On President-Elect Joseph Biden’s Unveiling of National Security Team and Lessons for Nigeria’s Rudderless “Security” and/or “National Security” by Dr. Adoyi ONOJA

“…economic security is national security” – President-Elect Joseph Biden

                      “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste” – Paul Romer

Nigeria has made such fuss about “security” and/or “national security” in the last twenty years. Indeed Nigeria had made lots of fuss about “security” and/or “national security” under military rules. In particular, under General Sani Abacha, “security” and/or “national security” reached their zenith so to speak. However, most Nigerians pretty much did not bother about the development because they did not elect these military rulers.

With the successful failure and continuous failing of “security” and/or “national security” in the last twenty years, Nigerians need to be concerned and nee to begin to ask questions. After all they elected these governments in the last two decades. This is an ongoing crisis that should not be wasted.

In the last two decades, Nigeria has dissipated energy and resources to no end on “security” and/or “national security”. Nigeria is dissipating energy and resources to no end in promoting what it called “security” and/or “national security”. Yet there is no “security” and/or “national security” for most Nigerians whether under the traditional security and/or national security let alone a non-existent Nigerian owned philosophy of security and/or national security.

Most Nigerians, with the exception of the officials managing this “security” and/or “national security”, have not the foggiest idea of what is this “security”, whose is this “security”, what is this “security” issue and how this “security” can be achieved. This is from a philosophy, legislation and policy perspectives. For the few exception managing this “security” and/or “national security”, their knowledge is limited to what the Americans would describe as the traditional conception of “national security” or what I refer to as the name and work perception of “security” and/or “national security” in Nigeria.

This is because unlike the United States and more recently the Peoples’ Republic of China, Nigeria’s conception of security and national security has no philosophy and no legislation. The 1999 Constitution and other enabling laws creating the agencies of law enforcement and defence did not describe these agencies as “security”. They were either describe as law enforcement and/or defence to the extent that they enforced and maintained public order, public safety and lives and property and/or defend the country on land, sea and air. Their – the police, army, air force, navy and DSS, NIA and DIA – association with the word “security” is descriptive particularly as name and work. Thus the police, army, navy and air force and other disciplined and arms bearing outfits are described as security agencies because they play roles in securing. The term security agency and/or security agent gained traction because of the convenience and ease of the use of the term by especially political authorities, civil societies, journalists and members of the public.

A more appropriate way to underscore the barrenness of the term “security” and/or “national security” in Nigeria is to use the United States experience to bring this out. Nigeria is reputed as one country that imitated plenty of the experiences of the United States. While conceding the lack of originality in several of the human experiences, the domestication and/or indigenisation of borrowed experiences confers some degree of originality, legitimacy and territoriality to the borrowed idea. This is mostly not the case with Nigeria and certainly not the case with the idea of “security” and/or “national security”.

Recently, President-Elect Joseph Biden unveiled what he described as critical national security and foreign policy team. This was in the lead-up to his inauguration on January 20th 2021. They included the Secretary of State, Secretary of Homeland Security, Director, National Intelligence, Ambassador to the United Nations, National Security Advisor and the new addition to the National Security Council and a cabinet level position, the Special Envoy on Climate Change. Excluded from the team is the Secretary of Defence and the Director, Central Intelligence.

For the United States of America, it is important to note that national security is everything. As President-Elect Biden noted, “national security is economic security” primarily before it is the traditional conception of security as the defence of the state on the international spheres. For the United States of America and as William Appleman Williams put it security or the routine lust for lands and markets commenced with the founding of Virginia by the Pioneers in 1608. The act of the founding of Virginia by the Pioneers that set out in search of land and resources laid the foundation for national security. So, when in 1947 the National Security Act was promulgated by Congress and signed into law by the President, it was the crystallisation of the processes that began in 1608 and continued in phases and areas with land, markets and resources as the driving motive up until the end of the Second World War the last of the processes that enabled this historic legislation.

The phase of National Security that chimed with the traditional defence of the state using the military, a process consolidated by the beginning of the Cold War in 1945 and its specific focus on the arms race dwarfed the public perception of economic security as national security. The pursuit of national security anywhere and everywhere in the world retained its economic foundation for the United States. The National Security Act of 1947 merely gave credence to the modern phase of the quest for resources all over the world and the contest involved in this efforts using the state and its military resources. The National Security Act designated the military, intelligence and law enforcement resources to the support the state in accessing and achieving national security or land, markets and resources anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Therefore, there is connection between national security and foreign policy for the United States since its triumph in the Second World War. This is simply because national security or the land, markets and resources required for maintaining prosperity, stability and power is no longer inside the United States. There is therefore the need to coordinate the economic foundation and the military and intelligence logistics of national security.

