Setting Benchmarks for Enhanced Security and National Unity in Nigeria


Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja



Paper for National Town Hall Meeting organised by the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, at Kaduna State University, April 8th 2021



“There is no easy way to pull this country apart. The problems arising from such an exercise will be far bigger than the problem of trying to keep it going. The value of the size, the market, and the varieties of cultures etc. are important and should not be neglected.”


Prof Ade Ajayi, The Nigerian Social Scientist, Vol 5, No 1, 2002, P.56





Prof Ade Ajayi is right in the quote above on both counts. Breaking up Nigeria is no easy task. Indeed, it is much easier to keep it together than to carve it up. Secondly, the potentials of Nigeria growing into a great and advanced country remains real. Nonetheless, Nigeria is confronting a number of critical political challenges that are raising serious questions about its identity and survival as a democratic Federal Republic. First, there is a dramatic breakdown in security provisioning that has created a climate of disillusion in the State as a protector for citizens. Secondly, there is a significant rise and expansion of sectarian conflicts, both ethnic and religious fuelled in part by massive disinformation and hate speech in both the traditional and social media. Thirdly, Nigeria’s elite consensus on federalism and the federal character principle as a guarantee against group discrimination and marginalisation is badly shaken. The risk therefore is that even if the drift towards disintegration is the worst possible outcome, the country is being pushed towards that direction. We ALL have a collective responsibility to stop the drift and seek pathways to re-establish confidence in the nation building project.


The Nigerian State is undergoing a three-dimensional crisis. The first one affects the political economy and is generated mainly by public corruption over the past four decades that has created a run on the treasury at the national and state levels threatening to consume the goose that lays the golden egg. The second one is the crisis of citizenship symbolised by ethno-regionalism, the Boko Haram insurgency, farmer-herder killings, agitations for Biafra, militancy in the Niger Delta and indigene/settler conflicts. The third element relates to the frustration of the country’s democratic aspirations in a context in which the citizenry believes in “true democracy” confronted with a reckless political class that is corrupt, self-serving and manipulative. These issues have largely broken the social pact between citizens and the State. That is why today, Nigerians find themselves in a moment of doubt about their nationhood. It is similar to the two earlier moments of doubt we have experienced, 1962-1970 when we went through a terrible civil war and the early 1990s when prolonged military rule created another round of challenges to the National Project. We survived those two moments and my message today let us see the current crisis as an opportunity to surge forward in fixing Nigeria.


First Step: Stop the Drift Towards Anarchy

As a people, we love living near the precipice and the risk is that our dangerous behaviour could one day push us over. On Monday, there was well-coordinated commando-like operations by gunmen who invaded an Imo State Correctional Facility near the State Government House in Owerri and set free 1,844 inmates. They also attacked the Imo State Police Command Headquarters and set free about 600 suspects being held in custody. Not done yet, the attackers set the Police headquarters ablaze, burning down several operational vehicles of the Police parked at the command headquarters. The attack started around 1.30 am and lasted till about 3.30 am without any resistance any of the security agencies. More attacks were conducted on Tuesday. Some states in the zone have also witnessed confrontations between the Nigerian Army and members of the Eastern Security Network, being sponsored by exiled Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra.


Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State stated last week (Nation, 3 April 2021) that there are no fewer than 30,000 gunmen spread across more than 100 camps in and around the state. He said such is the grip of bandits on the state that they collected N970 million as ransom from the families of their victims in the eight years between 2011 and 2019. During the same period, the bandits killed 2,619 people and kidnapped 1,190 others. For some years now, significant proportion of farmers cannot go to their farms out of fear so food insecurity is on the horizon. Given the seriousness of the situation, his approach is to negotiate with the outlaws. The dialogue led to the suspension of attacks and kidnapping for eight months but it resumed and in February, they invaded Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe and abducted about 300 of the students.

We are at a point in our national trajectory where young Nigerians feel sufficiently marginalized from the STATE and SOCIETY to procure arms and engage in self-help which they define variously as banditry, scotched earth attacks on innocent village communities accompanied by mass rape and other forms of sexual violence, in addition to killing security agents, and even declaring an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria. There are too many groups that have discovered that obtaining an AK47 can be their pathway to wealth because they are not in Government where you can be wealthy by stealing without arms. Given the number of these disaffected young persons who are arming themselves to find solutions to their problems, we can easily fall into anarchy and were that to happen, we will ALL​BE LOSERS as our lives would become nasty, brutish and short.


According to the Inspector General of Police, 20 police officers were killed in March this year. In October last year, during the EndSARS protests, 205 police stations all over the country were attacked and 22 police officers killed. All over the country, the police are being hunted and killed. This could be a turning point if more citizens define the police as the enemy and expand these attacks. This is a time for hard questions about how we got to this situation and what we can do to return to peaceful co-existence. The first element is to unmask how the people came to perceive security agencies as their enemy although the slogan of the Nigerian Police Force is that the POLICE IS YOUR FRIEND.


End State Centric Security Provisioning

According to Max Weber, the state is that “human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence within a given territory.” The monopoly is justified on the basis that the state, through its security agencies, protects members of the society from external aggression and the internal violation of the rights of citizens. They have the role of protectors of citizens and the community. This new conception is a radical departure from the previous approach in feudal society where power and the use of military might be conceived as being an instrument for the gratification of the ruler. Indeed, for most of human history, rulers and the law were synonymous. The law of the land was what the rulers wanted and the exercise of power was rooted in arbitrariness. No wander, the French King, Louis 14th could pronounce the state in whose name laws are made was synonymous with him “l’Etat c’est moi” – he was the state.


