Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman, Governing Council of Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Senator Ike Nwachukwu, Saturday, said in addressing insecurity in the country, Nigeria cannot go it alone but needs to enlist the assistance of security institutions around the world.
Nwachukwu, who said this Sunday while delivering a lecture at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, the United States capital on the topic: “Political Prospects And Democratic Challenges In Nigeria”, also identified ethnic politics as a major threat to the future of the Nigerian project.
“I posit that Nigeria cannot go it alone. We need genuine assistance in building security institutions. We also need foreign assistance, not like in the past when foreign assistance was directed at taking away as much as our foreign investors could, but partnering with us as have been done in other parts of the world by these same investors,” he said.
Although, he acknowledged the fact that government had put up efforts and at different times to tackle the growing insecurity, two prominent factors, he noted, are the reasons such efforts show no signs of improvement.
“First are the presence of acute poverty and the lack of opportunities especially for the youths that make criminal activities an alternative. Second, security and police forces have not been able to prevent or successfully tackle most reported criminal activities. Not for want of trying but that they lack equipment and highly trained personnel to address these momentous challenges.
“It seems that the soaring crime rate will remain a persistent challenge for democratic governance, especially at the intersection of crime and politics mentioned earlier, unless we improve on economic wellbeing of our people,” he said.
Nwachukwu noted that the tide has become worrisome following the “daring and devastating operations of the Boko Haram terrorist organisation which have already claimed hundreds of lives in a relatively short period of three years. Boko Haram represents one of the most dangerous security threats faced by Nigeria. It has the potential to severely destabilise the existing government and impede the progress of democratic governance.
“Like it was identified by our government and other meaningful friends of Nigeria like former President Bill Clinton, the answer may lie in the radical rolling back of poverty in the land and also educating the masses,” he stated.
While tying insecurity to ethnic politics, the former presidential aspirant maintained that “democracy in Nigeria is still struggling with the deep-rooted problems of ethnic and religious divisions in the fabric of Nigerian society.
The British colonial administration created an unstable enforced unity when it brought together a multitude of different ethnic groups, with their individual customs, languages and religious orientations, and formed a single political entity that is Nigeria.
“Despite many years of relatively peaceful co-existence, ethnic tensions and rivalry have always been present. The ethnically-based violent conflicts which occurred between 1966-1967 and eventually culminated in the attempted secession of the predominantly Igbo populated Eastern region, started the long and bloody Nigerian civil war, claiming millions of lives, provide instructive examples of the negative effect of ethnic divisions.
“In the contemporary period of democratisation, ethnicity continues to be a bitterly contested issue threatening the future of the Nigerian project. In part, this can be attributed to the fact that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution still determines citizenship on the basis of ethnic origin. In addition to persisting ethnic divisions, Nigeria is often polarized between Muslims and Christians. The implementation of Sharia Law in 12 states in the North over the last decade confirms Nigeria’s ‘segregation’ based on religious grounds.
“The past few years have witnessed numerous instances of ethno-religious violence in several parts of the country. A prominent example is the case of the violent conflicts in the City of Jos in Plateau State in 2001. At the time, a local government appointment of a Hausa and a Muslim in Jos led to the escalation of violence between Christians and Muslims, Northerners and non-Northerners. The violent conflict claimed hundreds of lives.
“The ethno-religious divide is also evident in the informal executive power rotation principle in Nigeria which alternates the office of the President of the Federal Republic between Northerners and Southerners; and now, the six zones (North East, North Central, North West, South East, South West and South South). This principle of rotation has remained endemic in Nigeria’s electoral politics, howbeit an ad hoc strategy for equity and stability, cannot be discountenanced as a possible issue in future elections such as the scheduled 2015 elections.
“The challenges posed by ethnic and religious divisions for the development of democracy in Nigeria are exacerbated by the absence of a discernible notion of national unity. We have still not been able to articulate a universally agreed concept of national unity that would win the consent and allegiance of different ethnic and religious groups in the country.
“There have been persistent calls for the convening of a (Sovereign) National Conference or National Dialogue that would provide a framework for different groups of stakeholders to come together and find a consensus on how to start the process of national unification. The obstacles in the way of such a process remain substantial. There is a noticeable lack of political will and commitment to adequately address what remains one of the most divisive issues in Nigerian history. However, nation-building cannot commence without a strong foundation provided by a sense of unity and common identity among the Nigerian people,” he said.