In announcing the Secretary of State, President-Elect Joseph Biden signaled the resumption of full engagement with bilateral and multilateral partners in the efforts to regain lost grounds, open new ones and reestablished alliances necessary to foster the growth of the share of America’s gross national product in the world. America’s effort to maintain its leading role in the world beginning economically and often supported militarily earned lots of friends and foes. The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war on terror in its different phases necessitated the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department is charged with the protection of the homeland against attacks from without and from within. There is the Director of National Intelligence charged with coordinating not less than fifteen intelligence agencies described as the intelligence community in the effort to protect and project national security. The Ambassador to the United Nations is charged with defending America’s national interest in the United Nations. President-Elect Biden not only introduced a new cabinet position on Climate Change. He introduced the Special Envoy on Climate Change as member of the National Security Council.

Of these national security and foreign policy team, the National Security Advisor (NSA) is charged with coordinating on behalf of the President the national security team. President-Elect Joseph Biden did not mince word when introducing Mr. Jake Sullivan that “Jake understands my vision that economic security is national security”. Nor did Jake Sullivan leave anyone in doubt about his mission when accepting the appointment noting that every effort of ours in foreign affairs must improve the lives of every American family.

I noted that Nigeria imitates the United States in a lot of ways. One of this is “security” and “national security”. For instance, Nigeria has a National Security Council and National Security Agencies Act both replicas of the US National Security Council and National Security Act. Unlike the United States of America where I noted these ideas and institutions were formative of the history, experience and reality (HER) of the United States, in Nigeria beyond the innovations they represented, these institutions have been struggling to find meaning and importance in governance largely because they lacked foundation in Nigeria’s history and philosophy.

In the United States, the National Security Council (NSC) has clear vision and mission. The vision is contained in the founding ideals of the United States, the Constitution and in the National Security Act of 1947. The mission is in the various national security strategies of the different presidents of the country since 1947. President Donald Trump’s America First National Security Strategy is the prevailing mission. The NSC has the world on its radar with different regions, sub-regions and country experts working round the clock in the pursuit of America’s national security. Thus every region, sub-region and country has role-expectation and fulfills this expectation for America’s national security.

The membership of the NSC included the president, vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defence, secretary of homeland security, director, central intelligence, director, national intelligence, ambassador to the United Nations, special envoy on climate change and national security advisor. The National Security Advisor coordinates the National Security Council on behalf of the President. The NSC bureaucracy comprised civilians, academics, and military and intelligence officials. It is chaired by Mr. President with his National Security Advisor as coordinator. The NSA is often described as the President’s national security advisor.   

Nigeria has an equivalent National Security Council with vague vision and mission. The power of the NSC comes from the 1999 Constitution. The membership included the president, vice president, chief of defence staff, minister of internal affairs, minister of defence, minister of foreign affairs, national security adviser, inspector general of police and such other persons as the president may in his discretion appoint. It is not evident if there is a permanent bureaucracy, job description except the vague “public security”, specialisation and coordination by the National Security Adviser. What is evident about the Nigerian NSC is its adhoc status, adhoc meetings of the designated members and the persistence of one item on its adhoc meetings: request for fund. While its American equivalent meets and devices ways of making money for the country, the Nigerian NSC bleeds the country of its meagre resources in the name of “public security”.

The vision of the NSC is contained in the Third Schedule Part 1 Federal Executive Bodies of the 1999 Constitution as amended. According to K 26 “the Council shall have power to advise the President on matters relating to public security including matters relating to any organisation or agency established by law for ensuring the security of the Federation.” In the absence of any mission statement from the sitting president concerning how to ensure this “public security” which is the constitutionally provided vision of the NSC, the pursuit of “public security” in whatever manner the President deemed fit become the mission of the National Security Council. This is unlike the United States where each president is aware of the vision of national security and thus tailors its mission or national security strategy to the vision.

In Nigeria and beginning from 2015, there is a one-off National Security Strategy (NSS) which serves as mission of a yet-to-be provided “security” and/or “national security” vision or philosophy. The NSS was so-called reviewed and represented to Nigerians in 2019 after its five years shelve life expired. Book shelve is the only place the NSS belong. The National Security Strategy decorate the shelves of selected agencies and does not guide “security” and/or “national security” for its creator the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) let alone governments, ministries, departments and agencies and the private sector. I had once argued – this conviction remained sacrosanct – that the necessity of bilateral and multilateral interface on security with discerning countries and external agencies was the motivating factor for the compilation of the National Security Strategy by the ONSA.

