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Rift on security grows between state governors and presidency amid claims that insurgents threaten the capital

Niger State governor's claim that Boko Haram insurgents are 'two hours' from Abuja meets eerie silence at Aso Rock

It was meant to be an alarm call of the loudest kind. On 27 April, Niger State governor Abubakar Sani Bello announced that insurgent fighters with Boko Haram had hoisted their black flag at Kaure village, in the Shiroro local government area of the state.

From Kaure the fighters have made sorties into another 50 villages, Governor Bello told journalists in the state capital Minna when he was visiting a camp for 3,000 people displaced by the insurgents. By road, Kaure village is just two hours from the federal capital territory which borders Niger State.

And it is a just few minutes away from the Shiroro dam which generates electricity for much of the north-west of the country, another high value target for the insurgents. Stunning as the governor's report is, the lack of any response from the federal government in Abuja is equally startling.

There was no denial or confirmation, nor even the immediate despatch of a reconnaissance mission to establish the truth of the governor Bello's claims. It was left to a senator from Niger State to call for an emergency debate on security in the National Assembly that day.

The fact that Bello released the news to Nigerians via a televised interview tells its own story. It would not be news to the presidency, according to Bello. 'This is what I have been engaging the Federal Government on. Unfortunately, it has now gotten to this stage that if care is not taken, not even Abuja is safe. But I have been saying this for long and it has been in vain. I hope the time has come for the Federal Government to see reason.'

Why governor Bello chose to go public now is unclear. He is leading member of the ruling All Progressives' Congress and doesn't have a history of animosity towards President Muhammadu Buhari. Bello's state has been hit hard by a succession of kidnappings and bandit attacks.

Although on 1 May, the APC's Interim National General Secretary John Akpanudoedehe issued a coded response to Bello, saying that '…the party and the [Federal] Government shares the concerns of well meaning Nigerians'. Equally, said Akpanudoedehe, they have confidence in Buhari's ability to 'achieve quick, lasting solutions to insecurity.'

At the same time, APC officials warned state governors elected on the ticket of the opposition People's Democratic Party not to indulge in 'divisive rhetoric' on security. It may have had in mind Benue State governor Samuel Ortom who has accused Buhari of ethnic and religious bias on security matters.

Opposition party state governors in the south-east have echoed some of Ortom's criticisms. Security, or the lack of it, is set to dominate campaigning for the 2023 national elections. It was the security crisis, that helped get Buhari, a stern former general, elected in 2015.

Now even APC loyalists such as Kaduna state governor Nasir el-Rufai are calling for radical change. Unlike some of his fellow governors, El-Rufai refuses to pay ransoms to kidnappers who have launched a series of attacks in the state, some close to army and police barracks. Many suspect there is collusion between the kidnappers, bandits and state security officers.

El-Rufai complains about the powerlessness of state governors, despite their title as Chief Security Officer. Security policy at state level, he says, is controlled by the commissioner of police in each state who is appointed by the federal Inspector General of Police, currently Usman Alkali Baba. His predecessor, Mohammed Adamu, was retired after militants bombed the central prison and police headquarters in Imo State.

Like many of his counterparts in the southern states, El-Rufai wants constitutional reform to give governors more power over policing in their states. Police numbers are woefully inadequate, added El-Rufai, and too much police time is spent on ceremonial duties and guarding VIPs and not enough on core security functions.

Although governors in the south-west and the south-east have formed regional security groupings, there is little sign that the Presidency will agree to their calls for constitutional reforms and the devolving more security powers to the state level. A police reform bill is being debated at the National Assembly but the numbers of new police recruits envisaged still falls far short of the ratios recommended by UN security experts.

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