WEDNESDAY COLUMN by USSIJU MEDANER
At this point in time, insecurity has become a central issue to the cohesion and sustenance of Nigeria. As concerns, physical insecurity of citizens precipitated by the increasing crimes and vices as well as financial insecurity of citizens as a result of persistent inflation which mostly affect staples to businesses and investment have become rampant; and also on the rise is the spread of cyber attacks, online bullying and related crimes and thereby adding to the growing burden of insecurity in the nation.
So this week, while I picked up my pen to discuss the spreading menace of insecurity, I got stuck at the decision of what I wish to achieve with the piece: do I just want to make an exposé of the problem or do I want to create the awareness that will spur us all to the actions that are necessary and at the levels that are symbolic to the nature and magnitude of the problem-space. I am sure the latter is a better goal and I so wish we will all begin to both proactively and determinedly do something about the disturbing national insecurity until the country begins heaving a sigh of relief from the menace.
Like most Nigerians, I am not without adequate understanding of what the security situation of the country has been in the last few decades. While we expected a radical change given the directional change and improved commitment to the fight against insecurity in the country in the last five years, our hope seemed short-lived as the gains earlier made are being eroded by resurgent insecurity on many fronts simultaneously across the nation.
In the last few decades, Nigeria has become enmeshed in a firebox of insecurity leading to tallies of deaths of innocent Nigerians and untold effect on businesses. It has assumed an intimidating dimension forcing the nation to continually rue the losses of loved ones, investments and absence of safety in almost all parts of the country. The number of violent crimes in the form of kidnappings, ritual killings, religious killings, politically-motivated killing and violence, ethnic clashes, armed banditry and others has increasingly become the norm in Nigeria.
The continued state of insecurity in the country is threatening the very fabric of our national integration and creating an envelope of fear, disquiet and anxiety on the citizens while meting a deadly blow on the total development of the nation
At a time, I had an intense dialogue with myself; I had wanted to know which is more critical to national development between the duo of economic stability and a safe street. Today, I do not need much work to know what the answer is; the peace and lives that were taken away from the North East, the cries of victims from the unabated Kaduna killings; the crumbling of oil operations in the Niger Delta by the militant operations; kidnapping, herders-farmers clashes are all already making gains from all other fruitful efforts meaningless for us. If our streets are not safe, this country is not safe. I have therefore come to the conclusion that Nigeria’s priority at this material time should be resolving our security challenges.
No nation or society world over is absolutely free of insecurity; but the nature and magnitude of the state response has always been the factor that demarcates nations on the basis of safety. The basic indicators of national safety and peace; low crime rates, minimal incidents of terroristic acts and violent demonstrations, a stable political climate, and a small proportion of the population being internally displaced or refugees have in the last decades been negative in our country. Perhaps, our responses hitherto have not been as effective as it should be; we need to re-strategise for a stronger national security response to provide the much needed security for every Nigerian.
The need to begin what we must do and urgently too is summed up in the recognition of the fact that our existing laws have become relatively weak in guaranteeing safety of the people of Nigeria. And we cannot continue to undermine public safety and the confidence of the people of our country in the capacity of their government to keep them safe and secure. We cannot allow dangerous criminals to overthrow the right of Nigerians to live a secure, safe and peaceful life, regardless of where they live.
In the word of Nelson Mandela, “Safety and security don’t just happen; they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.” And right now, we must enact a new set of laws that are both proactively and actively responsive to the contemporary insecurity in our nation.
There are many factors to national development. Inability of many nations to develop on the back of their readily available resources and capacity have been well traced to the effects of a growing number of both internal and external factors working against the natural developmental flow of nations and sectors. While corruption, a multifaceted ill, leads the pack of factors that hinder development of nations, the concept of corruption itself, which is a prelude to insecurity, is not limited to a singular form as it assumes divergent dimensions over time. There have been times in Nigeria when the concept of corruption was limited to politicians and persons with access to the national wealth; as they help themselves and their cronies unduly to larger chunks of the national wealth at the expense of the vast majority of citizens and thereby halting the developmental efforts and speed of the country. This has drastically changed overtime, the structure of the stealing and the individuals involved have been altered and expanded to include all perimeter of the national population while the target has gone beyond the wealth of the nation, but to include wealth and spaces of institutions and individuals. Now, the perpetrators of the acts include individuals, corporate bodies, politicians and even nations.