The modern state is able to promote cordial relations between security agencies and the people on the basis of the exercise of the rule of law. It was J-J Rousseau who first made the point that the new human being is a citizen and citizens don’t like obeying human beings, they prefer obeying laws. The rule of law therefore developed in the context of the transition from authoritarianism to democratic culture. The new tradition is rooted in the new departure signalled by the French revolution of “liberty, equality and fraternity” so eloquently expressed in the Declaration of the Rights of Man (we would add Woman) and the Citizen of 1789. It led to the abolition of privileges, the assertion of the legitimacy of representative institutions and the rule of law. Rule of law is simple; it affirms the equality of all before the law.


One of the major principles of political science is that although force is a central element in political systems, it cannot on its own sustain a polity. Rousseau reminds us that even the strongest is never strong enough to remain the master unless he is capable of transforming force into law and obedience into duty. It is important to recall that in Nigerian history, the colonial security apparatus was established to control and extort the people and not to protect them. Not surprisingly, the security culture that developed within the traditional actors was one of repression with an emphasis on coercion and general lack of civility towards the civilian population. The result has been corruption within the services and an attitude of serving the power elite rather than the people. Following independence, the democratic regime lasted only six years before the military took over. This meant that democratic culture did not have enough time to impregnate the security forces. The Second Republic was short lived and the Third Republic was still born. The Fourth Republic, has been different because it is now on its 21st year. This means we have run out of excuses – that democracy has always been interrupted and not allowed to mature. Nigerians are saying that they will not continue to tolerate the denial of their democratic rights.


The first of this right is the postcolonial transformation from a state centric to a people-centred approach to security. The state’s monopoly of the use of violence is based on the obligation to contain both internal insurgency and external aggression. When the state fails in its duty, citizens start thinking, and later, acting through self-help. Our problem is that in our postcolonial history:


National security is equated to state security, and state security is viewed as the security of those who occupy public office. Rarely is national security viewed as the welfare and happiness of the citizens, neither is security viewed as ‘community security’, ‘societal security’ or securing the ‘common good’, defined in the most generic way. In other words, security is viewed in purely state-centric and military terms and not in social and developmental terms; it is perceived as the maintenance of state sovereignty, not in the context of a common humanity and promoting the welfare of the people. In these circumstances, national security often undermines the security of citizens. Normally, the state should protect, rather than denude the citizen of his or her rights. (Ibeanu and Momoh, 2008:13)


The Nigerian citizen has for too long endured a culture of intimidation by the country’s security forces. Law enforcement agents have since colonial times developed a culture of reckless disregard for the rights of the people. The legal framework has not helped matters given our colonial heritage of laws against vagrancy, illegal assembly, wandering, and illegal procession. The state is constructed as an edifice against citizens who are assumed to have a natural tendency to break laws and must therefore be controlled, patrolled and constantly surveyed. Not surprisingly, citizens learn to fear and avoid law enforcement agents. The ordinary Nigerian sees security agents as potential violators of their security rather than providers of their security. The reality of state security for ordinary people then becomes the perception of insecurity.


We must emphasise that security is a good thing. It is the function that guarantees that people and states are free from violence at the local, national and international levels. Security is conceived in modern states to provide the framework that guarantees that the ordinary people are free from external aggression by enemies of the community and internal subversion that can ruin their lives. This means that the purpose of state security is not to protect the people who occupy positions of state power but to protect the ordinary people. Developing the culture of the rule of law and accountability is the path towards guaranteeing genuine security to the mass of the people.


Edify the Rule of Law

The rule of law is an affirmation of the principle that the governance of human society should be based on law rather than the whims and caprices of human beings. The characteristics of the rule of law are as follows:


i. The legitimate authority empowered to make them makes the laws of the land.

ii. The laws are publicly declared and known to the community and must be obeyed by all

iii. The laws apply to everybody so all persons are equal before the law including the lawgivers.

iv. Members of the society are citizens and therefore have rights that must be protected by the law.

v. That in applying the laws, discretion should not be applied but decisions should be based on the known principles of the law.

vi. That the laws apply proactively and not retroactively


Black’s Law Dictionary defines the rule of law as:


“A principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and all entities, public and private, including the state itself are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards”


There is now a consensus that the rule of law must be understood and used in a substantive rather than a formal sense. The old tradition of the rule of law placed emphasis on valid procedure for enacting the law but since the end of the Second World War, this approach was considered inadequate. Laws could be validly passed but morally reprehensible and unjust in their essence. Fascist and dictatorial regimes such as Nazi Germany and Nigeria under Abacha passed such laws. In Nigeria for example, the whole Abacha transitional programme was based on laws validly passed to conduct him the presidency.


In today’s understanding therefore, rule of law must conform to the spirit and values of democracy and accountable governance. The protection of civil and political rights is therefore an integral part of the rule of law. The Nigerian Constitution in its Chapter 4 on fundamental human rights integrates these rights into our principles of the rule of law. In understanding the rule of law, citizenship is an important notion because it defines the constitutive elements of the democratic state and spells out the relationship between state power and individuals. According to Malcolm Waters, it spells out procedures and sets of practices defining the relationship between the nation state and its individual members. Citizenship implies that power must not be used in an arbitrary manner and those who control force and arms in society cannot use it to their own advantage. Central to the current crisis in the country is that law enforcement has become an instrument to oppress Nigerians in a context of total disregard to the rule of law. State security must be reconceptualised to enhance the consolidation of democracy.


Today, Nigerians have had enough in terms of their fear of security agencies. They are fighting back. The problem however is that the fight back is anarchic. The real fight should be for the reform of our security agencies so that they are able to provide the framework that guarantees that the ordinary people are free from external aggression by enemies of the community and internal subversion that can ruin their lives. This means that state security must strive protect the ordinary people not just those who occupy positions of power or wealth. The democratic imperative in Nigeria therefore requires Security Sector Reform that would enhance the human security of all citizens rather than limiting itself to the interests of the political class. Human security involves not just national security but also the promotion of economic development and the human rights of citizens. There is no choice between human rights and security operations. All legitimate security operations in a democracy should strive to protect the human rights of citizens. That they are neutral in their operations and do not act on the basis of political considerations.


