Security is NOT the One-Size-Fit-All Model – Prof. Adoyi Onoja

9 min read

The Special Military Operation launched by Russia in Ukraine or what the West and its media described as Invasion and/or War, in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine-Western crisis, is another opportunity to refocus conversation on that which most Nigerians believed is security in Nigeria and what should be security in Nigeria.

For most Nigerians, security is noun and verb rolled into one. Security is simply descriptive of the name and work of the executive agencies of the military, intelligence and law enforcement (MILE). No more! No less!

There is no document that says otherwise. Since the beginning of this Republic in 1999, there have been documents on this “security” unlike what it was prior to 1999. All the documents and thus practices emanating from these documents especially the 1999 Constitution, the National Security Strategy and National Security Summit Report sees and views security as the name and work of the MILE.

There is nothing consciously deliberate in the construct of this “security”. The unconscious making of this “security” was at the behest of the military when it was the governing elite and/or the regime type in power. The socialisation of most Nigerians into this “security” began under military rules. The twilight years of military rule – 1985-1998 –was the peak of this socialised education of most Nigerians. Thus most Nigerians’ security education derived from two sources. The first was the military and the second was international practices particularly during the defunct Cold War that elevated issues of the military, defence etc. as the face of security.

The coming of civil rule in 1999 began another phase of “security” educations (reinforcing existing knowledge of this “security” on the one hand and on the other hand the beginning of the failure and failing of this “security”) as the enabling environment consolidated this socialisation. This is regardless of what I described as its successful failure in SECURING most Nigerians. This security not only became pronounced and entrenched under civil rule with the compilation of several documents including the executives’ National Security Strategy and the legislatures’ National Security Summit Report. These documents were hurriedly compiled without Nigerian-wide philosophy of security, legal and policy frameworks.

The entrenchment of this “security” is with the active connivance of the elites of civil rule. This is in contravention of most of the ideas, ideals and Nigeria’s peculiarities that democracy should embody in reforming and/or evolving security idea as central to all other ideas and institutions in the lives of most Nigerians.

The civil rule elites supported this “security” for reasons I canvassed in different forums. One amongst the reasons – which embodied the etymology of security or secure – is that this “security” accommodates and above all else secures the interests of the elected/appointed elites of politics on the one hand and the other hand the elites of the military, intelligence and law enforcement establishment.

The elites of civil rule refused to examine and re-examine old ideas in the books and/or in practice, in tandem with the aspirations of most Nigerians, within the evolving democratic tenets, in order to cause their reforms. They have refused to evolve new ideas and practices, in tandem with the aspirations of most Nigerians, within democratic tenets. In reforming old ideas and/or evolving new ideas, old institutions and persons would be transformed and/or new institutions and persons would evolve on the path to creating a new Nigeria.

For the latter, “security” opened new opportunity to secure and allay their fears as the return to civil rule lowered the sail of their political ship. For the former, allaying the fears of the MILE allayed their fears of the destabilising potential of the MILE to the continuation of the civil rule system. For the two elites, “security” is the new quid pro quo. This “security” guarantees their interests and at the same time addresses the pertinently unconscious social problems that go by the name “security” in the country.

So, the monologue on the failed and failing security gets hyped everyday while it continues to serve its dual purposes for the elites of politics and their professional MILE collaborators and most Nigerians socialised into thinking “security” can only be the one-way-lane that encapsulates the name and work of the military, intelligence and law enforcement.

At the heart of the undefined, uncharted and ungoverned monologue called security is the military and defence. There is no distinct distinction in the constituents of Nigeria’s use of SECURITY and Nigeria’s use of DEFENCE. Within the context of looking inside from the outside and looking outside from the inside, security and defence are distinctively distinct and for the sake of the country under civil rule in the last twenty-two years, there has to be irreducible baseline of the constituents of security and defence.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the West, in the Russia-Ukraine-Western crisis, present one opportunity to turn the searchlight on “security” in Nigeria. This is in the context of frameworks such as studying, thinking, observing and comparing (STOC), history, experience and reality (HER) and the perspective that define security as wellbeing in all of its forms.

There are countless of theories of security. Of these theories, not all are evidenced based. Ideally theories should fit the evidences on the ground. If and when they do not, it opens the possibility for entertaining side theories deriving from the not-so-successful evidence based theories as well as the creative imagination of the theorists.

Generally, theories derived from and embed particular ideas, values and cultures. These ideas, values and cultures are peculiar to someone’s history, experience and reality (HER). So, essentially security and the theory that proposes this security is a construct from this milieu.

One such construct is the theory of realism. Realism birthed and permeated arguably all the other theories of security. Within the theory of realism is the construct referred to as National Security. National Security is now synonymous to realism in theories that drives statecraft all over the world. National Security has since come to be mostly and erroneously associated with realism’s focus on sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Most people forget that National Security has ONE history, experience and reality (HER). This history is that of the United States of America. This was prior to national security i.e. the outward perception of it – military, intelligence and law enforcement – going global and developing country-culture specific history, experience and reality for different countries in the world.

So, is Nigeria part of this thread with its construct of national security? Does Nigeria have its construct of national security? What is Nigeria’s construct of national security? Under which regime type – military or civil – did this construct exist and what legal and policy frameworks house the construct?

To this extent, there is nothing natural, given and unchangeable in security particularly if it is not working. Anarchy, according to Arendt, is what states make of it. Security should follow this line as well. However, what is germane and generic of security, regardless of the theory or theories, is the etymology of security. The etymology is SECURE.

So, security or what secure is a shopping basket. The basket contains anything and everything a person, a culture and/or a country chose to call security and to include in the basket. What is security for the persons, cultures and/or countries involve in the ongoing Special Military Operation/War in Ukraine? Let’s take a look.

