Prior to and up till 2015, a disturbing development terrifying the unity and wholeness of Nigeria was the Boko Haram insurgency to which thousands of lives had been lost in the northeastern part of Nigeria. The challenging speed at which several crimes associated with insurgency were being perpetrated, leading to destruction and displacement of thousands of people from their ancestral lands, led many Nigerians to detest the style of governance of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) under the presidency of Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, GCFR. The zenith of it all was the confounding abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok, which generated mass uproar across the world, pointing to the security architecture of Nigeria as being completely prostrate. At that point in time, there was palpable need for a regime change and that paved way for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to emerge winner of the elections in that year.
With the conclusion of the elections, fresh air swept across the length and breadth of Nigeria and there were high expectations that with the steely strength and determination to fight corruption and insurgency hitherto credited in favour of General Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, the menace of Boko Haram would not take time before it would become a thing of the past. Today, I will examine some puzzles that I hope the general readers will probably help me to demystify. It is on the continuous kidnapping of several schoolchildren in Nigeria, which regime change of 2015 seems to have failed to control but rather has become more prevalent.
From Chibok to Katsina and from Niger to Zamfara, Kaduna, etc., every state in the northern part of Nigeria seems to be ominously awaiting its own turn to be visited by the agents of death and destruction who trade in bloodshed and kidnapping for ransom. In most cases, the number of people kidnapped is usually large beyond comprehension. My first challenge is in the description of those responsible for the act. In some instances, they are described as bandits and in others they are described as kidnappers. By the dictionary, the former are supposed to be outlaws that engage in plundering.
Not too sure anybody or authority outlawed these people so as to be engaging in the atrocity that has become their stock in trade. The latter are those who engage in the forceful removal of people against their consent and mostly tied to the issue of ransom payment. The term “kidnappers” will, therefore, appear to be apt in the description of these characters, although they cannot be excused from being bandits, notwithstanding that their outlawry is a product of their own choice of life. It may well be more so in these instances when kids are even involved. I am receptive to guidance on this issue, but my opinions on this topic require some expression. The maximum number that seems to be the target of these bandits/kidnappers is 300 and their capacity to kidnap such huge numbers unchallenged, no matter the distance they cover to get to their theatre of operation and the length of time it takes to complete their assignment, can be seriously confounding and difficult to admit as easy to accomplish.
This is based on the fact that, in every major town or village, there is at least a police station and there is hardly any state in which there is no army barracks or cantonment, including locations of other security outfits. That these bandits and kidnappers encounter no challenge to their activities is a question mark on the seriousness of government to provide security and to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria against internal and external aggression. Another issue of interest is the logistics used in moving such numbers of pupils and the time such operations take.
Pardon my illustration as I seem to be conversant with the logistics and time it takes to load at least a hundred cows, much more, over 300 unwilling human beings. It still continues to beat my imagination how such is possible without any form of resistance or intervention from the security forces and the residents. It remains a puzzle to me and, as the Yoruba saying goes, “ejo ni owo n’nu,” which literally means, “a snake has unseen claws by which it slithers.”
Could there be a conspiracy beyond just the elite or the government that ought to control the security apparatus of the country to confront such threats to collective security of a people? Where are the teachers and other officials of the schools, including the security guards? Did anyone contact the police or any other security outfit? Could the police and other security agencies of government have feigned ignorance of such unwholesome attacks on innocent citizens they are meant to protect? My thought of conspiracy needs to be dispelled, please. Tied to this is the puzzle of ransom payment.
Oftentimes, we hear of ‘no payment made,’ just for the kidnappers to eventually unveil how much was made. Now, if no payment was made, what was the purpose of the kidnapping? Who are these kidnappers? What was and is still the mode of release? Where did the government or parents receive the kids during their release? Does the government still claim that it is unaware of the forests occupied by these bandits, which is accessible to Sheikh Gumi and his entourage to regularly visit and negotiate amnesty? Could it be a case of the bandits are our children and no harm should befall them?
