Nigeria battles COVID-19, growing insecurity across the nation

Arrested violators

Apart from battling to contain the scourge of coronavirus among the populace and the economy, the government and security agencies have the unending wars with terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers to deal with

By Anayo Ezugwu

AS Nigeria continues to battle coronavirus (COVID-19), the country seems to be heading into another round of security crises. The southern part of the country is boiling over the mass movement of able-bodied men in the region from the north. While most states in the north are in the trenches again over rising cases of banditry and communal crisis.

In the south, since the Northern Governors Forum, NGF, commenced relocation of the Almajiri to their states of origin, the media and social media have been awash with videos and pictures of trucks moving able-bodied men to the region from the north. The exercise still ongoing has seen a well-coordinated mass movement of able-bodied men to southeast, south-south, southwest and the Middle Belt despite interstate lockdown imposed by the federal government.

For example, a truck full of herdsmen from Zamfara and Kano states was stopped at the Ojodu-Berger in Lagos. In Akure, Ondo State, 20 Almajiri from Sokoto and Kano states, who sneaked into the state in a truck belonging to Dangote Cement, was arrested and sent packing. In Edo State, a truck and tanker loaded with able-bodied men at variance with the well-known Almajiri was intercepted at Jetu junction in Auchi.

In the southeast, Enugu state Government intercepted and turned back 900 Almajiri attempting to move into the state through the Enugu-Benue boundaries at Udenu, Igbo-Eze North and Nsukka Local Government Area. Also, trailer and some buses loaded with the same people were intercepted by community leaders at Opi in Nsukka.

Similarly, Abia State intercepted some buses bringing in about 100 of them into the state. In Cross River State, the state government reportedly turned back five truckloads of the beggars and other passengers from the north. The Benue State’s COVID-19 Action Committee intercepted 14 of the social wastrels allegedly being smuggled into the state.

As the movement continues, many analysts are of the opinion that this is an attempt by Boko Haram insurgents to infiltrate the south and Middle Belt of the country and worsen the ongoing atrocities of herdsmen in the South and Middle Belt.  This movement clearly breached the order banning interstate movement issued by President Muhammadu Buhari in his April 27 broadcast. The president prohibited all movements except essential services. He also said there would be a ban on non-essential interstate passenger travels until further notice.

However, as the concerns mount, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State has banned movements of cattle in the state capital, Abakaliki and its environs with immediate effect. Speaking on Wednesday, May 20, during a statewide broadcast, Umahi directed the state Attorney General to get a court order to auction cows seen within this vicinity.

“I have told the relevant security agencies in the state that I will no longer tolerate seeing cows within the centenary city and its environs such as the international market and new shopping mall among others. It is an insult for me to be struggling to enter the Government House with cows on the road,” he said.

Umahi also said the state would not allow movement of Quranic pupils, Almajiri, to the state as the governors of the northern states had directed that such persons should be returned to their respective states. “We will not allow Almajiris in Ebonyi and we have to tell ourselves the truth as a people.”

Also, leaders of the South and Middle Belt Forum, SMBLF, have raised the alarm over the level of insecurity in the country occasioned by the influx of able-bodied men from a certain section of the country despite the ban on interstate movements.  To be sure, the roaming and movement southwards by all manner of people, including the Almajiri pose security problems to these parts of the country in many ways.

One, the south and the Middle-Belt of the country have grounds for brutal killings by suspected herdsmen for a long time.  And so this curious mass movement despite the prevailing lockdown portends ill for the security and mutual wellbeing of the component nationalities of the country.

Similarly, religious leaders in the south east have expressed concerns over the increase in movement of northern youths to the zone irrespective of the ban on interstate travel. Right Reverend Emmanuel Chukwuma, Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, who spoke on behalf of other religious leaders, said the movements had become suspicious and wondered why such movements had heightened since the restriction on interstate movement over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Likewise, the Igbo World Union, IWU, pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, have condemned the incursion of Almajiris from north into Igboland. Mishak Nnanta, president general of the association, said the call became necessary because of the health implication such mass migration could cause.

Nnanta lamented that despite the interstate lockdown imposed by the federal government, several transporters and commuters have continued to violate the order with impunity “In this regard, I hereby call on the federal government to immediately take steps to stop interstate movement of People, including almajiris to stem the spread of the disease. Likewise, I also call on South East governors to enforce the interstate lockdown to save the region from the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

At the same time, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, has demanded an explanation from the federal government over the influx of persons, especially almajiris from the north into the region despite the ban on interstate movement.

The group, in a statement by Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd.), its national chairman, wondered how the almajiris with all the subsisting lockdown rules on the ground, were still transiting across the country in long vehicles, without being detected and stopped by security agents.

Even the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, in the South East has said that the evacuation of Almajiri children to the region does not make sense. It insisted that they have no business moving from the north.

Gidado Siddiki, chairman, MACBAN in the zone, argued that there was no Arabic School in the South East zone where they could be taught to attract the Almajiri to the zone. He said those dubbed Almajiri were those moving to the south to sell their cattle. “Sometimes when people claim that Almajiri are evacuated from north to the south, they need to be asked where they can go and where they cannot go.”

He expressed worry over the action of northern governors who are repatriating the children to their states of origin, noting, “It is not the best time to ask them to go because the country is facing crisis presently.”

Apart from the movement of able-bodied men to southern Nigeria, the north is also under attack by bandits. For instance, communities in Benue, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Niger states are under heavy bombardment by gunmen and bandits, resulting in the death of many and kidnapping of others.

The case in Katsina seems to be on the rise daily. Governor Aminu Masari of the state was reported to have said that his state was under siege by bandits and kidnappers despite the peace accord he signed with them. He explained that as of May 7, the bandits had killed more than 50 persons and rustled unspecified number of animals in some communities bordering the deadly Rugu forest.

In Kaduna State, the police on Tuesday, May 12, confirmed the killing of 15 persons by suspected bandits in Gonar Rogo village in Kajuru Local Government Area of the state. In Benue State, it was also reported on May 12 that suspected herdsmen attacked Agasha town in Guma Local Government Area of state and killed two residents of the town.

The story is not different from the situation in Niger State where bandits attacked four communities in Shiroro Local Government Area of the state and killed five persons.

As the nation battles the rising cases of insecurity, the federal government is ready to tackle the situation. The government has deployed the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, Special Forces to tackle insecurity in the north-central zone. Sadique Abubakar, Chief of Air Staff, on Sunday, May 17, urged the troops to be professional in their conduct.

He told the Special Forces that they were deployed to complement and add value to the already existing security apparatus on the ground. “I urge you to be professional and uphold the core NAF values of integrity, service before self, and excellence in all you do. You must cooperate with Operation Whirl Stroke. Your deployment is not only for Lafia, but for the North-central,” he said.

– May 22, 2020 @ 17:55 GMT |

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