A critical factor that has not been appreciated very often in addressing the current security challenges in the country is how ungoverned spaces impede the efforts of the security forces. The security forces have done exceptionally well but their efforts have been undermined by inadequacy of men under arms, the quality of weapons and assets as well as the nature and scope of the security challenges.
Addressing challenges associated with ungoverned spaces undoubtedly is a critical measure in ongoing efforts against the current security challenges. The problem basically is, even with well informed understanding of the security challenges, the implications of uncharted ungoverned spaces that traverse the country have not attracted the desired attention. Something urgently needs to be done on the inaccessible areas, forests and remote enclaves that provide convenient hiding places for miscreants and criminal elements.
The challenges of ungoverned spaces include lack of security presence, governance, dividends of democracy as well as any semblance of any recognized authority. Non-state actors including criminal entities such as the insurgents and bandits find it easy to move into ungoverned spaces to assert their presence. Facts have revealed that the evolution of the insurgency in the North-east and acts of banditry and even the activities of marauding killers in the country are aided by uncombed forests all over the country. The problem is further compounded by the fact that only few of the security forces are well trained for combat in such terrain. Credible intelligence on what is happening in such areas is also lacking. The most serious limitation however remains lack of appropriate assets such as drones and surveillance capabilities to deploy in such areas. It should be noted that even before the advent of some of the current security challenges, the current strength of the security and law enforcement agencies is grossly inadequate to make any desired impact. Most of the security forces were compelled to use their limited resources to set up more stations and employ additional manpower to cope. The Nigerian Army and Nigeria Airforce were the first to recognize the dilemma of ungoverned spaces. The realisation led them to form new bases in locations in the North-east and North-west. The Nigeria Police followed suit with new divisional police stations in several locations. Even these are inadequate. A realistic vulnerability assessment of the country will reveal many more crisis-prone and crime infected areas that require security presence. This can only be curtailed with better educated operatives.
In the early 1980s the last detailed assessment of deployment and spread of security formations in the country was undertaken. This is the reason it has become imperative the national security establishment should take immediate steps to order a restructuring and comprehensive redistribution of security and paramilitary organisations in the country to cover all areas of perceived vulnerability, gaps and weaknesses.
The clamour for community policing or people centered security arrangement will be meaningless if urgent steps are not taken to bridge the existing gaps in security deployments by all security forces. Even with recent attempts to meet current exigencies, all the security forces and para-military organisations need adequate funding to shore up their strength and presence in all parts of the country. The time has definitely come for security presence to be taken to the district level all over the country. It is also important to note that, although the security forces have substantially dislodged the insurgents and bandits in parts of the country, further measures need to be taken to forestall recurrence of insurgents and bandits breaching the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in the North East and North West. One believes that the president and the security chiefs know exactly what is required to provide the country with adequate security coverage. As repeatedly observed, the current security challenges are a huge distraction to government. It will be foolhardy to assume other dangerous security challenges will not erupt in the near future. More security formations need to be established. Besides, none of the current security challenges can be overcome without providing all people and parts of the country enough security.
As observed earlier, one of the implications of ungoverned spaces is the lack of security presence, development and impact. It is instructive that in one of the studies conducted to isolate the reasons for the insurgency in the North East, the banditry in the North West and spates of attacks in the North Central, it emerged that there is correlation between the propensity to launch attacks and the absence of any recognized authority in the impacted areas. In almost all areas where the criminals hold sway, there is no security presence or basic infrastructure of governance. The situation is made worse in some areas where the traditional and community leadership have been seriously eroded. Intelligence officers involved in the ongoing counter terrorism operations and the fight against bandits confirmed that there are no indications of government presence either in terms of projects or impact on the lives of most of the communities where the security challenges thrive. They agreed that this is a factor that eased the take over of most of the areas by the criminals. The other critical observation made on the areas impacted by the current security challenges is that Governments at all levels have made little or no impact on the lives of the people. Most of the impacted communities also confided that they only see their representatives when they come to campaign. Equally revealing were disclosures that there has been systematic decline in the presence of government in most communities. Ungoverned spaces in parts of the country are therefore the consequence of negligence and declining impact of governance. Whatever the claims, development is not reaching the rural communities and far flung parts of the country. This is a recipe for disenchantment and rebellion.
Ungoverned spaces also constitute weak links that groups of security interest exploit. Examples of this are the shores of the Lake Chad where hardened Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) elements found it easy to infiltrate in recent years. Similarly, even armed bandits and kidnappers have also resorted to operating freely in ungoverned spaces to wreak havoc on the country. Arising from this, the most scary implication of the existence of ungoverned spaces across the country is the likelihood of mercenaries and subversive elements using them as convenient covers to stage attack on the country. Ongoing investigations in parts of the country reveal that bandits, kidnappers and smugglers of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) use the ungoverned spaces to carry out their nefarious activities.
In the light of all these, the security forces should as a matter of urgency factor into their operations sustained surveillance and clearance operations on remote and inaccessible areas especially forests in the country. This combined with the closure of the borders will without doubt result in the reduction of some of the security challenges.
Those in authority should realise that the ungoverned spaces are intrinsically linked to failure of governments to impact on the lives of the people. Governments at the local, state and federal levels should as a matter of urgency and quest for comprehensive development look at all parts of the country in the provision of infrastructure and development. The security organisations should complement this by conducting comprehensive intelligence mapping of all parts of the country to identify ungoverned spaces to aid security operations. There is definitely no better time to do this than now.
Gadzama OFR, mni is former director general, SSS