Nigeria’s Security Governance Dilemmas During the Covid-19 Crisis – James Okolie-Osemene

33 min read

Summary: COVID-19 has been labeled an “invisible enemy” because it does not need states to mobilize security forces to resist it. The spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) prompted Nigeria to declare lockdowns and restrict human activities, prompting the development of multiple COVID-19 task force reaction teams to implement and relieve the lockdowns. The pandemic has caused great loss to business activities, schools, and the economy of the country as a whole. The government needs to support households, jobs, businesses, and small-medium enterprises with funds and food items to ease the impact of the pandemic and improve the safety and wellbeing of the citizens.


The advent of the coronavirus pandemic marked a watershed in Nigeria’s socio-economic and political milieu, as it created panic in states. Security governance is one of the ingredients of peace and stability in society, but problems sometimes emanate from law enforcement lapses. This paper examined Nigeria’s security governance dilemmas during the lockdown enforcement aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 and highlighted the key lessons from the government’s approach to security governance during the period. Data are gathered through in-depth interviews, media reports and secondary sources. The qualitative paper combined non-killing theory and social contract theory. There were looting of shops, robbery, and killing by security forces, in Lagos, Warri, Aba, Umuahia and other cities during the lockdown owing to the problem of footprint/access. The findings revealed that, despite surveillance efforts, security governance was undermined by the activities of idle youths, non-state armed groups, and unprofessionalism of security forces. While there was a remarkable decrease in crimes compared with the pre-COVID-19 period, the lockdown did not deter troublemakers from engaging in violent acts, such as armed robbery, police violence, and kidnapping. Adequate palliatives should be provided first at high-risk areas during future lockdowns to prevent security threats.


The spread of corona virus (COVID-19) led to the declaration of lockdowns and restriction of human activities in many parts of the world, motivating the formation of various COVID-19 taskforce response teams to implement and ease the lockdowns. According to Peace Research Institute Oslo, ‘states are responding to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by invoking the state of emergency – generally characterised by an expansion of the state power, allowing it to perform actions that it could not carry in times of normal politics’ (Peace Research Institute Oslo 2020). The current biomedical risks associated with the corona virus expose the main weaknesses of late capitalist economies (Manderson and Levine 2020; van der Ploeg 2020).Corona virus has transformed the entire world to the extent that lifestyles, working patterns and movement of people are now regulated with new protocols, with home settings, relationships, institutions and governments adjusting from old normal to new normal. Apart from the people that were already born during the Great Depression and Influenza in 1930s and 1918–1920, respectively, majority of the people in Africa and beyond did not witness the type of affliction caused by pandemics until COVID-19 emerged. The advent of an unprecedented COVID-19 crisis marked a watershed in the twenty-first century history to the extent that various people experienced the manifestation of clichés like quarantine, contact tracing, social distancing, physical distancing, isolation, panic buying, emergency flights, evacuation, stock up, lockdown, community transmission, new normal, and staying safe among others. Out of all these clichés, lockdown became more visible as a result of the associated security governance and socio-economic impacts in particular. While people panicked for their safety based on health anxiety, survival became a major slogan as people had reasons to worry about the possibility of living a normal life without disruption of livelihoods.COVID-19 has been described as an invisible enemy which does not require states to mobilise security forces for combat (Ookeditse 2020). This complicates the task of human security as fatalities are recorded without much success in urgently preventing death of the vulnerable groups. No doubt, the weakness of health care systems in many parts of Africa created panic.The COVID-19 pandemic has catalysed the lockdown of many parts of society (starting with restaurants and schools and then onwards from one town to another) (Ayanlade and Radeny 2020; van der Ploeg 2020; Wong 2020). The lockdowns were greeted by galloping inflation and rapidly increasing cost of living affecting mostly the urban and rural poor and majority of youths and women most of whom are migrant workers and wage labourers that expected to return to the old normal as soon as possible but shocked to witness reviews and extension of lockdown by Federal and State Governments.With the rapid spread of the novel corona virus which hindered the operations of institutions, economic activities, recreational centres, businesses, and government programmes, the centralisation of COVID-19 responses has exposed the weakness of states in an era that requires early and speedy responses to this health emergency (Wright 2020). Because of the lockdown, city dwellers had to suffer more than those in rural communities due to the inconveniences that greeted lockdown measures. Moreover, jobs have been lost, businesses have lost customers and the closure of hundreds of thousands of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have closed shops, thereby causing unexpected depreciation of economic buoyancy (Maritz et al. 2020). For instance, many fast foods and restaurants were affected by the restriction of movements to residential areas, and this made the businesses to report different rates of drop in profits after the phases of lockdown. This was worsened by the lack of early warning signs of the pandemic spread as they were taken unawares.In Nigeria, the domestic impact of the pandemic remains remarkable. Since the index case was reported on 27 February 2020, not many people realised what the country was to face until the Presidential Taskforce began issuing guidelines on COVID-19 prevention. Lockdowns changed the pattern of daily life as previously established lifestyle of waking up and going out in the early hours of the day to hustle became an old normal. Suddenly, this was replaced by the new normal of working from home and observing various protocols in areas of relationship, hygiene, communication, feeding, health, recreation among others. Unfortunately, the lockdown in Nigeria not only took people out of the streets as they were only restricted to their homes and streets having little to do in public spaces. With the impact of the pandemic on socio-economic activities which also changed life on the street across the country, it became clear that people needed to protect themselves.For men and women who had to visit barbing saloons, they could not have a proper haircut as desired unless they improvised at home themselves. Women who also needed to purchase creams and relaxers or change hairstyles, the lockdown made such needs difficult as markets and shops remained closed. Lockdowns characterised state responses to the pandemic with different degrees of compliance and cooperation of the citizens in affected locations.Given that the novel COVID-19 generated some security concerns, various scholarly works have not adequately examined security governance initiatives during lockdowns. This paper examines Nigeria’s security governance dilemmas occasioned by the enforcement of lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 in many parts of Nigeria with emphasis on the actors, challenges, resilience and threats of incidents and take away lessons for the future. Nigeria’s security governance dilemmas manifested due to the unusual nature of events that necessitated lockdown which coincided with counterinsurgency and other stability operations caused by the activities of non-state armed groups. It is noteworthy that lockdown did not affect all parts of the country. However, the security concerns were felt at individual and government levels, with the security governance initiatives centred on the improvement of safety and enforcement of government’s directives.The paper responds to the following questions: how did COVID-19 lockdown enforcement cause security governance dilemmas?; what were the challenges associated with lockdown enforcement including in relation to law enforcement? And to what extent did people’s resilience impact security governance?


