Buhari’s ‘warrant chiefs’



So important did the British colonial overlords consider the role of traditional rulers in the success of their indirect rule policy, designed to enable them rule with the traditional institutions as intermediary between government and the people, that they foisted warrant chiefs of their own arbitrary creation on segmentary societies like the Igbo, which had no pre-colonial history of centralised governance. In the north and south west, which had large scale polities and institutionalised traditional ruler-ship structures, the indirect rule policy amplified the powers of traditional rulers, while eroding many of the checks and balances that helped to mitigate authoritarian rule in the pre-colonial era.

Today, we are governed by a republican constitution that does not allocate any functions to traditional rulers even though, at the informal level, they continue to wield substantial influence among their people and offer moral support to government.

It would appear, however, that President Muhamadu Buhari, just like the colonialists, exaggerates the capacity of the traditional institutions to help achieve effective, efficient and productive governance. At a meeting with the 36 state governors on the dismal and worsening security situation in the country, the President urged them to work with traditional rulers and community members to improve local intelligence gathering that will aid the work of security agencies.

Recalling that in the past, communities identified new comers in their midst and passed useful information to the authorities, President Buhari said, “The sub-region is no longer safe, more so with the collapse of the former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, and the cross-border movement of weapons and criminals. Governors must work with traditional rulers. Try and work with traditional rulers to boost intelligence gathering”. True, intelligence is key in the fight against the assorted variety of crimes that pose an existential threat to the country. And traditional rulers can be useful in channelling intelligence from the communities to the requisite security agencies.

But the challenge of insecurity confronting the country today has escalated beyond the rather casual approach of the President. For instance, it is unlikely that the military and allied security agencies can perform better than they are doing now, no matter the information passed to them. Indeed, there had been instances in the past when communities claimed that they were attacked by criminal elements that perpetrated acts of destruction at will in spite of security agencies being informed in advance about such impending attacks. The truth of the matter is that the leadership hierarchy of the country’s security architecture appears to be tired, exhausted and unable to come up with fresh ideas and strategies to combat the insecurity challenge.

Surely, any meaningful attempt to wage a more effective war against insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes must begin with injecting fresh blood at the leadership level of the security architecture. Here, the ball is in the court of the President. Yet, Buhari has adamantly and inexplicably refused to change his service chiefs even when some of them have exceeded statutory retirement limits. Thus, while the Boko Haram insurgents, for example, constantly change their strategies and tactics, the Nigerian military continues to do things the same way and expecting different results.

Again, information passed on from communities can only be utilised to optimal effect when we have a truly decentralised policing system in which the states are empowered constitutionally to have policing infrastructure geared towards addressing their peculiar security situations. Here again, the Buhari administration has blatantly ignored the electoral promise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to strengthen the country’s federal practice in diverse areas, including security.

An agency like the Department of State Services (DSS) has branches in every state and local government area in the country. If this agency were up and doing, it ought to be in close contact with traditional rulers, community leaders and opinion moulders in various communities, without the need for any prompting by the President or governors. We urge the President to address the security issue more rigorously, thoroughly and scientifically than his administration is doing at the moment.