Let it be Known: All Nigerians Are Marginalised

From 29th October to 17th December 2012, I published seven articles in my column on the theme of marginalisation. They were all narratives of perceived marginalisation in which I show that the political elite of all six geo-political zones in Nigeria have always made the argument that their zones are marginalised and the masses believe them. I am aware that the use of the six geopolitical zones as an expression of our diversity is itself of dubious utility. It was a categorisation invented by British anthropologists brought in by the colonial authorities at the beginning of the 20th Century to map tribal and cultural differences and affinities within the Nigeria land area. At the end of their research, they announced that there were six cultural zones in the territory – the Emirate states, Borno and environs, Middle Belt minorities, Yorubaland, Igboland and Southern minorities. In 2006, when under the leadership of late Pa Enaharo, the Peoples’ National Conference (PRONACO) repeated the same exercise; they came out with 18 zones. Cultural mapping is a very subjective exercise.


The reality on the ground is that the mosaic of identity profiles in Nigeria is vast, complex and multi-dimensional. Ethno-regional identities in Nigeria have developed along a tri-tendential trajectory. The first is the North/South divide that emerged at the beginning of the colonial period. The second is the tripolar framework related to the three colonial regions and the majority groups that dominated each region. The third and maybe the most important tendency in Nigerian identity politics is a persistent multi-polarity which has been continuously repressed by regional, zonal and state hegemons who have always sought to dominate the nearest neighbouring minority group. The essence of Nigerian politics is the variable geometry played by the hundreds of ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural groups in the country. We recall that in his 1995 Independence address to the Nation, General Sani Abacha had announced the introduction of a modified Presidential system in which six key executive and legislative offices will be zoned and rotated between six identifiable geographical groupings; North-West, North-East, Middle-Belt, South-West, East-Central and Southern-Minority. There was a lot of disquiet because the question on the ground is who will be accepted as genuine leader of each of the zones.


Historically, the fears of domination of one zone over the others played a central role in convincing politicians of the necessity of a federal solution for the First Republic. The First Republic which operated essentially as equilibrium of regional tyrannies was however characterised by the domination of each region by a majority ethnic group and the repression of regional minorities. The relative autonomy enjoyed by the regions has been eroded during three decades of military rule and the creation of states from two regions to thirty-seven should have addressed the domination issue. It has not. The steady rise of ethno-regional tensions and conflicts has continued unabated. I believe that the reason for this has been the supplanting of Nigeria’s federal tradition by a Jacobin unitary state. The erosion of multiple poles of political power that have existed in Nigeria by military dictators and subsequently by an all-powerful presidency has exacerbated the spectre of the fear of domination in the country. The Nigerian state is no longer seen as a neutral arbiter. Negotiation and conflict resolution mechanisms have broken down and ethno-regional political actors have been taking maximalist positions and treating compromise with disdain. Each bloc believes it has the worst deal in the country.


It is for this reason that marginalisation, defined as the outcome of domination, is the most favoured word used by the Nigerian elite to describe their perceived political reality and above all to seek for more access to the national cake. It is remarkable the extent to which in all of Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones, the story is very similar – due to domination by the other, the “people” have been marginalised. Two broad issues are posed when ethno-regional domination emerges as a political issue in Nigeria. The first issue is the control of political power and its instruments such as the armed forces, the public service and the judiciary. The second is the control of economic power and resources. Both are powerful instruments that are used to influence the authoritative allocation of resources to groups and individuals. I have used the six geopolitical zones simply as an idiom to track the narrative on the marginalisation of Nigerians.


The Nigerian military and their successors have transformed the country’s body politic in a very significant manner since 1966. In the first place, the culture of mega corruption around the person of the Head of State or President has been entrenched. There has been a near complete privatisation of state power by whoever occupies the summit of the power pyramid. Virtually all acts by public officials involving public expenditure or public goods of any kind leads to the appropriation of state resources. As the routine operations of government have been subjected to prebendal rules, the big boss and his retinue looms into dominance and all others are by definition marginalised. This process is dramatized by the fact that we run a rentier economy and he who controls the petroleum ministry controls everything. In other words, marginalisation is the affirmation that Nigerian federalism has been sacrificed on the altar of over-centralisation of the political system. The essence of Nigerian politics is that the President and the Governors are dominant and the 200 million other Nigerians are marginalised.


The consequence is that the struggle to produce a president or a governor becomes lethal and once someone occupies the office, the only issue on the table is not policy or performance but power shift to other geopolitical zones. This is the problem that we need to address. Elections should be about democracy not about who will be the big boss in mega looting. It is clear to me that consolidating and deepening our democracy is the key challenge of our times. Democracy, if properly practiced offers social groups an opportunity to defend social gains by having a say on how broad decisions are made and by providing a framework for rules and institutions to be periodically tested and upgraded without resorting to violence. This is what we lack.


The key to the future of the Nigerian state is found in the crisis of the rentier economy. State obligations are growing in a period in which petroleum rent is declining and most of the revenue that comes in is stolen. This means that trickledown effect of economic growth has disappeared as the incidence of poverty among Nigerians has grown making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. The process of rebuilding Nigeria will start when public officials who abuse their positions are made to pay for their misdeeds. The looters of the national wealth must be made to account for their actions against the Nigerian people. If we do so, we can begin to conquer the fear of Nigerians that Anthony Kirk-Greene wrote about: “Fear has been constant in every tension and confrontation in political Nigeria. Not the physical fear of violence, not the spiritual fear of retribution, but the psychological fear of discrimination, of domination. It is the fear of not getting one’s fair share, one’s dessert.”