The author conducted 100 in-depth interviews with people in Lagos, Ogun, Edo, Abia, Delta, Rivers States, and Abuja, where lockdown manifested with significant security governance initiatives recording total and partial lockdowns. The interviews involved scholars, security personnel, task force officers, selected politicians, students, traders and drivers. The interviews were conducted through phone calls, Whatsapp and face-to-face interaction with the respondents who were purposively selected based on their location. The respondents also sent their responses to the interview questions through Whatsapp and email to the author. Secondary sources were also used to complement the primary sources. The interviews enabled the author to thematically present data based on the research questions.The criteria for choosing respondents included moving out from the streets, being knowledgeable about the lockdown issues and enforcement, interest and knowledge about COVID-19 security provision. Despite the lockdown limiting the movement of people, the author had to get respondents. Those who identified their inability to leave their compounds as a reason for not knowing the nature of lockdown law enforcement were no longer included in the interviews. The author had to source for people that moved about the streets and travelled from one town to another and one state to another during the lockdown.

Security governance: the conceptual contours

The idea of security emphasises that safety needs of people in every society must be given adequate consideration. There is hardly any human society that security discourse does not attract the attention of both policy makers and the citizens. This is so because insecurity is no respecter of persons. The multiplicity of definitions has made it difficult for a unified explanation of the concept to be adopted. However, it is pertinent to present some definitions. Security provisioning need has remained a serious concern to authorities across the world as people often wonder why insecurities escalate despite efforts put into the security sector (Veen 2014). Consequently, security providers have continued to emerge and evolve with the legal mandate to safeguard the society through agencies such as the police, military, gendarmerie, prison guards, among others whose responsibility focuses on human/national security (Ashkenazi 2013). Accountability inherent in security provision emphasises not only the effectiveness of security forces but how accountable they are to the state and its citizens, usually reinforced by security governance within the rule of law framework (Donais 2017). Webber et al. see security governance ascoordinated management and regulation of issues by multiple and separate authorities, the interventions of both public and private actors (depending upon the issue), formal and informal arrangements, in turn structured by discourse and norms, and purposefully directed toward particular policy outcomes. (Ehrhart, Hegemann, and Kahl 2014, 120)According to Kersbergen and van Waarden, security governance is the pluricentric coordination in which national governments are one central, but not necessarily the only actor; a combination of formal and informal structures among interdependent but autonomous actors operating beyond formal hierarchies; and a tendency toward cooperative bottom-up implementation rather than top-down command and control (cited in Ehrhart, Hegemann, and Kahl 2014).Security governance also aims at curbing insecurity which includes criminal violence, political violence and situation that make it difficult for the government to enforce the rule of law (Albert 2015). The weakness of security governance in many societies led to armed violence and the proliferation of non-state armed groups. Moreover, the effectiveness of security governance dismantles the structures that sustain footprints of criminal groups and also discourage the formation of new groups. It is through security governance that the state could guarantee safety by preventing the activities of troublemakers. But such initiative can be sustained with people-centred development and vocational training for people to be involved in gainful living without becoming a burden to relatives and the society at large.Wæver (1995) has provided a guide of four basic needs being survival, development, freedom, and identity, which must be present for an issue to be securitised, but that people have the liberty to securitise whatever they prioritise (cited in Ookeditse 2020). The relationship between security governance and lockdown enforcements is the measures put in place to check the activities and compliance of people through the deployment of security operatives and task forces along the roads and streets. The essence of security governance is to secure lives and property, and lockdown enforcement is no exception.Non-killing theory has life-saving features that offer insight into the actions of people concerning their conscious efforts that are made to comprehend the practices, policies, institutions, cultures, politics, and behaviours that promote killing of humans in society and to assess what is needed to transition from a killing state to a non-killing one, and this can be achieved through research, mapping or investigation of developments in the society. Moreover, if judiciously adopted, this theory would guide policy and the cultural, political, and socio-economic behaviours of individuals and institutions towards creating a non-killing society (Allen and Okeke-Uzodike 2010). In addition, the principle of non-killing theory also emphasises the strategic significance of identifying the sources and hotspots of violence and fatal crimes. This also creates the opportunity to professionally respond to incidents of lawlessness during lockdowns to avoid brutality which often leads to fatalities.Guaranteeing the effectiveness of non-killing lifestyle requires the cooperation of all stakeholders in the society. Non-killing attitude, which reduces crime and promotes human rights protection, is a necessity during the enforcement of lockdown for both security agencies and the civilians to comport themselves by avoiding violence in order to prevent a breakdown of law and order. It is instructive that during lockdowns, there are often temptations for people to try outsmarting either the security agencies or unsuspecting people within the neighbourhoods, and such actions could jeopardise security measures to the detriment of public peace.Secondly, social contract theory which explains the role of government in protecting her citizens is informed by the responsibility of states to protect their citizens rather than leaving them with the task of providing security for themselves. In other words, the state is socially responsible for ensuring that lives and property within its territory are not under any threat that would undermine their existence. According to John Locke, the government is an organisation which derives consent from the people, and the social contract exists because citizens are ready to give their consent to the governments (the states) to protect their lives and property. Consequently, the government uses the legitimacy given to act based on a social contract to prevent all forms of insecurity to discourage self-help which could promote anarchy. With the combination of political stability, security and social cohesion which are the ingredients of peaceful coexistence, the government would be able to sustain the social contract (Pires 2012).But states cannot claim to sustain the social contract when there is a limitation in meeting up with the fulfilment of the obligation of security provisioning (Albert 2017). However, the abuse of the social contract is well documented in Nigeria where security forces often attack and kill the people they are expected to protect, to the extent that some are described as unknown soldiers or apprehended for prosecution. Afeno (2014) identifies low wages, corrupt practices including forceful extortion of bribes, which often results in extra-judicial killings and other human rights abuses as features of law enforcement by security forces in Nigeria where armed gangs and ethno-religious issues cause violence. Mapping the incidents from Nigeria Watch database, the scholar lists the killings by security forces from 2006 to 2014, namely the recorded 7648 fatalities in 529 out of a total of 880 lethal incidents where the army was involved, while 1560 fatalities were linked to the police out of 2694 violent incidents they got involved in, representing an average of 58% of their interventions that caused deaths.The social contract theory also explains the determination and capacity of the government to preserve life and vitality for its citizens, through policies that provide for the securitisation of pandemics, just like COVID-19 which demands changes in budgeting priorities, given urgent attention to the health needs of the society (Ookeditse 2020). And this must include security during lockdown and lockdown measures. This protection role of the state is also achieved through pandemic legislation/enactment of laws, contact tracing and restriction of movements based on government’s responsibility to protect all citizens who are equal before the law. Indeed, increased budget allocations to address the health emergency for unplanned security deployments that were not captured in the country’s budget for the year in this COVID-19 era would enhance state capacity to contain the spread of the dreaded corona virus.Based on this, governments have initiated measures to assist vulnerable households during the COVID-19 lockdown, including distribution of grains to vulnerable households where access to foodstuffs was a challenge (Ayanlade and Radeny 2020). Local and international donors including civil society also supported the government by making financial and material contributions in order to alleviate the sufferings associated with lockdown.The elements tested in the study are the actions that either enhanced or undermined security governance, and the effectiveness of government’s social responsibility in the area of security provision during the lockdown achievable through professionalism in law enforcement.

