Growing up as a kid in Jos early 90’s, I was fascinated by the electrical and mechanical sciences. I fell in with an extended family member, Sonny, and his elder brother, Oma, students of the Government Science School, Kuru. In this circle was Emma, a welder and tinkerer. They would build boomboxes from the scratch, with soldered together electrical panels, polished wood, and acoustics factored in. These would be sold eventually for cool cash. We even worked on a hovercraft prototype based on a vacuum fan Sonny designed. One day, at their makeshift workshop in Tudun Wada, a pesky housefly bothering us, I wondered aloud—“If only I could shoot that damned fly dead with a gun, if only I wouldn’t miss”. Sonny stopped what he was doing and explained how grids worked to me, how if I layered an imaginary net between the gun and the fly, I could fire a bullet to the precise square where the housefly was and kill it. He then went on to talk about GPS and its military uses. I have no idea where Sonny is now.
This comes to mind today because I am thinking of the networks that allow internal security threats, from our own Boko Haram to small and light weapons (SALW) smugglers to human and drug traffickers, operate. In my piece, Insecurity: The Spider is the Problem, I likened the criminal minded people that animate these networks to spiders within webs of hundreds of dispersed connections. The existence of these networks is actually a building block of terror. The aware citizen begins to feel an unconscious dread and worries whether the State can actually protect him or her. The question becomes: how can a State internal security apparatus, armed with a gun because it was created in a milieu where the enemies of a State were at the minimum human-target sized, aim and shoot down these spiders accurately? If the unit of threat is human-sized, one can adjust to maybe the size of a child without loss of focus. But a spider, to compare, is 0.28% of the size of a six-week-old baby. How can our internal security apparatus focus itself to the level of the cell?
When I was a young law student at Zaria in the early 00’s, I remember being struck by volume XIX of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (1990). It contained a plethora of laws creating a hundred thousand “National” and “Nigerian” boards, agencies and parastatals that together with line ministries, the Civil Service Commission and the Presidency make up the government of Nigeria. Some of these parastatals were created as a result of exigencies during the military regimes; others for specific purposes by civilian regimes superseded by military coups. All still exist. The net effect is a government of Nigeria that is bloated with a hundred thousand parastatals that duplicate each other in the best-case scenario, stalemate each other based on the emphasis of ministers (of which there is a high turnover rate) or, more usually in my experience, do next to nothing at all beyond being in the way, shuffling paper, attending meetings, spending overhead costs and plugging expense lines into the national budget.
As my friend, Sonny, pointed out, what is needed is a grid and a grid must have clear lines. You cannot have a grid with bloated, heavy lines that in practice create, instead of reducing, margins of error. In order to be able to better identify the dangerous spiders—arms dealers, terrorists, women and children traffickers—and their networked infrastructure, a thorough audit of Nigeria’s unwieldy bureaucracy is the first step. A solution-specific mindset would see to decommissioning and/or merger of parastatals so that what emerges is service-oriented and lean. There is no sense in having three different parastatals for research, for the use of that same research and for administering the use of the research. With this streamlining, the gathering of the institutional memory of the various aspects of a new, slim and robust government of Nigeria, in a way that is accessible and actionable, becomes possible.
The development of organizational culture is not in itself a bad thing. But it becomes a huge blindside in identifying spiders where organizational cultures that must cooperate to eradicate threat are, instead, competing with each other. The enemies of the State—the Boko Haram insurgents for example, or the cartels smuggling women to Europe—are not bound by any organizational culture that deviates from criminal enrichment through corruption, state capture or state decapitation. Those who liberated Libyan weapons stockpiles after the fall of Ghadafi were not in competition with the transporters who shifted these arms across borders, or with the facilitators who make contact with groups in need of arms for various nefarious purposes. The conflict entrepreneur, whose actions bring about the social conditions for extremism, has no problem cooperating with the three sets of movers in the SALW chain just identified. Why then is it that in an unwieldy government of Nigeria structure as is, we have instances where services and agencies refuse to cooperate even when, working together, better quality service would be delivered, whether it is to the people, as advisory to political leadership or in terms of the identification of threat spiders for elimination? The purpose of internal security has shifted from state preservation to citizen protection. The securing of citizen’s lives and property is a service the State is obligated to deliver, if the people are not to resort to self-help.
Now, putting it all together. In order to address the new sophisticated threat profile facing Nigeria, as exemplified by networked anti-state actors that work with a cell-type organization, the government of Nigeria must mimic this type of organization. No two ways about it. See the Igbo proverb the great African intellectual, Chinua Achebe, gathered in his novel, Things Fall Apart, where Eneke the bird says, “. . . since men have learned to shoot without missing, (I have) learned to fly without perching”.
In order for the government of Nigeria to shoot without missing, it must streamline itself into a lean and effective administrative machinery within which there is seamless inter-agency cooperation between the parts. Decisions must be made quickly and all cadres of executive officers must be aware, at any time, what government of Nigeria resources are available to them and how they can measure an emerging threat incident and escalate upwards for greater leverage as necessary. Only by the creation of such a grid will we be able to see clearly and aim straight at the spiders at the heart of the webs of our various threat profiles accurately. Only by this can we keep Nigeria’s citizens safe and secure.
To my way of thinking, if we are unable to do this, to find the political will to carry out thorough law and administrative reforms, for as long as we keep mouthing the slogans we imagine foreign donors want to hear, for so long as we have a corrupt and inefficient civil service that cannot translate strategy to action pronto, for that long our shots will miss target and the spiders of threat will scoot around unharmed, secure in their network of webs. For so long we will be announcing how threats will be defeated “soon” while citizens lose faith in the State. Eventually, we will lose our ability to shoot. If this happens. . . may this never happen.
Richard Ali was called to the Nigerian Bar in 2010 and has worked in private legal practice, consulted in a policy-shaping role at the Ministry of Interior (2015 to 2017) and has run a preventing and countering violent extremism (PCVE) programme. His expertise is in soft approaches to PCVE. He is an alumnus of the US National Defence University’s Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) and of the State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Programme (IVLP). He is also a novelist and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]