The rumour is milling round without anyone dispelling it that these are products of the 2015 election misadventure of importing miscreants for election. Could it be true that the bandits and kidnappers are foreign elements brought into the country in 2015 for the purpose of assisting the ruling party to ascend power? Could it be the case that truly they are taking revenge on the system that ‘hired’ them and refused to honour the ‘rent’? Remember the conspiracy theory going on! This gap requires filling by someone for me.
The strange one is that, in all situations, there is always negotiation. Who is negotiating with them and cannot assist the security agencies to burst the rings? Sheikh Gumi recently appears to be a renown emissary in this regard. To what extent has he assisted beyond negotiation in order to put an end to the kidnapping menace and banditry?
His engagement tends to lend credence to the assertion that the security agencies know the location of these people at all times but refuse to attack them or do anything to curtail their menace. By extension, government itself is suspect in the circumstances. Please, help me, if I am hallucinating! In some respects, such as those school pupils’ kidnapping that took place in Zamfara, we heard of air surveillance by all the security forces, and in not a single instance have they detected the location of the pupils alongside their kidnappers. For those conversant with Zamfara, for instance, there are no impenetrable forests there. How come it is impossible to ascertain the presence of these people easily, or are over 300 people loaded into a warehouse somewhere? How come the public is not even allowed to hear or listen to the pupils after being released? These are puzzles demanding unknotting. Beyond all the above, my fear is that as these children continue to be kidnapped and made to experience the kind of trauma they are going through, serious dangers loom ahead. By the time they grow up, most of them will take vengeance on the society that subjected them to torture in their days of innocence.
The society, by condonation of the acts, complicitly, will have itself to blame. It gladdens my heart that the President has risen to condemn any form of negotiation and payment of ransom, including amnesty to the kidnappers and bandits. This is the way to go, as it is now becoming a flourishing business. I feel compelled to acknowledge the President’s response to the ransom payment and treating the bandits with kid gloves notwithstanding that it took too long for him to know that his famous body language had failed the populace in this regard. It does not seem that bandits and kidnappers recognize body language or understand what it says. It seems that their interpretation of it is that their business is a legitimate one ready to be funded by government without having to pass through any banking procedure or being expected to pay back in form of loans.
It is certain that government’s response on this issue is coming at a time that most Nigerians live in excruciating fear most importantly that the wildfire is enjoying its spread towards the South. The menace of the criminal elements among Fulani herdsmen is engaging the southern parts of the country in an unpleasant tango.
The body language of the government is an ambition of securing territories that can accommodate herdsmen in any part of Nigeria without the need to observe the traditional or contractual means of land acquisition by individuals plying a particular trade. One wonders if the nation is not tilting towards the precipice by the time it is consumed by internal wars that do not seem to respect boundaries. It is a sad tale that is better told to scare children but not worthy of being experienced in practical terms. We are under a siege and the efforts of the government do not seem to be capable of addressing these challenges.
The President’s promise of engaging the bandits and kidnappers in an all-out-war seems to be comforting a bit. Only if he had taken this step seriously earlier, this lunacy might not have extended to this stage. It is important to nip such development in the bud rather than feigning ignorance only to be rudely awakened by the grating rodomontade of an otherwise disoriented group of pampered criminals. Would the President walk the talk? It is good to keep our fingers crossed while we remain vigilant. After all, the Minister for Defence has encouraged us to take our fates into our hands and be brave and strong to confront the criminals.
What a word of encouragement and mobilization to national duty! It is also to be noted that a Governor in the North has maintained that not all bandits are criminals and by the judgment of Sheikh Gumi, it is inappropriate to call killers, rapists and destroyers of villages and towns criminals. Our value systems do not seem to align anymore. While Governors Ganduje and El-Rufai have come to their wits end in negotiating with criminals and therefore opting for a final battle to silence the rage, other governors prefer to negotiate, pay ransom, grant amnesty to killers and ignore the noisome rantings of the victims. In all these, the President is straddled in-between. One wonders if the President is capable of walking the talk, particularly in having a common front.