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Nigeria Security Summit Harvard University 8th August - Challenges of governance in era of insurgency - By Mohammed Sambo Dasuki


The essence of good governance is to effectively lead and guide the instruments of the State to meet the needs of citizens, effectively balancing present needs while anticipating future trends. The ability to optimally achieve these balances is what defines good governance.

If good governance is difficult to achieve under normal conditions, it is even more difficult today in Africa with the advent of global terrorism and insurgency.  In this paper, I intend to show how much more complex it has become in the post-modern era of instability to deliver good governance. I will also offer some examples of how we in Nigeria are trying to accelerate our effectiveness under highly complex circumstances.

Basic Challenge in Governance

It is important first to understand the very basic challenge of governance in a developing country.  The needs and aspirations of citizens are often so diverse that good governance is needed to balance various interests while focusing on the key goal of accelerating prosperity. Today, Africa is fast approaching a situation where coups and dictatorships will be things of the past. This means that leaders must now earn their legitimacies by delivering on the complex and often competing needs of citizens. The subtleties of this complex situation need to be clearly understood by scholars whose insights and knowledge are critical in shaping our understanding of good governance. This is one of the reasons why I am excited to be here at this conference being organized by Huhu Group and the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, which has a reputation for being at the forefront of science and knowledge on good governance.      


Governance in the Post-Modern Era

Let me expansiate on some of the new challenges in governance in the post-modern age. The post-modern age, brought about by rapid advances in the development and use of information and telecommunication technology, has dramatically changed the notion of effective leadership and the implications of ineffective governance. On one hand, new opportunities for income and wealth generation are increasingly accruing to the well-educated and talented knowledge workers, but this leaves a large and growing proportion of the population with unmet aspirations impatient for change. 

This has not only increased the pressure on governments to provide better services to their citizens, it has also increased the need for accountability and transparency. Global, regional and national imbalances in access to healthcare, job opportunities, education, housing and justice are now more readily perceived, creating dissonance and heightening feelings of personal insecurity.  Leaders can no longer easily get away with ignoring the needs of the masses, although those needs have become a lot more difficult to balance. Again, this is particularly important in Africa where many feel insecure; where past neglect of the people is providing spaces where discontent flourishes; which insurgents exploit to challenge constituted authority.

The absence of good governance is regarded by the World Bank as the most important, if not the sole cause of Africa’s under development.  One of the lessons from the Middle-East and North African countries (the MENA region) is that the perception of ineffective governance can easily lead to regime change. A key challenge is therefore how to govern in ways that ensure the masses feel secure and committed in order to maintain peace and stability. Leaders today must utilize resources and structures within and outside their governance domain to ensure a solid foundation for society’s advancement.

         Let me use Nigeria as a case study to further support my point.  In Nigeria, decades of truncated democracy following serial Military coups led to deficits in multiple areas of governance. The return to long-term democracy, beginning in 1999, afforded us  the opportunity to begin rebuilding our governance institutions and institute long needed reforms in the areas of education, health, science, technology, infrastructure, conduct of elections, justice sector reforms, human rights, socio-economic development and national security. President Jonathan’s Transformation agenda was founded on the need to address long-standing grievances related to governance, as well as the recognition of the role of economic advancement in national security.        

While the government races to meet huge demands that include the provision of free education, affordable healthcare, sustainable and uninterrupted electricity supply, potable water for all, motorable roads, and modern rail transport systems, it must fight corruption, build a cadre of committed civil servants, legitimately reward such servants and institutionalize new values and cultures. Government must also build the generational capacity of experts to design and maintain the structures being built. Systems must be strengthened, in federal states such as the one Nigeria operates, and the states and local government authorities must be empowered to effectively take on responsibilities that are constitutionally theirs. My point here is that the challenge, especially of national governance, has become more complex, but leaders must find ways of handling these complexities.

