Nigeria’s importance to global security hinges on the fact she is not only the most populous country in Africa, but also strategically located in a region (Gulf of Guinea) that is a major source of the world’s oil. From the 1960 Congo crisis when Nigeria began contributing troops for international peacekeeping, the country has maintained consistency as a key player in both the United Nations and regional peacekeeping missions, thus contributing to world peace. However, Nigeria is currently facing serious internal security challenges, the most serious ones being the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa; and the Niger Delta militancy and piracy in the south-south geopolitical zone, comprising Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers. Additionally, there are security challenges posed by violent crimes, ethno-religious conflicts, resource-based conflicts, trans-border criminal activities, and election-induced violence. All these security challenges undoubtedly pose some threats to the social, economic and political stability of not only Nigeria, but also of the African continent, especially the West African sub-region, where more than half the population comes from Nigeria. While several factors could have contributed to Nigeria’s security situation today, there is no doubt that poor governance and lack of effective leadership at all levels of governance are central in attempting to explain the problem. About fourteen years after the return of democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s democratic transition does not appear to be consolidating due to lack of transparency, accountability, rule of law, and the genuine demonstration of leadership capacity to protect fundamental human rights. It is also evident that most of the key government institutions are weak, enabling corruption to thrive with impunity. This article examines the current security situation in Nigeria; the several factors contributing to it; and suggests that through effective leadership and good governance the situation could be remedied in order to arrest the apparent slide into state fragility and failure.

Nigeria’s Security Situation

Since the return of democracy in 1999, the security situation in Nigeria has been quite disturbing, and in the past fifteen years things have been worsening on a daily basis. Of course like any other human society, conventional crimes have always been part of the experience, especially after the civil war, but the more recent experience in violent extremism, insurgency and other forms of militancy have made the situation much more complex. Currently, the most serious security threats in Nigeria are those in the category of discontent or separatist agenda, specifically the violent extremism of Boko Haram and the violent militancy in the Niger Delta. While the former uses religion as its platform, employing such tactics as suicide bombing, organized attacks on police and military installations, terrorizing rural communities, etc; the latter is resource-based, and uses the control of oil found in its domain as its platform, knowing that about 90 percent of Nigeria’s revenue comes from that natural resource.

The tactics of the Niger Delta militants include destruction of oil platforms using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), kidnapping of foreign oil workers, sabotage of oil facilities, and vandalization of oil pipelines (with the serious consequence of environmental pollution). However, since 2009 when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua declared amnesty for the militants in exchange for laying down their arms, the violent militancy in the Niger Delta has subsided, of course not without heavy financial costs involving the provision of monthly allowances to all registered ex-militants, skills acquisition for the ex-militants, patronage of the militants’ leaders with juicy contracts, the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta, and the increase in the budgetary allocations to the Niger Delta Development Company (NDDC). This was in addition to the 13 percent  of the total oil revenue that is shared among the communities in the region.

We have not seen the end of the security problem in the Niger Delta though, because the major group, the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), whose leader, Henry Okah, was convicted by a South African court for terrorism when the group planted twin car bombs which left 12 people dead and 17 injured during the 50th anniversary independence celebration in 2010 in the Federal Capital, Abuja, has vowed to continue with its violent activities until their leader is released from prison. Second, there are quite a number of incidents involving cultist violence, especially in Rivers State. These include a series of kidnappings of foreign oil workers and people with high positions or members of their families for ransom and large scale oil theft, estimated at approximately 100,000 barrels daily, costing Nigeria about US$1 billion in monthly revenue.