How COVID-19 lockdown enforcement caused negative peace

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19, the country already witnessed security threats occasioned by the activities of armed robbers, bandits, militants and insurgents. The prevailing peace environment before the crisis was better than the situation created by the economic instability caused by the pandemic. The nature of security governance before the crisis showed that it did not create tension across the country except in states affected by insurgency. So, security governance did not lead to restriction as people enjoyed the freedom of movement unlike during lockdown.The outbreak necessitated the involvement of the police in enforcing the lockdown and contact tracing to contain the spread from any area identified as the epicentre of the virus and possibly flatten the curve by forcing people to remain at home without attending any religious programmes, schools and other activities (Ibrahim, Ajide, and Julius 2020; Wong 2020). This was the case in many parts of the country. The situation created by the lockdown directives meant that only evacuation flights were permitted though under strict travel COVI-19 protocols. Various sporting competitions and trainings were suspected and social gatherings banned.As the index case was reported in Lagos on 27 February 2020, and started spreading, the lockdowns were implemented in two ways namely – intra-city and inter-city enforcement. While the first restricted, people to their streets, within few kilometres from their homes, the second form of lockdown prevented people from travelling from one city to another or other states. As noted by Ibrahim, Ajide, and Julius (2020), the first phase of the lockdown was announced by the President on 27 April 2020 with effect from May 4 to 17 spanning two weeks with an extension from 18 May to 1 June 2020, and by 15 July 2020, the country witnessed two phases of gradual easing of the COVID-19 lockdown and edged towards the third phase; government’s gradual easing of the lockdown, was followed by a nationwide curfew between 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. The COVID-19 Regulation 2020 was issued by the President of Nigeria with powers under the Quarantine Act 1926 which is a Colonial era law enacted to quarantine people and areas with infectious diseases; but after that, the President directed security agencies to be cautious and tactful in the lockdown enforcement (Oseghale 2020). This is based on the need to protect human rights during law enforcement.The policy decisions made at lockdown centred on the restriction of movements and closure of various institutions, with a mandate to law enforcement agencies to monitor compliance and enforce physical distancing. According to Falaye (2020) the federal and state governments closed land and air borders across the country and permitted only security agencies, health personnel, media professionals and other essential service providers to operate within the COVID-19 protocols. It is pertinent to identify the major stakeholders involved in lockdown enforcements who can be described as the actors of security governance, namely the security forces, including military, paramilitary, the police, civil defence, task forces in different states, Mayor of Port Harcourt, as well as Community Development Associations which increased local watch that reported to the police. The use of road blocks and increased stop and search in many cities created an atmosphere of negative peace, which is the type of peace that generates the perception of problem and the peace guaranteed by coercive instrument of the state. Such security measures rather increased stop and searches, thus portraying a state of emergency.Apart from the police and paramilitary personnel, military personnel was deployed to many parts of the country to enforce lockdown directives, thereby generating concerns about the excessive use of force in the implementation of restrictive measures to curb COVID-19 spread (Iweze 2020). The fears amongst the masses were heightened by the patrols by heavily armed security forces throughout the period.The significance of Executive Orders in regulating security governance for effective lockdown enforcement cannot be downplayed. The essence of the executive orders was to set a legal framework for the measures established with the aim of enhancing human conduct in affected states. As at the time of conducting this research, Lagos, Rivers, FCT, Ogun and had already reported cases respectively and this accounts for the duration and enforcement of lockdowns until the ending of July 2020.However, the lockdown saved lives because most people who were vulnerable to kidnapping and other armed violence were safer staying at home rather than embarking on long journeys. The inter-state travel restriction also saved some people from accidents especially along ever-busy highways like Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Sagamu-Benin-Asaba, Enugu-Aba-PH highway, Lokoja-Abuja-Kaduna etc.The enforcement of lockdown also showed the determination of security agencies in increasing their stop and search duties with a significant increase of vehicular stops to check the activities of criminal gangs and other troublemakers who would have attempted to take advantage of restriction of movement to indulge in criminal operations within neighbourhoods and along major roads in different towns. With the new normal, it was expected that disgruntled elements could disregard government directives to attack unsuspecting people. Such searches also offered those on essential duties the opportunity to present their identity cards to prevent harassment and arrest and possible prosecution by the security agencies. Throughout this period, those apprehended for violating the lockdown were prosecuted.The interviews conducted during this study revealed that respondents rated the lockdown enforcements by security operatives differently in some Nigerian cities that had remarkable lockdown experience. Lagos was rated poor and partially peaceful by most of the respondents who also identified extortion of motorists by the security operatives enforcing lockdown, although security improved. In fact, some parts of Lagos had excellent security provisions due to the hybrid nature of the security initiatives involving both state and non-state actors.However, it was found that it was violently enforced in Port Harcourt where the extortion of civilians persisted and security did not improve. In Rivers State, lockdown enforcement was also rated poor by a paramilitary operative who described the security situation as not improved in Rivers State with violent enforcement in some quarters. All respondents in Rivers identified the poor security provisioning.

