It used to be referred to as the scourge of the south, southeast, and southwest of the country. That label no longer applies, ever since terrorists began indiscriminate and deadly attacks on communities and schools in parts of the north. Last week, terrorists struck again in a school, this time taking with them more than 300 students of Government Boys’ Science Secondary School in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State. It was an audacious attack in which many students were taken, against their will, on motorcycles to a hidden location.
Although the students have been released, and although the nation remains unsure about the nature of the negotiations and agreements the government struck with the criminals that led to the freeing of the students, that incident has raised serious and embarrassing questions the government must grapple with.
How could more than 300 students be taken by road on motorcycles and yet security forces did not see them, did not intercept them, did not follow the criminals to their destination? Logistically, how could terrorists kidnap so many students and take them on a motorcycle ride to the forests?
The open and unsecured means of transporting the children could have made it easier for security forces to track or follow the kidnappers and their victims by air, land, and other means. The successful attack on the secondary schoolboys really mocked the intelligence community and the security agencies. Such a daredevil attack could have been executed possibly with the criminal collaboration of some people who are responsible for security of Kankara community and the school.
Here are other questions that would make federal authorities to squirm: Why is it that some of the Chibok girls who were abducted in 2014 from their secondary school, have been forgotten and remain unaccounted for, while the schoolboys at Kankara (Katsina State) were rescued so quickly?
Why is it that no one is talking about how and when to negotiate freedom for Leah Sharibu? She was one of the 110 schoolgirls kidnapped from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State, in 2018. While virtually all other schoolgirls who were kidnapped with her have been freed, Leah remains in captivity and almost forgotten perhaps because of her religious faith and other attributes.
The manner of the abduction of the Kankara schoolboys and the speed with which they were released have raised suspicions in the public sphere about the genuineness of the kidnap. Some people have gone so far as to describe the kidnap saga as a “pre-planned abduction stunt”. While this might not be the case, it is difficult to imagine whose objectives would be served by a staged abduction of school children.
Whatever might be the truth behind the rapid kidnap and quick release of the Kankara school children, the nation is not fooled.
All these and related incidents have exposed the inability of the government to provide security for citizens. The events also underline the failure of intelligence nationwide, and the failure of security agencies to learn from the scandalous abduction of 276 girls from the Government Girls’ Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, in 2014.
The incident at Kankara secondary school is a timely but sad reminder that Nigeria is still assailed by insecurity. The government is yet to resolve the scandal that followed the incident in Chibok. Six years on, not much has been heard about the remaining schoolgirls who were held against their will by criminals who stormed their hostels and drove them to evil forests. The abduction of more than 100 school children in Dapchi four years after the Chibok experience provide further evidence that Nigeria has a major problem with insecurity.
If anyone still doubts the strength and capacity of terrorists in Nigeria to strike us where it hurts most, these recent and previous cases should dismiss those doubts. As a group of northern leaders lamented most recently, we now live at the mercy of terrorists.
To illustrate the extent to which Nigeria has become a free ground for criminal groups, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) announced last week that it seized 73 locally made guns and 891 cartridges hidden inside a truck of locally produced rice in Kebbi State.
These attacks on secondary and primary school students show the low level of security in schools, the high level of unpreparedness of security agencies, and the sophisticated nature and organisational skills of various criminal groups.
In the north as in the south, southeast, and southwest, criminals have set up a large and impenetrable network, as well as reliable high-level information channels through which they communicate and operate freely. They choose their targets carefully, move easily to those targets, execute their plans with minimum fuss, and depart undetected. These are the sophisticated forces that our overstressed security agents are expected to confront and defeat.
There are embarrassing cases of security lapses in Nigeria. No one is safe anywhere in the country. Security forces are overstretched. Civil society is not safe. School children are not protected and are most vulnerable. We are all exposed to the evil plots of criminal groups spread across the country. The Nigerian state can no longer uphold its basic obligation to provide for the welfare, wellbeing, security, and safety of citizens.
Growing insecurity is a concern in Nigeria. The other day, senators spoke angrily and worryingly about the gradual descent into hellfire in Nigeria. They accused the government of abdicating its responsibility to deal with lawlessness, chaos, and the existing free-for-all environment in which life has become more ruthless, more difficult, more horrible, rougher, tougher, nastier, and more brutal for everyone.
What an irony? Living in Nigeria has been likened to life in an animal kingdom. The current situation presents us with no refuge. While we can understand the chaos that reigns in an animal kingdom, we do not expect to be subjected to a life of despondency in Nigeria. We are supposed to have political leaders at state and federal levels who were elected on the basis of the promises they made to provide for our needs, and to protect our lives and property wherever we might be.
On account of all these, we expected a better life for everyone. Unfortunately, expecting a better life in Nigeria today is like boiling an empty pot and expecting soup. It is not possible. It is an illusion. We have an elected government with considerable constitutional obligations to cater to the needs of citizens but anyone waiting for the government to provide their needs must be living in cyberspace. It has never happened in the history of the country. And it will never happen under the current government.
Insecurity has become the greatest challenge facing a government that promised in 2015 to eliminate the Boko Haram insurgency, and to make life easier and more worthwhile for everybody. When government officials claim without proof that life in Nigeria is much better today than it was five or ten years ago, everyone must be overwhelmed by such claims.
What kind of country do we live in? What kind of future are we designing for our children and generations yet unborn?