But what is even more worrying is that while the amnesty program initially destroyed a large amount of arms that were surrendered by the militants earlier, quite a number of arms are still in large circulation, most of which were battered with stolen oil on the high seas. Third, the Niger Delta is a major arena for piracy within the Gulf of Guinea, only second to the coast of Somalia in the Horn of Africa (the Gulf of Guinea was responsible for approximately 30 percent of attacks in African waters between 2003 and 2011). According to the Chattam House Report 2013 on the conference on “Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea”, the region is the source of about 5.4 million barrels of oil per day, out of which 47 percent comes from Nigeria. Since energy security and trade in general depend largely on sea-based transport, then maritime security threats are alarming for the international community, especially because the amount of oil produced on a daily basis in the region is more than the total amount imported by EU27 countries and is over half of US crude oil imports in 2008 (Chattam House Report 2013). Fourth, there is uncertainty over whether or not the amnesty program would achieve any end-state, in terms of peace and security in the region. This is because despite the huge amount of money released to the various state governments in the region, the new Ministry (specific to the region), and the NDDC, not much has been achieved in developing critical infrastructures, creating employment opportunities, and rehabilitating the ex-militants, most of whom have not only been addicted to hard drugs, but also lack the necessary skills to be gainfully employed.

The most existential threat to Nigeria’s national security is the violent extremism being unleashed by the Boko Haram group which has its main base in the northeast. Although the Niger Delta militant groups were the first to use improvised explosive devices (IEDs) for their operations, the idea of suicide bombing was introduced into Nigeria by the Boko Haram violent extremists. The emergence of this group came at a time when the international community was still grappling with the strategy to contain the spread of the activities of Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), spanning across the Sahel (especially Algeria, Morocco and Mali), and also the expanding threats from the militant wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, commonly referred to as Al Shabaab, especially in the Horn of Africa. While taking advantage of the political instability in northern Mali, in 2012 AQIM consolidated its control within the region by aligning with the Tuareg rebel group, the National Liberation Movement of Azawad (MNLA), at the same time that another Islamic militant group, Ansar al-Din, moved to carve out an Islamic state out of northern Mali. Meanwhile a faction of AQIM formed the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO). Of course that meant that all 15 ECOWAS countries became the target of MUJAO, and this would have given a boost to the homegrown Nigerian terror group, Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram sect exhibits religious extremism of the type Nigeria hitherto never experienced, and although the group did not start its activities using violence, its preaching contradicted Islamic teachings. Despite its stance on the issues of democracy and governance, it is on record that the then Borno State government used the support base of the group to win elections on the basis of an agreement that the new government would establish Sharia law in the state . It was the failure of the government to honor its own side of the bargain that pitched the group against the government, leading to confrontation, which ended in the extra-judicial public executions of Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf and many followers, an incident that was beamed to the whole world by Al Jazeera television station. After the sect regrouped with new leadership, they decided to unleash terror on anybody they considered an enemy, including senior Muslim clerics that criticized their actions. By implication therefore, Nigeria’s police contributed not only in driving the group underground, but also assisted it in attracting sympathy which made recruitment of new members much easier, and increased possible support and funding from other terror groups on the ground that Muslims in Nigeria were being persecuted. It was from that time on that Nigerians began to experience suicide bombings, coordinated attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), kidnapping of foreigners, and the targeting of the police and other government establishments, which have been the signatures of known terror organizations, like AQIM and Al Shabaab.

One may argue that the use of IEDs and kidnappings had been part of the tactics employed by the militants in Niger Delta even before the birth of Boko Haram, but the intensity of that employed by the latter was of a different kind and for different reasons.

There is no doubt that Boko Haram presents a pressing problem for the continent of Africa. But to understand it, we must first place it in its historical context and then consider the environmental and the socio-economic influence in the region. It is not a coincidence that Boko Haram popped up in the northeastern part of Nigeria, and retained that area as its main operational base. The northeast has the reputation, not only as the first part of present-day Nigeria to come in contact with Islam in the 11th century, but is also known to have been part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, which existed around the 7th century and which spanned across northeast Nigeria, Chad, southern Libya, eastern Niger, and northern Cameroon. Bornu was the center of Islamic excellence up until the last century, and it was a known fact that children were sent in their scores by their parents from different parts of northern Nigeria to that region specifically to acquire Islamic knowledge. The region of Kanem-Bornu also flourished in trade and commerce with its very strong linkage to the trans-Saharan trade routes, but it is an irony that today the vast area that made up Kanem-Bornu between the 6th and 20th centuries has now fallen among the lowest in human development in the world.