Our attention cannot also be taken away from the continuous growth of cybercrime in the country. We have to begin from now to tighten our laws and systems to effectively respond to this and many more similar menace. To what extent electronic crimes have become a global and national issue can be ramp up in facts and figures.
The menace is not a Nigeria problem but a universal issue. In the US alone, approximately 143 million Americans were victims of cybercrime in the year 2017 and the figure has been on the increase ever since then; in the course of the same year, about $20 billion was lost due to cybercrimes. In Africa, the figure is even more alarming. With hundreds of millions of cyber attacks reported per year; individuals, government, banks and offices are becoming the main targets of hackers and ‘yahoo boys’ as they are popularly called – Nigeria takes a center stage, losing approximately US $500 million per year to the various forms of cyber attacks.
Investment and businesses, as much as public corporations have become increasingly exposed to cyber attacks in the country. These come in the form of all illegal acts perpetrated through electronic operations, which target the security of private and corporate computer systems in the country. With the development of digital economy and the increasing acceptance of the same, comes the development of attempts and direct actions to control transactions of victims to the direct gains of the criminal actors of the cyber attacks. Currently, one in every five businesses in the country, going by international data is already a victim of these attacks.
Our computer market has uncontrollably become infested with pirated software – both consumer and enterprise – which makes most operating systems to be vulnerable to cyber-criminality. A study done by BSA as far back as 2011 estimated that almost 82 percent of software in Nigeria are pirated, accommodating counterfeit programmes which are easily subjected to modification of codes, with the introduction of malicious codes and Trojans which allow cybercriminals access to manipulation of the systems to rob the owners. Our country has thus become a nest of cybercriminals to the point that we more or less celebrate the ones we refer to as “419.” The threat to electronic mobile transaction has assumed an unprecedented level; debit card frauds, online marketing frauds and related vices have made the much evolving and desired electronic transaction a risk to individuals and businesses. The inability of the public policy-makers to provide solutions to the menace of the cybercrimes at a level and rate that equate the veracity of the attacks is worrisome but not as much as the acceptance the crime is receiving from the teeming Nigerian youth population who see it as a way out of joblessness and poverty.
Outside the context of cybercrime in the country is another more worrisome concern: cyber-bullying. By some incomprehensible development, we have transformed the use of information and communication technology into a weapon of harassment of perceived enemies, businesses and even political opponents and oppositions. This psychological insecurity has now created the prevailing posting of falsehoods, including fake information, and edited photos and videos on social media that affect the image, integrity and reputation of targets, and sometimes their lives as some opt out to committing suicide to escape the embarrassment and humiliation caused by the damage.
Indirectly, online, ethnic bullying has become a norm in the country. while it seems as if we are taken it as a pastime that we enjoy and derive some evil sense of tribal loyalty, it nonetheless, fans the ember of discords among ethnic nationalities in the country, leading to increasing enmity, non-acceptance and inter-tribal conflicts which are responsible for a sizeable proportion of the insecurity in the country. The same is the case when the discussion of religious intolerance and the consequences on the country is placed on the table. Social media bullying and castigations of other people’s religious beliefs and the extent we are willing to go to disparage these beliefs, has over the year doomed the nation with so much damages to our collective survival than any other factors, not to mention the fact that it serves as the basis for close to 70 percent of all other insecurity concerns we currently faced in the country.
We are unspoken racists and xenophobic people. The moment we become experts in producing printed materials, images and other representations of conspiracies that advocates, promotes and incites hatred, violence as well as discrimination against any individual, any group based on their unique characteristics in tribal descent or religion, we become racist and xenophobic. And unfortunately for the country, we claim our right to freedom of speech; as an excuse for the things we say and write regardless of what the content is. The national political space has become so saturated with malicious, obscene, false and destructive rhetoric with the singular objective of harming the reputation and properties of targeted individuals and institutions and creating a persisting, damaging psychological effects on the victims.
All attempts to create a zero tolerance of abuse of social media as a panacea for cyber-bullying have been rebuffed by Nigerians who have presented well orchestrated arguments against government social media control polices as measures to silence critics and opposition voices by the government.