To meet the demands of a population in excess of 160 million, the majority of whom are under the age of thirty-five, the government must be able to generate and expend huge resources that transcend our historic reliance on a single source of national revenue, namely oil. We have begun to accelerate our support for entrepreneurship to create the next generation of employers, while simultaneously expanding skills acquisition schemes to retool the skillset of citizens to allow them to benefit from economic opportunities created by new entrepreneurs. Recognizing the potential of the telecommunications sector to create new enterprise opportunities for the masses, we are accelerating its connectivity to real sectors, while exploring ways to improve market efficiency in the oil and gas sector.  Another example is the textile sector whose viability has been challenged by the dynamics of the global economy. To revitalize this sector, we must not only revive its global competitiveness, but do so while enhancing its ability to employ people.

The government is also laying down policies that would allow us to internalize some of the economic opportunities that we previously outsourced. Recent reforms in industrial policy have been implemented in the automobile industry where Nigeria’s demand is large and growing but where domestic capacity to produce has been limited. In agriculture, through changes in the tariff structure, investments in modern inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed varieties, and the introduction of strategies to build the rice value chain, we are rapidly growing domestic capacity and national competitiveness, despite cries by powerful importers for a return to an environment of low tariffs and high foreign import reliance. I highlight the above to support my earlier argument that in the post-modern world, tough choices must be made, but the public, in its balance, must understand and support those changes.

It is important to highlight the fact that real accomplishments must continually be pursued and achieved while leadership must drive effective institutional change to secure and backstop such accomplishments. This is akin to the challenge of remaining in the driver’s seat to drive real progress while ensuring that the institutional and other frameworks that are needed are being put in place. The phrase, “changing the wheels on a moving car” correctly depicts the challenge of governance, especially in an environment where there is no alternative but to drive ahead. 

Ladies and gentlemen, all the efforts of government can only be achieved if there is peace. The ongoing antics of the Jamaatu Ahlis Sunna Liddaawati Wal Jihad commonly known as Boko Haram, is threatening our very democratic foundations.  They strive not only to dismantle democratic structures, but to prevent the provision of state services, such as health, education, commerce and security. Their activities have forced thousands to flee their homes, jobs and communities, pushing them into poverty. It is therefore important to understand the effects of insurgency on governance and the additional challenges that leaders face in striving to deliver on their promises to citizens. I will highlight this issue next.

 Effects of Insurgency on Governance

         Before I go into what we have done in Nigeria to counter the Boko Haram insurgency, we need to take a quick look at the effects of insurgency on governance in the last few years. One very glaring consequence of insurgency was that all other governance issues became subordinate to security considerations. This consumed both time and energy on the part of the general public and the government in particular. A central casualty of the insurgency was that government had to divert scarce resources that could better support development needs to security issues.

         Before the onset of Boko Haram, many foreign partners of Nigeria were mainly interested in governance issues, as it relates to corruption, followed by concern about the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. However, currently, the pressure on Nigeria and the main focus of foreign intervention, especially from foreign governments is how to tackle insurgency. Assistance from donor countries is slowly shifting from economic issues to security issues which necessitates that the relationship between Nigeria and many countries, including her neighbors, which used to be dominated by trade and technical cooperation have been replaced by security considerations. The changes I just described are non-trivial. The ability to adapt to this new environment while staying focused on real gains will be key to government’s success.

         The insurgency has re-shaped and redefined the classification of Nigeria in many peoples’ minds all over the world. The country’s name is now being mentioned along with those of other countries that have had long standing terrorism challenges. Ordinary Nigerians have also redefined their views of the security situation in the country. Issues that used to agitate the minds of the people, in the immediate past, such as armed robbery and kidnapping have been downgraded given the scale of destruction and devastation caused by Boko Haram’s indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

         Government Efforts at Tackling Insurgency

         I wish to catalogue here efforts made so far to deal with the insurgency. Terrorism has come with both challenges and opportunities. It has enabled us to change our laws, rebuild our institutions, and create platforms for greater coordination and cooperation within and across agencies tasked with security. Additionally we have developed avenues that allow us to synergize our efforts and work more collaboratively with the civil society. In short we have devised a national security model that is inclusive, premised on the provision, of peace, security and development, through a whole of society approach. It is important to remember that all these changes have happened in the span of a few years since the start of Boko Haram’s virile attacks, but they often go unnoticed.

