By Adekunle Adekoya
LAST Friday was October 1, the 61st anniversary of our country’s flag independence from the British. I celebrated the Nigeria I grew up in with nostalgic recollections of how things were, compared with how things are now.
I still recall those good old days when very few people looked over their shoulders to see what was happening, compared with now when you had to be alert all the time, on the street, in the market, at the bus stops, even in bed.
Sleeping with two eyes closed is now a luxury. It was also in this same Nigeria that N20, yes, N20 was a princely sum of money. At Remo Divisional High School, where I was a boarding student, the highest fees ever paid by my father was N50.77 per term, except in final year, when WAEC fees caused a raise in amount payable.
It was also in this same Nigeria that we got vacation jobs, while those who were inclined to international travel flew, for example, Lagos-London return for N450. I also recalled the excursion to Kainji Dam in 1976 in our school van, driving from Sagamu through Ibadan, Ilorin, Mokwa, Jebba, and onwards to Kainji, and berthing at the Kainji Dam Students Hostel. It was a blissful experience whose memories I treasure till now.
In year 2000, I had an assignment in Kebbi State. Flying to Abuja from Lagos, I continued the journey to Kebbi by road. It took four (4) hours to traverse Niger State, starting from a park in Zuba. Onwards through Jega and other towns, I arrived Birnin Kebbi around 11 pm.
Hotel accommodation was in Argungu, some 44 km from Birnin Kebbi; I got there around 1 am, mainly because the road linking Birnin Kebbi with Argungu was in very bad shape at the time. Hope it’s better now.
My point is about the insecurity in Niger State now. How many of us, except, perhaps, the locals of the area who have knowledge of wherewithals and the neighbourhood will undertake a road trip through Niger State now?
Earlier in 1998, I attended a delegates conference of the Nigerian Union of Journalists in Yola, Adamawa State. If you hadn’t been to Yola, you have missed a lot. Peaceful. Great, friendly people. And the fish?
The return trip was by road, from Yola through the adjoining town of Jimeta, onward through Zing, Jalingo in Taraba State, Gboko in Benue State, and stopping for victuals in Enugu. From Enugu, we made our way back to Lagos.
It was a great experience. Would it still be a great experience now? If one were to do this trip now, how many adversaries would have to be taken into consideration? Bandits? Terrorists? Jihadists?
Where during the journey, and at what time? Before, if travelling and men in uniform are on the road, there is a feeling of reassurance that safety is still guaranteed. Not anymore.
The uniform dress of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Police are symbols and markers of state authority to which we all pledge obeisance. Sadly, bandits, kidnappers, and terrorists have appropriated this marker of authority. Most kidnappings are now done by men dressed in military fatigues.
How does that happen? Assuming that there are good tailors among civilians who can deliver combat fashion, how do they get the fabrics? Isn’t access to things like that supposed to be restricted?
On Tuesday, the Police arrested and paraded 34 suspects in Abuja, two of them women who confessed that they hid rifles under their hijab for their men to escape scrutiny. You might have seen the pictures. The suspects were all clad in military fatigues. If you see them on the road, you’d think they were members of the armed forces.
Here we are talking about clothing. How about ordinance? You need to see the picture of seized arms on parade. There were also guns that looked like they were locally made. Imported or not, all guns speak the same language — the language of gore, blood and death. One thing always bothered me: are the local fabricators of firearms unknown? Are they ghosts?
As for the imported arms, is the state not supposed to have exclusive rights in this area? In 2017, the media reported seizure of 661 pump action rifles at the Lagos ports. That was just one instance; in all probability more had been imported before and more are still being imported. With uncommissioned ordinance streaming in, the security situation can only deteriorate.
Virtually everywhere in the country has been rendered unsafe — North-East, North-Central, North-West, South-East, South-South, and the milder South-West. How do we get away from all this? How do we restore Nigeria?
How do we make our country the land of the happiest people on earth? The ball is back in the courts of those who rule us. Urgent action must be taken to arrest the downward slide of our security situation.
The state must be decisive in reining in violent non-state actors and reclaim exclusive right to the use of violence and all forms of ordinance, except for game and sporting purposes. Everything must be done to bring back the Nigeria I grew up in, and make it better than that. It is a sacred duty that must be done to break the vise-grip of insecurity choking us.