Challenges of security governance during the lockdown

The adverse impact of the COVID-19 is felt in the ‘big cities of developing countries, with their large informal settlements which have limited access to water and basic sanitation, let alone advanced healthcare’ (Wright 2020, 1). Nigerian cities are not left out in these challenges considering how ordinary citizens face difficulties accessing healthcare, pipe borne water and sanitation. It is also evident that urban slums and rural areas in Nigeria are also affected by ‘lack of accessible piped drinking water and adequate sanitation which make frequent hand washing difficult’ (Francis and Pegg 2020). No wonder why Omigbodun (2020) stresses that drastic lockdowns are likely to do great harm among poor people in crowded settlements, creating a fertile ground for people to foment civil disorder. This is imminent in a society that has an ever-increasing gap between the rich and poor to the extent that jobs have been lost and revenue earnings decline. Consequently, while the rich would adequately be prepared for lockdowns by purchasing foodstuffs and drugs, urban and rural poor are most likely to be left stranded in a state of inadequacy of basic human needs.The enforcement of lockdown is usually associated with controversies especially when citizens do not receive expected palliatives from the government. The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari led the way by announcing to the public through a nationwide broadcast that the government would lockdown the most affected cities in the country. He also called on all people to cooperate with security agencies. Even the Governor of Lagos State also warned against flouting the government’s orders in the state. What the government does is to announce the measures put in place and restrictions to the mindful of especially justifying decision made.For instance, while justifying the lockdown in Ogun State, the Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun stated that:I urge our people to continue to take personal responsibility by adhering to the precautionary measures as enunciated by the World Health Organisation, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the National Centre for Disease Control … Our dear State’s economy cannot afford a reversal of the gains to stem the tide of community spread and we need to prepare more for the post-COVID-19 era. The fact is that while we continue to provide conducive environment for the individual prosperity of all our people, we will also continue to put measures in place to ensure and guarantee their wellbeing, welfare and wellness in this COVID-19 period and at all times. I must say that this is the kernel of the implementation of the “Building our Future Together” Agenda. (Abiodun 2020)The Governor also noted that event centres, bars, casinos, cinemas, and night clubs should remain under lockdown; that COVID-19 Task Force in markets must continue to ensure physical distancing, and provide hand washing facilities, and use of gloves and facemasks for traders. All these affected the public places with the government making the wearing of face masks compulsory particularly in public places. By implication, violation of the orders would attract arrest and prosecution, for not minding the health safety of others.In the same vein, the River State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, announced the lockdown on Obio/Akpor and Port Harcourt Local Government Areas, which was later relaxed on 21 May 2020 to allow human and vehicular movements and opening of limited businesses such as banks, supermarkets, shopping malls, and grocery shops. The State Security Council also announced the continuous closure of land, sea and air border to prevent entry and exit from the state. The lockdown also affected night clubs, motor parks, hotels, barbers’ shops and in-service restaurants which were not expected to open (Wike 2020).From the Press release by the Commissioner for Information and Communication in Rivers State on 7 May 2020, it was observed that the government issued exemption letters to permit those on essential duties to move freely during the lockdown. As a result, the government warned the residents of Amadi-Ama in Trans Amadi area of Port Harcourt, and Mgbuosimini, Rumueme in Obio Akpor Local Government Area respectively, to desist from violating the lockdown (Rivers State Government 2020).During the lockdown, there were reports of criminality in some parts of the country. The recruitment of unemployed youths by criminal syndicates due to their availability for anti-social criminal activities, explains why such social group dominates the incidents of instability in Nigerian society (Ukoji and Okolie-Osemene 2016). The foregoing shows that there is hardly any breakdown of law and order. The 2020 lockdowns associated with COVID-19 are not left out.Criminal activities created more tasks of security forces as they attempted to take advantage of the health crisis and restriction of people to their homes to engage in crimes. Some residents of Lagos flouted the lockdown in their bid to seek a livelihood and security breaches in border towns led to the establishment of neighbourhood vigilante groups by residents (Odekunle 2020).Some fatalities were recorded in the country as security agencies were enforcing lockdown. In Abia State, about five persons were reportedly killed by law enforcement officers even when the state was yet to record any index case; and angry youths rioted thereby burning Ebem Ohafia police station in the process (Ugwu 2020). Soldiers also allegedly shot a youth who was accused of violating the lockdown. This ironical situation means that security forces became deadlier than the dreaded COVID-19 which does not kill instantly.The activities of law enforcement agencies contributed to ineffectiveness of the enforcement measures in some states. Some members of the COVID-19 taskforces enforcing lockdown were found to be indulging in corrupt practices to the extent that they went as far as arresting and punishing defaulters for not cooperating by offering a bribe (Ezeibe et al. 2020). The unprofessionalism also indicates that defaulters could walk away unquestioned only if they were prepared to give some amount of money to the people enforcing lockdown.It is noteworthy that some informants revealed that they travelled from their communities to other states during the ban on inter-state travels before the restriction was relaxed. Unfortunately, they reported the