Last week, precisely on May 25 and 26, 2016, the Nigeria Summit on National Security 2016, themed “Confronting and Containing Threats from Terrorism and Sectarian Insurgency”, was held at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, as part of the measures aimed at addressing the nation’s critical security challenges. An excellent result of the partnership between the Council on African Security and Development (CASADE), University of Wisconsin Research Park, USA, under the leadership of Prof. John Ifediora and the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under its dynamic Director-General, Prof. Oshita Oshita, the summit provided vistas into understanding the dynamics of insecurity and approaches to solving its hydra-headed problems.
The wide array of expertise that the summit attracted was crowned by global figures two of whom presented keynote addresses that set the tone of the discussions each day. While the former Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and ex-Prime Minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, gave the keynote address on the first day, the second day was stimulated by the keynote address of the esteemed Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Prof. Ibrahim A. Gambari.
Given that Mr Rasmussen superintended over NATO’s operational hyperactivity with six operations in three continents including Asia (Afghanistan), Europe (Kosovo) and Africa (Libya), apart from counter-piracy along the Somali Coast, a training mission in Iraq and counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean, his approach dwelt more on sheer force. However, this approach is not considered to be effective as evident in the aftermaths of such interventions in Afghanistan and Libya.
Besides, as the rationale for the summit further indicated, “relying on counter-terrorism measures in near exclusion of diplomacy, dialogue and effective intelligence gathering misses the bigger picture of containment and stabilization…” Instead of counter-terrorism that is reactive, a proactive approach that prioritises dialogic engagement offers a more suitable paradigm for achieving sustainable peacebuilding and enduring conflict transformation.
It was actually the submission of Prof. Gambari last Thursday that resonated more with many stakeholders. One of the salient points made by the keynote speaker, who holds the record of the longest-serving Nigerian Ambassador/ permanent representative to the United Nations, is that we must invest heavily in education in order to overcome the current challenges. Without providing education and creating employment opportunities for the teeming youth, the problems of terrorism and insurgency would still be our national headache.
This simple but profound submission bordering on education and employment struck me. As Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”. The vast mass of the uneducated young people that populate Nigeria constitutes a potent recipe for disaster. An uneducated mind cares little for itself, not to talk of others; it is vulnerable to all kinds of influences.
In other words, ignorance is a major driver of crime, which terrorism basically is, and the more educated people are, the more secure and developed the society is. Yet, education without any gainful employment is also dangerous as it only breeds clever criminals. We are in a situation where 101 million Nigerians are literate, meaning that the remaining 80 million are illiterate, based on the figure provided by the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Mass Literacy Education, Adult and Non-Formal Education, Jibrin Paiko, last year.
When education is accorded its right priority and opportunities are provided for the youth, there is no doubt that there will be a drastic reduction in crime rates. But when unemployment rates continue to increase, from 10.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015 to 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2016, according to the figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics, we have at least 9.485 million idle minds that are real or potential devil’s workshops. This figure does not include millions that are under-employed and the additional 200,000 graduates that our tertiary institutions churn out each year.
Besides education and employment, to tackle terrorism and the growing spectre of insurgency, serious efforts should be made to rein in small arms and light weapons in the hands of unauthorised groups. This important point was stressed by Ambassador Emmanuel E. Imohe, Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Small Arms and Light Weapons. If there is a census of all weapons in Nigeria, with those in authorised hands well documented, it would be easy to isolate sources of illegal weapons that are many in the market through our porous borders.
Since it is when people have weapons that they are motivated to fight, blocking access to weapons is a crucial step to take in order to overcome the challenges. Another important point is social justice, the absence of which tends to make people react or over-react.
One truth remains unassailable: peace is possible if we are seriously committed to it through education, employment opportunities, blocking access to illegal possession of arms and fidelity to social justice.