In the last two weeks, kidnapping for monetary gain in Nigeria has refocused attention on the spate of insecurity that overwhelms the country. Two weeks ago, on the notorious Abuja–Kaduna highway, UBEC Chairman, Dr. Mahmood Abubakar and his daughter were victims of kidnapping. They regained their freedom a few days later. Their driver was not so lucky. He was killed during the encounter. We are not told how much ransom was paid to their abductors.
That unfortunate episode was followed in quick succession last week with the kidnapping of an Obafemi Awolowo University professor of surgery, Professor Olayinka Adegbehingbe, one of the high-profile cases in the southwest. He was released a day later after coughing out more than 5 million Naira in ransom payment to his Fulani abductors.
Between those two cases, of course, there have been many more that are either unreported or are not so high-profile. A particularly tragic and senseless case was the kidnapping of a two-year old girl from an MFM church service in Agege. The little girl had gone to the restroom during service when she was grabbed by callous kidnappers who subsequently demanded ransom for her release. This is where we find ourselves as a nation.
Banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, killer herdsmen, cultists, and gangsters have become the defining mark of the nation. Whereas our sister African nations, from Ghana to Rwanda, have transformed themselves and have become havens for diaspora Africans to vacation and do business, we keep sending a hopeless message of unfriendliness to those kith and kin of ours. Who would reasonably voluntarily choose a den of kidnappers or bandits as a vacation spot?
It used not to be so. Yes, we had political thuggery in the 60s. And there were cases of pick pockets and house invasions. But they were few and far between and they were what our people used to refer to as ole ile (house thieves) who took advantage of familiarity with their victims to invade their space at night and steal what they coveted. As a young day-student at Iseyin, I was a victim of such pranks.
Even during the civil war, we did not experience the kind of civilian-to-civilian violence that is our lot now. As a young bank clerical staff in Lagos in 1968, my friends and I used to sleep in the open space in the courtyard of our apartment. You will be tempting God to try it now. Yes, we had a heck of a time doing inter-city travels because of long queues at army checkpoints. But we were assured of safe travels even in the middle of the night. Now, we blame anyone on the road at 9 pm! What a country!
Earlier this week, I received a video clip from a family friend. Recorded in Hausa, I struggled to figure out what the menacingly threatening fidgeting by the young men in army fatigue was all about. At first, I thought that these were bandits or terrorists celebrating their exploits. Later, it was explained to me that the video was shot by men of the Nigerian army and they were rejoicing that bandits and terrorists had escaped as they (the army) advanced. It was a vivid illustration of the depth of our present predicament.
In the first place, it was an unprofessional effort at propaganda. If you didn’t understand their message in Hausa, you would easily mistake them for bandits and insurgents. That is the way they appear to me in the video. But second, and more importantly, what, in the name of goodness, is there to celebrate in the total mess that we find ourselves in? Why are we celebrating the escape of bandits and insurgents instead of going after them until they are caught and brought to justice?
No one is in doubt that we now have a crisis. The pertinent question is what is to be done in the face of a serious threat to our civilized mode of existence? You would expect this time to be an occasion for a unity of purpose to defeat terror, banditry, and all forms of reckless violence that have consumed the nation for more than thirty years.
Instead of a unity of purpose, however, we have only engaged in a game of passing the buck and blaming the other. This past week, two ridiculous claims have made the round on social media, respectively blaming Atiku and Buhari. In an article titled “US report indicts Atiku as brain behind recent killings in Nigeria”, an online media outlet alleged that “Center for Diplomacy and Democracy, Washington DC made this shocking revelation in a report released on Monday.”
Of course, in the Internet era, it only takes a few strokes on the keyboard to verify a “report.” A search for Center for Diplomacy and Democracy, Washington DC came up short, the closest being “Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement”. It has no such report. And the closest to Catherine Kerigun who supposedly signed the report “on behalf of the group” is Catherine Kerrigan who died two years ago. Could this story about Atiku being behind the killings have been made up? I don’t know. But it is not unusual for politics to get in the way of a crisis and prevent us from finding a solution.
A second story is just as bizarre. The federal government supposedly paid Miyetti Allah N100 billion to stop the spate of herdsmen killings in the country. Does it even make sense that the federal government and Miyetti Allah would not think of the implication of such a deal? Would the organization not be admitting its culpability in the matter of herdsmen killings? Thankfully, the IGP has forcefully debunked the story.
What is to be done? Three approaches are available to us. As a people of religious faith and unparalleled spirituality, we could choose putting our fate in God’s hands with the confidence that he will fight the battle for us. I am almost sure that even the most devoted among us do not think that this is a great idea. After all, faith and work are supposed to go together.
Second, we could justifiably expect the federal government to discharge its constitutional responsibility and protect citizens from violent marauders in whatever shape or form they show up. After all, the president has also recently reiterated his understanding of his responsibility and promised to live up to it.
While I do not doubt the president’s sense of responsibility and commitment to the security of the nation, I believe firmly that what we have on our hand is beyond one person or one person and a cabinet. Turning the security situation around now requires a national effort beyond partisan bickering or name-calling.
Therefore, a third and most viable option is to declare a national emergency on security and rally all the nooks and crannies of the nation to action. For at least ten years, since 2009, the federal government under different parties, has been battling Boko Haram. Between 2015 and 2017, it appeared the battle was being won and Boko Haram was degraded. Then in 2018, we saw the beginning of a come-back effort on the part of the terrorist gang. This was compounded by the herdsmen killings in North Central. A third element in the sordid situation is the banditry in Zamfara and other Northwest enclaves. Now kidnapping has taken hold in the South.
The federal government under every administration has proved incapable of meeting the challenge. Therefore, it is high time the country came together as one to fight the menace. For as the Emir of Katsina observed in a message he reportedly sent to Mr. President, without effective security no government program will succeed.
Therefore, at his second inauguration, I hope President Buhari would launch a nationwide united focus against violent criminals, from terrorists to kidnappers and bandits and killer herdsmen, by declaring a national emergency on security. Such an emergency declaration will place security at the front burner of national consciousness and free up resources, including human and material resources, for the purpose, if necessary, from other sources.
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