complicity of some security operatives who collected bribes as fine to enable them to cross from one state to another. For instance, a woman travelled from Ubulu-Uku in Delta State to Benin City in Edo State to spend time with her children; and she stated that the vehicle she boarded to Benin City had to leave early to evade the harassment of security forces. Secondly, several commercial vehicles were plying the Lagos – Ibadan expressway during the ban on inter-state travels but were made to pay over N25,000 fines whenever apprehended by security forces. Also, this made them to charge passengers over N5000 for a journey that is not supposed to be more than N1500 before the lockdown. Such violation of travel restrictions by people also explains why respondents listed extortion of people by law enforcement agencies as one of the issues during the lockdown when inter-state journeys were not effectively restricted by law enforcement agencies.Also, the influx of travellers from the Northern part of the country showed that the restriction of movements during the lockdown was poorly implemented. According to the residents of some communities in Delta State which share boundaries with Edo, about two or more trucks of northerners came into the state on weekly basis, generating security concerns in many parts of the state (Olayemi 2020). Because of this development, Delta State Commissioner for Health, Mordi Ononye raised an alarm in Asaba at a media briefing by the Technical Committee on Covid-19 Response, informing the public about the state government’s intensified sensitisation of the Hausa communities across the state on the dangers of illegal immigrants to the society (Ahon et al. 2020).The story was not different in Abia and Rivers States which also complained about the interception of several youths and teenage migrants from the Northern states and this was not expected since there was a lockdown. One wonders how they managed to pass through various checkpoints in vehicles transporting cattle down to the South without being spotted by security agencies during stop and search. Suffice to say that such security lapses are risky considering the possibility of insurgents and bandits attempting to achieve their goal of migrating to the South and other areas with poor footprints of security forces to achieve their goal of geographical spread.Apart from the rebellious actions of some people towards law enforcement agencies by disregarding lockdown directive in many parts of the country (Omaka-Amari et al. 2020), findings also show that people who left their homes exposed themselves to the risk of paying bribes to security operatives. This made majority of the respondents to describe the lockdown as extortionary. However, the strength of law enforcement lies within their capacity to comply with the government’s directive to ensure the compliance with government’s directives. Respondents in Lagos, Rivers and Abuja described the Army as very professional during the lockdown enforcements than other security agencies. However, the incident where soldiers opened fire at the members of taskforce in Maiduguri was an isolated scenario that would have been avoided if the soldiers were not hasty to respond to the blocking of the entry road into the city.A notable weakness of security governance during this period was the inability of law enforcement agencies to take advantage of lockdown to prevent the breaking of shops and other places of business by petty thieves in different parts of the country.Threats to law enforcement were mainly the poor collaboration between some security agencies and members of the task force, a situation where they either had issues with task force members to the extent that civilians took advantage of the poor security collaboration to violate lockdown order. According to some of the respondents in Lagos, Ogun, Abuja and Port Harcourt, ‘police officers abused their deployment by physically assaulting defaulting civilians and also the use of guns on civilians.’ Moreover, a major threat to security governance during the lockdown was a lack of trust in the government’s policies towards the preventive measures to check the spread.The abuse of deployment of security agencies for lockdown enforcement was noticed in some cities like Lagos, Benin City, Warri and Port Harcourt where brazen extortion was high and threatened the peace which they were supposed to maintain. Security governance is not ‘single agency’ affair but it is apparent that the police were left alone to address security challenges in some communities.The fact that COVID-19 later became a neighbourhood issue showed that disturbances recorded within some neighbourhoods in some cities exposed the weakness of the security sector in the area of containing security threats through early warning signals especially before and during crimes. In fact, some neighbourhoods were left alone to either provide security for themselves or endure the pains of armed banditry which became an urban nuisance during the lockdown. Another aspect of this problem was the expected reduction of crime rate with the restriction of movements which did not materialise beyond few days as kidnappings were recorded within and across states.According to Channels Television, report of 19 July 2020, about 150 travellers were arrested by the police, for violating the lockdown in Lagos State as they travelled during the hours that curfew was observed. Certainly, the metropolitan nature of Lagos and Port Harcourt made the lockdown more sophisticated than what was observed in other parts of the country.On the abuse of deployment by security operatives, one of the respondents captured same view of others across the country, thus: ‘Many police officers abused their deployment by physically assaulting defaulting civilians and also the use of guns on civilians.’ One of the notable isolated incidents was recorded in Benin City, Edo State where one of the respondents identified a situation where a Pharmacist was arrested by the police during lockdown enforcement. According to the respondent:on one occasion, a pharmacist was stopped and arrested when he was returning home, but the next day the commissioner and some legal teams headed by the Nigerian Bar Association’s state chairman had to swing into action to ensure the Divisional Police Officer was brought to answer and eventually transferred and ordered for the release of the Pharmacist.It is noteworthy that there was a curfew to restrict the movement of people in Benin City.

