By most accounts, the current security challenges facing the country make this period one of the most critical periods which Nigeria has passed through as a sovereign nation.

Observers maintain that the period is somewhat akin to the 30-month old Nigerian civil war, adding, however, that the marked point of departure is that the war was a conventional war, with known and identifiable enemies.

In the recent armed struggle in the Niger Delta area, the dramatis personae were known and this made it possible for the Federal Government to introduce the Amnesty Programme for Niger Delta militants and other programmes to boost the area’s development.

The leaders of the Niger Delta militants made known their demands and entered into dialogue with the government and the discourse resulted in the apparent peace in the region.

For Boko Haram insurgency, however, the situation is entirely different. Though opinions are divided on whether to dialogue with them or not, the main question is: “How does one dialogue with a masked group?’’

Moreover, analysts say that the country’s security agencies, especially the army, have to devise innovative means of confronting the Boko Haram challenge.

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, alluded to this fact when he spoke at the 2012 Army Day Celebration.

The army chief stressed that the current security situation necessitated a paradigm shift from the conventional warfare role of the army to counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency roles, among others.

“The changes in our force structure, necessitated by spate of security threats in the country, call for greater emphasis on functional and mission-oriented training in order to improve Nigerian Army’s operational efficiency,’’ he said.

Ihejirika also likened the current security situation in the country to the Nigerian civil war, which threatened the existence of the country.

“Apart from the civil war, at no other time in our nation’s history has the army been tasked as in the current security situation in the country,’’ he added.

He, nonetheless, gave the assurance that in spite of the security challenges facing Nigeria, the country would not disintegrate.

Ihejirika noted that the army had always been in the forefront of efforts to keep Nigeria as one country since independence in 1960.

“The army is still ready to pay the supreme sacrifice to keep the country as one united entity.

“So, we should forget about any talk of Nigeria breaking up; the army will never agree to that,’’ he stressed.

President Goodluck Jonathan also conceded that the country had been facing serious security challenges, particularly in the last one year.

The president, who also spoke at the Army Day Celebration, challenged the army high command to re-engineer and re-train the soldiers so as to reposition them to effectively tackle the emerging security challenges facing the nation.

He vowed that the Federal Government would use all available resources at its disposal to provide adequate security for the citizens.

Jonathan, who lauded the current interface existing among the security agencies, stressed that a national anti-terrorism policy was now in place.

All the same, opinion leaders and security experts hold divergent opinions on the kind of approach that should be adopted to handle the Boko Haram insurgency, the main security problem currently confronting the nation.

Alhaji Hamma Misau, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, suggested that security agencies should make efforts to get across to the sect’s leaders.

The retired police officer, however, advised security operatives to desist from unduly harassing members of the public.

“If they treat the public in a civil manner, some of them will be willing to feed the security operatives with important intelligence data which can give a lead on how to reach the Boko Haram leaders for dialogue.

“Members of the Boko Haram sect are part of us; they live among us. Therefore, it is important to reach them and dialogue with them so as to know their grievances and address them,’’ he said.

Nevertheless, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, a former Inspector-General of Police, blamed the security agencies for their inability to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency and other security challenges facing the country efficiently.

He blamed the current security challenges facing the country on the inability of the security agencies to have accurate intelligence on activities of militant groups.

“In the past, we have dealt with militant groups such as Maitatsine in Kano and other parts of the country with the aid of efficient intelligence,’’ he noted.

Coomassie claimed that the Boko Haram insurgency could be addressed via “restricted dialogue’’ with the members of the sect, once the government was able to ascertain its leadership.

However, Dr Lateef Adegbite, the Secretary-General, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said that the Federal Government should establish an amnesty programme for members of the Boko Haram sect.

He said that the sect’s members should be pacified rather than punished.

“The Federal Government should do everything possible to curtail their excesses; while those of them who are ready to embrace peace should be granted amnesty,’’ he stressed.

Adegbite, who attributed the current security challenges facing the country to poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, stressed that these factors were usually responsible for armed struggles in any society.

The current security situation in the country was also exhaustively discussed at the 8th All Nigerian Editors Conference, recently held in Uyo.

Various speakers and contributors at the conference, whose theme was “The Nigerian Editor and National Security’’, underscored the need for editors not to publish themes that could jeopardise national security.

Mr Gbenga Adefaye, the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, bemoaned a situation in which the country’s media had become targets of terrorist attacks.

He, however, appealed to media practitioners to look beyond their traditional information gathering and dissemination roles.

“Today, the main topic of national discourse is security, even President Goodluck Jonathan publicly admitted that the security concern has been a major distraction in his efforts to fulfil his campaign promise of job creation,’’ he said.

Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Labaran Maku, the Minister of Information, urged the media to rise above religious and ethnic sentiments in their reportage.

“As a reporter in government, I am encouraged when I read you but at times, I am also depressed.

“Whenever there is a major communal crisis in the country; that is when I test the efficacy, nationalism and judgments of the press.

“You can read and know from newspapers which one is for which camp; you can decipher from the front page which paper has some sympathy for certain religious or ethnic groups.“

The minister appealed to editors to put the interest of the nation above any selfish considerations.

Senate President David Mark, who was the guest of honour, also advised editors to play down issues which had the tendency of jeopardising national stability.

He opined that if journalists were mindful of sensitive national issues, their reportage would not constitute threats to national security.

Mark appealed to editors to always refer to the Freedom of Information Act whenever they were in doubt about certain issues so as to know which one constituted a threat to national security.

Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, noted that the conference’s theme aptly reflected the editors’ concern over the security challenges facing the country.

The speaker, who was represented by his deputy, Rep. Emeka Ihedioha, advised editors not to place the media owners’ interests above national security issues.

The National Security Adviser, Alhaji Sambo Dasuki, however, called for a total redefinition of the role of the media to make them more responsive to issues affecting national security, without necessarily jeopardising their commercial interests.

He urged journalists to strike a balance between national security issues and the need to make profits.

“While I understand that the purpose of the media is to sell their publications, it is also important to strike a balance when it comes to reporting national security concerns,’’ he said.

Dasuki appealed to the media to refrain from heightening the level of fear and insecurity in the country through sensational reportage.

Mr Ita Ekpeyong, the Director-General, State Security Service (SSS), appealed to journalists not to encourage acts of terrorism in the country via their reportage.

In his paper entitled: “Architecture of Terror”, Ekpeyong noted that most terrorists needed publicity for their nefarious activities, stressing that the media should refrain from giving undue publicity to acts of terror so as to promote national security.

“Since terrorists need sympathy, media reportage should not aim at encouraging their despicable acts. The press should not give prominence to issues which ought to be buried.

“National interest must be taken into consideration whenever the press is reporting terrorism,’’ he stressed.

In spite of the current security challenges facing Nigeria, many observers believe that the country has a lot to celebrate as it marks its 52nd independence anniversary.

“For a country that survived a civil war as a fledgling nation, no security challenge can be insurmountable,’’ some of them add.

They, however, urge all the citizens to assist the security agencies in efforts to contain the activities of some anti-social groups which are currently posing threats to the country’s security.