It is particularly interesting to note that while for centuries northeastern Nigeria remained the center for Islamic religious education, attracting scholars from all over Africa and the Middle East, today most of the children are suffering from educational deprivation. According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), of the 39 percent of Nigeria’s children 7-16 years of age that are educationally deprived, about two-thirds are in the North West and North East geo-political zones (Fact Sheet No. 18, June 2012).  Poverty is the main reason for lack of education because more than half of the educationally deprived population is from the lowest quintile. The most deprived ethnic groups in the North East are the Fulani and Kanuri. The UIS concluded that as “well as being a sign of social deprivation in its own right, disadvantage in education is a cause and an effect of marginalization and a powerful transmitter of deprivation across generations” and that by “making people more skilled and employable, education can provide an escape route from poverty.”

In February 2012, Nigeria’s Statistician-General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Dr Yemi Kale, drew the attention of Nigerians to the various levels of poverty presented in the Nigerian Poverty Profile Report 2010. Poverty rates increased across the board between 2004 and 2010, but the highest recorded poverty rates were in the North-West and North-East geo-political zones. While poverty alone cannot explain the violent extremism in these regions, it is certainly a factor to consider for overcoming this security challenge. As the former Central Bank Governor, Professor Charles Soludo noted in his ThisDay column titled “Breaking the Dynasties of Poverty in Nigeria,” that if despite the 7 percent annual growth of income mostly from the non-oil sector (the agricultural sector in particular), Nigeria still experiences high rates of poverty, then it means the country is in a state of [poverty] emergency (November 26, 2012). Soludo also drew attention to the South-East rising poverty profile which has “shown to be on a high speed lane in the race to the bottom to catch up with the north.”

The northeast also faces a huge environmental challenge relating to drought and desertification, with adverse effects on economic activities, physical infrastructure, food security, and the environment in general. Nigeria is estimated to be losing about 1,400 square miles of land to desertification, with the northeast, especially Borno and Yobe (the home of Boko Haram), paying the highest price. With desertification, land is degraded leading to water scarcity, reduced agricultural productivity, and loss of vegetation. Situated in the region bordering Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria is Lake Chad, which was one of Africa’s largest freshwater lakes, but between 1963 and 1988 it shrank by about 95 percent, as indicated in the Global Resource Information Database. The over 30 million people who depended on it for fishing, farming, grazing, and hunting are frustrated, especially for the lack of alternatives. So what has this ecological catastrophe got to do with the Boko Haram insurgency?

Like the situation in the Niger Delta, most of the budgetary allocations were never utilized for the development of the region, therefore the affected states are lacking critical infrastructures, unemployment is extremely high, and the vast majority of people experience extreme poverty, enabling Boko Haram to easily recruit people. Also like in the case of the Niger Delta, which suffers from environmental degradation due to oil pollution of water, the northeast is suffering from environmental degradation due to soil erosion and loss of vegetation because of the advancing desert. The border communities of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria share common cultural affinity, and many of them speak Kanuri, the main ethnic group in Borno and Yobe, and this could explain why the insurgents find it easy to maintain bases from where they launch their attacks even across borders. Furthermore, like in the Niger Delta region, the movement of drugs and arms across the porous borders is massive: while those coming into the Niger Delta are from the criminal networks on the high seas, those in the northeast penetrate the borders through the trans-Saharan criminal networks.

