Three attacks of terrorist nature in three months – March, May and June – goes against everything that makes the Western world go round. The Western world oscillates on predictability and calculability, relative certainty, reason and the idea of progress. Safety uncertainty puts at risk the possibility of life or living as a planned existence unlike the perhaps that characterises existence in, say, Africa. A man leaving Manchester for London in the UK can reasonably calculate when he gets to London, how many hours it would take him to do what he wants to accomplish there and what the return trip looks like. With terrorist threat, calculated living is jeopardised in one of the most sophisticated Western cities. But it is beyond London. It is a message beyond London because it has a contagion effect.
So, there is a point in Western leaders saying that terrorism is an attack on ‘our civilisation’. But, where is it coming from? Or what is the nature of the threat? Scholars of international security call it deterritorialized threats. Simply put, threats from nowhere. It is from nowhere in the sense that, unlike before when threats were seen as that which comes to citizens from outsiders or their Others, it now comes not only from inside but also from hitherto least likely sources – terrorists, diseases, migrants, climate change, drugs trade, access to nuclear materials, capacity to manipulate financial transactions or cyber terrorism. It means threat or danger or risk does not reside exclusively in guns but also in the infected man or woman inside the aircraft, in the bus, in the train; from the bursting of oil pipelines in some remote borderland of the world with impacts spread to all corners of the globe in terms of oil supply; in the transnational terrorist; in the money launderer from a remote corner of the world who can cripple even the money capitals of the world or the cyber terrorism expert in one slum somewhere in the ‘Third World’ grounding banks or airlines of the most advanced systems.
It is in this sense that contemporary security analysts talk of deterritorialized threats: threats which are real but cannot be located in origin. To where might Ebola be located, for instance? Nowhere because the first victim, perhaps an international aid worker flying to New York could have actually contacted it somewhere in the ‘Third World’ but, unknowingly spread it in the aircraft. HIV/AIDS follow that pattern. Bird flu followed the same from Hong Kong to Canada and so on. So, when London is under attack, the world is also under attack. The attackers in London might be UK citizens who went to Syria and Iraq or even Afghanistan to fight along with Syrian rebels and later, ISIS.
What all these amount to is how security has assumed the diffuse character of globalisation – mass transfers, mass interaction, borderlessness and one-worldism but also the tension between the different worlds it creates. Globalisation is usually associated with globalising and localising, fragmenting and integrating, all at the same time, thereby presenting a complexity not seen before. Theoretically, it is a borderless world but, at the airport, legitimate and illegitimate travelers become the reality. So, some people argue we should watch out against the claim of transcendence of territory which deterritorialisation means. That debate is still going on. Meanwhile, how does the world manage this complexity?
One claim for an answer is more and more democracy to reduce the degree of social exclusion and the basis for alienation, anger and temptation to violence. The other major and functional claim is the strategy of global governance. This is not the same thing as a global government but bringing into an interlocking authoritative system that can confront deterritorialized threats head on in terms of the architecture, regimes and practices for governing insecurity. Statists have the third proposal: return to strong state or the national security state. In academic study of security, this is the least popular but in practice, it is the most consolidated. The informed, strong or muscular state has been the most effective anti-dote to deterritorialized threats. In this, the distinctions between liberal democratic state such as the US and the so-called illiberal state such as Russia disappears since they have basically the same framework for responding to deterritorialized threats in the language of Homeland Security.
In last night’s attack in London, the Police shot all three attackers to death within 10 minutes of their strike. In Nigeria or in most of Africa, that is unthinkable. There is no point regurgitating how Boko Haram embarrassed the Nigerian security establishment for much of the time. The strong public service orientation and quality of training of the average policeman that explains that proficiency is not there in the weak, unfocused state. In much of Africa, the police see the citizens more or less as preys. That’s the historical orientation and the elite who took over at Independence did nothing to change that, perhaps because the elite themselves came more or less like the colonialists.
When people in Nigeria, for an example, talk casually and happily about decentering federal power and making the center weak, do they realise the world we are in today? Of course, when badly suited Federal Government officials respond to every claim against the state with Mobile Police or detachment of the military instead of entering the battle space of discourse, they are disabling the state in terms of the capacity to manage deterritorialized threats. So, both the state and the civil society march in a way that does not appear to appreciate the contemporary security situation.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo wants us to resist the temptation of the wrongheaded thinking that prayer without hard work will get us anywhere. That is most welcome. But when political parties, leaders, intellectuals, NGOs and, perhaps the media are not conscientising the populace critically, what can they do other than running back to God in prayers instead of understanding what globalisation has done to security. Perhaps the Acting President need go a step further by checking up what is taught as International Relations, Strategic Studies, (where such nomenclature is still used), Geopolitics, etc across Nigerian universities today. Since the universities shape the discourses which produce the practices of security, that is probably where to start. Fortunately, the Acting President is a product of that background and he can easily establish if the country is conceptually and theoretically up there or down here, even with the deadening uniformity of course units that NUC is understood to insist all universities follow. Till then, may God protect us!