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Security challenges in a regime of change: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Mike Ebonugwo

DURING the countdown to the 2015 general elections in Nigeria, a major campaign issue which the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, leveraged on to discredit the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was the serious security challenges afflicting the country at the time. The most evident and pressing of these challenges was the relentless terror attacks carried out by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, in the North East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, with several lives lost, billions of Naira worth of property destroyed and thousands of people forced to flee their homes and communities.

By 2014, the death toll had risen alarmingly, climbing to 6,644 according to the Global Terrorism Index, GTI, an increase of 317 per cent over the previous year and considered…”the largest increase in terrorist deaths ever recorded by any country”. By 2015 it had reached an excess of 8,000 according to the Armed Conflict Location Data.

Boko Haram

Suicide bomb attacks

But in spite of military campaigns by the Nigerian Armed Forces to subdue the Boko Haram monster, a vast swathe of territory within these states was lost to the insurgents who occupied the captured areas and dared the Federal Government to do its worst. To compound the problem, the Boko Haram also continued to carry out suicide bomb attacks in many other parts of the North, including the Federal capital, Abuja.

The Buhari administration and Boko Haram, Chibok girls challenge

Not long after the Buhari administration was sworn in, it declared a full scale war on the murderous Boko Haram terrorists. First, President Muhammadu Buhari overhauled the hierarchy of the Nigerian military with new service chiefs appointed and the military command and operation centre being moved to Maiduguri, Borno State for a more effective deployment of troops to confront the terrorists. Apart from that, the President had, while decorating new services chiefs in August 2015, given them a three-month deadline to eliminate the terrorists from all occupied Nigerian territories.

Release of Chibok Girls

The popular belief is that the failure of the Jonathan administration to rescue the Chibok school girls who were kidnapped in April 2014 by the Boko Haram contributed significantly to its loss in the 2015 presidential election. On the other hand, the succeeding Buhari administration had made the rescue of the girls a priority.

Efforts in this regard yielded the desired result with the return of some of the missing girls in October 2016 after negotiations between the group and the Nigerian government reportedly brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government. It was celebration time again when news broke that 82 out of the about 195 still in Boko Haram custody had been released. Indeed the news understandably sparked wild celebrations among many families in Chibok town, Borno State. It was a cheery news that resonated with hope that the over 100 girls still being held may also soon be released by their captors.

 

The ugly side of the security coin

 

Unfortunately the success story being told of the defeat of the Boko Haram has not stopped the group from carrying out fresh attacks at intermittent intervals. While President Buhari has declared that the insurgents have been technically defeated, it is still not yet Uhuru for people in the North east. Apart from sporadic attacks on soft targets in the area by the Boko Haram, its leader, Abubakar Shekau, the man likened to the proverbial cat with nine lives and who had been declared killed several times, continues to appear like a bad penny to issue fresh threats of overrunning more Nigerian territories to establish his desired Islamic Caliphate. In one of such attacks on Magumeri community in Borno State in March, no fewer than 20 persons were killed, including some soldiers and policemen.

Abduction and release of Dapchi schoolgirls

In a manner of calling the bluff of the Federal Government which peremptorily declared it technically defeated and to demonstrate its continued defiance of constituted authority in Nigeria, the Boko Haram had in a move reminiscent of the kidnap of the Chibok girls re-enacted the shocking episode in the town of Dapchi, Yobe State. Precisely on February 19, 2018, the Al Barnawi faction of the Boko Haram terrorist group stormed the Government Girls Technical Science College, Dapchi and abducted 110 of the students.

But to the relief and cheer of all and sundry, government had last March announced the release of 104 of the school girls. But the news was soon dampened by the report that five of the girls died in the process of being kidnapped, while another girl, Leah Sharibu, is still being held by her abductors for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. The wait continues for her release even as the situation remain grim and uncertain.

Return of killer herdsmen

While the Federal Government continues to prosecute the war on Boko Haram with a commendable measure of seriousness, the same, according to some observers, cannot be said of other forms of security challenges in different parts of the country. For instance, under its watch, frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers have continued to escalate. The Federal Government has been accused of often looking the other way while heavily armed herdsmen embark on murderous invasions of farming communities. Emboldened by this lack of action by government and security agencies, the herdsmen have since the inception of the Buhari administration, continued to carry out fresh attacks not only in the North Central states of Plateau and Benue, but have extended same to the South-West, South-South and South-East zones which are increasingly becoming their preferred theatres of wanton killings and destruction.

Agatu community in Benue State which has been frequently targeted witnessed some of the most horrendous killings with no fewer than 300 lives lost and seven villages razed and sacked during one of such herdsmen invasion. As the people of Benue were counting their losses in human and material terms, it was soon the turn of people in other states, including Enugu, Delta, Ogun and Ekiti who were left to mourn their dead and the destruction of their farms following similar invasions by herdsmen.

Unimpressed by the Federal Government slow response in checking the excesses of the herdsmen, the Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose had sponsored an “Anti Grazing Bill 2016” which was subsequently passed by the state House of Assembly. In fact, the bill was specifically provoked by the killing of two persons by suspected herdsmen in Oke Ako community in Ikole Local Government Area of the state. Fayose said that the new law would check cases of incessant attacks or killings of local residents and destruction of farmlands by herdsmen and their cattle as it criminalises grazing in some places in the state.

