have had a debate in this country and it led to the National Conference under Jonathan. But this government is not interested in that. They are taking advantage of their grip on power and the lack of balance in the composition of the government to scuttle the realisation of that conference even though there are critical resolutions there. This country is not working.
Any distinctions between your position and Atiku Abubakar’s own position? I am referring to the former Vice-President who is also using that phrase of the country not working.
In a broad sense, I share his position that this country is defective. I do not have clear idea of what the former Vice-President has said, how he has defined it and so on but I am clear about what is involved.
Do you think the present set of elite can handle such an exercise successfully?
It has to be handled by the elite somehow. I know there is unwillingness on the part of this government. The government of the day is a status quo government. It is satisfied with what exists.
Islamisation agenda is the interpretation looming large in relation to the herdsmen aspect of the state of siege in Nigeria now. This persists in spite of the Sultan of Sokoto’s distinction between the armed gangs and Fulanis. Why does the perception persist?
Whether it is a coincidence or an agenda, people who make that point are being proved right. The skeptics are being proved right. Why is that so? The herdsmen killing the natives and taking over their villages tend to be Muslims and the natives are Christians. So, however hard you disown the argument, it continues to weaken. Nobody knows where this agenda is coming from but the lopsidedness of this government says a lot. The president himself was some kind of the Pan-African Chairman or something of that nature of the cattle breeders. So, you cannot blame the skeptics. The situation with is, therefore, different. It is not about peace but about security. It has nothing to do with the people not being able to live together. Fulanis and other people can live together and they do live together. But the situation we are dealing with now is about a criminal group arming itself and killing other people. And I am afraid that even within the security community, sentiments have gone deep and it is going to get more and more complicated. The problem we face is not a problem of peace. How do you discuss peace with an armed group which is moving from one state to the other and the government is silent?
Why then has the state become this ineffectual?
Endemic corruption within the security agencies is one reason. One dimension of the problem is that security operatives are no longer neutral. Secondly, you have the partisanship or the politicisation of security that I have talked about. When you add these two to the element of sentiments and begin to define the worth of the Nigerian in terms of the language he speaks, the region he or she comes from and his or her religion, you don’t have a state anymore because such a security force then cannot maintain law and order. In Nigeria, you do not see a sense of revulsion and disgust over death of people. In a proper society, the life of one person extinguished by security lapses is a national embarrassment. Here, it is a recurring thing; the entire people in a whole village are slaughtered and it is just seen as normal. It must be seen as normal because nobody is arresting anybody. So, where then is the state? It is either the state is incompetent or incapable on the one hand or it is the one financing the killings on the other hand.
The interview will be concluded in part 2