A na­tion un­der siege

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT -

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.

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