When we started to deal with the Boko Haram threat, our laws were not so clear on a number of fundamentals. Through the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013, significant progress has been made. It has allowed us to not only define terrorism, but block avenues of financing for their activities while putting in place structures to deal with our current threats. This has included the establishment of a Counter terrorism Centre and, working with key stakeholders, we have developed a National Counter Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST). The NACTEST is new and is the first major attempt by the government of Nigeria to holistically address the terror attacks that are being perpetrated by violent extremists. As a sub-set of the overarching National Security Strategy, it holds a strong promise for Nigerians and seeks to re-engage a stakeholder population that is losing or may have lost faith in ongoing efforts aimed at addressing threats. The strategy explains what organizations and individuals can do to help in its implementation in order to reduce the risks and ensure that people go about their lives freely and with confidence.

The NACTEST is organized around five streams, each with key objectives and indicators. FORESTALL; to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting attacks. SECURE; strengthen protection capacity against terrorist attacks. IDENIFY; pre-empt through detection, early warning and ensuring that terrorist acts are properly investigated. PREPARE; to mitigate the impact of terrorist attacks by building resilience and IMPLEMENT; a framework for the mobilization of a coordinate cross government effort. Seventeen (17) Federal ministries and Twenty Seven (27) departments and agencies are involved in the implementation of the strategy. My office has developed a benchmarking framework for the evaluation of the implementation of NACTEST in the following key areas:

a)   Respect for International Human Rights and the rule of law

b)   Successful prosecution of violent extremist offenders

c)    Capacity building of all institutions including the Criminal Justice System

d)   Public participation and consciousness in preventing terrorism

         In order to achieve the objectives of NACTEST, prevent radicalization and build community resilience we designed a Soft Approach to counter-terrorism which has resulted in Nigeria’s Countering Violent Extremism Program involving local governments, state governments, civil society organizations  and the private sector. The approach involves first the design and implementation of a prison based de radicalization program for convicted terrorists as well as terror suspects awaiting trial. We are building new skills in psychology, religious dialogue, counselling, art and sports therapy, educational and vocational training through a dedicated prison team. Our objective is to reform, rehabilitate and prepare violent extremist offenders for a possible re-entry into society. Secondly, we are piloting a counter radicalization program with special emphasis on community engagement and resilience building. Through peace initiatives, community outreach, engagement with youth, women and the religious environment, conflict resolution mechanisms, early warning systems and empowering critical stakeholders, we seek to raise awareness and unite Nigerians against violent extremism. We are also working to restore communal living in our towns and cities through purpose built community centers where our youth can go to learn new skills, vocations, arts and sports and absorb the cultural diversity we are known for.

Further to this, the threat that we face has drawn our attention to the need to overhaul our educational system. We are struggling with an educational system that does not currently serve our security, political and economic interests and as we revisit our national security policy, education has remained a top priority.

          While we grapple with education reform to ensure the right kind of education is available for all, the recent abduction of girls from their school in Chibok has compelled us to place the protection of schools high on our national security agenda. To that end working with international partners we have developed a safe schools project aimed at securing our schools, making them safe zones where students and teachers can learn without fear and in dignity.

         Thirdly we are working to build the capacity of our institutions to communicate our policies better, guided by our national values. This will have a lasting influence on governance and political culture, resulting in a more open society where government and people work in trust towards peace, security and development.