What is there to learn in President-Elect Biden’s unveiling of national security and foreign policy team and the statement that economic security is national security amidst the repeated failures and failings of Nigeria’s “security” and/or “national security” in the last twenty years? Why is the last twenty years significant in the reexamination of security and/or national security in Nigeria? Is it not time for Nigerians to diagnose what is security, whose security, what is security issue and how can security be achieved?

There is plenty to learn from Biden’s national security and foreign policy team on the one hand and on the other hand the statement that economic security is national security. In America, national security has philosophy and tradition embedded in the founding ideals and history of the United States. National Security is not mere name and work of the military, intelligence and law enforcement (MILE) as is the case in Nigeria. The MILE as the face of national security enabled the attainment of national security anywhere and everywhere in the world for America.

The first lesson is President-Elect Biden’s statement that economic security is national security said it all. The United States will not invest nearly a trillion dollars on its military, intelligence and law enforcement going by President Trump’s budget for the sake of projecting power only. Even in the Cold War days when military might became the face of what was essentially an economy-driven ideological struggle, the quest for resources was the base and paramount. It was this quest for resources and its organisation including the satisfaction of the needs of the people that won the race for the United States when the former Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own contradiction. The investment on the MILE created and creates markets for America’s military hardware while its intended mission was/is to enable America comb the world for land and resources for its industries and peoples. The United States’ over one thousand military bases and its eleven aircraft carriers supported by cruisers, destroyers and submarines ensure America’s national security or access to land and resources anywhere and everywhere in the world.

What benefit are there for Nigeria’s equivalent of “security” and/or “national security” with its insatiable appetite for funds in the last twenty years?  It is a bottomless pit for most Nigerians except the few at the helm of this “security” and/or “national security”. “Security” and/or “national security” has no philosophy and no tradition in Nigeria beyond the received wisdom popularised and copied from the prevailing practice.

The second lesson to learn from Biden’s unveiling of his national security and foreign policy is the connection of national security and foreign policy. The making by the Congress of the legislation called the National Security Act in 1947 sealed the relationship between the quest for national security and foreign policy. In other national security is out there beyond the shores of the United States. It takes the military, intelligence and law enforcement resources of America aptly demonstrated in the Second World War to access anywhere and everywhere land and resources or national security. The relationship and coordination of national security and foreign policy is necessary.

There is no connection between “security” and/or “national security” and foreign policy in the Nigeria type in spite of the attempt to make this connection. None whatsoever no matter how the practitioners try to make it stick. Without any tangible defining security and the quest for the tangible as security, what is security beyond Nigeria’s shores can only be conjured up by those that connect security and foreign policy. The two – security and foreign policy – is one hell of another drain and conduit to milk Nigeria’s scarce fund. Nigeria’s “security” and foreign policy contributes next to nothing to gross domestic product.

The third lesson for Nigeria is President-Elect Biden’s instructions to his National Security Advisor: translate my mission of economic security is national security into reality. What is the vision of Nigeria’s “security” and/or “national security”?  What is the role of the National Security Adviser in the mission of “security” and/or “national security”? 

The fourth lesson for Nigeria from the United States national security is that the US National Security Act of 1947 is clear and comprehensive on its contents. The Nigerian National Security Agencies Act created the agencies of “national security” without philosophy and/or vision of “security” and/or “national security” to draw from.

The fifth lesson for Nigeria is that the United States National Security Council has the world as the field for the search for national security or land and resources. The Council is a full spectrum round-the-clock bureaucracy working for the attainment of national security. The President is updated on the happenings as it affects national security regularly by the National Security Advisor that coordinates the Council. If and when the need arises, the Council meets with the President presiding. The Nigerian National Security Council has “public security” as its task. The Council is adhoc. The Council is a requesting and clearing house for fund in the pursuit of “public security”. The Council is another drain on Nigeria’s resource and a public debt piling agency of the government.

