The call for self-defence by the minister of defence, General Bashir Magashi has not gone down with many, and I am largely a part of that many, not necessarily because of the tone-deaf manner in which he delivered his message, but because of how out of touch he is with reality.
First, I have always advocated American style civilian control over the military. Gen. Lloyd Austin (retd) was the second person with a background in active service in the US military that have served as secretary of defence, after James Mattis, President Trump’s first defence secretary. On both occasions, it had to take a special waiver from Congress to get them nominated and confirmed. Every defence secretary as far as I can remember has always been civilian. The exact opposite has been the case in Nigeria, with serving and retired military officers occupying the office as many times as civilians, if not more. The result is Gen. Magashi’s statement. The use of force in the face of existential threat.
Of course, it is not out of place to advocate self-defence, but coming from the defence minister, a senior member of the government is not just sad, it is annoying, especially considering that he tacitly called Nigerians cowards. The minister is also out of touch with reality on the basis that the instigation of violence by terrorists his government has decided to call “bandits” is not in the same proportion as the amount of resistance and self-defence that communities under attack can muster. Pictures that made the round from videos from the abduction of school children in Niger state showed the terrorists brandishing different varieties of general-purpose machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons. How does Magashi, in all honesty, expect vigilantes of a few men with locally made weapons, face terrorists with guns gotten from Libya, Iran and Turkey? What kind of tone-deafness is this?
Again, the minister shot himself in the foot and expanded the glaring lack of synergy between various security agencies when he called for self-defence, especially if such defence involves the use of arms. Just a few months ago in late 2020, the inspector General ordered state commissioners of police to embark on a disarmament campaign to mop up illegal arms around the country. That the security crisis is fuelled by the proliferation of illegal arms from our poorly manned borders is an open secret. Magashi’s comment is either a testament to the failure of such disarmament efforts (which was aimed at disarming only a party to the pastoral conflict favourable to the government, which has exacerbated the conflict as questions grow around the federal government’s impartiality as an umpire), or an outright unauthorized break from his principal’s approach to security, which of course is not new, given how much of a spectacle we have been treated to in the past six years as heads of various government agencies (NIPOST and FIRS, as well as the National Diaspora Commission and the ministry of foreign affairs, for instance) have escalated their differences into public spats, needing Twitter to judge, as the debacle involving the Nigeria Army and the police showed in Wadume’s case in 2019.
If there’s any major takeaway from this mis-yarn as insensitive as it is, it puts Gen. Theophilus Danjuma’s 2018 call to armed self-defence into perspective, a testament to the fact that the government has, despite its unwillingness to state it emphatically, lost, and is no longer able to perform its primary duty of law and order. The attacks on Kagara and Shiroro, happening a few miles off Minna where the national security adviser and the leadership of the military are, espouses this fact, as much as it espouses the fact that Buhari’s aloofness in the face of escalating insecurity in the federal capital territory may not only be just by design, it is a very loud sign of defeat.
If the federal government is so self resigned to accepting the current status quo, they should go one step further by resigning from office, or open the floor for healthy restructuring, because as far as current realities go, we’re headed for a cliff, a cliff of controlled, steady implosion, the type that kills a frog in a boiling pot of hot water.