The uniqueness of rivers state lockdown scenario

Although many states witnessed lockdown (Falaye 2020; Omaka-Amari et al. 2020), that of Rivers State is remarkable because of how the state approached security governance initiatives and enforced the lockdown in a unique manner with active involvement of the state Governor. It was observed during the lockdown that lasted for some weeks, Rivers State stood out as the only state that witnessed total lockdown from 25 March 2020, through the directive of the State Governor, Nyesom Wike who was actively involved in the enforcement and monitoring of the compliance. Lockdown was imposed after the state recorded an index case. The uniqueness of Rivers State lockdown manifested in three ways, namely:

a. The involvement of Rivers Governor in the implementation of policies and enforcement of lockdown in the streets and major roads across the state, even with the risk of flying in a helicopter to monitor the level of compliance with government’s directive. In fact, this was unique as the Governor did not leave the task of security surveillance to only law enforcement agencies at a time when there was broken relationship between the Federal Government and State Government.

b. When Rivers State had already recorded two cases, there was dispute between the Federal Government and the State Government as a result of the controversies arising from the arrest of crews of a helicopter service delivery company, Caverton Helicopters, a subsidiary of Caverton Offshore Support Group Plc, whose arrest was ordered by the Rivers State Governor after he was allegedly called by a soldier at Air force base in Port Harcourt. However, the company denied any intentional violation of the lockdowns directive and did not fly into the state illegally as claimed by the state government. This involvement of the army, the police and the state government shows there is no synergy among the forces of order who are supposed to engage in collaborative security governance for much desired human security. According to Etim (2020), ‘Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation, condemned the arrest, and accused the security operatives involved in the detention of the pilots of displaying dangerous ignorance. Caverton Helicopters was exempted from lockdown directives and as such, the state government should not have ordered their arrest.’ The politicisation of the lockdown marked a question for the supremacy of the rule of law especially as it concerned the Executive Order issued by the Rivers State Governor, thereby generating conflict between Federal Government’s Exclusive List in regulating aviation matters and the laws of Rivers State. As far as the risk of COVID-19 was concerned, the issue of undergoing a compulsory test by all essential duty workers as provided by the Executive Order was not supposed to be an issue of debate because such air travellers were coming into the state from other parts of the country. Again, the redeployment of Rivers Commissioner of police would make one to question why and how did the Federal Government arrive at such decision thereby giving those clamouring for state police in Nigeria the reasons to justify their demands for the consolidation of federalism in Nigeria;

