You are on page 1of 11




Aliyu Mukhtar Katsina

Department of General Studies
Hassan Usman Katsina Polytechnic, Katsina



JUNE, 2009.

This paper examines the causal relationship as well as the general influence of poverty on the
prevailing state of insecurity in Nigeria. The paper approaches this question from the perspective
of the integrative security approach which postulates that any proper understanding of internal
security problems among modern states in contemporary period must necessarily start from the
economic and political development of the country concerned. It is revealed that the negative fall-
out of poor economic development – inequality and unemployment – and those of political
development – policy inconsistency and corruption – nurture and sustain poverty on the largest
scale possible in Nigeria. In turn, this provides the nourishing ground in which all forms of anti-
social tendencies and crimes germinate and grow. The general consequence of this is the
prevailing level of insecurity in Nigeria today. Rightly therefore, to address insecurity in Nigeria
is in fact to address the crisis of economic development, crisis of democratic development and the
crisis of inequality and poverty in the country.


The relevance of internal security to any country’s sustainable development has never

been questioned. This is because without an enabling environment in which production,

industrial activities and trade can take place and prosper; development would forever

remain illusive. To achieve this, states, world over, devise security strategies and policy

frameworks that ensure adequate security for their citizens and their properties. In

Nigeria, the strategy adopted for this purpose is hinged on the conventional security

doctrine (NNDP, 2006). The efficacy of this strategy to internal peace and stability is

severely limited as demonstrated at various times by the number of growing internal

security challenges – the Niger-Delta militancy, youth violence, armed robbery, thuggery,

inter-ethnic violence and rivalry, cultism in institutions of learning, politically motivated

crimes such as murder of political opponents, drug trafficking and abuse, petty crimes

such as burglary and pilfering.

Understanding the place of other important indices of insecurity such as poverty as a

result of poor economic development, economic mismanagement and poor political

development and leadership are ignored in this strategy. This situation leads to faulty

threat assessment and non-efficacious measures of containing such threats. This paper

examines the relationship between poverty and internal security. The objective is to

determine the influence of poverty on the growing prevalence of insecurity in Nigeria by

applying the analytic tools of integrative security approach.


In most countries today, the thrust on the question of security centres on the

conventional/militaristic doctrine that places premium on the physical security structure

including the instruments of coercion such as the police and armed forces. This doctrine

proceeds from the view that “the threat of violence may successfully deter an enemy

(internal and external) from attacking” (Rourke, 2005:308). McNamara (1968:146)

summarises the thrust of the conventional security strategy and doctrine thus:

There is among us an almost incredible tendency to think of our security problem as

being exclusively a military problem, and to think of the military problem as being
exclusively a weapons or manpower problem…We still tend to assume that it is
primarily this purely military ingredient that creates security.

Galtung (in Alabi, 1997:129) similarly observes that:

The conventional security doctrine rests on the assumption that only a strong military
system can effectively deter force (attacks) and threats of force (blackmail) aiming at
changing the society and also provides a means of fighting if the attack is not deferred.

The adoption of this strategy in Nigeria owes much to the historic origins of the

Nigeria’s entire security structure and system. The security structure including the armed

forces and the police are a product of British colonial heritage. However, owing primarily

to the limited utility of the conventional doctrine, many scholars reject the notion that

security is obtainable via force and as an alternative, propose that security questions must

be studied from within the politico-economic matrix of national development. According

to Braithwaite (1992:9), security “is more than territorial defence. It focuses on the

physical, social and psychological quality of life”. Similarly, Tedheke (1998:6) points out

that “security can be…understood as overall socio-economic well being of the society”.

McNamara (1968:142) provides a more comprehensive explanation thus:

Security means development. Security is not military force though it may involve it:
security is not traditional military ability though it may encompass it; security is not
military hardware though it may include it. Security is development and without
development, there can be no security. Any country that seeks to achieve adequate
military security against the background of acute food shortages, population explosion,
low level of productivity, fragile infrastructural base for technological development,
inadequate and inefficient public utilities and chronic problem of unemployment has
false sense of security.


Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (2005) defines poverty “as the state of being

poor”. Grolier Encyclopedia (2000:165) offers a more graphic definition of poverty thus:

“Poverty is generally defined as lack of sufficient resources necessary to maintain a

minimally adequate standard of living”. Poverty therefore exists in any environment

when people lacks the means to satisfy their basic needs (Brittanica, vol. 9, 1995:652).

Although the identification of what constitutes basic needs to people may significantly

varies defending mainly on the level of economic development of the society concerned,

it is not likely that in economies like Nigeria, this identification is altogether difficult.

These include food, shelter, access to health care and sanitary facilities, affordable

education and gainful employment opportunities for all people without prejudice. Again,

it is none debatable to posit that the highest percentage of Nigerians have access to

neither of these. A recent study by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) puts

the number of Nigerians living in abject poverty at 90 million (Leadership Newspaper,

Friday, May 29, 2009:6). Considering that the last census puts the number of Nigerians

around 140-150 million, this number is quite staggering.

