By Rotimi Fasan
IN his response to the Easter Sunday coordinated attacks on mosques and hotels during which more than 200 people were killed, President Muhammadu Buhari sent his heartfelt condolences to the government and people of Sri Lanka. Anyone reading about the president’s response to the mindless carnage in Sri Lanka would be pardoned to think that killings on such a scale are alien to Nigerians. The truth, however, is that it has become normal to read, if not witness, mass killings involving hundreds of innocent Nigerians quite frequently. Nigerians now live under the looming shadow of unprovoked attacks perpetrated by criminals operating with hardly any fear of reprisals for their action. All over the country, Nigerians are randomly rounded up and killed while their property are carted away and their communities are sacked by groups and individuals that are not entirely unknown to their attackers or the law enforcement agents that have responsibility for such activities.
Parts of the North-West zone of Nigeria where the president hails from have become virtual criminal enclaves in which laws of the frontier reign. Warlords and criminal gangs operate with little or no challenge to their operations. On the occasions when the authorities appear to respond to the cries of Nigerians affected by these attacks, there is little to suggest that such interventions have any salutary outcome. What is visible for Nigerians to see is the increasing rate of terror attacks all across the country. From Sokoto and Zamfara to Katsina and Kaduna; Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta to Edo, Anambra and Enugu to Ondo and Oyo; Plateau, Nassarawa and Benue to Lagos, criminals appear to have assumed the reins of power- literally. Their operations assume different aspects depending on what part of the country is concerned. Some are of a sectarian kind, others are ethnic while yet others are turf wars carried on by cult groups. But the overwhelming majority of these activities are perpetrated by hardened criminals that operate under fungible labels as kidnappers, armed robbers and rapists.
Some are in control of many of the alike legal and illegal mines that have sprung up in different parts of the country; others position themselves on major highways and yet others operate from one forest domicile to another, and from where they launch periodic attacks on isolated communities and villages. We are not here talking of such murderous groups as Boko Haram that appear to be selling their criminal franchise to fringe groups in parts of the country hitherto free of the activities of the insurgents. Today, persons and groups linked to Boko Haram are being seen or arrested down the Southern parts of the country, far from their North-East enclave. What does this indicate but the failure of governance and leadership? That the security operatives and agencies appear stuck in a sustained cat and dog battle with criminals in all parts of the country is indicative of how weak the structures of our national security architecture have become in the last eight years or thereabout, covering the Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari administrations.
But the chaotic situation in the North-West is a pointer to the weakness of official response to growing insecurity in Nigeria. At one point in Zamfara, the governor, Abdulazeez Yari, threw up his hands in the air in abject resignation. The man who once reportedly relocated to Abuja in fear for his own life and, perhaps, the near-total collapse of governance in his state, said he was no longer the chief security officer of his state. It is a known fact that state governors are saddled with the vacuous label of “chief security officer” even while everybody knows actual power and responsibility for security in the states lies with the president in Abuja. But depending on how convenient the situation is, state governors are humoured with the meaningless title of “chief security officer”. Yet the comedians running around with these titles know they cannot instruct the Commissioner of Police in their state to execute an order that does not have the imprimatur of Abuja. Even Kadaria Ahmed, the broadcaster who recently gave Yari the full length of her tongue, knows that she should have directed the venom of her anger at Muhammadu Buhari.
President Buhari it was who came into office promising to rid Nigeria of insecurity. That was a cardinal aspect of his campaign programme in 2015 and in the months that led to the 2019 elections. But Buhari apparently made this promise and thereafter went to sleep – or went about finding a solution to his own health issues that consumed so much of his first term in office. Yet, one would have expected that after Buhari bounced back to health he would effect a major overhaul of his security strategy in order to give life to his vision. But no, the president has no cogent answer to the problem. The most basic of steps he could take was replace his security chiefs but Buhari appears sworn to a secret oath that forbids such a step. The president, indeed, is averse to changing any of his non-performing appointees, be they security chiefs, ministers or heads of parastatals. To compound issues, the president himself recently said he has been taking things slowly in order not to break down or simply to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The office of the president is not for a person hoping merely to survive but one that can indeed take Nigeria to the next level of economic, social and political development.
President Buhari, nicknamed Baba Go-slow, is wearing his moniker on his sleeves. If by self-acknowledgment, he is a slow coach that is the more reason he should surround himself with men and women who move at the speed of light. These would compensate for his weakness. His slow ways and his reluctance to do something about it are proving too costly to Nigerians on all fronts. Where the economy is struggling, we cannot afford the kind of insecurity to life and property that has made life pursuits increasingly difficult or impossible. Even suspected foreigners are killing Nigerians in their hundreds on a daily basis. Abuja simply cannot look on in bemused silence to the carnage at home while offering its condolences on less egregious situations abroad. It is disheartening that a president whose party vowed to restructure Nigeria along the lines of a federation would suddenly find a reason to walk back on his word. This is a vexing lack of integrity. Yet a lot of the insecurity in the land is connected to the unitary structure of our security arrangement.
A decentralised structure that puts security in the hands of people familiar with their respective communities and states is the right way to go. No question!