Insecurity: Giving Nigerians a voice on war against banditry


RECENTLY some eminent Nigerians have lent their voice to the numerous calls for urgent and decisive actions by the federal government to stop the daily killings and kidnapping of Nigerians by bandits. Perhaps, this is the time to organize an all-inclusive national dialogue to discuss and arrest the current prevalent challenges facing the country.

By Goddy Ikeh

Before 2015, the major security challenge was the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in the North East of the country and the abduction and release of Chibok schoolgirls. This was captured in the inauguration address in May 2015, by President Muhammadu Buhari, who stated that the nation could not defeat Boko Haram with the military having its command in Abuja and ordered that the command centre should be relocated to Maiduguri and that it would remain there until Boko Haram was completely subdued.

“But we cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by the insurgents,” he said, blaming official bungling, negligence, complacency or collusion for Boko Haram becoming a terrifying force taking tens of thousands of lives and capturing several towns and villages covering swathes of Nigerian sovereign territory.

Buhari admitted that Boko Haram was not only the security issue bedeviling the country and that “the spate of kidnappings, armed robberies, herdsmen/farmers clashes, cattle rustlings all help to add to the general air of insecurity in our land. We are going to erect and maintain an efficient, disciplined people – friendly and well – compensated security forces within an over – all security architecture.”

But four years after this pledge, not much has changed and former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2019 wrote an open letter to President Buhari, saying that  “Nigeria is on the precipice and dangerously reaching a tipping point where it may no longer be possible to hold danger at bay.”

The focus in the letter was on Boko Haram and the “herdsmen/farmers crises,” and his sense of urgency was palpable. “When people are desperate and feel that they cannot have confidence in the ability of government to provide security for their lives and properties, they will take recourse to anything and everything that can guarantee their security individually and collectively,” Obasanjo said in the letter.

Except for those in government, the open was hailed by many Nigerians because the issues were very weighty and greatly worrisome to all concerned and right-thinking Nigerians.

But barely two years after that letter, the security situation took a dive with notorious bandits and armed herders holding sway across the country. They kidnap, rape and kill hundreds of Nigerians in their communities,

burn down their houses and sack them from their homes. And travelers on major Nigerian roads are not spared of this ordeal on daily bases.

Indeed, the security worries are no longer restricted to the North East as the North West and North Central and the South West have their shares of the atrocities by the bandits and armed herders.

For instance, the 2020 security report of the Kaduna state government showed that 937 people died in violent attacks and mass atrocities in the state last year. The report released on Wednesday attributed the deaths to kidnappings, banditry and other criminal activities that cut “across all ethnic and religious groups” in Kaduna State.

“Victims of criminal acts like banditry and kidnapping are to be found across ethnic, religious or political leanings and persuasions,’’ Samuel Aruwan, the state’s commissioner for internal security and home affairs, said while presenting the report to the state governor. He added that 1,972 persons were kidnapped within the period under review.

Receiving the report, Governor Nasir El Rufai reiterated the position of the state government that it would not negotiate nor grant amnesty to the bandits, stating that the state has been using its limited resources to address the security challenges facing it.

In addition many states in the North of the country are now contending with incessant attacks and kidnapping of students by the bandits for ransom. The states most affected include Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna and Katsina.

Following this new development and the ravaging activities of the bandits without any form of resistance from security agencies across the country, Obasanjo wrote another open letter in March 2021 to Buhari, urging him to find lasting solution to the escalating insecurity sweeping across the country.

Apart from lamenting that the insecurity issue is very weighty and must be worrisome to all concerned and right-thinking Nigerians and those resident in Nigeria, Obasanjo said that “the issue I am addressing here is very serious; it is the issue of life and death for all of us and for our dear country, Nigeria.”

“This issue can no longer be ignored, treated with nonchalance, swept under the carpet or treated with cuddling glove. The issue is hitting at the foundation of our existence as Nigerians and fast eroding the root of our Nigerian community. I am very much worried and afraid that we are on the precipice and dangerously reaching a tipping point where it may no longer be possible to hold danger at bay,” he warned.

According to him, when people are desperate and feel that they cannot have confidence in the ability of government to provide security for their lives and properties, they will take recourse to anything and everything that can guarantee their security individually and collectively.

He recalled that herdsmen/farmers crises and menace started with government treating the issue with cuddling glove instead of hammer. “It has festered and spread. Today, it has developed into banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and killings all over the country. The unfortunate situation is that the criminality is being perceived as a ‘Fulani’ menace unleashed by Fulani elite in the different parts of the country for a number of reasons, but even more unfortunately, many Nigerians and non-Nigerians, who are friends of Nigeria attach vicarious responsibility to you as a Fulani elite and the current captain of the Nigeria ship.

“The main issue, if I may dare say, is poor management or mismanagement of diversity, which on the other hand, is one of our greatest and most important assets. As a result, very onerous cloud is gathering. And rain of destruction, violence, disaster and disunity can only be the outcome,” he said.

He, however, warned that “abandoning Nigeria into the hands of criminals who are all being suspected, rightly or wrongly, as Fulanis and terrorists of Boko Haram type; spontaneous or planned reprisal attacks against Fulanis, which may inadvertently or advertently mushroom into pogrom or Rwanda-type genocide that we did not believe could happen and yet it happened; similar attacks against any other tribe or ethnic group anywhere in the country initiated by rumours, fears, intimidation and revenge capable of leading to pogrom and violent uprising beginning from one section of the country and spreading quickly to other areas and leading to dismemberment of the country.”

“It happened to Yugoslavia not too long ago. If we do not act now, one or all of these scenarios may happen,” he warned.