If security is wellbeing in all of its forms, Russia, United States, Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and European Union (EU) have tangible and intangible security or wellbeing issues to defend and advance in the ongoing Special Military Operation and/or War in Ukraine. The wellbeing or security issues stretches all through the histories of these countries as it connects pre Cold War, Cold War and post Cold War environments.

The leadership/population and/or section of the leadership/population of Ukraine biggest wellbeing or security issue is its desire to leave its past in the “east” for the future it envisaged for itself in the “west”. Every other tangible and intangible security or wellbeing issues in the Ukrainian calculations fall within this singular goal.

Russia’s wellbeing or security issue is to ensure that Ukraine remains in the “east” as allowing Ukraine’s “west” inclination endanger the entire basket of wellbeing or security of the Russian civilisation. Other tangible and intangible issues of security or wellbeing for the Russian Federation can be argued in this context.

Of the basket of wellbeing or security issues for the United States, extending western values to the “east”, trumped others. Western values coalesce into the economic, political, social, spiritual, psychological and geopolitical tangibles and intangibles. The Ukrainian ambition to move to the “west” present the United States led western alliance the chance to have foothold in what is traditionally the Russian/eastern spheres of influence.

Germany’s wellbeing or security issues connects with its history in Europe, its recent past, its attempt to come out from the Cold War and its obligations to Germans, Europeans, the European Union, the United States of America and other partners including Russia. For Germany, it is more about its past and its readiness to assume its historic responsibility without alienating its partners.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) security or wellbeing issue is its attempt to mediate, survive and remain relevant in what is arguably its major crisis post Cold War. Birthed during the Cold War to serve as the military bulwark of the western alliance, in its attempt to counter the Warsaw Pact, the NATO exists as the muscle that assured the sovereignty and territorial integrity of alliance members in Europe amongst themselves under the watchful eyes of the United States. The NATO’s founding tasks was “to keep Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down”.

These objectives as enunciated by the NATO’s founding Secretary General Lord Hastings is being reassessed in the constantly changing and unstable world order since the end of the Cold War and in the Ukrainian crisis. In today’s world, what are the tangible and intangible of the Organisation’s three objectives? Is the NATO capable of assuring the security or wellbeing of its traditional members, the recently enlisted members and its planned expansion to including other members from the east and central Europe without causing major conflagration as it is currently trying to avoid in its defence of Ukraine today? What is the confidence level of the NATO’s umbrella on its diverse members particularly those coming out from the Cold War and its hangover in the face of the Special Military Operation and/or War in the Ukraine?

If the NATO provide shield to enable unhindered exercise of sovereignty and territorial integrity of European members amongst each other and between them and the defunct Soviet system, the European Union seek to assure economic wellbeing or security of its European members beginning with its founding western European members. The standard of living of the initial founding members, in the course of the Cold War period, had caused significant disillusion amongst east and central Europeans on the one hand and on the other hand attraction to most things western for these countries under the Warsaw Pact. The end of the Cold War provided the chance to move into the European Union for the east and central European aspirants in spite of the stringent conditions for ascension.

The central wellbeing or security issue for the European Union, as it negotiate its post Cold War existence, is its ability to extend this economic prosperity cover to members of east and central European descent without causing another conflict in Europe. After all this was the founding goal of the European Union – economic union as one way of reducing conflict among members. There are tangible and intangible wellbeing or security issues around the European Union’s founding goals that the Ukrainian crisis and the extension to east and central Europe are unleashing and would continuously unleash.

If security for Russia and the United States is economic and strategic resources beyond their borders thus causing their interests in issues in the areas where these resources are located and thus the use of the MILE to secure these interests, Nigeria’s security did not extend outside the shores of Nigeria. Nigeria has no such national security interests that threatened its economic and strategic resources assuming these exist to engage in the pursuit of the how of attaining and/or safeguarding security or national security typical of countries such as Russia and the United States.

In the light of the Russia-United States-Ukraine crisis, what are Nigeria’s security history, experience and reality? What is Nigeria’s philosophy of security? What is security under civil rule following the successful and convincing failure of the universal model called national security particularly the outward genre identified and associated with the military, intelligence and law enforcement?

In unfolding his belated conception of Africa Narrative Club, former President Obasanjo itemised areas of focus for this initiative recently as he commemorated his 85th birthday. The number two issue on the list of items posited thus: “we must stop to live by and on received ideas, ideologies, beliefs and standards foreign to our culture, cherished beliefs, our philosophy and our worldview and understanding”.

This much goes for the security that failed and is failing under civil rule of the last twenty-two years. This is in spite of the pitiful enlightened selfish interventions on “security” and/or “national security” of the ruling elite particularly the legislatures saddled with reviewing/updating/reforming old laws and/or evolving new laws in tandem with Nigeria’s history, experience and reality (HER).

Our Take: Security as a concept is vast but can be generally understood to be the absence of threat(s) and the assurance of wellbeing. While this is true, it is worthy of note that what is understood as a threat to one might not be to another. In essence, adopting ideas that have effectively addressed security concerns in different climes would be a total failure if same threats are not obtainable.

Given the failure of adopted foreign solutions in addressing Nigeria’s security concerns, the need to re-strategize and explore other options that are more akin to security in the ‘Nigerian’ context cannot be overemphasized. Hence, for Nigeria to develop sustainable and effective solutions to what we have overtime understood to be insecurity, the relevant authorities must have a clear and legal definition of security as a concept and further domesticate the solutions to be in tandem with what has been defined as insecurity.

About the Author(s): Prof. Adoyi Onoja teaches history courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the Department of History and security courses at the graduate level in the Security Studies Unit of the Institute of Governance and Development Studies, Nasarawa State University, Keffi. He can be contacted through and on

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