Our policemen are very funny. Last Thursday, a brother of mine travelled to the East from Lagos with his wife. Along the expressway, just after Ore in Ondo State, some policemen stopped them at one of their numerous checkpoints. They asked for different vehicle particulars, including the one they called local government paper. According to them, every registered company vehicle must have it. Since my brother could not produce that one, they asked for N60,000 for the paper. After much pleading, they reduced it to about N40,000. For over one hour, my brother and his wife were detained there for not being able to produce the money as demanded.
They were contemplating what next to do when, suddenly, the policemen became panicky and started throwing the logs they used to block the road into the bush. At that point, they were ready to collect any amount of money given to them. They quickly collected N2,000 from my brother and jumped into their vehicle. As they made to take off, they urged him to leave the scene immediately and to be extra cautious as he drove because “the Fulani kidnappers are coming!”
As if they gave themselves signals, the policemen at all the checkpoints along that route vanished. It was only when my brother entered Benin that he started seeing police checkpoints again.
That brings me to the recent invasion of the Government Science School, Kagara, Niger State. When bandits abducted at least 27 students and some staff from that school, some concerned Nigerians called for deployment of security men in major Nigerian schools. I giggled because I knew that our policemen, as presently constituted, cannot match the firepower of the bandits. The recent incident became major news because it involved students.
Such incidents have been happening there. My sister-in-law, whose house is a stone’s throw from the school, has been lamenting. In Kagara, there is nothing like sleep. They are always at alert because the bandits could strike any moment. They only try to catch some sleep from 5.30am. And this has been happening for some years now. There is no solution in sight.
Kagara is not alone. There are cells of bandits operating in different parts of Niger State in particular and the entire North in general. They operate with impunity. They attack whoever they want to and at any time they choose. Travelling in that part of the country could be a dreadful experience. Even in the southern part of Nigeria, there is no peace. Criminal elements among the Fulani herdsmen have become a terror to law-abiding citizens. For travellers to the East, fear of Benin Bypass is the beginning of wisdom. How this water of banditry entered the nation’s coconut still baffles me.
Even more baffling is this idea of targeting innocent students in evil attacks. It is a rape on their innocence, a tragedy. Last December, another group of bandits had raided the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State. They abducted over 300 students and took them down to a forest in Zamfara State. Luckily, they were rescued after six days in captivity.
Abducting students for ransom started with Boko Haram terrorists. On April 14, 2014, they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their school in Chibok, Borno State. The present government secured the release of over 100 of the girls after several months in captivity. Many of them are yet to be accounted for up until now.
In February 2018, it was the turn of 110 girls from Government Secondary School, Dapchi, Yobe State. The girls remained in captivity for about a month before 105 of them were released. Four of the girls had earlier died. Even after their release, one of them, Leah Sharibu, is still being held principally because of her Christian faith.
No doubt, the nation is under siege. Bandits are multiplying everywhere and are becoming more daring. They use the money they get from ransom to acquire sophisticated weapons. Thanks to Islamic scholar, Sheikh Mahmoud Gumi, we now know that the bandits in Zamfara are planning to acquire anti-aircraft missiles. And we say we are not a failed state.
We are deceiving ourselves. These bandits can’t operate freely without the backing of some powerful forces. A typical example was the killing of three policemen who arrested a suspected kidnap kingpin, Bala Hamisu Wadume, in Ibi, Taraba State, in August 2019. The officers and two civilians were reportedly killed by soldiers manning a checkpoint on the road to Jalingo, the state capital. Wadume was also rescued in the attack.
The enormity of our security problems was brought home last year when the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, lamented that bandits now “go round in the villages, households and markets with AK-47 and nobody is challenging them. They stop at the markets, buy things, pay and collect change, with their weapons openly displayed.”
No matter how we look at it, this government is in breach of Section 14 (1) of the Constitution. It has failed to perform its primary duty of securing lives of citizens. And when a government no longer has monopoly of the instruments of warfare, that government is no more in control. That country is a failed state. That is why, as at last year, Nigeria remained the third most terrorised country in the global terrorism index for the sixth consecutive year. Afghanistan and Iraq came first and second, respectively.
Many Nigerians are traumatised. Investors are afraid. Pupils and their parents are scared stiff. With the recent attacks on schools, how will the North, which is seen as backward in education, progress educationally? The majority of over 13 million out-of-school children in Nigeria are in the North. Now, the situation may get worse.
How will our economy grow when herdsmen have forced farmers to run from their farms? How will the investment come when investors are not assured of the safety of their investments? How can we continue to allow influx of illegal arms into our country through our porous borders? How can we justify Fulani herdsmen openly parading AK-47 rifles as Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State has done? How can this nation survive in this type of environment?
This is why it is disheartening when certain people talk of negotiating with bandits. Sheikh Gumi said it was the best way to dislodge them. The Federal Government appears to support this theory. It actually blazed the trail by granting amnesty to some Boko Haram insurgents and deploying our resources to rehabilitate them. This is why these criminals are emboldened to kidnap more people and collect huge ransoms. Banditry has become a huge industry. Shameful!
The only solution I know is that government is supposed to have the monopoly of violence. It should adequately equip the security agencies to do their job. If bandits acquire anti-aircraft missiles, government has the capacity to acquire superior firepower. With that superior armament, it deploys the military both on the ground and in the air to suppress any insurrection in any part of the country.
Government tried to show that power when it dispatched the military in what it called Operation Python Dance in the South-East. It is still showing that power in Orlu, Imo State, where soldiers have engaged members of the Eastern Security Network. Why it is pussyfooting in engaging in similar dance with terrorists and bandits in the North is still hazy to me.
We have a long way to go. The best the government has done whenever there is a major security breach is to condemn the action and repeat the cliché of vowing to deal with the perpetrators. They send soldiers who begin to harass citizens, some of whom may be innocent of the crime already committed. There is no proactive action to take the war to the criminals in their hideouts.
I pray that we find quick solutions to this menace of insecurity. The signs are ominous. The powers that be are either adamant or ignorant. But should their heart be touched in any way, they should remember that many of us have called for the restructuring of this country. Such restructuring should touch on security architecture, political and electoral system, as well as social and economic relationship among the various geo-political zones of the country. The earlier President Muhammadu Buhari wakes up from his slumber, the better for all of us.