Going forward, Obasanjo observed that there is no consensus on issues of security just like the issues of mobilisation for national unity, stability, security, cooperation, development, growth and progress in the nation and stressed that the government should open up discussion, debate and dialogue as part of consultation at different levels.

According to him, the outcome of such deliberations should be collated to form inputs into a national conference to come up with the solution that will effectively deal with the issues and lead to rapid development, growth and progress which will “give us a wholesome society and enhanced living standard and livelihood in an inclusive and shared society. It will be a national programme”.

“We need unity of purpose and nationally accepted strategic roadmap that will not change with whims and caprices of any government. It must be owned by the citizens, people’s policy and strategy implemented by the government no matter its colour and leaning.

“Some of the groups that I will suggest to be contacted are: traditional rulers, past heads of service (no matter how competent or incompetent they have been and how much they have contributed to the mess we are in), past heads of para-military organisations, private sector, civil society, community leaders, particularly in the most affected areas, present and past governors, present and past local government leaders, religious leaders, past Heads of State, past intelligence chiefs, past Heads of Civil Service and relevant current and retired diplomats, members of opposition and any groups that may be deemed relevant.”

According to him, the President must be seen to be addressing this issue with utmost seriousness and with maximum dispatch and getting all hands on deck to help. “If there is failure, the principal responsibility will be that of the President and no one else. We need cohesion and concentration of effort and maximum force – political, economic, social, psychological and military – to deal successfully with the menace of criminality and terrorism separately and together,” he said.

In the same vein, a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, has urged the federal government and all relevant stakeholders to work towards restoring peace and development of the country.

Speaking on the theme “Whither Nigeria” at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo lecture, which was held virtually on Monday, March 8, 2021, Anyaoku harped on the need for continuous coexistence of Nigeria as a single entity.

“There is no section or ethnic group in Nigeria that does not stand to benefit from belonging to the one country of the size and resources of present-day Nigeria. Therefore, it is and should be in the common interest of all its ethnically and religiously diverse component parts to sustain, nourish and progress of our one country.

“The current state of affairs in Nigeria is not sustainable if the country is to avoid becoming a failed and broken state. There are undeniable facts about the current situation in Nigeria,” he said.

According to him, the worsening insecurity challenges currently experienced in the North have spread to the other parts of the country.

“In addition to the country’s economic under-performance with its evident consequence of growing poverty among the population, there is worsening insecurity of life and property, which is now spreading from the North to all parts of the country.

“Not a single day passes without reports of many people having been killed and kidnapped, including many young students from their schools – the latest incidents include the kidnapping of 617 boys and girls from their schools in Kagara and Jangebe and in the last three days of 60 women and children in Zamfara.

“There are also incessant reports of people being killed in their farms and their homes being destroyed by terrorists now euphemistically described as bandits, and reports of women and young girls being raped.

“Indeed human life in Nigeria has become so cheap that society is now being progressively inured to the loss of human life as being of little consequence.

“And accompanying all this is a growing level of distrust and divisiveness among the different ethnic and religious groups, which are undermining the cohesion and threatening the continued existence of one Nigeria.

“The question must therefore be asked: for how long can the leadership of Nigeria continue to ignore these facts, which have led many of our prominent citizens, including former Heads of State with an impeccable commitment to the unity of Nigeria, to warn of an inevitable national calamity if these challenges are not urgently addressed,” he said.

According to him, these national challenges cannot be effectively tackled under the type of federal system of government presently practiced in Nigeria

He therefore recommended the Indian system of constitutional governance as the best model for Nigeria instead of that of the United States of America.

“I believe that in constitutional governance, the model for Nigeria should be India, not the United States of America with its mainly immigrant population where it was relatively easier for its leaders to define the country’s national ethos that underpins its constitutional practice.

“In contrast, India is a country of the diverse population whose component parts have lived in their separate areas for centuries, but which has succeeded in sustaining a united country and a thriving democracy,” he said.

He called for an inclusive national dialogue to discuss and arrest the current prevalent challenges facing the country.

“In order to arrest the current deteriorating situation in our country, I join in calling on the federal government and the National Assembly to urgently organize an all-inclusive national dialogue.

“The dialogue should take into account the recommendations of previous national conferences, and the many proposals emanating from various major stakeholders, with a view to modifying our present governance structure and producing a consensus Constitution that can truthfully be described as the product of ‘we the people of Nigeria’,” he said.

He, however, concluded that with the current challenges confronting the country, it is only a restructured governance system that is a Constitution, which in practice can guarantee the treatment of all sections of the population with equity, justice and fairness that will secure the integrity and political stability of Nigeria as well as the achievement of its deserved socio-economic development.

However, in what appears to be a reaction from the Presidency to the litany of requests for urgent actions to be taken against the bandits and rescuing the country from the slide into anarchy, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Thursday, February 25, 2021 that the federal government was not ready to grant amnesty to armed criminals terrorizing the country, stressing that he would continue to deal decisively with bandits, kidnappers and insurgents.

Speaking through his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, Buhari told the joint security meeting of Northern State Governors’ Forum, Northern Traditional Rulers Council and delegation from the federal government, that it was about time criminals were treated as such without being profiled ethnically.

He noted that eradicating poverty in the country has been bogged down by security challenges facing the country, adding that he has already directed the new security chiefs to devise strategies to end criminality in the land.

It will be recalled that Sheik Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic scholar and Grand Khadi of Northern Region of Nigeria, had been canvassing for amnesty for bandits, who have been kidnapping, raping and killing Nigerians, especially in the North East and North West of the country.

Perhaps, the federal government should urgently organize an inclusive national dialogue to discuss and arrest the current prevalent challenges facing the country.

Mar 14, 2021 @ 13:17pm


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