NIGERIA is at war. Boko Haram and ISWAP Islamic terrorists, killer herdsmen, kidnappers and bandits and terrorists wearing the toga of separatism have laid waste to many communities across the country, creating a huge humanitarian and internally displaced persons crisis. For too long, the criminals have had a field day and overwhelmed the existing security system. The ineptitude and compromises of previous governments compounded the situation.
In his campaign, manifesto and inaugural speech, President Bola Tinubu has acknowledged the problem and vowed to tackle it. Beyond rhetoric, he must rally the security forces, take charge, and lead the reforms to totally overhaul the country’s distorted and dysfunctional security architecture. The situation is too dangerous to be ignored, and the President conceded that “neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity and violence,” and promised to reform both the doctrine and the security system.
The Institute for Economics and Peace-run Global Terrorism Index in March 2023 rated Nigeria as the eighth most terrorised country in the world, just behind failed states like Somalia and Afghanistan. Currently, the country is home to three of the five deadliest terrorist organisations in the world – Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Fulani herdsmen. The Independent People of Biafra has recently been named 10th most deadly.
The Nigeria Security Tracker of the Council on Foreign Relations revealed that 63,111 Nigerians were slaughtered in various armed attacks from 2015 to 2023. Combined with the victims from 2010 to 2015, the figure comes to 98,083. Yet, the primary responsibility of the government is protecting lives and property.
Between May 15 and 16, terrorists reportedly killed over 100 women and children in Kubwa and Fungzai villages in Plateau State.The lawmaker representing Mangus/Bokkos Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Solomon Maren, lamented that more than 200 lives had been wasted there in the past four months.
In April, bandits invaded Runji village in the Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, killing 30 people and burning scores of houses. About a week ago, suspected terrorists also invaded Dogo Dawa ward, Birnin-Gwari LGA of Kaduna State and killed at least nine residents. No suspect was arrested in any of these cases and no security chief queried or sanctioned. In June 2022, terrorists invaded St Xavier Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State, after the Sunday service and killed 40 worshippers.
Kidnappers have also built a multibillion-naira industry in the country. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project in 2021 rated Nigeria miles ahead of Mexico and Colombia in kidnapping and mass abduction. A Lagos-based risk-analysis firm, SBM Intelligence, in a recent report, said a total of N653.7 million was paid as ransom in Nigeria between July 2021 and June 2022. Some say this understates the reality as many kidnaps, especially in the remote areas, go unreported.
SBM said more than 500 incidents were recorded, and 3,420 people were abducted across Nigeria, with 564 others killed in violence associated with kidnapping in one year. The report showed that N6.53 billion ($9.9 million) was demanded in ransom within that period.
Nigerians recall how terrorists attacked and abducted over 60 Kaduna– Abuja train passengers with ease in March 2022, billing each victim’s family N100 million. Some of the victims were held for several months before paying their ransom and reuniting with their families. Eight persons were killed in that incident. More than 100 women and children were also abducted after gunmen invaded four villages in Zamfara State in November 2022.
Mass abduction now thrives, following on the kidnapping of over 276 pupils in Chibok, Borno State, which attracted global outrage in 2014. Bandits in February 2018 kidnapped 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe State; while others were ransomed, Leah Sharibu remains in captivity for refusing to convert to Islam.In December 2020, terrorists invaded a secondary school in Kankara, Katsina State, and abducted 344 schoolboys.
Non-state actors are also taking territories and sometimes renaming them, while imposing heavy levies on their inhabitants. Ex-Governors Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Aminu Masari (Katsina), Bello Matawalle (Zamfara), and Sani Bello (Niger), admitted at different times that terrorists had taken control of some of the LGAs in their states. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, alarmed at the slaughter of 76 people in one attack in a Sokoto community in 2020, said things were taking a frightening dimension in the North.
“People think the North is safe, but that assumption is not true. In fact, it’s the worst place to be in this country. Bandits go around in the villages, households, and markets with their AK-47. They stop at the market, buy things, pay and collect change, with their weapons openly displayed,” he stated.
