Living in fear and want

22 Mar 2024, 12:00 am
Jide Akintunde, Martins Hile
Living in fear and want

Feature Highlight

Nigerians are being battered by security and economic headwinds. What can be done about it?

Individuals being internally displaced by insecurity in Nigeria

Nigerians are under mass physical and psychological attacks. The fronts of the attacks are multiple, ensuring no one feels safe or at ease. Since June 2023, drastic changes in government policies have worsened economic misfortunes, while driving up crime. Other incidents of insecurity, of a cyclical, sporadic, or progressive nature, are devastating the landscape. They are costing lives and causing sorrow, fear, and want. The dystopian Nigeria during peacetime was hard to imagine. But it requires no imagination now; it is a lived reality today for an overwhelming majority of Nigerians.

Attack on welfare

Last December, inflation rate climbed to 28.92 per cent, according to official data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Food inflation printed at 33.93 per cent. In 2015, Nigerian households spent 56.4 per cent of their incomes on food – the highest by any country in the world. In recent years, however, the figure has climbed to as high as 97 per cent. More recently, many households are unable to feed themselves with their total income. Real wages have fallen sharply as inflation is decimating the purchasing power of the naira on a daily basis.

Under this scenario, more and more Nigerians are turning to various means of survival. Their options range from emigration, which often entails selling their priced assets to cover travel costs, to begging family, friends, and strangers for help, and crime. The people who were used to just surviving are now barely able to survive.  

Government’s explanation for the heightened economic insecurity is that it is a necessary short-term pain for a long-term gain. To facilitate a transition to future economic stability and growth, Nigerians have to pay a price today. This is in the form of higher prices for energy and foreign exchange caused by the removal of their respective subsidies. This conventional economic wisdom became so forceful as both public debt and the cost of servicing the debt mounted. But since the policies were implemented by President Bola Tinubu eight months ago, Nigerians have fallen on hard times. The intensity and breadth of the economic hardship could not have been contemplated. People are losing their jobs. Businesses are shuttering. And economic goods and services have largely become unaffordable.

According to a new report by PWC, the naira has depreciated by 97 per cent since Tinubu came into office. The naira depreciation has become self-reinforcing as it raises the spectre of higher input costs for businesses, deters investments, and dries up dollar liquidity. It has trounced market fundamentalism. Where we should have eliminated corruption, we removed policies that supported the stability of markets.    

Nigerians are in economic despair. They are seeing their welfare being decimated, yet nothing suggests the end of the cycle of economic pain is ending soon. Rather, the fear is that things are never going to return to where they were. When prices go up in Nigeria, they stay up.

Wanton killings

Although not in war, Nigeria has been an active killing field for terrorists for one-and-a-half decades. A June 2021 study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said jihadists of the Boko Haram group and its splintered faction, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), had killed 35,000 people in the northeast since it began its violent campaign in 2009. The report attributed an additional 314,000 fatalities to indirect causes resulting from the insurgency.  

Sustained counterinsurgency operations by the Nigerian military have degraded Boko Haram, with its leadership suffering serial casualties. But this has not brought reprieve from insecurity to Nigerians in the North. Deadly activities by bandits and clashes between nomadic herdsmen and local communities have become regular incidents of insecurity in the North and around the country. While some allege religious genocide by Islamic jihadists who attack Christian communities in the Middle Belt and parts of the North – especially southern Kaduna – mutual antipathy exists between the Northern Muslim and Christian communities. Nevertheless, the aggression against host communities by itinerant herders fits into a textbook case of attempted, forceful landgrab and genocide.

One of such feared deadly attacks was carried out last Christmas eve by suspected Fulani jihadists across three Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Plateau State. Over 150 people were reportedly massacred. The daring attackers returned to Plateau communities on 23 January 2024, killing over 30 people. While these kinds of attacks make media headlines as politicians as well as community and religious leaders decry them, in reality, Nigerians are losing their lives and property to bandits and armed robbers daily. In urban and suburban areas – like in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, early last December – armed robbers often raid multiple bank premises, killing and maiming staff, customers, security men, and bystanders as they make away with cash.

Kidnapping for ransom

According to Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project by the Council on Foreign Relations, 19,366 Nigerians were kidnapped in 2,694 incidents between 2014 and June 2023. Last year alone, there were over 3,800 abductions in the country, according to another United States organisation, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).

The latest incidents of kidnapping for ransom were headlined by the abduction of seven members of one family last month in Bwari, Abuja, which is on the outskirts of the Federal Capital Territory. One of the abductees, Nabeeha Al-Kadriyar, a 21-year-old first-class graduate from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, was brutally executed by the abductors as a warning that her five female siblings could be similarly executed by their abductors. Their father was earlier released on the condition he would raise the ransom money by 12 January, a deadline that was missed, leading to Nabeeha’s killing.

Kidnapping for ransom is now taken as business, fuelling abductions in different parts of the country.  It is a deadly business that is costing lives. Over 20,000 people have been killed in the ensuing violence in the past years.

Drivers of insecurity

There are several factors that are driving insecurity in Nigeria. But generally, insecurity has festered as state security apparatus has struggled to cope with the threats. The political will to address the challenges is also often lacking as communal clashes and even genocidal attacks my jihadi Muslims against Christian communities have become politically polarising.

Government suffers further setback in decisively intervening in the security crisis as intelligence gathering in local communities receives scant support. It is indeed not uncommon for local communities to share information about the movement of the military with bandits and terrorists. The act of sabotage not only compromises such military efforts but also endangers the security personnel. This, at some level, indicates the lack of trust in the government and the security agencies of the state among civilian populations, owing to years of unprofessional conduct by the institutions and their personnel. But at a more fundamental level, the country has been unable to agree a constitutional framework for the country to function as a secular state, and for the protection of the various ethnic nationalities, while advancing the economic interests of the generality of Nigerians.

One other major factor that is making insecurity an intractable challenge in the country is external influence. The violent overthrow of the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi by the US and its allies in 2011 created a power vacuum in the country. The civil war that followed attracted fighters that were hardened by conflicts elsewhere. Some of the fighters started to move southward as conflicts erupted in countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, etc. The absence of internal cohesion between Nigeria’s predominantly northern Muslim and predominantly southern Christian communities, with the Christian Middle Belt as somewhat a buffer, provides a motivation for jihadism. A flirtation with jihadists by the ruling northern elites and influential religious authorities has been documented, frustrating government’s efforts to address the threat to national security.

Although conflict has hardly been absent in the relationship between Fulani pastoralists and their host communities, the frequency of conflicts and number of casualties have escalated as more and more herders move southward in search of green vegetation and water for their cattle. Climate change has brought about the loss of water bodies – including in Lake Chad, which has lost more than 90 per cent of its surface area. Declining access to pastoral resources is driving conflict. Also, poorly conceptualised reform of the livestock sector has fostered policy failure as well as resistance by communities against attempts to have them cede their lands.

Finally, the economic downturn is fuelling the number of perpetrators of crimes like kidnapping and increasing the toll of victims. With options for legitimate work and decent wages disappearing, those who would have been productively engaged are taking to kidnapping for ransom. The more successful they become, the more they are able to procure more arms for their illicit activities. While people with better economic fortunes are able to put measures in place to relatively secure themselves, the poor and vulnerable communities are left as canon fodders.

Imperative of solutions

It is imperative to find effective solutions to the spate of insecurity in the country. Without making lives and property safe, the economic woes of the country will continue – and worsen. Insecurity is known to discourage not only foreign investment in a local economy but also domestic investment.

The tolls that insecurity has exerted on the economy in the last 15 years have been considerable. Over 3.6 million people have had to abandon their homes and livelihoods, many of which were destroyed. In the six northeastern states (Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Gombe, Taraba, and Bauchi) alone, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said it identified a total of 2.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) as of June 2023.

Data from the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) 2023 shows that the gale of violence across the country cost Nigeria 9% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2022, up from 2.7% of GDP in 2018. The GTI, produced by the Sydney-headquartered Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), measures the state of peace across three domains: the level of societal safety and security; the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict; and the degree of militarisation. The latest report shows Nigeria recorded a 3% deterioration in peacefulness two years ago.

There are several strategic and administrative actions that are necessary to restore peace and security in Nigeria. Some of the measures are discussed below.

Inclusive security architecture

Nigeria should simultaneously be fighting insecurity and building peace. A lot of efforts have been focused on the former while little that is meaningful is being done about the latter. According to Conciliation Resources, an international organisation committed to stopping violent conflict and creating more peaceful societies, peacebuilding is a long-term process of encouraging people to talk, repairing relationships, and reforming institutions. Peacebuilding seeks to address the underlying causes of conflict, helping people to resolve their differences peacefully and lay the foundations to prevent future violence.