There is a real ambivalence among the Nigerian elite on their attitude to the nation state. They are dissatisfied by the present arrangement and often seek to retreat to their primordial shells, and yet, they frequently realise that they need the country to survive. Creation of states has not provided protection for their own identities, regions, religions and tribes. The reason is simple, our elite consensus is for federalism and the reality is that our federalism has been eroded.


Our Elite Consensus: Give Us <True> Federalism

In political science, it is argued that federal societies develop into federal states when they agree on the basis of a constitution they have negotiated to share power in a way that no component feels marginalised or excluded. In Nigeria, the 1951 Macpherson’s Constitution was adopted on the basis of an elite consensus. The regional elites were suspicious of each other, had no trust in the other and therefore decided that federalism is the best collective protection for all of them. As has been explained:


“True Federalism implies power sharing, abandoning the notion of any one group dominating all the others, not secession but building interdependence. But we need to work hard on it and not merely pay lip service to unity in diversity.”

Prof Ade Ajayi, The Nigerian Social Scientist, Vol 5, No 1, 2002, P56


The First Republic failed because there was a feeling that true federalism had been seriously undermined by the creation of the Mid West and the imposition of a state of emergency in the Western Region, amongst other political crimes. Since then, the search for true federalism has been on-going without success. Nigerians have pinned a lot of hope that the Fourth Republic, which was inaugurated on 29th May 1999, would provide an opportunity to craft a Constitution that will guarantee true federalism.  Constitutions are the symbolic as well as juridical expression of the sovereignty of modern democratic states. They should therefore have popular legitimacy to be able to have binding and supreme power within the state. In their preambles, constitutions declare their sources of legitimacy i. e. the basis on which they embody the force of law. This constituent power “pouvoir constituant” is normally rooted in a form of representation of popular sovereignty and expressed in the preamble to the constitution. The preamble of the 1999 Constitution states that:


WE THE PEOPLE of the Federal Republic of Nigeria:


HAVING firmly and solemnly resolved:


TO LIVE in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God dedicated to the promotion of inter-African solidarity, world peace, international co-operation and understanding:


AND TO PROVIDE for a Constitution for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the Unity of our people.


The most serious problem with the 1999 Constitution is that it has not responded to persistent demands for a political restructuring of the country. The demands have been for curbs on the powers of the federal government and the enhancement of the powers of states and local governments. The Nigerian military have responsibility for destroying Nigerian federalism by sacrificing it on the altar of over-centralisation. Nigeria’s geopolitical realities have been completely modified through the subordination of state governments to the federal government. In federal constitutions, the federal and state governments all have constitutionally defined areas in which each level of government is sovereign as well as areas where both levels have concurrent authority. According to Wheare, in federal regimes, neither the federal nor regional governments are supreme; the constitution is the only supreme organ.


According to Section 4(5) of the 1999 Constitution however:


If any law enacted by the House of Assembly of a State is inconsistent with a law validly made by the National Assembly, the law made by the National Assembly shall prevail and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.


There is therefore a clear hierarchy between the two levels of government. In terms of the legislative powers for the different levels of government defined in the Second Schedule of the Constitution, the longest list is the exclusive legislative one which only the federal legislature can pass laws on. The exclusive legislative list has 68 items, two more than in the 1979 document. The concurrent legislative list by comparison has only 30 items. It includes all sorts of powers including police, prisons, even marriage, excluding marriage under Customary and Islamic Law. State governments cannot borrow money abroad without federal approval (item 7) and they cannot regulate labour matters (item 34). Direct taxation – incomes, profits and capital gains is an exclusive federal preserve (item 59). Even the appointment of judges in the state service, are to be made by the state governor on the recommendation of a federal executive body, the National Judicial Council. State governments do not have exclusive competence in any domain. The failure of the 1999 Constitution to address demands for political restructuring and the redistribution of powers has left all the problems of Nigerian history related to fears of political domination intact.


The persistent demands for true federalism must be addressed if Nigerians are to get the assurance that their full participation, safety, and welfare within the State is to be guaranteed. The Constitutional Conferences organised by the Obasanjo and Jonathan Administrations both got their constitutional reform agendas derailed. The present legitimacy crisis facing the Nigerian State should be seen as an opportunity to address the issue of true federalism with the seriousness it deserves. In so doing, we do not have to re-invent the wheel, the work done by the previous constitutional conferences provide sufficient raw material to set the ball rolling at minimal cost. One of the greatest sources of anger against the Buhari Administration is the general belief that he is dismissive of any attempt at serious constitutional change. The major issues that have to be addressed include the following – the democratic diffusion of power/devolution of power; guarantee of group and collective rights; power sharing and establishing multi-party system based on genuine pluralism.


Negotiate an Approach and Timeframe for Resolving the Farmer-Herder Crisis

Pastoralists-farmers’ conflicts in Nigeria have grown, spread and intensified over the past decade and today poses the greatest threat to our national integrity. Bands of criminal gangs associated with Fulani herders have emerged and engage in mass killings, banditry, kidnapping and arson. For many reasons people believe that the herders are out to kill them and take their land. Government policy over the past five years, including the cattle colony and ruga policies have been understood by many communities as tacit, if not direct alignment with the alleged herders’ agenda of killing people and taking over their land. The Federal Government must undergo a Mea culpa stating clearly that it is not sectional in its approach to tackling the crisis of pastoralism. Spokespersons for the affected community must do likewise.

Virtually the entire country is today affected by growing conflicts between pastoralists and sedentary communities. The six zones of Nigeria are all affected. These conflicts have been on-going for five decades but there has been a dramatic escalation in the past decade. Prior to the 20th century, the Fulani were mainly concentrated in the semi-arid zone of Northern Nigeria, mostly due to the presence of trypanosomes’ and other diseases that made cattle rearing in more humid environments in the South impossible without significant losses to the herds. The growth and spread of herders’-farmers’ conflicts have since transformed into communal clashes that are developing logic of their own.