Why Insecurity Thrives

We can draw an analogy between the growing security threats in Nigeria and the breeding of mosquitoes. Ordinarily, mosquito breeding habitats hardly include clean environments and flowing waters or streams, because the survivability of mosquito larvae increases with the shallowness or stagnancy of water; or “where streams dry up, and leave shallow, stagnant puddles in the stream bed” (Virginia Department of Health); or in an environment of poor sanitation. Like the mosquito, insecurity thrives more in corrupt and poorly governed environments with weak institutions. The Boko Haram insurgency and its accompanied terror in the northeast; the militancy in the Niger Delta; the violent crimes of armed robbery, ritual murders, kidnapping, and rape; the cross-border criminal activities in arms, drugs and human trafficking; the violence resulting from elections; the ethno-religious conflicts resulting in violent destruction of lives and properties; the deaths resulting from accidents due to bad roads and poor traffic management and enforcement; the deaths resulting from avoidable diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS; the environmental threats of desertification and soil erosion, are all mostly the products of corruption and bad governance, which became even more pronounced since 1999, when the current democratic transition began. Despite the abundance of natural wealth and human capital, Nigeria’s ratings on development, governance and corruption by various international organizations and agencies, are a matter of concern.

Beginning with the 2012 UN Human Development Index rankings, in which Nigeria was ranked 153rd out of the 187 countries assessed [life expectancy (52.3 years); inequality (adjusted HDI value 0.276); education (means years of schooling – 5.2 years); poverty (multidimensional poverty index (percent) – 0.310 – with 54.1 percent of 2008 population lived in multidimensional poverty); and income (GHI per capita in PPP terms - US$2,102)], the world depicts Nigeria as a troubled nation. It is no longer news that Nigeria has consistently occupied a space among the most corrupt nations in the world as rated in the Corruption Perception Index of the Transparency International (TI). On a 0-100 scale (highly corrupt to very clean), Nigeria scored 25 percent, ranking 144 out of 177 countries assessed (TI Ranking 2013). It also gave Nigeria 0.99 on a scale of -2.5 to 2.5 (higher values correspond to ability to control corruption) for the extent to which public power is exercised for private gain. Corruption inhibits good governance and accountability and this is the message Huguette Labelle, the Chair of TI, conveyed when she noted that “it is essential to identify where corruption blocks good governance and accountability, in order to break its corrosive cycle”.

The 2013 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) has already rated Nigeria below average on governance. Established in 2007, it defined governance as “the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.” The IIAG governance framework comprises four categories: safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human management. There are a total of 14 sub-categories consisting of 94 indicators, and in the 2013 assessment which covers the period 2000-2012, Nigeria scored 43.4 percent, ranking her 41st among the 52 African countries assessed. Even in West Africa where Nigeria has more than half of the population and is the wealthiest in the region, the IIAG scores show that in terms of governance she in only better than three of the other 14 countries. In analyzing the governance assessment of IIAG on Nigeria, an interesting observation is the very low score of 15.8 on personal safety, pitching Nigeria among the bottom four of the 52 African countries assessed. The indicators used for the assessment were the prevalence of torture and extrajudicial killings; prevalence of violent social unrest; level of criminality and the prevalence of violent crimes; incidence of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labor; and the extent to which police services are relied upon to enforce law and order.

Need for Leadership and Good Governance           

In a democracy, the first step towards good governance is the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. This is even most compelling in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society like Nigeria, in which people in their various socio-cultural groupings are very sensitive to participation and representation. Since Nigeria adopted the presidential system in 1979, aside probably the first election, which saw Shagari as the first Executive President, all other elections were marred by rigging. Most of the time candidates were either selected or appointed or even anointed, but never elected in a free and fair election environment. The only exception was probably the June 12, 1993 presidential election resulting in the election of Abiola in what was popularly acclaimed as the freest and fairest election in Nigeria since independence, but unfortunately the military annulled it before the actual results were even announced. All subsequent elections in Nigeria in 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011 were anything but free and fair, and that is why up until today various governments have been battling for legitimacy. Without free and fair elections, there can be no political, social and economic stability. Due to rigged elections, the people consider a government illegitimate and therefore it lacks the appropriate mandate to rule. On the other hand, the government does not feel obligated to exercise powers and use available resources for the benefit of the people.