Peacebuilding as a participatory process should entail bringing more people into the country’s security architecture to perform diverse but complementary functions. We advise the founding of a National Peace and Security Council (NPSC), whose membership will combine that of the National Security Council with representatives of communities that have been in conflict. The NPSC will also include religious, traditional, and youth leaders. The idea is to make the country’s security architecture to be more inclusive, and bring together under one big institutional tent parties that otherwise would have met only in the trenches.

The job of the NPSC would be to facilitate the resolution of conflicts, promote religious tolerance, improve relations among ethnic groups, resolve political disagreements that often precipitate crises, and help to reduce arms proliferation in communities. Some states like Plateau, Kaduna, and Adamawa have already established peace agencies and commissions to address communal conflicts and insurgencies. As an impartial peace broker, the NPSC would hopefully bring more scale and authority to bear on the civic efforts, leading to more desirable outcomes.

Broader view of national security

Having a broader view of national security is key to making significant improvement in addressing insecurity in the country. Given the multifarious driving factors of insecurity, including poverty, high unemployment, porous borders, etc., military response alone would not help curb the threat. Indeed, the way we conduct our elections should now be seen as having implications for our national security. The country will not automatically unite after an election that was prosecuted with extreme ethnic and religious polarisation. In this regard, ethnic profiling of political office aspirants and candidates should be discouraged.

Apart from tackling economic causes of insecurity, the country needs to prioritise investment in education. The high number of school-age children who are out of school should be a concern that attracts urgent action. Quality education refines character. It dignifies the educated and upholds the dignity of fellow humans. Boko Haram, which abhors Western education, essentially weaponised the lack of education in the North. After all, it is a hard job to convince an educated man that his education is useless. Many have described the 20 million out-of-school children as a ticking time bomb. We contend that the bombs have since exploded except that not enough is been done to get the children into the classrooms.

The country also needs to fix its porous borders. Influx of undocumented immigrants constitutes social, economic, and security risks. Their presence would distort demographic data and hamper precision in economic planning. Worse still, nonstate actors have been taking advantage of the country’s porous borders to smuggle arms. Effective surveillance and manning of the borders are key for the country to lay claim to being a modern state.

Lastly, the country also needs to invest adequately in technology across various functions and industries.  With advancement in technology has come the risk of its use. Nigeria needs to strive to substantially meet its technological needs locally. Every great country prioritises local technological knowhow as an imperative for national security and global competitive advantage.

Building trust in government

Considerable work is required in building trust in government in Nigeria. Several factors ranging from flawed elections to official corruption, poor service delivery, and absence of the rule of law have reduced the people’s trust in government. In fighting insecurity, trust in state institutions and their officials is important for gathering intelligence, learning the local context, and improving participation in government’s initiatives.

Upholding the rule of law would probably work like a magic wand in building trust in government. But the process would include investing in training and reorientation of government and security functionaries. Removing partiality in the way government works is important but will not be the norm overnight. Nevertheless, the country can ill-afford delays in doing the work that is necessary to build public trust.

Improving economic governance

Insecurity has been shown to undermine the performance of the economy. Improving the economy would, therefore, require improving the security situation. But other variables are involved in fostering economic performance. This starts with having an economic vision for the country and competently developing economic policy for transmitting the vision. The oil sector, which remains very key from the standpoint of foreign exchange revenue, remains in the hands of the government. Ensuring the country’s oil industry and receipt from oil and gas exports are judiciously used to, among other things, support national economic assets, including infrastructure and power, is very key.

As part of enabling the business environment, the government should allow institutions – including those that perform regulatory or supervisory functions – to operate without interference. Such institutions should be professionalised, ensuring they have capacity to deliver the services they are meant to provide.

The government should also work more closely with private sector bodies to explore and deliver investment opportunities. This should not lead to crony capitalism, whereby a few connected business leaders capture opportunities and markets in the name of partnership with government. The government must set clear rules and criteria that maximise financial and non-financial impacts for private sector investment in opportunities or projects sponsored by the public sector.


Nigerians deserve a respite from suffering and anguish. They deserve to live in safe communities. And the economy needs to start working for them. Government must begin to deliver on these requirements as a matter of urgency. The worse things get, the harder it would be to change them.

Jide Akintunde is Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria, and Director, Nigeria Development and Finance Forum. Martins Hile is a sustainability strategist and editorial consultant.

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