Contextualising “security agencies are doing their best”

In the course of fighting terrorism, banditry and other forms of insecurity in Nigeria, our security agencies (the military, the police, the Department of State Service, the Civil Defence Corps and the like) have been assessed in different ways by Nigerians. Viewing or listening to talkshows and analyses on television, radio, newspaper and social media, even in some interpersonal conversations on security situations in the country, it has become a pattern of appraising the agencies with the catchphrase, “security agencies are doing their best.” But what exactly do the speakers mean by this refrain? Examining the different contexts and interrogating the narratives in which the tag is deployed will help in making us to understand some intentions of the speakers.

For example, in 2019, while giving Nigerians assurance in response to a concern raised by a delegation of Zamfara Advocacy Group in Abuja on the capability of security agencies, former President Muhammadu Buhari assured “Nigerians that the security law enforcement agencies are doing their very best to safeguard the country” (A news website, The Advocate, June 10 2019). Also, former Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, remarked in The Guardian of 4 April 2022 that “Our military are doing their best and the government is by no means overwhelmed.” By this, we could see that government used the tag to give the citizens assurance amidst security challenges.

Social commentators, public analysts and callers to programmes on radio and television used the catchphrase too in various ways, especially when Nigerians are encouraging or praying for the security agencies. In a radio programme (Invicta FM 98.9 Kaduna), Ground Zero, anchored by Mr Ehis Agbon, in the first week of January 2022, he felt Nigerian rarely took time to celebrate the security agencies by extending hands of fellowship to them unlike the way they regard politicians. According to the anchor, that particular day was specially dedicated to pray for “our gallant officers, men and women” giving the encouragement he received in the way his daughter waved some soldiers who looked very solemn on patrol van in the street of Kaduna. The soldiers smiled back at the child.

Different callers to the programme used the tag to praise, encourage and pray for the security agencies for protecting our territorial integrity, serving under harsh conditions day and night, and while some have been killed and left children fatherless and women widowed. For example, a caller, Tyrese Ikeava remarked, “without doubt, our men are doing their best in the challenges they face on daily basis. May the Lord bless them.” Another caller, Benedict Lawrence Emmanuel, said, “our security agencies are seriously doing their best. What they need is to supply them with weapons.” Almost all the callers were passionate about the assessment. But it could be noted in the programme that those who did not understand the effort of the security agencies were the ones that criticised their inability to have quelled the widespread violence. All the blames of insecurity are heaped on the agencies as if they are the root cause of the problem.

That is why some see it differently, though not unreasonable, given that violence persists and more officers and men are paying the supreme price. For instance, a Security Consultant and an ex-DSS’s Assistant Director, Dennis Amachree, who was speaking on PlusTvAfrica a year ago, said, “The security agents are doing their best but the politicians are not helping issues.” Another caller into the Invicta FMdescribed the security agencies like this, “They have quality. They remain the best, but only politics. They are in the sun for our sake. I gave them kudos.”

Some have adopted the catchphrase to cynically manipulate public opinion. For instance, I have heard a few persons who to a larger extent criticised the agencies for not to have successfully combatted the criminals, but only to conclude their statements with, “But they are trying their best”. Perhaps, they did not want to offend or embarrass the officers and men. This could mean that the intractability of violence in some parts of the country led some to argue that security agencies are not giving their best. This perception may indicate that they would have done far better if they had been well supported with adequate personnel, equipment and other resources as well as better interagency coordination. This is because in the past, for example, we have heard the Boko Haram has been “badly degraded” technical defeated” or “technically decimated”.

However, a search on the internet suggests the buzzword could be peculiar to Nigeria, as such description for security agencies seems non-existent, even in countries coping with counter-terrorism. It was unheard of for someone to say the security agencies are doing their best in the 1970s to 1980s’ Nigeria. But thanks to outbreaks and upsurges of socio-religious and political violence across many parts of the country including terrorism in the northeast zone that led public perception increased considerably and made such discussions be retorted with the refrain. Though its origin is unknown but its usage entered Nigerian mental lexicon most times when discussions and analyses got to appraise the security challenges in the country vis-à-vis security agencies’ performance.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to see Nigerians expressing their opinions at this moment of our national security experience. But while people express their rights and interests, they should offer the Nigerian security agencies their moral support. An optimistic view and a more realistic outlook will boost morale of security agencies. That is more likely to be a more effective path to winning cooperation on vital issues of security and peaceful coexistence, and to help Nigeria’s security agencies pursue their goals of securing and protecting this country. They have also exceptionally done well in peacekeeping operations in Africa and other parts of the world.

Security agencies are held in high regard in most countries of the world. So when we hear they are doing their best in the Nigerian context means there are controversies over their assessment of security agencies’ performance. Though their perspectives may differ, I think I can understand their feelings. The citizens are still coping with violence and its effects. Ask them, they would tell you insecurity is one of their biggest concerns.

While there are considerable debates over the performance of our security agencies, my take is that some commentators do not want to condemn, embarrass or blame the security agencies for the unrelenting violence. Since they are not only the national sector fighting the menace, other stakeholders including you and I should give our support. Though it is their constitutional responsibility to defend the country against external aggressors, and to maintain internal law and order, but citizens’ cooperation and political support is needed to combat insecurity. As often touted, “security is everybody’s responsibility”, “see something say something” and so on, but they should do their best in the circumstances in which they operate.

Yes, given the fact that we see things in different perspectives, the way we assess our security agencies may affect the morale of men and women fighting criminals. A condemnation of the security agencies itself threatens not only the security initiatives of the forces but also the country.Good assessment will ginger them to win the war on criminals. But if bad assessment is formed, it has the tendency to change our society, and the foremost of which are changes in the behaviour and mindset of citizens. Assessing security agencies anywhere in the world comes down to increase in funding and equipment, and building trust between them and communities. A happy and encouraged security agency will be much more desirable force in national security than an unhappy and dispirited agency unable to cope with security challenges. They deserve our prayer and support as they secure and protect this country. We wish them success as they try their best for the rest of us. We owe them so much.

Dr Babatunde, Fellow and Peacebuilder at the Nigeria’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja, writes via [email protected]

Dr. Olalekan Augustine Babatunde