Bandits have become unstoppable, turning the country into a massive graveyard. Mourning, anguish and lamentations, therefore, have become routine to a lot of helpless citizens, compelling them to wonder what became of the government, whose statutory responsibility of protecting lives is a constitutional guarantee.
So unbearable is the situation that the Christian Association of Nigeria staged a nationwide protest march on Sunday. Instructively, the usually optimistic Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, in Lagos, led the church’s faithful in the march with a placard, “All souls are precious to God.”
Changing this horrific situation was one of the three campaign issues of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in 2015, for which Nigerians trusted and voted him to office, given his military background. But it beggars belief that he seems to now be all at sea. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, 25,794 people were killed during the General’s first term. This helplessness was shown in his recent retort that the level of insecurity was surprising to him. He said: “I was taken aback by what is happening in the North-West and other parts of the country. During our campaigns, we knew about the Boko Haram. What is coming now is surprising. We have to be harder on them.”
But such presidential undertaking had been made before to no avail. In a recent interview, Onyema Nwachukwu, a Brigadier-General and acting Director of Information, Defence Headquarters, said “the hands of the Armed Forces are full with several operations across the country.” He is right. And according to the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, the operational strength of the police is 301,737 personnel for about 200 million population. From this, only 20 per cent are engaged in core police duties while 80 per cent are attached to VIPs.
The result? “Mere anarchy” is let loose. Niger, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Taraba states in the North-West and North-Central zones have become a haven for bandits, forcing the President to periodically deploy the military in these areas without the desired result. Last Thursday, the people of Kwatas in Bokkos Local Government Area of Plateau State buried 20 of their own massacred early January by Fulani herdsmen. Their village was invaded by herders wielding AK 47 rifles. Benue State had in January 2018 similarly buried 73 people slaughtered by the herders. The same year, in April, two Catholic priests and 17 others were murdered inside the church in an early morning raid. More than 100,000 persons have been killed by Boko Haram since its murderous campaign began in 2009, according to the former Borno State Governor, Kashia Shettima. Nigeria’s northern land borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon are major suspected routes of the inflow of illicit arms and ammunition into the country, which fuel this orgy of bloodbath.
In Zamfara State, Babban Rafi villagers are in grief following last month’s killing of 31 persons by bandits in two separate attacks. These atrocities came in the wake of the so-called amnesty the Governor, Bello Mattawale, had granted the bandits. The Commissioner of Police in the state, Usman Nagoggo, on January 8 said no fewer than 6,319 people were killed by bandits in the state in 2019 alone. In Katsina State, the General’s home state, begging bandits for peace, instead of routing them, has become an awkward attribute of governance.
Unnerved by the General’s admission that insecurity was worsening and the Service Chiefs seemingly at their wits’ end, the two chambers of the National Assembly last week erupted in disapproval of the status quo. While the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, during an impassioned debate at plenary, asked Buhari to resign, the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, said the present central policing system could not guarantee security anymore and, therefore, required restructuring. In the House of Representatives, the consensus was that the Service Chiefs should be sacked.
Even the soldiers, police and other security personnel are as unsafe as the general public. It is a state of hopelessness that should have provoked new initiatives. But the regime appears impervious to change. This barbaric epoch can only change if the fundamental issues that underpin Nigeria’s abysmal failure in security are well dissected, appreciated, and a modern governance template put in place for remedial action.
The Federal Government should mount a serious campaign against the proliferation of arms and ammunition. Where non-state actors are in possession of weapons superior to what the police and other security agencies have, the reign of terror will not abate. This is why Nigerians feel petrified of travelling on the highways. Because of kidnappers, the Abuja–Kaduna Highway has largely been abandoned. Passengers are now hauled through the new Abuja–Kaduna railway transport, whose passengers recently came under bandit attack, just as there are always ambushes on the Damaturu–Maiduguri Highway. A post-graduate student of the University of Maiduguri, returning to school, was beheaded by Islamists. Terrorists blew up the Gamboru-Ngala Bridge in Borno State; this left 30 persons dead on January 5. The Emir of Potiskum, Yobe State, Umaru Bubaram, escaped by a whisker when his convoy was attacked on the Kaduna–Zaria Highway but six people were killed including his security details.
At the heart of this pervasive lawlessness is the inappropriate security apparatus for a federal system. In the true sense of the word, Nigeria is not a federation. In the classic sense, sovereignty is shared between federal and constituent governments. But sovereignty without the instrument of coercion is a ruse. Those who are notoriously impervious to restructuring should, therefore, have a rethink before it is too late. There must be a comprehensive strategy to effectively curb lethal violence. It should include balancing crackdown and prevention priorities. Promoting better cooperation among security forces, prosecutors, and penal authorities is essential. But so are public policies directed at poverty reduction and job creation.
Most importantly, our political structure should enhance security by balancing shared rule with self-rule. There should be a proper division of constitutional and institutional responsibilities and the identification of mechanisms that will facilitate effective intergovernmental cooperation in public security for the good of all. Therefore, state policing has become inevitable in line with every federal polity. Policing should be devolved as recommended by the 2014 National Political Conference.