A nation under siege
Our country is under siege, burdened by a cocktail of security challenges. This is not particularly new but it has progressively become more horrendous and terrifying. The Buhari administration should forget its anti-graft war for a moment and seriously think of how to keep us safe first.
The first duty imposed on the government, and this bears repeating, by the framers of our constitution is our security. We must be safe before we can be voters. We must be safe before we can listen to the president’s campaigns wooing us to renew his mandate in Aso Rock villa. Things are not looking pretty for the nation, security wise. Our security forces are having the worst time of it. It is not just a pity; it is great pity.
Only three weeks ago, Boko Haram slaughtered 40 or more of our soldiers expressly deployed to the North-East to bring them to their heels. This past week, the police admitted that 16 policemen were killed in Zamfara State. Twenty others were saved by their colleagues.
The Daily Trust of December 6 gave terrifying details of the bandit killings in various parts of Zamfara State since 2011. It reported that 850 persons were killed. Senator Saidu Dansandau, according to the newspaper, put the number at 3,000 between June 2017 and June 2018. In case you have problems with simple mathematics, it means that in only one year, 3,000 people were killed by this largely unknown group embedded in the state.
Dansandau is a respected politician in the state. He, certainly, could not be careless about the number of the dead. Whether he exaggerated the number or not does not matter that much. Whatever the true figures might be, it is important to bear in mind that we are talking about our country men and women being killed in large numbers in that state.
I find myself stuck in repeatedly saying in this column and elsewhere that the Nigerian state is contending with Boko Haram on the one hand and bandits on the other and other killers, including herdsmen, in between. It could hardly be worse. The death toll of the protracted war against Boko Haram is not exactly known today. The nation’s continued loss is etched on the forlorn and pathetic faces of the hundreds, if not thousands, of our country men and women reduced to refugees, technically called internal displaced persons, in the IDP camps. Their hope of returning to their devastated homes to pick up the pieces is not looking bright by the day. Our country cannot afford to live much longer with what is happening.
I do not think the police authorities have clearly determined the identity of the Zamfara killers. It is not usual for bandits to lay siege on several communities in a state for as long they have done in Zamfara. The Nigeria police force has a good record of putting an end to terrorising armed robbers. I do not wish to believe that they find the bandits a harder nut to crack. If they do, then we are not dealing with bandits. We are dealing with a yet-unnamed group of killers in an undeclared war against the Nigerian state.
I think it is time to end the head scratching and hand wringing on what to do about this cocktail of security challenges confronting us as a people and as a nation. We have reached an emergency situation. Condemning these killings or taking some reactive steps cannot lead us out of the woods in which we now find ourselves.
Our leaders at all levels must wake up to these challenges. The responsibility for making them wake up lies with the president. As Buhari seeks the renewal of his mandate, he must ask himself if our security features in the change he promised us more than four years ago and which wooed us to his side. As mark of his seriousness, the president should suspend his own campaigns for at least two weeks and request the other candidates for elective offices at federal and state levels to do so too. He should then invite them to join him and his security chiefs to collectively think of how to end these killings, be they by Boko Haram or bandits or herdsmen or armed robbers or blood thirsty young men who take dangerous drugs and kill for fun. It is needless to remind the politicians that only the living can vote.
This step is necessary and urgent for two reasons. One, it would impose on all the politicians the collective responsibility for ending these killings and making us feel secure and protected in our own country. It seems to me that some, if not all of the other candidates, feel it is the president’s sole business to secure the Nigerian state. This feeling could be exploited in the heat of the electioneering campaigns.
Two, electioneering campaigns impose on the country their own peculiar challenges for peace and security. Sooner or later thugs might be unleashed on the various communities to frighten the people into securing their support for particular candidates. This could worsen the security situation.
I do not need to tell you that thugs kill too. Do recall that some of the youth groups in the various regions were thugs employed and armed by the politicians to intimidate their opponents and the people in our past election seasons. I am sure that new groups are emerging with the new players in the game at all levels. At the end of each election season, these young men feel abandoned by their principals and, with their sophisticated weapon, turn themselves into terrorist groups. The Niger Delta is a good example of what can happen when the youths taste money and blood. But it was/is not the only region affected in the country.
The situation is bad but it is not beyond hope. Buhari must quit acting weak and indecisive. He needs to tweak the architecture of our national security. If what it is does not serve him and the country’s security needs well enough, such radical tweaking becomes imperative.