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What is Abuja’s answer to insecurity?

By Rotimi Fasan

IT is becoming too difficult if not impossible to know how the Muhammadu Buhari administration intend to address the question of insecurity across the country.

Herdsmen on rampage

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Beyond the rhetoric of its plans it is not clear how Buhari and his subordinates in charge of our collective security propose to calm the nerves of Nigerians who are daily retailing tales of banditry and kidnapping in different parts of the country.

At the convocation ceremonies of the Federal university in his home state of Katsina, President Buhari, through a representative at the ceremonies, again promised to put an end to criminal activities of bandits in the country.

What the president has done in the past four years to address the issue is surely not good enough. As he commences another four- year term, the specifics of his plan to address the twin problem of banditry and so-called herdsmen attacks are nowhere being articulated by his administration.

The promises he has been making are no longer reassuring. Nigerians are worrying to distraction and their anxiety is apparently now driving them into taking drastic measures that may be more problematic for the country’s desperate security situation. What is emerging is a gradual process of privatising security.

While as Nigerians, we are all used to the big man syndrome of rich people employing poor Nigerians as gate men, such privatisation of security cannot be allowed at the level of entire towns or communities without dire repercussions. The potential of an arrangement like that spiralling out of control is best imagined. Nerves are being worked up and people are contemplating self-help and other measures that could compound our security conundrum. With Abuja appearing to be sitting on its hands, spewing words where action is all that is needed, government is fast losing the initiative.

As we wake up each day to new tales of gory abductions and further news of the alleged perpetrators of these criminal acts infiltrating and taking over more communities; as the social media spread news of unspeakable criminalities, more and more Nigerian communities, not just individuals, are taking steps or promising to take steps to neutralise the criminals that are making life difficult for everyone. This is a clear recipe for mayhem considering the dimensions such measures assume in a polity easily prone to ethnic flare-up.

Leadership is needed and only Buhari and his cohorts resident in Aso Villa, Abuja, can take the lead for others to follow. The state governments where so-called chief security officers are on the lookout, fearful for their own lives, when they are not running to Abuja for help – the state governments and the governors can only step up after Abuja. Yet, Abuja appears totally confused and bereft of ideas. To whom should a forlorn people turn then?

We all as Nigerians have a stake in ensuring security. But the failure of government to act in a timely way is encouraging and allowing for the spread of panic which in turn is pushing many into planning to take actions that could easily be misread as or, indeed, allowed to assume the complexion of ethnic attacks, the ramifications of which would be too complex to manage. That would be jumping out of frying pan into fire.

A government that was too slow to act or be seen as doing so, would thereafter be compelled to take actions that would be read as supporting the activity of one side against another. We can all still recall, hopefully, how the Nigeria Police under Idris Ibrahim, the immediate past Inspector General of Police, reacted to the conflict between the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba communities in Ile-Ife?

The direct intervention of the inspector general which led to the transfer of suspects on the Yoruba side to Abuja showed that Abuja or the inspector general did not trust local authorities to say nothing of members of the majority Yoruba group to act fairly and equitably. Why should the Yoruba community trust the action of the inspector general too? Quite justifiably, it saw the Federal Government as biased.

In order to steer us off such dangerous paths, President Buhari has the onerous responsibility of acting now. Tension is high and fear is palpable. Rather than fighting a huge conflagration hereafter, Abuja needs to take control of the situation and act now. Its pussyfooting is setting people on edge. Reports of herdsmen activities and banditry as a whole are increasing, not decreasing in spite of government assurances that it is acting.

Even while Nigerians do not expect government to provide public details of their security blueprint, the government needs to be more communicative of what it is doing. It should directly address the concerns of the different communities that are under the onslaught of bandits and other criminal elements that are no longer discriminating in terms of who they target. Both the old and the young, men and women, poor or rich, have become direct targets. People are running away from their communities.

It is not just farmers and others who depend on land and its products for their livelihood. Even civil servants who engage in interstate travels and have to ply certain highways are beginning to stay off duty for fear of being kidnapped mostly in states that were not until now under the direct attack of the travelling criminals.

The Ife-Ibadan highway is now a dreaded location and communities along these routes are also now bearing the stigma of harbouring kidnappers and bandits in their midst. Farther into the Yoruba hinterland, the reports are no less dire. In the wake of the tension that all this has created, local militias and security guilds are springing up in direct reaction to the demands of the threatening situation and offering their services eagerly.

Where is Abuja in all this, where are the security agencies? In the last one week, communities in the South-West have suffered under the cloud of rumoured and actual attacks of herdsmen, either plundering farms with their cattle or kidnapping travellers for ransom. Who wants to be a victim under these circumstances? Which family desires the anguish of losing their members to blood-thirsty bandits? Indeed, where would people who are still being owed several months of salaries be expected to raise funds to pay for ransom?

Of what avail is the reported planned security summit of governors in the South-West, for example, where everyone knows they have virtually no control over the security of their domains? What steps should they take in the face of pressure from their own people? For how long can they be “loyal” to Abuja and hold out against accusations of ineptitude and irresponsibility? Now is the time to act as Nigerians are in pain. Enough of the loud promises that feel more like a rush of hot wind.

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