Nigeria is today confronted with a rising spate of violent communal conflicts between herdsmen and host communities. The conflicts arise when grazing cattle are not properly controlled and consequently graze on cultivated plants like cassava, maize etc. in the farms of host communities. As traditional modes of conflict resolution between herdsmen and farmers breakdown, the destruction of crops lead increasingly to communal conflicts between the two groups. Host communities tend to register their grievances by placing restrictions on movement and gracing of cattle in designated areas and enforcing compliance through coercive measures decreed by the host community vigilante groups which may take the shape of killing stray cattle or arresting and prosecution defaulters. As these conflicts aggravate, the Fulani herdsmen who are losing more and more of their cattle and sometimes their lives also resort to violence by attacking such communities. Many reports indicate that Fulani herdsmen normally attack their target communities at the time they are most susceptible such as mid-night or prayer days, when they are in their churches, incessantly killing people with sophisticated weapons, looting properties and burning houses.

Nigeria has about 19 million cattle much of it in the hands of pastoralists and we need to seek solutions to the problem of pastoralism while resolving the problem of insecurity that has arisen. The problem is that Nigeria’s population has grown from 33 million in 1950 to over 200 million today. This phenomenal increase of the population has put enormous pressure on land and water resources used by farmers and pastoralists. One of the outcomes of this process has been the blockage of transhumance routes and loss of grazing land to agricultural expansion and the increased southward movement of pastoralists has led to increased conflict with local communities. The conflicts primarily involve Fulani pastoralists and local farming communities. As violence between herdsmen and farmers has grown and developed into criminality and rural banditry, popular narratives in the form of hate speech have exacerbated the crisis.


It is clear that Nigeria and indeed Africa have to plan towards the transformation of pastoralism into settled forms of animal husbandry. The establishment of grazing reserves provides the opportunity for practicing a more limited form of pastoralism and is therefore a pathway towards a more settled form of animal husbandry. Nigeria has a total of 417 grazing reserves out of which only about 113 have been gazetted. Whether we support or oppose pastoralism, it is clear that at least in the short and medium term, many herds must continue to practice seasonal migration between dry and wet season grazing areas. Ultimately, there is the need for permanent settlement of pastoralists.


A new policy framework on the farmers-pastoralists crisis should be developed that is both comprehensive and mutually beneficial to both groups. An inter-ministerial committee should be constituted with experts and stakeholder membership to draw up the framework. There must be a consultative process that listens to the concerns of all stakeholders in developing the new framework so that the outcome would have national ownership. Pastoralism is not sustainable in Nigeria over the long term due to high population growth rate, expansion of farming and loss of pasture and cattle routes. At the same time, pastoralism cannot end or be prohibited in the short term, as there are strong cultural and political economy reasons for its existence. The new policy should develop a plan for a transitional period during which new systems would be put in place. The framework should map out the duration, strategy and timelines for the transition plan. Finally, a comprehensive approach to address the growing crisis associated with violence affecting pastoralism and farmers in Nigeria is necessary.

As pastoralists are being blocked out of traditional grazing reserves due to growing insecurity, they are being forced into adopting pastoralist methods that increase, rather than decrease the potential for conflicts and discord. Traditionally, pastoralists disperse themselves so as not to overgraze areas and encroach on farms. With rising insecurity however, they are being forced to move in large groups in smaller spaces as they get blocked out of their traditional grazing zones. This large-scale concentration of pastoralists in limited ranges allows them to protect themselves against attacks. The paradox is that the more concentrated they are, the more damage they do to crops, which in turn fuels more violent conflict. This conflict-generating trend can only be reversed when security in rural Nigeria begins to improve.


Recovering Our Ungoverned Spaces

Rural Nigeria is characterized by the absence of the State and its security agencies and it is therefore not surprising that the blight of armed banditry has spread and impacted negatively on lives and livelihoods. The massive proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the Nigerian hinterland has provided the means for agency in the spread of violence. The phenomenon has dramatized the expansion of ungoverned spaces in the country. There are contending narratives as to the reasons and character of the crisis of armed banditry in Nigeria and in the wider sub-region. Apart from the history of decades of expansion of ungoverned spaces, the debilitating effects of conflict resulting from climate change cannot be overlooked. Specifically, waning amounts of rainfall has its toll on the growth of shrubs and vegetation useful for not only farm purposes but also for grazing needs of herds. The impact of climate change has been more variable as certain places experience significant reduction of rainfall while others suffer from excessive flooding. Nigeria has also experienced significant population increase over the past decades leading to a huge expansion of farming. The pressure on land has worsened the phenomenon of contests over access to land between pastoralists and farmers leading to the growth of violent confrontations between the two groups.

There are many factors that contribute to the growth of the phenomenon of rural banditry. One of the most important is poor governance and the virtual collapse of institutions of governance. Deep seated corruption has eroded the capacity of institutions to perform their functions. Nigeria’s borders are porous and there has been decades of freelance smuggling of small arms and light weapons which have provided the means for the escalation of the violence. Many of the arms found their way into Nigeria through the Maghreb following the uprisings in North Africa and countries of the Sahel, including State collapse in post-Ghaddafi Libya. Nigeria also has a youth bulge characterized by lack of job opportunities for the growing population of men and women.

Various violent non-state actors have relied on the advantage offered by ungoverned spaces to perpetrate multiple violent attacks and crimes in these areas. Unarguably, the challenge posed by some of these non-state actors is not limited to Nigeria. The gap between the centre and the periphery has been widening in most African states since their independence. This ever-expanding chasm has led to a deficit in governance that political scientists refer to as the ungoverned space. States tend to devote most of their resources to high return areas, an excuse for allocating resources to certain places on the basis of ethnic nepotism, to the exclusion of others. This practice has led to the creation of pockets of long-standing disenfranchisement across Africa, making them a fertile breeding ground for radicalization and subtle spread of religious ideologies.