In the South-East, separatists, and non-state actors like IPOB and the “unknown gunmen” kill at will, hold people to ransom, declare illegal sit-at-home curfews, and destroy businesses.
Security agents are not spared. Police formations, military checkpoints and barracks are attacked, bombed and officers killed or abducted. A convoy of the United States embassy staff was recently attacked near Atani, Anambra State, with two workers and two police officers slaughtered.
Bandits attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, killed two officers and abducted another; terrorists ambushed a patrol team from the elite Brigade of Guards; and bandits once brought down a Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet!
In the South-West, violent transport unions, political thugs and cultists regularly visit mayhem on residents. Sometimes, the hoodlums go on the rampage and destroy hundreds of vehicles parked on the roadside or attack innocent residents for holding contrary political views.
Dataphyte, a research portal, estimated the total number of killings in the country by non-state actors from May 2015 to September 2021 at 38,631 persons, a 248.03 percent increase over the figure for 2009-2014.
Nigerians anxiously expect Tinubu to swing into action in line with his solemn promise. He declared, “To effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security doctrine and its architecture. We shall invest more in our security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide better training, equipment, pay and firepower.”
Good enough, but the disease needs a more radical surgery. Policing must be decentralised. No amount of personnel, material and funding can deliver effective crime control given today’s challenges in a federation of 36 states, one federal territory, 206 million people of diverse ethnicities, cultures, and challenges, and a widely diversified physical terrain.
Unlike his simple-minded and obdurate predecessors, the President must lead the campaign to immediately activate the ‘doctrine of necessity’ for a constitution amendment to facilitate state policing. He should deploy the full weight of his office, party leadership and influence to mobilise all segments of the society for this important task.
The United States has almost 18,000 police forces. India, Australia, Mexico, Germany, Austria and other federal countries have separate state, provincial police agencies. The United Kingdom, theoretically a unitary system, has 45 devolved police forces. Nigeria alone among the world’s 25 federal countries persists in operating a single centralised police force. Tinubu should lead in overthrowing this national folly.
Regional security networks like Amotekun and Ebubeagu were born out of necessity, but they cannot confront terrorists wielding high calibre weapons with dane guns. Under Tinubu, the Federal Government must urgently approve the use of the right tools to empower these regional security outfits to neutralise the existential threats facing the country.
Nigeria’s porous borders are the avenues of the infiltration of terrorists and weapons. From Niger Republic, Mali, Sudan to Chad. A former Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, said banditry in the northern region had international dimension. “The bandits come from outside the country. We arrested Sudanese, Nigeriens, and Malians, among other nationals,” he said.
Surprisingly, some of these illegal migrants even hold Nigerian passports. The government must strengthen security at the land borders and increase budgetary support for the operations of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Despite the high level of killings, kidnappings, and banditry in the country, with the police laying claims to arrests in some instances, there are no prosecutions. We want to see trials of these criminal suspects ending in convictions and long prison terms.
The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in April 2023 revealed that the country lost 619.7 million barrels of crude oil valued at N16.25 trillion ($46.16 billion) to theft between 2009 and 2020. Consequently, Nigeria has not been able to meet its OPEC quota of 1.83 million barrels per day. It has been said that without the connivance of top security agents, especially the military, oil theft would not happen. Tinubu must deal decisively with oil thieves and their sponsors.
He must set targets for the heads of the security agencies and hold them to account when they fail. The positions of the IG, and military service chiefs, and intelligence chiefs must be merit-based. Allegations of corruption against security chiefs must be investigated and where guilty, they should be dismissed and prosecuted. Law enforcement and military operations must be intelligence-led and backed by robust funding and equipping and by deployment of cutting-edge technology, including drones and advanced surveillance tools. He must take charge, coordinate, and motivate the security chiefs; Nigeria’s situation cannot afford a distracted or inattentive President. The buck stops at his desk.
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