         Governance in times of insurgency presents a challenge to economic progress where development is arrested because of the absence of peace. Based on our understanding of the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and global best practices that seek to address these conditions, we worked with the Governors of the six North Eastern states of  Nigeria to design an economic revitalization program targeted towards the  states most affected by terrorism. Working with various stakeholders, we are currently designing a regional economic revitalization plan following the President’s directive in December, 2013. The plan will serve as the foundation for a federal- state partnership to revitalize the region’s economy through the Presidential Initiative for the North-East (PINE).

The inter-ministerial; committee that is driving PINE has developed a short-term strategy called “the Emergency Assistance and Economic Stabilization (EA-ES) program”. This program, with a 24-months time frame, will cater to over 1 million people or 150,000 households. The EA-ES will provide food and non-food relief material; medicines; support to the elderly, widows and malnourished children; and rapid and mobile medical assistance. It will also fast-track stalled federal projects in intervention-ready communities and employ 150,000 youth through its Productive Works program. The long-term economic transformation program of PINE will utilize the asset-based economic development approach. The Presidential Initiative for the North-East, is already mobilizing relief materials to be distributed to individuals and communities adversely affected by violence.

         To defeat terrorism, we cannot leave anyone behind.  We cannot allow ungoverned spaces and everyone must act responsibly in their sphere of authority. As a federation, doing this requires government actions at both national and sub-national levels. Local governments, which are closest to the people, must be re-focused on the important issues of good governance. Working with traditional institutions, community based organizations and the police, local governments must be proactive in building community resilience and good governance. It is time we leverage on our democratic processes to increase access to decision making for a majority of our citizens. Inclusive, non-discriminatory and participatory governance is more likely to detect discontent before it erupts. The goal of politics must be to lift our people out of poverty and provide them with the enabling environment to compete favorably. This may not eliminate the possibility of misguided individuals or groups rising up against the nation, but will address some of the underlying factors leading to recruitment into groups prone to violent extremism.

         We must also address environmental pressure from climate change that results in increased competition for limited natural resources, leading to increased herdsmen, farmer conflicts, inter-ethnic and communal clashes. The youth bulge is both a challenge and an opportunity which the federal government has recognized and initiated programs to increase job opportunities.

         Insurgents seek to force fundamental changes on society, operating with impunity; they violate all decent human values in an effort to draw a commensurate response from authorities. Terrorists win when states respond to their attacks in ways that are incompatible with their values. We are conscious that in keeping our country safe we must abide by international human rights norms that place the protection of civilians as a major priority. To that end we have embarked on a series of human rights training for our armed forces, designed new rules of engagement that upholds the responsibility to protect civilians in the prosecution of our anti terror campaign. We have strengthened our legal mechanisms to ensure that those found to have committed human rights violations are prosecuted and held up as examples to others.

         We are confident that our governance approach to countering insurgency addresses the links between peace, security, development, rule of law and respect for human rights. These are the right priorities and we are taking careful but sure steps to build the right foundations, the right institutions and skills that would give us the leverage to secure lives and property, and to defeat terrorism. This might take time but like most countries of the world that emerged stronger from conflicts, Nigeria is on the path to a safer nation built on the right values.

         I highlighted Nigeria’s efforts in order to convey three things. First, insurgency creates a difficult environment for progress, but such progress is one of the key tools for fighting insurgency. Second, in an insurgency environment, one must rely on existing infrastructure to deliver while simultaneously working to rebuild new infrastructure. This applies not only to traditional security and defense agencies, but also to agencies critical to driving economic development. Third, an insurgency environment challenges leadership, but also demands governance that can function in a rapidly changing and complex environment. I hope that I have been able to use the Nigerian example to illustrate the challenges of governance in an era of insurgency. Hopefully, the issues I have raised and examples I have provided will enhance the ability of the intellectual community to contribute to global efforts to strengthen governance in the complex environment of terrorism.

I thank the conveners for inviting me and my audience for listening. Once again, thank you.

Being full text of  the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Dasuki Sambo speech at the Nigeria Security Summit

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Dasuki all what you said were window dressing and lies.


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