A decade of war and political instability threatens to dramatically reverse the order Nigeria created since the creation of ECOWAS. Internal strife has dramatically eroded Nigeria’s diplomatic clout in the region.
On the one hand, the current political situation potentially provides a unique opportunity for Nigeria to rethink its defense role and enhance its capacity to act in the regional strategic environment independently of the United States and France.
On the other hand, reality seems quite different from rhetoric. Since the 2010 when the Boko Haram insurgency started heating up, Nigeria has been unable to create a common framework to claim its military independence from the France and the United States, which now has strategic military partnerships with Ghana, Mali, Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
The lack of a strong political will to increase military spending, modernize its armed forces and reconcile diverging national interests made it impossible to propose a real alternative to U.S. and France, which has represented the most effective machinery to ensure security in West Africa.
ECOWAS member countries know, if France and the United States should withdraw from West Africa, it would leave a vacuum, which Nigeria, under current conditions, is unlikely to be able to fill.
With the mad rush for influence and power and the hijacking and possible dissolution of ECOWAS on the horizon, the question is not whether Nigeria can defend itself but what Nigeria must do to be a more independent and resilient actor in a now overcrowded neighborhood.
Nigeria will not be able to defend its Northern and Eastern edges from a traditional military attack. But such an attack is very unlikely. The more realistic scenario is hybrid warfare, with civil disturbances, a disinformation campaign, smear propaganda campaign and of course terrorism.
In an environment with France, Morocco and the United States, Nigeria needs military resources, but political coherence will be even more important. Nigeria is today the most hated and despised country in West Africa.
There is a well run propaganda machine which takes advantage of Nigeria’s negative stereotyping to portray Nigeria as a country to be avoided. A nation of drugs, human trafficking, internet scam, rituals, terrorism..the list is endless. There is no greater threat to Nigeria’s leadership role in the region than this smear campaign
There should be no disunity in Nigeria about the nature of the threat, or even about when an attack requires a response. Nigeria’s arsenal should include a robust counter-propaganda campaign starting now; civil defense forces able to quell domestic disturbances within a legal framework and able to discern who instigated such events; a strong cyberdefense capability; and enhanced cooperation from China, Russia and South Africa.
Finally, Nigeria should not wait for disruption and conflict to come to its cities and towns. A vigorous information campaign should be launched in the region, aimed at eroding popular support for the adventures of France and the United States. Nigeria must take the offense and not wait for the United States and France.
Of course Nigeria should be able to defend itself, but it always comes down to political will. Too many ECOWAS member states have been happy to shelter behind French security umbrella for the past six years.
Nigeria’s refusal to cut out graft and rebuild and modernize the Nigerian military to take up its security obligation as the richest and most powerful country to defend the region properly has also had the detrimental effect of depriving Nigeria of any in-depth talent in strategic thinking.
France and the United States has either bullied Nigeria into compliance as it rewrites the strategic order in the region and bring in powerful allies like Morocco and the United States to dominate the region.The rise in anti-Nigeria sentiments should be a wake-up call for Nigeria It now needs to define its interests and agree on a policy to defend these interests.
There are some small encouraging signs that Nigeria may be beginning to recognize that the true motive France and the United States when on 30 June 2018 Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai said the latest killings on the country and similar ones were triggered by external players. Mr Buratai, a lieutenant-general, described the killings as senseless, but assured that the Nigerian military and sister security agencies were taking steps to avert the recurrence.
“We are aware of the many security challenges that have bedeviled this country in the last decade or so. However I am pleased to state that the Nigerian Army has made giant strides in this regard particularly in the last one year.
“Our security architecture as a country is one with a very positive outlook. We have not only consolidated on the gains established in the fight against insurgency in the North-east but have progressed to the post stabilisation phase where all efforts are geared towards ensuring displaced persons return to their biological homes which are now safe.
The current crisis in Plateau, Benue, Taraba and Zamfara states are both induced internally and externally,” Mr. Buratai said without elaborating on the internal and external factors.
“So many forces are against Nigeria. The target is the corporate existence of Nigeria as a country. The blame game along ethnic and religious fault lines is not the solution. Nigerians must unite to solve this serious challenge.
“The Nigerian Army is not sleeping. We are continuously exploiting all the linkages and leads towards addressing the security challenges we shall get to the roots of all the crisis militarily.
Therefore, we must be tolerant of one another and give peace a chance. let us also remember that no nation can develop or be economically vibrant without peace.
“I therefore want to use this medium to solicit with us all to be our brothers’ keepers. We assure all Nigerians that the Nigerian Army is for you and will continue to work for the common good of the country while professionally carrying out its constitutional responsibilities.”
The army chief also called on Nigerians to consider the ongoing conflicts across the country including the Boko Haram insurgency as a national challenge that must not be celebrated by Nigerians especially in the social media.
He alleged that some Nigerians celebrate the “Boko Haram propaganda in the social media”.
“If we can get a hundred per cent cooperation of Nigerians, especially those that engage in the negative publicity about the security challenges, I think we will be able to reduce the conflict drastically as well as contain the Boko Haram propaganda.
“As far as I am concerned, the security challenges and Boko Haram propaganda which wittingly or unwittingly being spread so many persons in the social media, if we are patriotic enough we should all see it as a national challenge which we must all work towards resolving. If we eschew such propaganda by Boko Haram and all other individuals who have the interest to destabilize the country , then I can assure you we have find the solution to the insecurity in this country.
“If we celebrate insecurity we will continue to live with insecurity. So it is better for all of us to look at the challenges facing us dispassionately and see how we can bring it to an end.”
This remark coming from the Nigerian Army Chief of Staff gives a glimmer of hope that Nigeria is finally coming to grips with the realization that a Nigeria in distress serves the best interest of the powers that be.
Nigeria can defend itself. Of course the nation can be secure. But only if Nigeria is willing to commit the necessary resources to the task.
Nigeria’s security has entered a troubled phase. There are those for whom the idea of external powers trying to break up or weaken the Nigerian Federation is too far-fetched and unlikely.
But these commentators might at least accept that Nigeria is being challenged politically, diplomatically, militarily, territorially, economically, in cyberspace, and in terms of human security. And then there is the internal challenge of which Nigeria has been conscious for decades but has so far chosen to ignore: where national and regional defense and security are concerned.