c. The uncooperative attitude of some residents and security forces (due to lack of trust in the security forces), the governor established a task force he ordered to check the influx of people from other states into Rivers, and instructed them to work at the borders along Aba Road at Oyigbo. Unfortunately, the enforcement arising from the activities of taskforce eventually led to the demolition of some hotels in the state and this generated controversies over the human rights and rule of law implications, which the Governor defended that government’s action was backed by the Executive Order signed into law before the lockdown.

The Rivers State Government partnered with the security agencies and the media to promote safety literacy and cooperation of the masses to reduce the spread of the virus while the lockdown lasted, because health is the first security provision need of every citizen and a healthy society is a peaceful one.

The impact of people’s resilience on security governance

As far as resilience is concerned, one of the characteristics of crisis period as witnessed during COVID-19 is the need for redesigning of community resources and networks for food allocation to facilitate sustainable food supply within households and throughout neighbourhoods (Narasri et al. 2020). Indeed, the advent of the pandemic showed that life is all about change and that people would do anything to survive. The health emergency was an opportunity for people, families and communities to change their feeding patterns and lifestyles by finding ways of adapting, enhancing social relations by cooperating rather than engaging in violence. This period showed people their relevance to one another.van der Ploeg (2020, 945) visualises the end of corona virus which would also determine the end of restrictions, thus:These lockdowns slow down the economy, bring misery, require the utmost endurance of people and induce unprecedented public spending aimed at mediating (at least parts of) this misery. Once the virus is under control, the economy will supposedly return to its normal routines and rhythms. The sequence going from virus to lockdown and then to the economic crisis is the backbone of this hegemonic narrative.The fact that many people managed to survive despite the inadequacies associated with lockdown and resisted the temptations of engaging in anti-social acts contributed to the state of lawfulness except some cases of criminality. In Lagos, informal workers had to set up makeshift markets in order to increase access to local food supplies, and this showed how the Mile 12 international market launched an app and a mobile food market through which essential perishable commodities are sold to residents directly in all the 20 local government areas of the state (Odekunle 2020). People also adopted different coping strategies in other states. Farming was an option for some families in many states considering that the pandemic was reported in the farming season.Apart from the fact that lockdown affected planting seasons which reduced food production, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report indicates that agricultural inputs for crop production was limited by the pandemic, and that 62% of Nigerian households could not purchase yams when they wanted to, and 37% of households were not able to buy rice for their family feeding while the lockdown lasted (Ayanlade and Radeny 2020; Udegbunam 2020).Because some people could not cope with the economic problems associated with lockdown, they either depended on relatives and neighbours while robberies were also reported in Port Harcourt Rivers State, some parts of Lagos State, Ogun State and others to the extent that some residents started paying security levies to support vigilantes like in Port Harcourt. Some communities in Ogun State also started staying awake all night to scare robbers away. This shows that security forces were not able to police all parts of the country.After much expectation from the Delta State Government to relax the 14 days lockdown, people were aggrieved that it was extended. To express their displeasure, women and youths in their hundreds staged a peaceful protest in Sapele area of the state, demanding an end to the restriction of movements to enable businesses to open for their daily bread. According to Ogunyemi for the women, extension of the lockdown would mean more starvation for their families and accused the government of playing politics with the pandemic without considering providing palliatives for the people (Ogunyemi 2020). This means that protest would not have become an option if their basic human needs were given timely priority. At such abnormal times, it is not disputable that unattended issues like frustration or feeling of denial could lead to actions that could threaten security governance initiatives in a society like Nigeria.To the security forces that were always collecting bribes from vehicles along Federal Roads, the lockdown meant reduced income with the ban on vehicular movements. Although the lockdown reduced the rate of car accidents along highways in many parts of the country, those violating the inter-city travel restriction exposed themselves to the risks of kidnapping and auto crash which would have been averted if they adhered to the government’s directive. Of course, their lawless acts may not be unconnected with sustainable livelihoods, but the timing was a problem. The economic aspect of the lockdown affected public transportation operators who depended on inter-city transport services to feed their families. However, some of them were able to change routes by starting intra-city transport as the government began to ease the lockdown within the cities.