Although this paper is not specifically concerned with either the nature or level of

economic development in Nigeria, yet it is not possible to completely ignore them. This

is because a study into the nature of Nigeria’s economy and distribution of resources

reveals a disproportionate level of development among various segments of the society.

As a result of this unequal access to national resources complemented with poor

management, policy inconsistency and absence of accountability among the leadership

and moral degeneracy of the entire political class, a cleavage is created in the country.

This not only leads to poverty, but nurture and nourishes it as well. Development of the

Nigerian economy has since the early 1980s taken a turn for the worst. Unemployment

and general condition of living among Nigerians continue to deteriorate without

corresponding measures by government (national and local) to address these huge

challenges. The nature of the economy since independence – weak industrial and

productive base driven primarily by a mono-culturally, export oriented royalty oil sector

– is perhaps the greatest indicator of how its development remains stagnant. For instance,

crude oil accounts for about 80% of all government revenues, 90-95% of export revenues

and over 90% of foreign exchange earnings from 1980-2001 (Analysis, Vol.1. No.3,

September 2002:23).

This situation exposes Nigeria to a climate of complete subordination on foreign

capital, market and aid. Because of this poor level of economic development in Nigeria,

the mass of the citizenry could not partake in gainful endeavours that are necessary to any

stability and order in the country (Anyanwu, 1992:1). This undeveloped nature of the

national economy makes it possible and even nourishing, for all manner of anti-social

tendencies – drug abuse, prostitution, youth militancy and violence, moral deprivation,

armed robbery, assassinations, and general level of societal insecurity that characterised

Nigeria over the last ten years – to grow which in themselves have become serious

security threats to the country (Maier, 2000:65).


How then does poverty constitutes a threat to the internal security of Nigeria?

Imobighe (in Alabi, 1997:140) defines threat as “anything that can undermine the security

of the nation, or anything that constitutes danger to its survival as a corporate entity, as

well as undermine the prospects of the harmonious relationship of the various

communities that make up the nation, or the peaceful co-existence of its people”.

According to Ukpabi (1986:147):

Certain observations can be made concerning threats. For instance, there is hardly any
country which does not have one threat or another hanging over it and there is hardly
any state which can provide completely against all the threats to which it may be
exposed to…Given this situation, it becomes necessary for each nation to analyse and
perceive correctly what constitutes a threat. Failure to do so will result either in
utilising all its resources in order to counter imaginary dangers, to the detriment of the
various aspects of national development, or in adopting a complacent attitude leading
to inadequate provisions…for the nation which may lead to disaster in the event of a
major threat. The correct perception of threat…enables a state to adopt the correct
posture…and to make contingency plans should any threat materialise. It is also the
basis for the formulation of a realistic defence policy.

The danger that poverty poses to Nigeria’s internal security is pervasive. It is not

however so much in how it spreads among the population but in what it breeds. Poverty

spreads through years of economic crisis largely as a result of mismanagement, policy

inconsistency, corruption and un-equal distribution of national resources to the

constituent units. These in turn combined to breed a society in which crime, youth

violence and thuggery, drug trafficking and abuse, armed robbery, assassination,

kidnappings, human trafficking, ritual killings, cultism, prostitution and other forms of

socio-political and economic crime are increasingly becoming legitimate avenues of

escaping from clutches of poverty. Oyeshola (2005:123) observes that:

Economic problems, discriminating economic system and economic difficulties as a

result of economic development and modernization are the major potential economic
and social sources of conflict… Where there is discriminatory economic system
especially on the basis of class or ethnicity, feelings of resentment and levels of
frustration prone to escalation of violence may be generated.

These feeling do not only generate resentment to the existing socio-political system,

through frustration with the system, they often create a situation whereby the

survivability and stability of the system itself became particularly tenuous. According to

Abdullahi (2005):

Security involves food security and health-care delivery. You do not get anything, far
less self-reliance, from people who are hungry or sick. If people are too concerned with
their securities, there would be no time to be patriotic or to think of production of
goods and services. The young and able-bodied would be too busy seeking other means
of survival, begging or stealing…Where self-survival is at stake, talk of self-reliance is

It is quite appropriate to posit that patriotism and nationalistic sentiments – two most

important prerequisite of any lasting security strategy – are only obtained in a country in

which the mass of the citizenry have experienced or are experiencing significant and

noticeable improvement on their standard of living. If on the other hand, majority of the

population have experienced, or are convinced that they are experiencing daily, steady

decline on their general standard of living while a fraction of the same population is

living in an extravagantly affluent life style, as is the case presently in Nigeria, it is

impossible to talk of patriotism among the mass of the people. This impossibility not only

compromises and undermines the internal security of the country, but equally betrayed a

profound lack of vision on the part of the political elite which itself is part of the security



Two indicators – economic development and the development of political institutions

and leadership – are sine quo non to any meaningful and viable strategy of maintaining

Nigeria’s internal security. Understanding genuine economic development as popularises

by Dudley Seers is the universal key to the general peace and security of any society in

modern times. According to Seers (1972:124):

The questions to ask about a country’s development are therefore: What has been
happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been
happening to inequality? If all three of these have declined from higher levels, then
beyond doubt this has been a period of development for the country concerned. If one
or two of these problems have been growing worse, especially if all three have, it
would be strange to call the result ‘development,’ even, if per capita income doubled.