In the same vein, Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, whose state has for years been on the receiving end of bloody herdsmen attacks, on May 22, 2017 assented to a law titled: “Open Grazing and Rearing of Livestock.” The law provides for the Establishment of Ranches and Livestock Administration, Regulation and Control and Other Matters Connected Therewith 2017. This was after the state had waited for federal intervention that was late or slow in coming.

Also obviously unimpressed by the poor response of the executive to the problem, the Senate on Wednesday May 24, 2017 ordered the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris to urgently take steps to arrest killer herdsmen and all armed killers masquerading as herdsmen in communities, forests, and farms across the country.

This year, precisely on April 17, 2018, the Senate demonstrated its exasperation with the relentless and senseless killings of Nigerians by calling for the sack of the Service Chiefs of the Armed Forces. The Upper Legislative Chamber has also been having a running battle with the Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, who repeatedly ignored their summons to appear before them to explain police inability to rein in armed herdsmen and other killer gangs operating freely across the country.

The seeming unrestrained reign of killer herdsmen had so infuriated former Chief of Army Staff, retired Lt-General Theophilus Danjuma, that he had used the opportunity of a public function in Jalingo, Taraba State to accuse the Nigerian military of complicity in the killings while urging the populace to rise up and defend themselves.

Although the Nigerian Army has set up a panel to probe Danjuma’s allegations, herdsmen sponsored and executed killings continue unabated in Benue and other North Central states. In fact, it would appear that the killer herdsmen have upped their ante for chilling effect by routinely attacking churches and other places of worship at their most vulnerable moments. This was the case when faceless gun men, fresh from slaughtering 10 persons in the Guma area of the state, attacked St. Ignatius Catholic Church Ukpor-Mbalom in Gwer East Local Government Area in Benue State, killing two priests and 17 parishioners.

Less than 24 hours later, the marauders again launched fresh coordinated attacks in Guma Local Government Area of the state killing no fewer than 39 persons. As if not satisfied with this orgy of killings, the gun men had the following day invaded another church, the African Church in Logo Local Government Area of the state, killing seven persons in the process.

Nationwide protest

Government’s response in launching Operation Cat Race, Ayem Akpatuma,  has provided scant consolation to those affected who see it as too little too late. This feeling was strongly on display across the country on Tuesday, May 22, 2018, the day slain Catholic priests and other killed along with them were buried. Indeed, the Catholic Church had staged a nationwide protest on the day through which it demanded of the Federal Government to end the senseless killings in the country.

Upsurge in robberies and kidnappings

While security agencies continue to battle various forms of violent crimes, they obviously were not prepared for the upsurge of hostage-taking activities in the country. Between 2013 and 2016, abduction for ransom had escalated in the country, occurring at an alarming frequency. It soon created a palpable feeling of insecurity among the populace who cried out to government for urgent intervention.

While waiting for a coordinated federal response to this, some state governments decided to take matters into their hands. For instance, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State had on February 1, 2017, signed into law the state’s “Kidnapping Prohibition Bill 2016”. The major thrust of the law is the prescription of death penalty for convicted kidnappers whose victims die in custody or in the course of being abducted.

Other states that have promulgated similar laws include Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Edo, Kano, Ogun and Oyo. But it would seem that the advent of this law is yet to curtail the rampaging kidnappers as cases of kidnapping, including those involving school children, continue to be recorded on regular basis. Apart from kidnappers, other criminal elements have also in recent time been on rampage. For instance, going by media reports, violent robberies have been on a steady increase across the country.

Inter-ethnic, communal clashes/religious crisis

The Buhari administration is also burdened by security challenges bordering on inter-ethnic and communal crises. Among the most prominent in this regard is the Southern Kaduna crisis that has resulted in many killings. While efforts are reportedly being made by the Federal and Kaduna State governments to get to the root of the problem, its resolution has so far remained out of sight.

At the same time, government is also in search of solution to inter-communal crises involving communities across state borders, including clashes between communities in Cross River, Ebonyi and and Akwa Ibom resulting in deaths and destruction.

Government’s defense of its response to security challenges

Meantime, President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesmen have had their hands full responding to numerous complaints and issues raised about the administration’s performance in three years. Even the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, has similarly found himself in uncomfortable situations where he has to defend the performance of the administration in the area of security. With particular reference to security and the Boko Haram challenge, he had last year said: “… With new leadership and renewed confidence our gallant military immediately began to put Boko Haram on the back foot. We have restored broken-down relations with our neighbours: Chad, Cameroon and Niger – allies without whom the war against terror would have been extremely difficult to win. We have re-organised and equipped our Armed Forces, and inspired them to heroic feats; we have also revitalised the regional Multinational Joint Task Force, by providing the required funding and leadership.

“The positive results are clear for all to see. In the last two years close to one million displaced persons have returned home; 106 of our daughters from Chibok have regained their freedom after more than two years in captivity, in addition to the thousands of other captives who have since tasted freedom. Schools, hospitals and businesses are springing back to life across the North East, especially in Borno State, the epicentre of the crisis. Farmers are returning to the farms from which they fled in the wake of Boko Haram. Finally, our people are getting a chance to begin the urgent task of rebuilding their lives”.


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