Elections in Nigeria are becoming a “do or die” affair, with most politicians becoming very militant in their approach. It has reached a stage where those seeking political offices, especially the governorship candidates, create armies of political thugs whom they not only arm with dangerous weapons, but also provide with illicit drugs (obviously for “Dutch Courage”) in order to protect the politicians’ interests even if it requires using violence. It is a well-known fact that the formation of the militant groups in the Niger Delta and the Boko Haram sect in the northeast were at one time or another part of the army of political thugs formed by certain gubernatorial candidates in the Niger Delta and the Borno State, respectively.

At the presidential level, incumbents use national security resources, including security agencies and money, to force, intimidate (especially to reduce voter turn-out and scare the opposition), manipulate, and bribe their way to “winning” elections. In general however, most Nigerian politicians are comfortable using religion and ethnicity to appeal to peoples’ sentiments, which also gives room for ethno-religious hatred and violence as was witnessed in the post-election violence in 2011. With the 2015 elections around the corner, the warning signs are becoming very clear, and unless the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) operates as truly independent and ensures that a level playing field is provided for all stakeholders, Nigeria is likely to face yet another of her biggest security challenges in history.

The major personal security challenge for Nigeria is not in the prevalence of crime, because as Emile Durkheim, the 19th century French philosopher, argued in his famous book The Division of Labor in Society, crime is a normal phenomenon in all societies. The main concern is the perception of the general public towards Nigeria’s police, which has undoubtedly earned the reputation of being a brutal, corrupt, and inefficient law enforcement institution. The security of any nation cannot be guaranteed without a strong law enforcement institution with high level of professionalism. Nigeria’s police has been accused at various times of extrajudicial killings, and as a matter of fact, it was the single act of the extrajudicial killings of the Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf and many of his followers in 2009, that became the major driver of the current insurgency in the northeast. For the Nigerian police, it is not a case of a few rotten apples, but that almost all the apples are rotten. As far as corruption is concerned, this leads to public distrust. Aside from the poor relationships between the public and the police, the quality of police personnel, equipment, and facilities is extremely poor, and the combination of these factors makes it impossible to rely on police services in enforcing law and order. How can the police be efficient in a situation of public distrust and lack of confidence? Sir Robert Peel (1788-1850), a former British Prime Minister, whom as the Home Secretary founded the Metropolitan Police Service, emphasized that the real key to policing was based on the idea that “the police are the people and the people are the police”. It was for this reason that he embraced the concept of community policing, which we find difficult to adopt in Nigeria because of the strained relationship between the public and the police. While not much effort is being made to correct the lapses in Nigeria’s police, the military has been overburdened with routine police duties, things that they are neither trained for nor fall within their constitutional responsibility.

The key to tackling Nigeria’s security challenges rests on finding the right leadership that would demonstrate good governance: that would tackle corruption as a matter of priority; that would be transparent and accountable; that would recognize the need to ensure inclusive and participatory governance as a reflection of the multi-religious and multi-ethnic composition of the Nigerian society; that would strengthen the key institutions of governance, especially those within the criminal justice system; that would improve the socio-economic well-being of her citizens, especially in education, health, employment, food, and shelter; that would reinvigorate Nigeria’s foreign policy focus; that would emphasize unity even in cultural diversity to ensure stability; that would find solutions to the current insurgency, militancy, cross-borders trafficking in arms, drugs and humans, maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, and violent crimes; that would develop Nigeria’s critical infrastructures in transportation, water systems, and energy; that would develop the non-oil sector, especially agriculture and solid minerals; that would tackle environmental issues, especially desertification and erosion; and that would give assurance and  confidence to every citizen that his or her fundamental rights as enshrined in the constitution are guaranteed and protected.