If you believe that things have to get worse in Nigeria before they get better, you are probably right. Nigeria today bears all the hallmarks of a country about to implode. There is nothing to halt the country’s rapid descent into anarchy. People have referred to the possibility of a looming bloody revolution. While all the evidence points to that scenario, it is still within the realm of conjecture.
The criminal abduction, last Friday, of 317 female students of the Government Girls Secondary School (GGSSS), Jangebe, Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State, has outraged everyone. There are growing concerns about the deleterious impact of frequent abductions of school children on the nation’s image, as well as public uneasiness about lawlessness, inability of security forces to rein in bandits, and the best way to deal with a dreadful situation that has embarrassed President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
The latest scandal is not the first and probably will not be the last time the nation would experience abduction of this scale. The incidents are mounting. They do not speak well of Buhari government’s ability to provide national security, even though some school children were kidnapped before Buhari was elected President in 2015. Consider the following facts.
On Monday, 19 February 2018, students of the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College, Dapchi, Yobe State, were forcibly taken away from their school premises. The kidnap of the schoolgirls, much like the preceding abduction of more than 230 female students in Chibok, Borno State, on 14 April 2014, represents a failure of intelligence, a failure of national security, and an adverse vote of confidence on law enforcement agencies. In both instances, inexplicable delays by the government gave the terrorists all the time they needed to disperse the students to various locations in the forest. The government must stop playing politics with the lives of young school children who ought to be in their schools rather than remain in dangerous forests where they are held against their will.
There is so much exasperation over these incidents, particularly the frequency with which they recur. I don’t understand what is going on in Nigeria anymore. Week after week, month after month, and year after year, secondary school students are abducted in audacious manner.
I have asked this question before. I will ask it again here. How could bandits or terrorists travel, in a convoy on public roads with four-wheel drive cars and hundreds of motorcycles, without attracting the suspicion of law enforcement officials such as the police, or even soldiers at different checkpoints? How could 317 students be loaded onto four-wheel drive cars and motorcycles and taken away even as they scream, kick, and yell for their freedom? How many cars and motorcycles would it take to transport 317 students from their school to the forests? There are other logistical nightmares that would make such a mission near impossible. These include transportation, clothing of the students, provision of toiletries, food, and other important personal items such as prescription medications.
These are uncomfortable questions that expose the poor level of security in the country. Every successful kidnap operation sends a message to other criminals-in-waiting that the road is clear for them to go on their own mission. All these incidents are embarrassing. They expose the nation’s security lapses. They show that, despite repeated assurances by the government of its determination to end the run of kidnappings, the abductors have continued to overwhelm the country’s security apparatus.
We live in a country of “anything goes”. The kind of crimes that baffle law enforcement officials in other countries are pulled off with ease in our environment. What does that say about law enforcement in Nigeria, the level of commitment of security agents, the professionalism, intelligence sharing, and the ability of the Nigerian state to provide for the wellbeing and security of citizens?
How did we get to this point? When bandits raid secondary schools with ease, without being challenged by security forces, you know the security situation in the country has collapsed completely.
At a meeting of the Northern States’ Governors Forum and leaders in Kaduna last week, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “Criminals are criminals and should be dealt with accordingly as such without resorting to ethnic profiling. I have already tasked the new service chiefs to devise new strategies that will end this ugly situation where lives of our people continue to be threatened by hoodlums and criminals…”
The problem is that Buhari made similar promises in the past following raids on secondary schools and nothing happened. So, why should Nigerians believe his pledge now? Time will tell whether Buhari’s latest warning to criminals would be heeded.
It is obvious that Nigeria has no policy on how to deal with criminals who deprive school children of their liberty. In various parts of the world, some governments have a clear policy of no contact or engagement with terrorists, bandits, or kidnappers. Negotiating with faceless bandits and offering money to secure the release of kidnap victims suggest the government is incapable of apprehending criminals and prosecuting them.
There is danger in negotiating with criminals. When government negotiates with bandits or terrorists, the government places itself in a weak and helpless position of a beggar. Kidnappers exploit that situation of inequality. Conferring with bandits to secure freedom for abducted school children through payment of ransom should never be encouraged or promoted. It emboldens kidnappers and encourages more abductions. Payment of ransom inspires kidnappers to undertake more abductions.
Frequent kidnapping of school children is undeniable evidence of the breakdown of law and order in Nigeria. Sardonically, this is happening in a democratic country governed by an elected President.
Kidnapping has done irreversible damage to Nigeria’s image. How can a country with battalions of professionally trained soldiers and a standing police force be overwhelmed and harassed regularly by bandits and terrorists wielding AK-47 assault rifles? Are these criminals too difficult to be overpowered by Nigeria’s police officers and soldiers?
The reason for the persistence of rampant kidnapping is clear. The Federal Government’s effort to eliminate the nuisance is neither resolute, honest, organised, calculated, nor committed. The criminals who engineer the abduction of school children are well connected. If the government was genuinely committed to eliminating kidnapping, Nigeria wouldn’t be where it is today.
Many jobless youths have volunteered their services to kidnap kings in the forests where they are trained, armed, and rewarded. They have sound reasons to engage in kidnapping. Why would anyone carry university degree certificates that are worthless while a successful abduction mission could generate millions of naira in the first month of operation? This is the dilemma the government must deal with.
Many Nigerians are trapped in an unbroken cycle of poverty. They have obligations they cannot fulfil. They have families they cannot feed and clothe. They have children’s school fees and yearly rents they are unable to pay. They carry the burden of transportation every day. They have financial commitments they cannot honour. This is the grim life that confronts many people. And it is in this context we must understand why kidnapping is on the rise and the government is unable to solve that festering problem.