The last two decades is significant for the reexamination of “security” and/or “national security” for two reasons. The first reason is that the period ought of have witnessed the end of the phase of security and/or national security associated with military rule that dominated Nigeria for a very long time. The period should have commenced another phase of security and/or national security relative to the representative rule experience for which most Nigerians voted to enthrone amidst the failure of the military rule type. The second reason arose from the two perspectives of the first reason. Rather than representative rule enabling environment building new security and/or national security philosophy within this governing ideology and in tandem with the history, experience and reality (HER) of Nigerians, there was the reemergence and reconsolidation of the failed and failing “security” and/or “national security” associated with the military. The implication is that military rule reinvented itself back into politics using the portfolio it created and built called “security” in the last twenty years.

I have alluded to reasons for this development in several articles among which was the sudden turnaround to civil rule worldwide, the burgeoning investment and infrastructure of governance created by military rule, the prevalence of political class terrified of the military and unsure of the place of civil rule in this environment, the quid pro quo or blind consensus entered into by the terrified political class and the leadership of the military where areas of influence were agreed upon for each side, the prodemocracy and anti-military rule rhetoric of abundance for the people and the dashed expectations of the people for what is called democracy dividends. Of the tripods involved in these – the political class, the MILE class and other Nigerians – the two most important dramatis personae are the upcoming political class and the MILE class. The MILE class lost political power at a time it was least prepared amidst its enormous psychological and material investments on political rule. The political class got power when it was least ready, at least psychologically, to assume this role.

The two groups had to work out something to keep each other psychologically balanced to make up for the loss and gain. The “security” and/or “national security” turf became the basis for what is arguably the compromise in place for both parties. For allowing the political class keep political power without the perennial apprehension for intervention, the political class willingly conceded unfettered control of the loose end called “security” and/or “national security” with all the unlimited funds this entails. Thus the MILE class may have relinquished and/or forfeited political power to the civil political elite but it did not lose the fund that goes with political power. The metamorphosis of “security” and/or “national security” in the last twenty years offered this chance.

The traditional defence and law enforcement tasks of the military, intelligence and law enforcement (MILE) which metamorphosed into “security” and/or “national security” in name and work of the agencies became justification for devoting significant portion of the country’s gross domestic product to assuaging. There is no shortage of crises and conflicts in the country with the geopolitical areas parceled into specialising in “insurgency”, “banditry”, farmers-herders” and “kidnapping”. These four specialties overlapped in some instances. Part of the crisis and conflict was accumulated over several decades of poor governance, mis-governance and lack of governance by the military when it was on the saddle; other crisis and conflict accumulated in the course of the last twenty years of the failures of representative rule to govern in tandem with the needs of most Nigerians; all of these owed to the faulty and often deliberate foundation imposed by the 1999 Constitution which is the framework of the prevailing representative rule.

Prior to this time, the military had embedded itself in what it described as “internal security operation” by the virtue of Section 217 subsection 2c and 2d. This was consequent on the military governments deliberate underfunding and incapacitation of the Nigeria Police Force in the course of several decades. The Nigeria military was well entrenched in the emasculation and performance of the duties of the Nigeria Police prior to the commencement of civil rule in the last twenty years. This served as added justification for the military’s “security” and/or “security national” role.

The proliferation of crisis and conflict of all types in the last two decades which was labelled as “security” and/or “national security” threat chimed with the view promoted in the lead up to dethroning unelected rule that peace was prerequisite for development on the one hand and on the other hand the sold out view that foreign investment can only come to society without conflict. Thus the government committed to restoring peace through spending on “security” and/or “national security” in order to create the enabling environment for internal and external development. The quantum leap in terms of justification for committing fund into “security” came with the beginning of Boko Haram in 2009. The political class – elected and appointed – and the MILE class are the beneficiaries of the fund so-called committed to “security” and/or “national security” as this ended up in their private pockets while most Nigerians bear the brunt of this profligacy and persistent disorder.

Is Nigeria’s failed and failing practice called “security” and/or “national security” in the last twenty years not enough reason to begin to ask questions on “security” and/or “national security”? Shouldn’t the American perspective and President-Elect Biden statement that economic security is national security serve as basis for reexamining “security” and/or “national security” in Nigeria of the last twenty years?

In the last twenty years of representative rule, the elected representatives of the people have not taken ownership of most of the spheres of governance in Nigeria. Security is one such sphere. To take ownership of security is to ask and answer the four fundamental questions constituting philosophy and policy amidst the very successful failure and failing of “security” and/or “national security” in the last twenty years. What is security? Whose security? What is security issue? How can security be achieved?

About the Author: Dr. Adoyi ONOJA teaches history and security courses in the Department of History and in the graduate programme on Security and Strategic Studies in the Institute of Governance and Development Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. 

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