We all wish to see the end of the many skyrocketing spate of insecurity in the country but not ready to discuss the monsters that are predisposing our systems and our very existence to insecurity. Way back before 1960, differences in ethnicity and religious beliefs did exist in the country but was not being used to create divisiveness among the citizens as we experience today; but somewhere down the line, definitely as part of our strategy for the game of politics that we exalt above every other considerations in the country, we saw ethnic and religious differences as a probable, strong political weapon, and as such weaponised it to win elections and continue to develop political segregations and support bases all the way till now. Growing in dimension and sophistication over the time, we have finally gotten ourselves to the current point where the bulk of insecurity in the country stems from intolerances built on the hatred we share along the boundaries of these self-inflicted differences.
Still ruminating on the politically inflicted insecurity on the country, for the purpose of politics, we took an ailment and gave it a fresh coloration that serves our political ambitions. Over the decades, we have had to deal with recurring incidents of farmer-herder conflicts though at a low frequency; gradually, this grew out of proportion in the last decade and the need to address it became sacrosanct to the peace of the country. Successive administrations have sought for solutions to the problem until the Jonathan administration in 2012 set up a committee that came up with the proposal for the establishment of grazing settlements in all the states of the country to be able to restrain free movement and grazing in open fields. The committee proposal was approved by the president and allocation was made for the project to commence. Fast forward to 2016, the problem of the farmers/herders clashes came to the front again and the new Administration opted to go by the decision of its predecessor, called the grazing settlement, “RUGA” and all hell was let loose. The idea of having grazing settlements for the Fulani herders became a political issue, then tribal and finally religious. And because of the political gains we want to obtain from the political colouration of the policy, we have till today, exacerbated the problem both for the citizens and for the country. We have successfully created the atmosphere of insecurity and real existence of insecurity around the issue of free grazing of cows in Nigeria. Today, to bring up another political element in Oyo state, the herders/farmer clashes have been taken as the working tool. One Sunday Igboho is getting popular as the state and the country is becoming more insecure and the media is enjoying the sensation of the events and the people are both taking sides and dying.
It is the political colouration we ascribed the menace that led us to the point where every kidnapping done in the country, is without investigation concluded to be done by a tribal group in the country; where every attacks and killing are ascribed to a particular tribal group; where every killings are linked to a particular group without evidence. We choose to criminalise a particular tribal group, not only because there are bad elements among them like in every other tribal group without exemption but because it serves the ulterior motives of the forces behind the erratic development. Instead of condemning criminals and devising ways to rid the nations of crimes and criminals, we prefer the non-result yielding and sensational rhetoric of the Fulanis being roundly responsible for all crimes in every village and corner of the country. Even when our prisons are filled with criminals of all tribes, and the Fulanis are equally subjected to groaning attacks, destruction of their farmlands and even kidnapping in their own locations. As it has become, we are a nation saturated with a hell of security challenges deliberately planted by us and watered from within by elements among us.
Finally, among the dimensions of insecurity in Nigeria and definitely the most potent but rarely classified is the financial insecurity of Nigerians. It is not a new dimension of insecurity. It has been there but definitely, the global economic meltdowns of recent times and then the threatening COVID-19 pandemic have brought financial insecurity to the front as a real menace to Nigeria citizens at home. It is a fact that the government is limited in its capacity to provide support, in the form of palliative to the entire population; even if it so wishes, the resources are not available. Roundly put, the cost of living for an average Nigeria has increased by over 250 percent over the last twelve months; a measure of beans rose from two hundred naira to five hundred naira; a measure of Garri from one hundred and fifty to four hundred; averagely, the price of virtually all staples rose by approximately the same percentage. Whereas, the average incomes remain the same for public servants and dwindling for most others. Internally, most citizens have become insecure, unstable and broken with the persistent inability to sustain their living standard and make end meets.
The job that needs to be done now as we aim to re-strategise for stronger security response across all the mentioned insecurity factors must begin now and the framework must be laid by the government and the citizens alike as it relates to each. It is time we developed institutional capacity through strong legislation and the willingness by the commoners to do the right things. We must develop inclusive and enforceable laws and systems to address and deescalate these complex insecurities.
A special consideration is for the defense authority to wade into cyber security and cyber warfare beyond the current level. It should devise a new and better approach to track these growing aforementioned concerns; as it would enable the defense authority to meet their objectives. Most crimes are linked to cyberspace and of national security priority.
I strongly hope and believe we will all agree that this need is as urgent as the need to save our nation and rise up to begin to respond appropriately to the need of the times.
GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!