By Donu Kogbara
YOU would think that security crises would be minimised in a country whose head of state has a military background. And yet, Nigeria is so awash with bandits, terrorists and kidnappers that it wouldn’t be unfair to describe it as one of the unsafest places on the planet.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, has decided to blame this failure on citizens who don’t pray for our troops. According to him, victory is from God alone and those who fail to commit the status quo into the hands of God could be guilty of indirectly prolonging the war against insurgency.
Dr. Uche Igwe is a Senior Analyst and Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics’ Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa. I’m giving him space on my page because we all need to hear what he has to say:
Back in 2013, former United States envoy John Campbell wrote “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink”, a book which brought global attention to how Nigeria was fast becoming one of the world’s most violent countries. He predicted…the rise of insecurity, political/economic woes and state failure. At that time, many dismissed him as a malicious conspiracy theorist.
Consequently, heated exchanges almost led to a diplomatic row between Abuja and Washington. Today, most of the book’s forecasts have become reality.
The (British) Financial Times newspaper has recently reached the same conclusion that the Nigerian state is failing. Citizens hardly sleep with two eyes closed as a result of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and ethno-religious violence.
In recent years, the once calm Abuja-Kaduna highway has been described as a road to death due to the increasing level of daily kidnapping of travellers including security officials. Rampaging criminal herdsmen continue to attack, rape and kill unarmed civilians, especially women, across the country.
Last December 2020, about 344 school boys were declared missing after gunmen attacked a school in Kankara near Katsina, the President’s home state. Although jihadists claimed responsibility, the boys were later freed with military intervention, arguably after a ransom was paid.
Many ungoverned spaces and jihadist colonies continue to thrive. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka described the country as a war zone. The Sultan of Sokoto, a spiritual leader of Muslims, feels that Northern Nigeria is the worst place in the country to live. This message came as the vocal Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Kukah, pointed to the horrible and inhuman conditions of a child born in the region. For many, life in Nigeria is fast becoming akin to a Hobbesian state of nature – nasty, brutish and short.
The North East remains home to Boko Haram, one of the most dreaded terrorist organisations in the world. According to the Global Terrorism Index, GTI, the group’s salafi-jihadi insurgency has led to about 37,500 combat-related deaths as at 2018 and the displacement of more than two million others.
Various governments have battled and failed to contain these insurgents who kidnapped school girls in Chibok, Dapchi and later converted many of them to sex slaves. Last month, jihadists linked to the Islamic State group attacked an army base that led to the death of about 14 Nigerian soldiers. In the last six months at least two attacks have been carried out on the convoy of Babagana Zulum, the governor of Bornu State, leading to many casualties.
On November 28,2020, between 40 and 110 farmers were killed by Boko Haram fighters at Zabarmari near Maiduguri. Philip Walton, an American, was kidnapped from his farm in nearby Niger Republic and smuggled into one of the camps of the insurgents in Northern Nigeria. It took the intervention of US Navy commandos to free the hostage after a gun battle with his captors. And so on.
All this amidst government propaganda that insists that insurgents have been technically defeated. The army appears to be losing the battle against these enemies. And there have been repeated calls for the President to fire the service chiefs led by Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai. To no avail.
The prevalent perception in Nigeria is that politicians from the Northern part of the country are sympathisers and likely beneficiaries of insecurity in the region. Many of these politicians use religious bigotry and ethnicity as potent tools for mobilisation. Insecurity was a major part of the campaign that led to the defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 by Buhari.
However, earlier in 2012, Boko Haram had named the same Buhari, then presidential candidate of the main opposition party, as one of their mediators. After his victory in 2015, Buhari vowed to crush the insurgency. To date, attacks continue and those who profess Christian faith predominantly remain targets. Many abductees have been given the option of converting to Islam or facing execution.
Historically, the group founded by the late Mohammed Yusuf was used for political ends, especially to rig elections, but it did not take long before politicians lost control over them and became targets. Many politicians still pay ‘protection monies’ to these terrorist groups in order to be allowed to visit their constituencies.
There are those who insist that lucrative kickbacks arising from opaque military spending allegedly serves as incentives to beneficiaries who cause the conflicts to linger. For instance, although Nigeria’s defence spending remains a secret, it is believed that about N840 billion ($US 2.1 billion) was budgeted for by the Ministry of Defence in 2020 alone.
In addition, the insurgents are said to have taken control of profitable commercial fishing and farming within the Lake Chad basin to fund their operations. Reports have also revealed that these terrorists impose taxes on civilians.
Analysts have valued ransoms paid to jihadist kidnappers in North and West Africa at $120 million. The situation has been exacerbated by the existence of porous and poorly policed borders with Cameroon (773km), Chad (87km) and Niger (1,497km).
Terrorists reportedly smuggle in weapons all the way from northern Libya across the Sahara Desert. They are said to rely on ransoms paid by kidnapped hostages. It is a chain of horror that is an integral part of a flourishing underground economy that has come to define and sustain the region’s escalating conflict.
Investment in weapons
Buhari claims that his government is investing heavily in weapons. That is clearly not enough. Efforts must be made to review and update the National Counter Terrorism Strategy and the National Security Strategy to incorporate coordinated policy conversations, regional coordination and deepen stakeholder scrutiny.
The aloofness of the President and his unwillingness to heed the call to replace military chiefs is unhelpful.
Moreover, poverty breeds insecurity and the lack of economic opportunities for the youth continues to promote the incubation of terrorism. More investment is urgently needed to improve access to education opportunities for young people in northern Nigeria.
A lot more needs to be done and said. Although, President Buhari promised to reorganise and reenergise the security apparatus during his 2021 New Year speech, citizens remain deeply sceptical.
Yet they have no choice but to wait patiently to see whether he could ever match his words with action.