We should use our crises to reform Nigeria – Gaskia

Jaye Gaskia is the co-convener of protest to power movement. In this interview with BENJAMIN UMUTEME, he speaks on the need for political re-orientation to take back leadership from the hands of those he calls political entrepreneurs.

What do you think should be done to stop the killings across the country?

This is one of the questions I have always asked when it comes to the security situation, especially with insurgency. It’s looking like the more you see, the less you understand. The role of the military, basically, in any insurgency is in terms of the war – to defeat, degrade the military capacity of the enemy or of the opponents. The military does not hold territories. The moment the military begins to hold territories, then the war becomes a protracted one. If you want to do a quick intervention to degrade then it has to be like shorts. You have to have a time frame for it; you have to say, okay, we are doing this in 12 months. And then the implication of that is that you are also preparing civil authorities to take over. In this case, the civil authority is the police, and then to a large extent, the Security and Civil Defence Corps. Now, if they do not have the capacity to provide, play their role of maintaining internal security, then it is impossible for you to have a situation where you have any restoration of a civil authority.

 And it is the reason the military bases seem to be permanent. And once they leave a place, it becomes exposed, and they cannot be there forever. Basically, what we do require is a complete change of strategy or strategic approach to the way we are addressing the issue, even from the add component, which is a military and police and the policing component of it, we need a new strategy. So, you need a police force and civil defence corps that are equipped and trained and re-oriented to police an environment that has been deeply impacted by terrorism, insurgency, and violent extremism. And that requires a very different set of things. So, I would expect, for example, that the police are part of the counterterrorism centre. I would expect that the police, for example, have an operational division that is focused on policing in the context of insurgency, a special forces trained from the police that is able to undertake that kind of operation which is also part of restoration of civil authority. And if we don’t get policing right, we’re not going to be able to do the other thing which is the return of communities. This is because displaced persons cannot return to their communities because they are not safe for the fear that as soon as they return they are again attacked. The military cannot be there forever; the military is moving and chasing the insurgents. Therefore, if you don’t have your different outfits that can be there and play that role you have problems. 

At times when we talk of ungoverned spaces people look at it from the reach of the central state whether it can reach the entire border. That is one component of it, but the other component is actually the state at the local level. Okay, because all of these territories have governors, state governments and local governments, we don’t have to be talking about the reach of the federal government. We should also be talking about the reach of the state government, the reach of the local governments. And then, of course, the communities themselves need to have some form of governance. And countries that are really beginning to deal with violent extremism of this nature are countries that have understood that community governance has to be overhauled and that you can’t have your back at the community level and expect governance. If you overhaul governance at the community level, then communities would want to play a more significant role in policing themselves and become an aid to the policing authorities in terms of information sharing and so on. 

Can our current governance structure really work? 

That’s the problem, it can’t! That is why I said violent extremism, insurgency, banditry in the North-west, kidnappings in the southern part of the country, armed warfare; gang clashes are all security challenges. They are symptomatic of failed governance. Therefore, if we are responding with security measures and leaving the governance issue, we will only be dealing with one half of the problem and we would actually be compounding it. When you look at the cause of the Boko Haram insurgency, I can say that throughout all the years we have had insurgency, no state government has collapsed, no local government has collapsed, and allocations still go to state governments and local governments. Ask yourself, what’s the challenge? So, if a state says its health facilities have been largely destroyed by the insurgents, but you still have an education ministry, a health ministry and you still have a budget for them. You have your people in those communities that were displaced and you are still relying on international communities to provide grants. It doesn’t make sense, and these are the indicators that governance has already failed. It is an indicator that we are not using the opportunity that the crises have presented to try to actually reform the way governance should be. So that’s a basic challenge that we have. It is also why all this talk about soft approach about countering violent extremism is also not going to achieve the much desired impact, the impact it would be episodic. And then there will be no opportunity to amplify the impact because there is no governance.  

Civil society intervention can at best become successful pilots. For this to become real impactful on scale it means government policies have to reflect these things. And if you deal with governance then that cannot happen. So, how do you return displaced persons to their communities to reintegrate them to their communities? You know, how do we ensure that we are not actually creating permanent displacements, because that’s our problem in this country. This is before we know those people will be permanently displaced and the communities will be where they are now. These people have been forced to become settlers because we are not doing anything about rebuilding, rehabilitating and reconstructing their communities and ensuring that there is effective policing to take care of them.

Is overhauling governance feasible in Nigeria?

It looks like it is not feasible; possible maybe. I believe that the service chiefs could be sacked. I am under no illusion that sacking them is going to suddenly transform the situation…I am saying that if they have failed, they should go. Give other people a chance. If you’re not going in a new strategic direction and a new strategic pathway to address the situation, then it’s not worth the trouble. It’s okay because there is a war going on and the service teams are at the forefront. 

Our mechanism for recruiting and renewing leadership has failed and that we need to have a new mechanism in place. You are going to overhaul if we’re going to hold governance in Nigeria. For me, the basic message is that leadership needs to be overhauled. How can we ensure that leadership emerges by merit and not by any other situation? And that’s the biggest challenge right now. It’s a huge challenge.

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