Today in Nigeria, one needs no Seers to observe that all these three indices are on the

rise. Poverty, unemployment and inequality which are a function as well as a

manifestation of poor economic development, have worsened over the last decade. The

resultant effect of this is the growing level of general insecurity both of life and property

in the country.

Economic development is to a considerable degree, closely allied to the nature and

level of the development of political institutions and leadership in a country. The place of

developed political institutions in security question is that they provide a ready and

vibrant platform upon which genuine aspirations of the people could be addressed. In this

regard, democracy has been found, among all other forms of government, to yield the

most to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. However, in underdeveloped

democracies such as that of Nigeria, the outcome has always been different. Over the last

ten years of democracy in Nigeria, the leadership has consistently failed to impact

positively on the lives of the citizenry. On the contrary, the political class evidently seems

committed on continued emasculation and suppression of the true aspirations of the

people through bogus, anti-people and often violent policies and programmes. Diversion

of public resources for personal uses and outright looting of the public treasury by

politicians and other public officials are all manifestations of the underdeveloped nature

of the Nigeria’s democracy (Alabi, 1997:142).

This situation can not provide the much needed respite from the prevailing level of

insecurity in the country. There is the need therefore not only to strengthen democratic

institutions and structures in the country, but adequately ensure the judicious use of

national resources towards improving the living conditions of the people. This would

ensure the entrenchment of equality among all segments of the society; addresses the

question of unemployment and goes towards reducing incidences such as armed robbery

and youth violence that affects Nigeria’s internal security.


The issue of internal security is far above and beyond the narrow militaristic thinking

which most policymakers reduced it. The consequence of this attitude to security in

Nigeria is the increased state of insecurity prevailing today in the country. The position of

this paper is that poverty contributes the most towards this state. Combating insecurity in

Nigeria must therefore as a matter of necessarily begin with committed and

comprehensive war on poverty. The efficacy of physical instruments of security such as

the police is severely constrained by many considerations. Not the least is the proclivity

of the security personnel to be compromised by criminal groups. Another limitation has

to do with the fact that it engenders arms-race between criminal groups and the

authorities as demonstrated several times by armed robbers and Niger-Delta youth

militants. The question of Nigeria’s insecurity is therefore the question of economic

inequality, political marginalisation and alienation among the population.


Abdullahi, M. D. (2005). Resource Management for Self-Reliance in Nigeria. Speech at the 2nd
National Conference on Resource Management for Self-Reliance in Nigeria, Organised
by the College of Administration and Management Studies, Hassan Usman Katsina
Polytechnic, Katsina, 28-30 June, 2005.
Alabi, D. O. (1997). Issues and Problems in the Nigerian Defence Policy in the 1990s: a Critical
Review. Nigerian Army Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 128-143.
Analysis Magazine, Vol.1 No.3 September, 2002.
Anyanwu, J. C. (1992). President Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme and Inflation in
Nigeria. Journal of Social Development in Africa, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 5-24.
Braithwaite, T.(1988). Foundations and Dynamics of National Security. Nigerian Journal of
International Studies.Nsukka: University of Nigeria Nsukka, pp. 8-9.
Encyclopedia Brittanica. (1995). Poverty. Vol. 9.
Federal Government of Nigeria (2006). National Defence Policy. Federal Ministry of Defence,
Abuja, Nigeria.
Grolier’s Encyclopedia of Knowledge. (2000). Poverty. Vol. 15, New York: Grolier.
Hornby, A. S. (2005).Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary (7th Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University
Leadership Newspaper, Friday, May 29, 2009:6
Maier, K. (2000). This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis. Ibadan: Spectrum Books.
Oyeshola, D. (2005). Conflict and Context of Conflict Resolution. Ile-ife: OAU Press.
Rourke, J. T. (2005). International Politics on the World Stage (10th ed.). New York: MacGraw
Seers, D. (1972). The Meaning of Development (in) Uphoff, N. T. & Ilchman, W. F. (eds.). The
Political Economy of Development: Theoretical and Empirical Contributions. Berkeley:
University of California.
Tedheke, M.E.U. (1998). Defence and Security in Nigeria: Beyond the Rhetorics. Defence
Studies; Journal of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Vol.8, pp. 1-22.
Ukpabi, S. C. (1986). Strands in Nigerian Military History. Zaria, Gaskiya Corporation.