Two major zones of ungoverned spaces have emerged in Nigeria in relation to the phenomenon of armed banditry. The first is the Sahel region of the Northern Nigeria which specifically covers dry lands in Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa States. The second consists of the swamps and forest regions of the Niger-Delta characterized by rivers, creeks and lakes in the States of Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Abia and Ondo. Government has watched and allowed these ungoverned spaces to consolidate. One central element in the North West zone that favours armed banditry is the existence of large protected forests bordering the rural areas. Zamfara State for instance is mostly surrounded by forests, (with little or no government presence), from where bandits launch their attacks on outlying towns, highways, and villages. The Rugu, Kamara, Kunduma, and Sububu forests have become major hideouts for criminals. Worse still, with a fragile state system and waning public confidence in police and state security institutions, the allegiance of defenceless rural communities is gradually shifting toward informal, armed groups and local vigilantes. This is the same situation with the recently increasing spate of kidnapping for ransom along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway that has defied efforts by the security agencies to control the situation. There are widespread allegations of corruption against state security operatives, police, judges, village heads, and even some vigilante groups.  The public institutions responsible for offering protection and delivering justice are unable to bring bandits to justice due to inadequate resources and widespread extortion. We must develop a new national policy on forests that kill.

Let’s Teach Our Children: We Worship the Same God

In 1958, the Northern Nigerian Government published “A Book of Prayers and Readings” for use in mixed assemblies of Muslim and Christian students. In his Forward to the book, Minister Aliyu Makama made the important point that:


“Both Muslims and Christians are <people of the Book> and it is my earnest prayer and hope that from this book of Prayers and Readings the younger generation in particular may learn the vital truth that the things which unite us are far more important than the things that divide us.”


The chapters in the book cover themes such as the unity of God, creation. God’s love, courtesy and kindness, the value of knowledge, humility and penitence and spiritual combat with very similar quotations from Islam, Christianity and other religions. As a student in Barewa College, I listened to readings from this book which created in us the realization that our religions have the same values and that everyone that respect their religion must also respect other religions that draw from the same belief and value pool. It is this education about comparative religion that is missing in Nigeria today and we have so many young people who lack education in their own religion and their ignorance pushed them into the belief that the other religion is the enemy whose adherents must be killed.



God is One, the Ancient of days: Eternal, having no beginning: Everlasting, having no end, continuing for evermore. He is the First and the Last, Whose wisdom extendeth over all. He cannot be likened to anything else that exists, nor is anything like unto Him, nor is He contained by the earth or the heavens, for He is exalted far above the earth and the dust thereof.

                 AL GHAZALI


I am the first and I am the last, and beside me there is no God.



Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting: and blessed be Thy glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. Thou art the Lord, even Thou alone; Thou hast made heaven and the heaven of heavens, with all their host; the earth, and all the things that are therein; the seas and all that is in them; and Thou preservest them all and the host of heaven worship Thee.





Ere he made us He loved us, and when we were made we loved Him.



Who so knows God, loves Him, and whoso loves Him He makes to dwell with Him, and whom He makes to dwell with Him, blessed is he, yea blessed.

                                        AL MUHASIBI




O God give me light in my heart and light in my tomb, and light in my hearing and light in my sight; light in my feeling and light in all my body; light before me and light behind me. Give me, I pray Thee, light on my right hand and light on my left hand, and light above me and light beneath me. O Lord, increase light within me and give me light and illuminate me.

              ABU TALIB AL MIKKI


O Dayspring, Brightness of Light Everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: come and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness and the shadow of death.

                    ROMAN BREVIARY



Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so cloth the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore, take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

               ST. MATHEW’S GOSPEL


If ye rely upon God as He ought to be relied on, He will provide you as He provides the birds; they go out empty and hungry in the morning and come back big-bellied at eventide.

             UMAR (T.I)




Ask and thou shall be given it; ask and thou shalt be given it.

            IBNI MASUD (T.I)


Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.

                ST MATHEW’S GOSPEL





In the field of this body a great war goes forward against passion, anger, pride and greed; it is in the kingdom of truth, contentment and purity that this battle is ragging and the sword that rings forth most loudly is the sword of His Name. It is a hard fight and a weary one, this fight of the truth seeker, for the truth seeker’s battle goes on day and night; as long as life lasts it never ceases.



Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the price? So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things, now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.






My God, of Thy mercy forgive me my sins. O Lord, through my sinful deeds make me fear Thy justice, yet the greatness of Thy compassion makes me hope in Thee. O Lord, I have not merited Paradise by my deeds, and I cannot endure the pains of Hell, so I entrust myself simply to Thy grace. Wash me from my sins; give me the hope of redeemed and in Thy mercy cast me not away from Thy presence.

                 YAHAYA B. MADH-EL-RAZI


Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sins; cast me not away from Thy presence, and take Thy Holy Spirit from me.





Wisdom is glorious and never fadeth away; yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of them that seek her. She goeth before them that desire her, in making herself first known unto them. Whoso seeketh her early shall have no great travail, for he shall find her sitting at his doors.



Knowledge is to the mind as a lamp to the eye, and as the light of the sun to the sight. Knowledge was given to man by God, so that his reason, making use therefore, might enable him to realise how the darkness of ignorance veils him from the remembrance of the next world and the regard of his Lord upon him.

