| By Vincent Nzemeke |
TO gauge Nigeria’s performance in the areas of peace and security in 2013, all that is required is just a cursory glance at daily media reports of crime situations in various parts of the country. From Maiduguri, the Boko Haram hotbed to Benin where kidnapping has become a daily routine and Jos where bloodshed has become an occupation, no one any oracle to say whether the country had fared well or not in the protection of the lives and property of its citizen.
It is almost absurd to imagine that terrorist attacks, kidnapping, sectional violence and other crimes would continue to increase in the same year despite the several billions of Naira voted for security. In the 2013 budget, about N950 billion was allocated for national security yet insecurity of lives and property remains one of the country’s major challenges.
After about seven months of respite, the country woke up to the news of a terrorist attack in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital on Monday, December 2. The city which has been relatively calm in recent times came under siege again as members of the Boko Haram sect launched a midnight attack. The attack which was targeted at the Maiduguri airport and the base of military officials guarding the city, led to the death of two military personnel and 24 members of the sect. Also lost in the attack were three decommissioned military aircraft, two helicopters and other valuable property which were burnt during the onslaught.
When the dust settled, military authorities and the Borno state government imposed a 24-hour curfew on the city and its environs while residents counted their losses. The attack affected commercial activities in the city as it forced the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, to shut down the Maiduguri international airport. Schools and other public places were also closed as major roads leading to city were cordoned off by military officers.
Because the attack happened at a time everyone thought the government was winning the war against terrorism, President Goodluck Jonathan quickly summoned an emergency meeting with the country’s top security officials on Tuesday, December 3. The meeting which took place at the presidential villa in Abuja, was attended by Sambo Dasuki, national security adviser, Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, chief of defence staff, Azubike Ihejirika, chief of army staff and Alex Badeh, chief of air staff. There was no official statement at the end of the meeting but feelers from close quarters suggested that the president directed the security officials to beef up security in Borno and other Boko Haram hotbeds to forestall any attack in the festive periods.
The meeting on Tuesday was not the first time in the year under review that the president was convening an emergency meeting with top security officials to discuss the Boko Haram challenge. Since the emergence of the group in 2009, there have been hundreds of meeting at both federal and state levels to nip the insurgence in the bud. On May 14, after one of such meetings, the president declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, three northern states where the terrorists appeared to be gaining ground.
The decision to declare the state of emergency in those states was precipitated by a Boko Haram attack on May 7, in Bama, Borno State. In the well-planned attack, the insurgents numbering about 200 stormed a military barracks, a police station and government buildings. The attack led to the death of 55 people while about 105 prisoners in police custody were also freed during the raids. What is more significant about this attack is that the militants invaded the town with armoured vehicles armed with several machine guns.
The Bama attack came a few weeks after the group attacked a military patrol in Baga, a nearby town where insurgents were said to have also built some presence, forcibly recruiting youths into their ranks. In that raid nearly 200 people died and several buildings were destroyed. Earlier in the same month, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau released video chips saying Boko Haram had taken women and children hostage in response to the arrest of its members’ wives and children. Shekau said the hostages would be treated as “slaves”, fuelling concern that Boko Haram was adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their “masters” can have sex.
In an apparent response to the attack, Jonathan told the nation in a nationwide telecast that it had become imperative to declare a state of emergency in the three northern states in order to save that part of the country from the insurgents who had taken over. He said terrorists and insurgents had constituted themselves into a serious threat to the sovereignty of the country and must be uprooted. He added that no responsible government would tolerate these actions.
“These terrorists and insurgents seem determined to establish control and authority over parts of our beloved nation and to progressively overwhelm the rest of the country. In many places, they have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty. They have attacked government buildings and facilities. They have murdered innocent citizens and state officials. They have set houses ablaze, and taken women and children as hostages.”
The president said their actions amounted to a declaration of war and a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of the Nigerian state and threaten its territorial integrity, “which this administration as a responsible government will not tolerate.” Before taking this bold decision, Jonathan had employed other means to pacify the terrorists but not much was achieved. He had set up a committee to dialogue with the group and even persuaded elders and other Nigerians in the affected states to reach out to the insurgents. But the group seemed resolute in its quest to impose its fanatical ideology.
“We exercised restraint to allow for all efforts by both state governors and well-meaning Nigerians to stop the repeated cases of mindless violence. Yet, the insurgents and terrorists seek to prevent government from fulfilling its constitutional obligations to the people as they pursue their fanatical agenda of mayhem, mass murder, division and separatism,” the president said.
It was not only terrorism that threatened the country’s security in the year 2013, kidnapping also did. In the year under review, reports about the abduction of low and high profile personalities were rife. The most disheartening part of it all was that some of those abducted were killed even after ransoms they demanded had been paid.
On March 19, Chudi Nwike, a former deputy governor of Anambra State, was abducted in Agbor, Delta State. When the abductors made contact with his family, they demanded a ransom of N30 million which was paid. But after collecting the money, the kidnappers killed him and deposited his corpse in a bush in Delta State.
While the country was still mourning Nwike’s gruesome death, news filtered in that the wife and daughter of Justice Bode Rhodes-Vivour, a Supreme Court judge, had been abducted. They were kidnapped along with the family’s driver on May 11, on their way to Benin, Edo State capital. Although they were eventually released after about two weeks in the kidnappers’ den, there was no official disclosure about how much was paid as ransom.
The nation was yet to recover from that shock when the kidnappers struck again in Edo state. This time, the victim was Mike Ozekhome, a prominent lawyer who was kidnapped on September 12. Ozekhome’s kidnapping tale begs a retelling because of its comical twist. When the kidnappers who held him made contact with the family, they demanded a ransom. When the ransom was brought to the undisclosed location, the kidnappers abducted Ozekhome’s son who brought the ransom. So, the senior Ozekhome was freed and had to raise another ransom to get his son back.
While the above mentioned cases made news in several parts of the country due to the status of the personalities involved, many low profile kidnapping cases were never reported. There were places where kidnappers demanded as low as N20, 000 as ransom. Aside from Boko Haram attacks and kidnappings, there were many other isolated cases of security breaches in various parts of the country.
For instance on May 7, a cult group known as Ombatse in Nassarawa State, killed 46 police officers as well as 10 operatives of the state security services, SSS, in Obi town in the state. According to reports, many houses were set ablaze, while many residents, including women and children fled their homes to take refuge in nearby villages.
In Jos, Plateau state, ethno-religious and communal clashes between indigenes and settlers which began years ago, have not receded. In 2013, there were renewed attacks and counter-attacks which claimed many lives and valuable property. On March 21, about 35 people were reported to have been killed and 15 houses burnt in a clash between the Fulani and Taroh communities in Wase local government area of Plateau state.
In light of all these crime reports, it is difficult to say that that there had been a significant improvement in the security of lives and properties in the country in 2013.
— Jan. 6, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT