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Opinions of Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Columnist: Olumide Olaniyan

Nigeria needs to do more to protect her citizens

President Muhammadu Buhari President Muhammadu Buhari

Recently, there has been a surge in kidnapping, maiming and killing of harmless and helpless civilians by armed groups labelled as bandits, hoodlums, insurgents, kidnappers, unknown gunmen, and what have you. The reality is that these ruthless and unremorseful savages have plunged Nigeria into a latent war. Many people have yet to admit this, including the critical state actors you expect to respond urgently to the tragedy. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, a few days ago, made an attempt to reduce the calamity to a legal discourse. He was reported to have said that banditry and kidnapping are not federal offences; that is, the state government should be concerned about bringing these felons and heinous criminals destroying our country to justice. This is so annoying as it demonstrates his dismissiveness of the spate of fear that has enveloped millions of Nigerians due to protracted violence across the land.

The security situation in Nigeria is very alarming at the moment, even when many try to downplay it. The Boko Haram insurgency which started in the North-East, over one and a half decades ago, has claimed at least 37,000 lives since 2011 to date and displaced 2.5 million people in the Lake Chad Basin alone, according to Global Conflict Tracker’s statistics. Millions of Nigerians are currently internally displaced persons, families have been separated, students have been abducted from their schools and killed, farmers have been sent home not by the usual culprit – natural disasters (drought, flood and fire), but by bandits. Policemen and women are being brutally murdered in the South-East, businesses are being destroyed and Foreign Direct investors are relocating out of Nigeria. The country is currently ranked third on Global Terrorism Index, the worst record in Africa, even though government apologists have continued to dispute this; the issue is violence and socio-political disorder now permeate the length and breadth of Nigeria. Boko Haram insurgents have continued to invade military bases, especially in the North-East, killing our patriotic soldiers and stealing their weapons that are not adequate in the first place.

It is therefore glaring that this is not a time to politicise nor trivialise the catastrophe plaguing our nation. But why is the security situation protracting and worsening? Why are some state governors negotiating with the terrorists and bandits instead declaring full-scale war on them considering the sanctity of human life? Why is the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), openly appealing to coldblooded kidnappers to release victims instead of rescuing them at all cost? Are these criminal elements so powerful that we have to beg them for our lives or pay ransom? These persisting and disheartening questions are endless, but they point in one direction. That our leaders live in denial of the enormity of the crisis. Some of the officials of the Nigerian state have continued to denounce anyone that calls them out on their failure in addressing the hapless situation of our country.

Can Nigeria really overcome this imbroglio? Why not, if we can improve coordination and end the reactionary approach to the challenge. Recently, there was an uneasiness in Bwari, a satellite town of the Federal Capital Territory, on an allegation of a possible invasion by bandits. This led to closure of some schools and businesses as the news gained ground. According to newspaper reports, Nigeria’s response was to heighten security of some military barracks, the National Assembly complex and other locations considered as important or possible targets. That obviously was a knee jerk approach to address the security challenge. It is the major reason why the security challenge has lingered and seemed insurmountable. No doubt, those bandits might have attacked those locations, they might as well have attacked the civilian population, whom government officials sadly, have called soft targets in the past, without doing much to protect them.

Concerned citizens have continued to wonder why Nigeria could not use telecommunication to track these bandits and other criminals perpetrating violence in the country. As always, the state officials provided an excuse. As reported by the Peoples Gazette, an online magazine, the National Space Research and Development Agency head mentioned that Nigeria has not been able to track terrorists because they use walkie talkies which are difficult to track, unlike the commonplace Global System for Mobile communications that the rest of us use. This according to him is because Nigeria does not have adequate satellites to track activities within the country. These bandits do get across to their victims’ families to demand for ransom, they surely use GSM for this purpose at least and should be tracked through that. There are community people that should be able to provide security agents with helpful information, if they do enough homework.

Nigeria certainly needs to improve coordination amongst its security sector actors, win the confidence of the everyday people and use every means possible to protect lives, property and integrity of the nation. No excuse is adequate when a Nigerian life is at stake.

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