              AL MUHASIBI


Let’s Fulfil the National Pledge on Education for ALL

The greatest challenge facing Nigeria today is that of rebuilding a high-quality educational system that could build knowledge, skills, civic education and critical thinking for our young ones. That would be the basis on which they could have confidence in a future that could provide jobs, opportunities and progress for the majority. It was Ahmed Joda who drew our attention to the National Pledge made by Nigeria in 1973. He explains that in that year, the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon called a Government Retreat and asked for one policy recommendation that would ensure Nigeria would never again run the risk of another civil war. The decision was a National Pledge that every Nigerian child born from the end of the civil war – January 1970, would be guaranteed free, qualitative and compulsory primary education. Subsequently, we extended the promise from primary to basic education – nine years of free and qualitative education for all Nigerian children. Al governments were to ensure that each year, sufficient resources are made available by governments to ensure every child is in school. This week, the Federal Government held another retreat on the crisis of education. In his speech, President Buhari lamented the Nigeria tragedy in which 13.2 million children of school going age are not in school (Trust, 14 November 2017). This is the largest number of out of school children in the world today and a collective shame to all of us Nigerians.


Most of those in school are not much better that the ones in school. Each year, we graduate millions of children from our 65,000 public primary schools in Nigeria and we claim they have passed so we send them to junior secondary schools pleased with ourselves for educating the children of the masses. Meanwhile, we all know we are telling ourselves a big lie because we all know that we have abandoned public primary schools for four decades and most of them are today factories for the reproduction of illiteracy and ignorance. We are already paying the price for our irresponsibility, as we shall argue below.


It was one Bolaji Abdullahi who first exposed our collective lie that we are educating the children of the masses. As Commissioner of Education in Kwara State, he decided to test the level of competency of primary school teachers in 2007. Working with top consultants from Oxford, they devised a scheme to administer primary four examinations on the 19,000 teachers in public primary schools in the State and the results were shocking. Only 75, yes 75 of them were able to pass with the required 80% competence threshold. Each year, the student’s pass but their teachers were incapable of passing the same exams. My good friend Kayode Fayemi lost the gubernatorial election in Ekiti State partly because his enemies spread the story that he was planning to run competency tests for teachers in the State if he wins the second term election. The teachers ganged up and mobilised to stop him winning, they did not want to take the risk of their ignorance being exposed. Adams Oshiomhole also got into trouble as Governor of Edo State when he decided to test the teachers.


The Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai, who has no fear, has conducted similar exams for teachers in his State. All the 33,000 primary schoolteachers in Kaduna State took the test and 21,780 of them, or two-thirds failed to score 70% or higher on assessments usually given to their primary school pupils. The Governor has decided to sack all those who failed and hire new teachers with sufficient skills to teach. When announcing the dreadful numbers, he explained that the hiring of teachers in the past was politicised and his plan is to identify and recruit “young and qualified primary school teachers to restore the dignity of education in the state.


The larger question is why should we expect primary school teachers to be competent when increasingly, the quality and standards in our universities are becoming poorer. We need to fix our universities so that they can produce good quality teachers for our primary and secondary schools. The core issue is that we are simply not investing enough in the education of the children of the masses because almost the entire elite have withdrawn their children from public schools.


What is disturbing is that for generations, right up to the 1970s, the standards of public educational institutions were high and we all benefitted from the competency available in the schools. For people of my generation, as children, we saw Nigeria us a land of promise and our social mobility was guaranteed because of the solid training we had in our primary and secondary schools, both public and private. We had no worry in the world because our States of origin had offered most of us free education with scholarships and the assurance of post-graduation jobs should we decide to work for them. The conditions under which we studied at that time provided us quality education comparable to the best in the world, comfort and the assurance of a good future.


That has also been the case for most of our children, who have through our personal commitments as parents had the opportunity to get good education that is helping them progress in life. For most of us in the elite, we have heavily invested a considerable part of our income to properly educate our children in private schools. The question before the Nation today is the other children, products of the masses, will they allow our children enjoy their education in peace and harmony? I don’t think so and we only have ourselves to blame. We are collectively guilty of treating the children of the masses with disdain and class violence and there is a price to pay.


Most children of the poor in contemporary Nigeria have had no access to quality education in our public schools. By our failure in educating the children of the masses, we have been providing a constant supply of militants for the Boko Haram insurgency, rural banditry, Niger Delta militancy and kidnapping. Those who managed to go to school did not get jobs and have been providing intellectual support for the meltdown that is contemporary Nigeria. The situation is simple. We enjoyed our youth, we got educated while young and as young men and women, and we got good jobs. We then abandoned the majority of our youth, ensured that they are uneducated or poorly educated and made it clear to them that they have no hope for social mobility. And we dared to think that the others would allow our children enjoy their futures, no sir, no ma.


This commitment to educate all Nigerians took off in 1976 with the Universal Primary Education programme but over the years we did not sustain the commitment, nor provide the resources to achieve the objectives we have set for ourselves. Three things happened. First, we expanded primary school intake without the commensurate resources to produce more quality teachers and facilities for the public schools. Secondly, realising we had betrayed the masses; we removed our own children from public schools and put them in private schools. Thirdly, we realised the rot we started had reached our private schools so we sent our children abroad to study hoping that when they return, they will still find a country. The result is the present state of affairs characterised by generalised insecurity, misery, anger, violence, extortion and destruction.


The Nigerian public school system has basically collapsed with over half of primary school graduates leaving school as functional illiterates. The quality of teachers is very low with many primary school teachers being barely literate themselves. The facilities and infrastructure in our schools have collapsed with students studying in overcrowded classrooms, without furniture, toilets and other basic facilities. The level of youth unemployment in the country is massive and is compounded by the low quality of education received has helped create doubts in the minds of parents and children as to the value of education. Private schools have been largely commercialised and are focused on extracting resources from parents rather than providing quality education.


