To stand a fighting chance with overcoming widespread and growing insecurity within its borders, Nigeria must adopt a more holistic approach that simultaneously combines combatting security threats more effectively with addressing the root causes of conflicts and agitations in the country, Agora Policy, a Nigeria think tank, has advised.

“Current military engagements should be sustained,” the think tank states in its latest report titled ‘Understanding and Tackling Insecurity in Nigeria,’ which was released on Monday, 7th November 2022. “But the nature, pattern and trend of security challenges confronting Nigeria cannot be dealt with efficiently using military power alone. “Addressing only the manifestations of insecurity without tackling its drivers is akin to merely cutting off the tail of a dangerous snake while keeping intact its head and the rest of its body.”

With all its six geo-political zones contending with one form or multiple forms of insecurity, Nigeria is “currently battling generalised insecurity” where hardly any zone of the country is spared, the report claims.

The report identifies the dominant security challenges as terrorism in the North East, banditry and terrorism in the North West, herder-farmer clashes and terrorism in the North Central, militancy in the South South, insurgency and separatist agitations in the South East, farmer-herder/communal clashes and even a sprinkle of terrorism in the South West.

“Africa’s most populous country and erstwhile bulwark of stability in West Africa is practically under the gun on all fronts,” the report states. It warns that “allowing the prevailing security challenges to fester will hasten Nigeria’s slide to the league of failed states similar to the circumstances in Iraq and Syria. The preponderance of groups with territorial ambitions means increased threat to the territorial integrity of the country.”

Put together by a team of security experts, including those with service experience within and outside the country, the report analysed the types as well as the drivers and manifestations of insecurity in Nigeria.

Following from this, the report made short-, medium- and long-term recommendations on how to address the growing scourge which, it says, negatively impacts not just security of life and property in the country but also national cohesion, the capacity and the credibility of the state, economic growth, commerce, food production and education.

“Insecurity in Nigeria is multi-dimensional,” the report states. “As such, for any attempt at addressing the growing menace to be effective and sustainable, it needs to be holistic, deftly combining ‘hard’, military solutions with ‘soft’ approaches aimed at tackling the socio-economic underpinnings of conflict and crime. Insecurity does not thrive in a vacuum. Some factors are precursory to it. [These are] the environmental conditions that both kindle and nurture insecurity.”

The report identified 11 drivers of insecurity in Nigeria. These are: ineffective and inadequate security architecture, ineffective and insufficient criminal justice system, easy access to small arms and light weapons, the existence of porous borders, easy access to illicit drugs, prevalence of poverty and unemployment, impact of climate change, multiplication of unaddressed socio-political and economic grievances, poor land use policies, agitations over resource control, and failure to address structural and constitutional deficiencies.

To address the socio-economic underpinnings of conflicts and crimes, the report recommends a host of interventions. These include: reviewing the Land Use Act and other extant laws, providing targeted education and skills training to youths in conflict areas, prioritising dialogue and alternative conflict resolution mechanisms, strengthening legislative and judicial responses to ensure quick dispensation of justice, embracing the use of strategic communications to win the hearts and minds of the populace, addressing abuses by the security forces, controlling access to arms and drugs, and embracing a national healing process and ensuring reparations for victims of conflicts and abuses.

The report contends that these measures should be implemented alongside interventions that will enhance the capacity of the security forces to defeat and deter the terrorists, bandits and others who pose security threats to the country. In this wise, the report recommends a root-and-branch reform of the country’s security architecture to ensure that its security forces are fit-for-purpose and can adequately rise up to current and future challenges.

“The current security architecture of Nigeria may have once been effective in tackling the challenges at their time of institution,” the report states. “However, the challenges across the country have evolved significantly. There are new domains of security threats, while smaller and largely benign groups have evolved into well-armed transnational insurgent groups. This means the security and defence structures that worked in prior dispensations are currently struggling to keep up with the evolved challenges. The need for a defence and security sector reform is imperative.”

According to the report, such a reform should start with a comprehensive and consultative audit of the missions, doctrines, trainings and staffing of all the military, paramilitary and other security forces and agencies in the country to ensure an alignment with current and future security threats. The result of the audit, the report adds, should provide a guide to how to better streamline, resource, staff and coordinate security agencies in the country.

The outcome of the comprehensive reform should incorporate mechanisms for significant boost in the number of security personnel, increased focus on accountability, more respect for rules of engagement and monitoring and evaluation, and greater coordination of intelligence gathering and usage.

The report also recommends the mop up and control of the flow of small arms and light weapons, recruitment of more women in the security forces and introduction of more gender-sensitive policies, regulation of irregular security outfits across the country, and the introduction of a dedicated border patrol force to contain the unchecked flow of arms and terrorists/bandits across the country’s extensive borders.

“We recommend the creation of a border guard force focused on providing border security, as the current role is being performed by the Nigerian Customs Service which considers border security a secondary priority to its primary focus of revenue generation,” the report states. “Nigeria can look at examples such as the Border Security Force and the Frontier Force in India, the Pakistan Rangers in Pakistan, and the Border Security Agency in Malaysia, among others.”

The report also recommends the use of private security contractors but in a specified and controlled manner. The report states that: “It is a known fact that Nigeria’s security personnel are overstretched due to the persistent and widespread nature of current security challenges. This deficiency has allowed insecurity to fester. To relieve the security forces and to enable significant efforts to be applied to degrade the threats, the government should consider inviting private security contractors as it was done shortly before the general election in 2015 [and use them] to confront armed banditry in the North-West and North-Central regions.

“The engagement should be handled through the security forces to assuage concerns in some quarters that the private military contractors are an indication of the non-appreciation by the political class of the security forces’ contribution and sacrifice. Clear objectives and measurement parameters should be set and monitored closely.”

Produced with the support of the MacArthur Foundation, the report is the second of four policy papers commissioned by Agora Policy to contribute to national debate before, during and after the landmark 2023 elections in Nigeria. The other two reports focus on gender and social inclusion and transparency and accountability.

Link to Full Report

Link to Executive Summary

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About Agora Policy

Agora Policy is a Nigerian think tank and non-profit committed to finding practical solutions to urgent national challenges. It conducts policy research, facilitates frank and purposeful dialogues, and builds capacity for governance, policy and advocacy.