By Muyiwa Adetiba
Anybody who is familiar with interstate travels in Europe will attest to the belief that it is usually a pleasant experience as long as you keep to basic traffic rules. The highways are lined with conveniences should you decide to take a break either to refuel yourself or your car. The police vehicles you see in strategic places are there to make you feel safe as well as to keep you on the straight and narrow.The only fear you can have is a car breakdown, and it is not that much of a fear because help is usually available at the touch of a button. Not so in Nigeria where the absence of basic conveniences on the highway makes you feel vulnerable in case nature calls in any shape or form—or your car decides to rebel or malfunction—while the presence of police vehicles fills you more with trepidation than relief.Certain highways are in fact, dotted with more than police. They have other government operatives like Customs, Immigration and even Civil Defence which line up to exact their toll and regular interstate travellers have to learn to deal with them. Recently, bandits masquerading as herdsmen have joined them to make roads unbearable for travellers.And a car breakdown in this situation makes you susceptible to many dire challenges. That there is still space for these marauders to rob and kidnap in the ‘tightly marked’ interstate roads says a lot about the quality of the people supposedly put on the roads to protect us.
This talk about our highways and the relevance of our patrolling policemen leads me to a little story. There is this family whose late head was a respected clergy in the Methodist Church. Last month, one of the sons was to be decorated with knighthood in Ondo State. But this announcement of joy put the siblings who mainly reside in Lagos in a dilemma. They knew they had to go but were undecided as to how because of the rumoured risks of being attacked along the roads leading to Ondo and Ekiti States. They eventually decided on police escorts. Even then, they still did not feel completely safe. One of them, a senior advocate, felt it was rather unwise for all of them to be in a vehicle or even a convoy in case of an attack. So he opted to go a day later. While his siblings ensured a smooth passage with the help of armed police escorts, he ensured his own smooth passage with the help of money. He kept a wad of 500 Naira notes by his side from which he generously gave out at check points. Not once was he questioned. Not once was he searched.He could have been a rich criminal and it would not have mattered. One has to question the passion and commitment of those who are put out there to protect us. But then one also has to question the premium their bosses put on their welfare. Many of these people are extremely demotivated. This means in the final analysis that the solution to the menace of banditry on our roads cannot depend solely on those men out there who are more interested in tolls than prevention of crime.
Part of the solutions to keeping our highways safe in the absence of local policing could be vigilantes. These are people who know the terrain, the locale and are thus able to gather intelligence fairly easily. They also have a commitment beyond just a regular pay check unlike many of our ill motivated police officers. Many States, and indeed, regions are already looking into this possibility. A couple of weeks ago, in my article on the insecurity in Osun State, I suggested that Miyetti Allah, the association of cattle herders, should bear some responsibility in fishing out the criminals who have infiltrated the camps of herdsmen in Osun State and indeed, elsewhere. This is because I believe it is in a good position to separate the chaff—criminals from the wheat—its members. That was the context— in the absence of any other information or knowledge— in which I saw its offer of help to the South-Eastern States. I was therefore surprised at the furore that greeted this offer. I saw it as an offer of help, of assistance, not a take-over. This offer of assistance can be monitored. It can be modified. It can be limited to specific objectives and areas. The unanimous and total rejection of the offer from Miyetti Allah by everybody that matters in the South-East is worrisome. At best, it smacks of politics, brinksmanship and playing to some emotional gallery.At worst, it is a pointer to the total breakdown of trust in the country. Trust is reciprocal and this fierce and unequivocal rejection could backfire. An otherwise good intention of the South-Eastern leaders to the North could also be attacked in the future. The situation where everything is suspect; where dark, covert meanings are ascribed to every action is unhelpful and disheartening. Moreover, the rising rhetoric of Islamization and Fulanization makes me sad as an elder who is seeing how the seams of nationhood are falling apart. Maybe, I am missing something; maybe, I am being shuttered by patriotic blinkers, but I honestly cannot see any policy, official or otherwise, that points to Islamization or Fulanization of the South. What I see instead, is bad governance all over the country but especially in the North. What I see is the elite manipulating the gullible masses through religion and tribe to position themselves for more largess.
I believe the root cause of the insecurity in the land is poverty caused by joblessness, lack of job opportunities, lack of requisite skills and lack of hope. It is made worse by the vacillation and lack of pro-activeness of our security chiefs and compounded by poorly trained and ill motivated security operatives. I heard just last week that it took a Rotary Club to sink a bore hole in Ikeja Cantonment. This is a shame if true. How much passion or commitment can we expect at the theatres of war from people whose families at home are so poorly treated? As for the proponents of the Almajiri system of education even in the face of current realities, I have one question. Just what does this system prepare its graduates for in the present day Nigeria or in the present day world?