Lessons learned on COVID-19 and security governance

The following key lessons are noteworthy. From the government’s approach to security governance during the period, it is obvious that the security chiefs need to prioritise joint security operations with a combination of patrols and stop and search. The government should also endeavour to monitor the activities of security forces in the event of future disruptions in order to prevent avoidable lapses. In addition, the need for a functional early warning and response system cannot be downplayed especially during unexpected circumstances like criminality or pandemic that would warrant lockdown and curfews aimed at regulating the movements and activities of people.Secondly, poor enforcement and monitoring of travel restrictions jeopardises the desired expectations of preventing the rapid spread of the pandemic. The inability of security forces to stop the vehicular movement from one state to another created opportunity for inter-state transmission of COVID-19, thereby undermining the efforts of the Presidential Task Force. It was wrong and risky for people who were not on essential duties to move about during lockdown. This made it difficult for them to present identity cards or letters permitting them to move from place to place restricted areas.The third key lesson is that future lockdowns for whatever reason must first put into proper consideration adequate palliatives at high risk or affected areas. This would reduce the temptation of people engaging in criminality or flouting stay-at-home orders, especially with the excuses of going to purchase foodstuffs and other items for family consumption. Coping with lockdown requires people to stuck-up their homes especially kitchens with food items. This entails that people embrace farming and animal husbandry to prevent a situation of being stranded during an economic crisis usually associated with lockdowns. For instance, most of the people that escaped the inflation witnessed during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown are farmers, businessmen and women that saved money, politicians and other elite class in the country. Majority of the workers in the private sector did not find it easy as their organisations either paid a little part of their already accumulated salaries or did not pay at all.In addition, the deplorable state of the health system in Nigeria has been exposed by COVID-19 outbreak which showed the unpreparedness of the health sector to accommodate any emergency that threatens public health. This became more evident at a time when it was clear that no help would be expected from outside the country in terms of sending sick people abroad particularly when country’s whose health systems were already overstretched could not open their borders for foreign nationals.Finally, a significant key lesson is that declaration of lockdown without adequate grassroots information dissemination undermines the essence of such initiative because not all people have access to mass media/social media especially when the power sector is epileptic and unreliable. It would be easy to make people cooperate with the government in the enforcement of lockdown.

Concluding thoughts

This study has examined Nigeria’s security governance dilemmas during the enforcement of COVID-19 lockdown. The lockdown was necessitated by the need to prevent further infection and transmission of COVID-19 to reduce the health risk of the virus. The enforcement of lockdown was informed by the argument of policymakers that many people would not like to comply with orders restricting human and vehicular movements until they are forced to adhere to the protocols guiding the new normal in the COVID-19 era. This was compounded by the problems of poverty, shut down of businesses, job losses, lack and want that became the features of daily life in urban and rural areas.Through the lockdowns, the strategic significance of state power in regulating the activities of the populace manifested. Of course, the restrictions offered people the opportunity to understand government’s security governance responsibility in the country. With the curfews put in place, it was expected that crime wave would reduce during the enforcement of lockdown by security forces especially at odd hours but this was not effectively adhered to considering some reported illegal and non-essential movements reported in different parts of the country.From the findings, it is obvious that the Army stood out as the most professional security agency during the lockdowns despite involvement in some isolated cases of brutality. The police and other law enforcement agencies have a lot of work to do as far as security sector reforms is concerned especially in areas of human rights training and security education for effective inter-agency-public relations beyond security provisioning because security governance requires peaceful relations, understanding and cooperation. Prioritising this will also impact positively on police-public relations especially when police officers are expected to have friendly relationship with the people.The bottom-line issue is that it is usually difficult to enforce lockdowns peacefully and get the populace especially the ordinary citizens to embrace the initiative and adhere to the directives when there are no palliatives provided to cushion the effects of staying without economic. Again, it is like wishful thinking to expect cooperation from the populace when physical security is not backed by food security and welfare in the provision of social amenities like public water supply, stable power supply and other facilities that would have reduced the adverse effects of the economic crisis occasioned by the pandemic. With such measures put in place, the state would not need to expend much time and resources deploying security forces to enforce lockdowns during emergencies because the populace will easily adapt and cooperate with their confidence in the leadership of the society. That is why the securitisation of the health sector should not be done without the provision of welfare packages.It is obvious that the enforcement of lockdown requires high professionalism of the security operatives, crime prevention and containment, the observance of supremacy of the rule of law, the provision of palliatives to assist ordinary people in urban areas to overcome the economic impact of such restrictions. Such state intervention would reduce the temptation of embarking on non-essential movements across various towns as observed during the lockdowns. This will have an appreciable impact on peace and security in the country.


• In the event of future disruptions, the administration should also make an effort to supervise the activities of security forces to avoid needless mistakes. Furthermore, the importance of a working early warning and response system cannot be overstated, particularly in the event of unexpected incidents such as a pandemic, which would necessitate lockdown and curfews aimed at limiting mobility and ensuring public safety.
• Future lockdowns, regardless of the reason, must first consider suitable palliatives in high-risk or afflicted locations. Doing this would lessen the temptation for people to commit crimes or break stay-at-home orders, especially if they could use the excuse of going shopping for food and other necessities for the family.
• Not everyone has access to mass media/social media, especially when the power sector is irregular and unstable, enforcing lockdown without appropriate grassroots information dissemination weakens the spirit of such an initiative. It would be simple to persuade individuals to help the authorities implement lockdown.

About the Author:

James Okolie-Osemene – Department of International Relations, Wellspring University, Benin, Nigeria

Source: Taylor & Francis Online

Keywords:  COVID-19 Pandemic, Lockdown, Pandemic, Security governance, Government

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