The killing, maiming and the destruction of lives and property in many parts of Northern Nigeria began the moment it became apparent that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the incumbent and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, had won the 2011 presidential election against his chief rival, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of the Congress for Progressive Change. Two weeks after the killing began, there is still bedlam, insecurity, and palpable anxiety in the air.

Incidentally, two weeks after the first life was lost, the Nigerian government has yet to tell the public how many lives were lost, how many were injured and how many public and private possessions were destroyed. But of course, this is characteristic of Nigerian governments: the dereliction, the indifference and the sheer incompetence.

Since 1976, at least, there have been about three accounts of communal, ethnic and/or religious crises almost every year. Because the government, non-governmental organizations, and the media and research institutions do not have reliable data, it is highly likely that about a quarter million Nigerians have lost their lives in manners that are directly and indirectly related to these crises. In addition, it is possible that both private and public concerns have lost properties that can conservatively be estimated at five billion dollars. And then, there are the losses that can not be quantified: the loss of time and wages; the physical and mental injuries; and the social dislocations that are associated with such strife.

What’s more, there are costs to the nation-state: Every time we suffer any of these self-immolations, it diminishes our collective humanity; contributes to the fragmentation of the state; helps to deepen and widen primordial suspicions; and also helps to flame mutual hatred. The violent aftermath of the April 16 presidential election may not be a direct offshoot of religious and/or ethnic differences; still, it seems to have a tinge of both. Many observers of the Nigerian political landscape have attempted to explain why we continue to suffer these and related conflicts. Well, as important as their questions are, it is also necessary to ask why in spite of the huge amount of resources at its disposal, the intelligence community failed at one of its most basic functions: Intelligence gathering. 

For a while, the primary intelligence agency in the country was the National Security Organization (NSO). In 1986, however, General Ibrahim Babangida, the then head of state, issued Decree 19 which effectively dissolved the NSO and in its place created three separate intelligence organizations: The Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which is the military intelligence unit; the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which is today responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence; and the better known State Security Service (SSS). Better known because this is the outfit most Nigerians are familiar with especially since its turf is domestic.

No matter the nature and structure of the intelligence community, its primary purpose is to assist governments in the policy and decision making process. In other words, the intelligence agencies exist to do one thing and one thing only: Assist the government in the furtherance of its domestic and foreign policy objectives – whatever those objectives might be; and whether or not they fall within the bounds of law and human decency. With this in mind, one cannot say – or at least the evidence are not there – to suggest that the Nigerian intelligence community has been of use, or is of value, to the country. Why, for instance, have these agencies not been able to imbed some of its members into the inner circles of those responsible for fanning religious and ethnic conflicts in some parts of the country?

Year after year we have violent conflicts without government’s inkling that these pogroms are going to take place. The ongoing situation in Plateau, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi and elsewhere comes to mind. First, how difficult could it be for intelligence agents to infiltrate rogue organizations and non-state actors? How difficult could it be to employ electronic devices? And for that matter, how hard could it be to “turn and overturn” flame-throwers? Earlier, I posited that the SSS is better known because it operates at home. But more than that, the agency acquired its reputation for its superb, or so it seemed, ability at harassing and intimidating journalists, travelers, political opponents and critics.

Aside from the intelligence agencies, several other government parastatals and ministries also let the country down, and these include the Nigerian Police, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Office of the National Security Adviser. And even the presidency. In addition, every state in the nation has security budget and security agencies. How could they have missed the glaring indicators? A vigilant Federal Government would have known, or at least, anticipated the post-election carnage. In this regard, several factors should have alerted the government to the looming crisis: (a) the recent killings in Jos; (b) the Boko Haram attacks in Borno, Yobe and Bauchi; (c) the heated political space; (d) the unguarded and volatile utterances by a few politicians from the North; (e) the do-or-die nature of the Nigerian polity; and (f) the continuous squabbles for the “presidency to return to the north.”

Each of the aforelisted factors, taken alone, may not be sufficient grounds for raising the alert level; but in their totality, they point to a combustible situation. The Nigerian government, along with half-a-dozen or so federating states failed the people. This government may not be directly responsible for the loss of lives and the destruction of property, it indirectly contributed to the calamity that befell us as a people. And so, what we have here is a failure of intelligence and a failure of leadership at various levels. Because of this systemic failure, hundreds of innocent Nigerians lost their lives. Not only must there be financial compensation to the families of all those who lost their lives, the injured must also be compensated. Those who lost their homes must also be remunerated.

One may concede the fact that intelligence agencies are not omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient; and that they can not always get all the bad guys all the times, or anticipate every move and disrupt all insidious plans. Not even the Federal Bureau of Intelligence and/or the Central Intelligence Agency are capable of such feat. South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency also has its shortcomings and moments of lapses. And even the Israeli MOSSAD is sometimes made mincemeat by persons and groups in and outside of the Middle East. However, none of these agencies and their partners around the world would tolerate ninety per cent failure rate as is the case in Nigeria in the last three or more decades.

While it is true that virtually all the problems and challenges we have predate the Goodluck Jonathan Administration, his government should have done more. Much more! But instead, a significant portion of its time, energy and resources was devoted to winning elections. This has to change. And so, in addition to compensating the victims’ families and all those who were injured and/or had their possessions lost or damaged, the Nigerian Government should embark on several nation-building efforts which must include rewriting the nation’s national security agenda; retraining and reorienting security and intelligence agents; conveying a sovereign national conference. Amongst other things, government should also address age-old suspicions, imbalances and misunderstandings; introduce policies that will help strengthen our democratic institutions; and finally, arrest and prosecute those who encourage ethnic, religious and communal conflicts. All these we can do. And must do!

•    Sabella Abidde is on Facebook and can also be reached at [email protected]

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