Zamfara tells Nigeria something far deeper

April 12, 2019
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ON Wednesday, during a town hall meeting in Zamfara State attended by the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, Governor Abdulaziz Yari wailed that his state had been overtaken by criminality, with bandits operating from eight different camps. He estimated that some 3,526 people had been killed in the last five years, more than 500 villages despoiled, over 8, 200 people injured, and economic activities virtually paralysed. There was no local government in the state unaffected by the crisis, he added gravely.

Early in January, Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State, told the state’s security meeting that his state was besieged by armed robbers, kidnappers, bandits and cattle rustlers. Not even he was safe, he groaned. Worse, according to him, no part of the state’s 34 local governments was spared. His cry of anguish followed hard on the heels of the alarm raised by the Borno State governor Kashim Shettima who also decried the distressingly high rate of insecurity in the north-eastern part of Nigeria. With 16 people killed in February alone due to bandit attacks in Dalijan, Rakkoni and Kalhu communities in the Rabah Local Government Area of Sokoto State, Governor Aminu Tambuwal also lamented that insecurity had become a nightmare. He confirmed that since July last year, some 81 people had been killed by bandits. In short, the Northwest is in turmoil.

Governors of some northern states and researchers and experts suggest that bandits had made a huge expanse of the region completely unsafe, with thousands killed and roads rendered unsafe for commuting and economic activities. Widespread attacks said to be emanating from the Kuyanbana forest linking Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara States are reported daily, leading to loss of lives, abandonment of land, and cessation or disruption of economic activities. Repeated interventions by security forces, sometimes in unison, and at other times, singly, have proved ineffective. The insecurity cancer had been long in developing as a result of elite irresponsibility and incompetence over the decades, and is now obviously metastasizing. But rather than propose a radical and targeted surgery, together with wide-ranging socio-economic mediation, the government at the state and federal levels have stuck to a futile and reactionary application of overwhelming force.

However, the problem is growing in size and engulfing nearly all the states in the North. The South is, of course, not insulated. Cult wars, armed robbery, herdsmen attacks, banditry and kidnappings have combined to make the region unsafe for living and business, and have become unpredictable. Meanwhile, the blame game has continued unabated. The political elite blames the business elite, and the military elite blames the judicial elite. No one is accepting responsibility for anything. In fact, with the recent killings in Kaduna and Zamfara, and the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness the tragedies have triggered, Nigerians are becoming totally despondent. In panic, the presidency has ordered a ruthless law enforcement approach to the crisis, but has failed so far to ponder why that approach had proved desultory and ineffective in past years.

The National Assembly is not inured to the customary knee-jerk approach often embraced by the country when gory events occur in rapid succession. For example, sufficiently provoked to do some public good early in the week, the Senate made fine parliamentary speeches and ended up setting aside some N10bn in the 2019 budget as security intervention in Zamfara State — that is if the allocation is cash-backed. But what of the other states afflicted by the same disease? Both the legislature and the executive showed by their responses that all they think about is the quick-fix option. The legislature thinks in terms of throwing money at problems, and the presidency, which is in control of the security services, thinks of applying more force, more ruthlessness, to stanch the flow of blood and the relentless drift towards anomie.

But because these measures have been applied in past years with immeasurable severity, but have failed woefully to have any major or lasting impact on the situation in those beleaguered states, there is nothing to suggest that they will work, having worked in fits and starts every time security forces were mobilised or deployed. With a little exaggeration, it is safe to say that the country is sitting on a powder keg. In fact, a little more indolence on the part of the governing elite will see the country careen into the ravine. The widespread attacks in nearly all parts of the country and the superficial impact the deployment of the security services have had on the problem suggest that the political elite have missed all the signals indicating the kind of trouble the country is contending with. But their misdiagnosis is unfortunately accompanied by the failure of rationality and character. The government has stuck to the use of overwhelming counter-force; and the rest of the country seems willing to sermonise over the problem, believing it is an attitudinal problem. Neither will work.

It is understood that there are tons of position papers on the crisis, with Zamfara State alone acknowledging it had inspired more than 7,000 pages of reports on the problem, including how to resolve it. The academic community have also provided deep insight into the crisis, and have made far-reaching suggestions on how to restore the region to the path of peace and development. So far, however, the federal government has not appeared to embrace anything more than the panacea of strong-arm, military approach. Some analysts have suggested that if the government’s approach is to work, it must be accompanied by wide-ranging measures to eradicate the camps of the bandits, while a whole panoply of socio-economic mediation must be instituted. But given the depth of the crisis and its longevity, it is doubtful whether these measures can have more than a short-term or placebo effect.

The crisis of banditry, especially as exemplified by Zamfara State will, however, not be assuaged by ad hoc measures. Because the whole country is contending with one security crisis or the other, and the military and police are spread thin in nearly all parts of the country, it is time the government showed gumption in examining other issues directly related or tangential to the crisis. The existing diagnosis is faulty, and the prognosis is lacking in surefootedness. Financial intervention is undoubtedly welcome, but what has happened to the trillions of naira allocated by the federation and budgeted in the affected states by their state governments? Can they account for and justify their spending? Would fresh financial intervention not amount to throwing money at a problem that requires fresh thinking and new directions?

If military and police interventions have proved only partially effective so far, and are in the long run ineffective; and money does not answer to a cancer that is fast metastasizing, then it may be time for the government to examine other ways of running the country, no matter how badly the new ways war against their ethnic sensibilities and stale orthodoxies. The National Assembly early this week angrily suggested state policing as a way out because, as they put it, all crime is local. But deployed in isolation, even this measure will fail to have the desired impact. What the political elite do not want to hear is that the existing structure of the country is fraying at the edges, and rupturing very badly in the middle. It is time, more than ever before, to reconsider the foundations of the country and initiate a total reworking of its structure under a new and more effective arrangement. Tinkering will not mitigate a crisis that is fast building up into a critical and explosive mass.

Between the past six governments, some of them military, the country has toyed with about three national conferences. Other than tomes of reports, nothing has come out of the fruitless exercises. However, the agitations have not gone away. What is even worse is that much more than agitations, the country is itself fracturing before the very eyes of the country’s leaders who see restructuring as an evil ploy to balkanise Nigeria. They are wrong, naive and impressionistic. If they do not seize the initiative now to conceptualise and manage the needed restructuring to restore the country to the path of peace and development, but prefer to blame political and traditional elites whom they say are complicit in the crisis, the time will come when the tidal wave of events will sweep them away and replace them with something not very pleasant.

The population of young, angry and alienated Nigerians is growing at an alarming rate, resources are shrinking, economic growth is unable to match the rise in population, attitudes and values are shifting or even morphing dangerously, ethnic and religious relations are fraying, and the political elite insensibly and obstinately operates a costly, contradictory, ponderous and ineffective political system. There can be no worse recipe for disaster than what Nigeria is contending with today. Either the government does not know this, or it is too proud to acknowledge or care about it.

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