AFTER a hiatus of about two years or so, I travelled by road from Ilorin to Abuja last weekend, in the company of my friend, Nurudeen Abdulrahim.
And what a journey that was! In many senses, it was useful to travel by road again, if only to re-appreciate the depth of rot in practically every aspect of our national life. Those who go between Ilorin and Abuja these days know that it is one of the nightmares of Nigerian road travel.
The approaches through Minna, Bidda, Kaduna or Kabba are very bad, so most now travel through Ekiti State to come out at Kabba, Okene and Lokoja. It is marginally better than the other routes. At the weekend, we passed through at least 15 police or joint military/police checkpoints. And as usual, the security personnel were rude and aggressive; one would be right to assume we faced an army of occupation.
Security personnel as prey
There is little affection for security personnel, because they prey on the people; are not courteous and more often than not, behave irresponsibly! It is sad to note that 50 years down the line of nationhood, ‘our’ security seems locked into the time warp of their colonial origins!You approach a checkpoint and gangster-like, security men raise guns in a threatening manner at unarmed citizens; they ask for your papers and order you out of your vehicle. In most cases, they reek of alcohol! We went through those threats, yet not once did they ask any reasonable security-related question or were they interested in the content of our bags. We might have been transporting anything to Abuja.
In recent weeks, the National Security Adviser appealed to Nigerians to volunteer information to assist the work of the nation’s security Forces. I do not envy Andrew Owoeye Azazi, because I honestly think he labours in vain! Nigerians generally distrust his security Forces because they are not well-behaved! And as we have seen in the Niger Delta, Odi, Zaki Biam and most recently in Maiduguri, there have been many issues of extra-judicial killings by these Forces that have not been investigated openly or prosecuted.
So it makes no sense for the citizen to aid these security personnel.
There is also a related issue of doctrine which our security Forces must re-think, especially against the background of their colonial origins and the long period of military dictatorship. Founded by colonialism, they were used to ‘pacify’ Nigeria in the service of British imperialism. So the Nigerian people were historically ‘the enemy’. They have not been weaned from that mentality and in minute acts of every day relationships, examples of disrespect or distrust of the people manifest.
In turn, people tolerate them with loathing, knowing that you cannot argue with a (drunk!) man carrying a gun and able to “accidentally discharge” the citizen to death! The residual effect of military dictatorship, the ultimate act of preying on the people, also continues to haunt security-people relationship.
If democracy is by and of the people, then the security forces must be doctrinally re-oriented to see the people as central to the security scheme of things. Security confronts serious challenges and none more dangerous than the significant sections of the elite that continuously de-legitimise the country and working to undermine its continued survival! But in the long run, state survival cannot be guaranteed only through the deployment of security but in the legitimacy which the state earns from people, who see and feel the state as working for their wellbeing!