Nigeria’s ungoverned areas and spaces

For an entity to assume the status of sovereignty, it must have among other things, defined and delineated borders and territorial boundaries. A population and government, which should be the symbol of authority and power.

Writing in the 17th century, English philosopher, John Locke, posited that, citizens, cede some of their Rights inorder to build and live in a civil or state structured society, where governments protect their rights to life among other things.

Nigeria, is not an exception to this informal globalized concepts.

The country’s porous borders and numerous ungoverned spaces has a dire consequences, some of which is directly linked to existential threat, both in terms of sovereignty and security.

Most border states and communities around the country had minimal government presence, while in some, governance is non-existent, making such communities easy prey for criminal elements who used them as vassals, or fortresses to keep citizens in perpetual fear and anxiety.

Almost all conflicts in the country — banditry, kidnap for ransom, and other forms of terrorism are inordinately carried out on the fringes of border communities whose territories had been in limbo and ungoverned for decades.

As 2023 election draws closer, chances are, political participation or voting in these areas is increasingly becoming unlikely. For instance, in some communities bandits had banned or restricted all forms of political activities in the areas and surrounding communities. Such an affront on the sovereignty of the country is a total violation of the rights to life, citizens exchanged for protection and political inclusiveness or participation.

Displaced population across the country, as a result of conflict and terrorism, especially in the North, would automatically be disenfranchised in the coming elections. Therefore, their rights to vote has been quashed, simply because communities which they lived in has been routed and sacked. IDP camps has hitherto become their new abode.

INEC is mulling an ambitious plan of allowing displaced persons vote in 2023, elections. As at April, 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, UNHCR says there are about 3.2 million Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, in the country. While it might be preposterous to neglect such figures, but daily needs or priorities of displaced persons nonetheless, far outweighs the need to vote in the coming elections. To them, political participation holds little significance, after all, the system failed to provide one of the most auspicious principles democracy is known for — freedom of association.

After elections and formation of a new government, governance is intrinsically restricted to big cities, neglecting the numerous villages which is bereft of basic social needs and infrastructure. Making such community vulnerable. The implication is, youths in such communities become a ready tool for all kinds of manipulations.

Seemingly, the elixir to incessant security challenges and its attendance consequences, is — granting local government full autonomy.

No matter how befuddling it may sound, the local government, is the only tier of government with direct bearing on local communities, businesses and traditional institutions.

The 1976 Local Government Reform would have been the best thing to ever happen to local government administration in the country, had the role of traditional institutions and rulers not been expunged.

Pre independence administration recognizes the significance and role traditional institutions and leaders play in safeguarding communities, and having in place, an elaborate disputes settling mechanism. Without the prevalence of technology to aid in administration, those leaders were able to take effective control of their spaces regardless of the distance. No community, no matter how remote, was ever left ungoverned.

Community based feedback system was in place, to determine which stranger enters a territory. In any case, such stranger(s) would undergo scrutiny to ascertain his truce identity, motive and mission, before accepted into the community.

Remember, Citizens are capable of taking effective care of themselves at any point, which is their natural right. But having given up that right and entrusted to the authorities, it has become the duty of such authorities to protect their communities, property and life.

Horrendous activities of armed bandits are carried out on ungoverned areas which suffers neglect from successive governments. If local government, and by extension traditional institutions had their pristine role well defined and allowed some autonomous powers to govern, the elaborate feedback system will keep tabs of activities that goes on in local and border communities.

As communities continue to suffer neglect, so is the propensity of attacks from terrorist and criminal elements, who seeks refuge from the coziness and comfort such ungoverned areas offer. We must be acutely aware, as 2023 elections draws nearer, two fundamental freedoms have been taken away from citizens — Right to vote and right to life.

Displaced population would bother less on election or voting because the ambience for such isn’t just right.

Displaced population, would, rather ponder on what become of their abandoned farmlands which provides them a guaranteed yield and better livelihoods, against the meagre handouts from insincere managers of IDP camps and centers.

Displaced population would innately be more concerned about the education of their children which is under threat, they would bother about healthcare, shelter and other frills required to live a normal life.

While government might cite the ECOWAS Protocol on Transhumance, which is a framework for diplomatic and economic integration within the subregion, as a mitigating factor against taking full ownership and control of borderlands, nonetheless, the overall desire to protect citizens should be top priority. The framework should be reviewed in tandem with present reality and gravity of our situation.

A remarkable panacea to curb the lingering security challenge is taking effective control of territories, spaces, and communities. Government presence must be visible, not in terms of infrastructures alone, but enhancing an elaborate model of a feedback system and a tripartite synergy between, community/religious leaders – security – traditional leaders.

As it were, it will be safe to state emphatically, a fraction of the country’s population has been disenfranchised, and might not vote in the coming general elections. These negates, completely principle of democratic and natural rights. Senseless killings of citizens by armed criminals, which government failed to protect violates such right. Displacement of citizens to emergency IDP camps, is yet another violation, of the right to political participation.

Again, taking back control of territories and inclusiveness in local administration is the way to go. We cannot afford to continue to ignore the significance of governance at the lowest level, became it remain the closest to the people.

Mohammed is with the Department of Political Science and International studies at the Ahmadu Bello University-Zaria.

He writes from Kano via

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