Some people have suggested that public officers should be banned from sending their children abroad for education. The problem is that many of the people making the suggestion had themselves sent their own children abroad. What we members of the Nigerian elite have lacked is a sense on enlightened self-interest. We failed to realise that if we do not build and develop our society, we will have no society to live in. If we think it does not matter to us, we should know that it would certainly matter to our children. To save ourselves, we must as a nation resolve to allocate significant resources to rebuilding education and creating hope within the angry youth bulge we have created. We need to develop a national consensus on the value and significance of education and we above all need to redirect educational budgets away from ministers and permanent secretaries to students, teachers and school facilities. Even more important, we need to start producing a new breed of teachers who are well trained, well paid and respected. Why send our children to seek them abroad while we can produce them here if we make and implement the right decision. This would however require


Nigeria’s State Crisis and the Imperative of Collective Action

The state of the Nigerian State is serious and each day we appear to be sinking deeper into the abyss. The State as we know it from political science literature does three things. First, it extracts resources from citizens through various forms of taxation. This assumes that the State knows all those who reside in its territory and is able to track them and make them fulfil their fiduciary obligations. Many within the younger generation will be surprised to learn that there was a time when the Nigerian State tracked and monitored each adult to ensure they pay their tax. They also tracked each nomad and made them pay tax, jangali as it was called, on every cow, sheep and goat they own. In addition, people were made to produce cash crops – cocoa, palm oil and groundnuts, and State institutions called marketing boards bought the produce cheaply, sold it abroad and put the profit in State coffers. The system of state administration established by the British system of Native Administration had a four-tier structure. First there was the “residents” who were in charge of public administration and gave directives for state policy. Then there was the Native Authority starting with the first-class emir, oba or obi through to district, village and ward heads that knew, monitored and collected taxes from the people. Finally, there was the Native Treasury where the monies were disbursed and the Native Court that were in charge of sanctions. It was an efficient system of monitoring, tracking and extracting taxes from people. That was the State that we inherited from the colonial powers.


The second role the State plays is that of using the resources it has extracted from residents and citizens to provide public goods such as security, social services and infrastructure for the welfare of inhabitants. In States where taxes are extracted from the people, there were usually demands and pressure on the State to deliver because citizens have paid their taxes and expect their resources to be used for their benefit. The available resources were not very much but they were used more effectively to deliver public goods. There was corruption but the percentage was low. There was a time when stealing 10% of a project allocation was considered a terrible thing. Today, billions can be picked from the NNPC and simply pocketed.


Then the military took over power and thereafter the oil boom, now known as the oil doom came. The State was getting enormous inflows from petroleum rent and did not need the people any more. The immediate result was the loss of the tradition and knowhow of monitoring the people and extracting resources from them. Agriculture lost its significance. We neglected agricultural production and started massive importation of rice, flour, frozen Argentinian beef and what Nigerians call mortuary fish. To crown it all, we became the top importer and consumer of champagne in the world. We thought we had become a great nation not knowing we had been losing our State, our, Nation, our Country.


The third role the Sate plays is that of regulation, making laws for the good governance of the country and sanctioning those who breach the laws through the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Thanks to the colonial legacy and thirty years of military rule, the objective of the laws was to oppress and control the people. The laws however did not apply to the ruling class, as impunity became the order of the day. Mega corruption by the ruling class was fine but it became criminal for journalists to expose what the ruling class was doing.


Our Constitution defines the purpose of the state as the protection of the security of Nigerians and the pursuit of their welfare. Nigerians however know that they have to pay for their own security guards and even the bulk of the Nigerian police personnel are used to provide security, not for the people, but for individuals who can afford to pay for their services. Nigerian citizens are forced to provide their own electricity with millions of generators they purchase to power their houses and pollute the atmosphere. Nigerians go to the stream to fetch water or buy it from water vendors. The water is not potable and poisons families through water borne diseases. The elite is able to pay for personal boreholes in their houses and the result is that they wipe out underground water sources for future generations while surface water is not captured and treated but is left to flow into the sea. Of course, health and education have largely been private and the state is completely disdainful of Chapter Two of our Constitution that directs it to provide for the welfare of citizens. Our must work hard on rebuilding state capacity.

Don’t Forget that we told our Children – Go Forth and Inter-Marry

My final point is that our Constitution is one of the few in the world that advices citizens to inter-marry between cultures. Article 15,3(C) states:

“Encourage inter-marriage among persons from different places of origin, or of different religions, ethnic or linguistic association or ties.”

Believe me, Nigerians have been doing just that. There is massive inter-marriage, especially among young Nigerians who have grown up in urban centres have married into the families of neighbours they have grown up with. Even if for the sake of these rising numbers of cosmopolitan Nigerians, to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.



The task before us is the reconstruction of the Nigerian State. We cannot allow our political community to continue to crumble and suffer the outcome of State collapse, which Thomas Hobbes had assured us will make our lives “nasty, brutish and short”. Rebuilding the State must take the form of a new approach based on good governance in which there is effective, transparent and accountable use of public resources to provide public goods for citizens. If those who exercise State power cannot use it to improve the lives and livelihoods of citizens, then they would have to be replaced. Our State must also recover the capacity to have the monopoly of the use of legitimate violence in society. The armed forces must the rebuilt. As the State recovers, our traditional and religious institutions as well as civil society have a huge role in playing their part in the war against on-going insurgencies.


Given the huge security challenges facing the country, it is important that Nigeria as a nation devises effective strategies that will stem the insurgency and create conditions for the protection of human rights and the deepening of democracy. The armed forces have a significant role to play in this regard. Nigerians are particularly concerned about the rules of engagement for military operations within the civilian population. There are military operations in virtually all states of the country. This means that the normal process of police being in charge of internal security issues no longer operates. At the same time, the military have not been traditionally trained to engage in this arena and their rules of engagement might not be suitable for the new role thrust upon them. It is important in this context to publish, debate and revise the rules of engagement to ensure that they are in conformity with human rights principles.  Finally, we cannot give up on the police. We must expand the police, train them and build their capacity for effective law enforcement.