July 12, 2022

Harvest of terror at the centre of power

Nigeria’s 2023 elections

THAT terrorists and bandits are getting bolder, more daring, and more sophisticated is not debatable. After a period of relative peace, the nation has entered a new phase of terrorist attacks that frontally challenges state power. It needs no further evidence after last Wednesday’s Kuje Correctional Facility attack.

That the nation is in a state of war is no more contentious when non- state actors target, with utmost audacity and recklessness, the convoy of our President (the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces) to disrupt our chain of command and control.  

These two events happening a few days apart speak volumes about our foes’ intent and coordination. The choreographed attacks are evidence of the sophistication and astuteness of the terrorists in challenging our power structures with no regard or respect for the sanctity of symbols of power – the presidency and prisons. These are a determined group of terrorists and not opportunistic bandits.

Read Also: Attack on Buhari’s convoy, Kuje prison, rehearsal by terrorists on how to take over govt — COSEYL

This latest upsurge of terrorist attacks and banditry is symbolic of the failure of intelligence, aversion to planning, compromise of law enforcement, and lack of operational capacity of security and law enforcement apparatus. It is indicative of the rot in the system that must be dealt with decisively for our collective good.  

This recent attack marks an epoch in Nigeria’s struggle for its heart and soul. Where we go from here is significant and must shape our collective future. How we match this shifting paradigm by bandits and terrorists will define our collective future. The audacity with which terrorists and bandits challenge the state’s authority and the ordinary functioning of its coercive apparatus is unimaginable. This disaster is a symptom of danger looming around, which we must collectively tackle in a nonpartisan, multidimensional manner devoid of any sentiments.

Last week’s unusual security breaches highlighted how exposed and vulnerable we are. Enough is enough. A feeling of insecurity in the country is now pervasive. And the high and low in the country are victims of their shadows. As it is now, terrorism and banditry are winning. Both have altered our way of life and are pushing us to the edges where people resort to self-help to protect themselves and their loved ones.  

Combining insecurity of these sorts with the crushing economic hardship in Nigeria occasioned by both local and international factors is devastating. Most Nigerians have never got it this bad, and never have we felt so insecure and uncertain of our future as today. Imagine how residents of Abuja would be feeling now. It is unbelievable that terrorists could lay siege and destroy Kuje Prisons in an operation that lasted almost three hours without a corresponding repelling force from our security operatives. What would be the fate of residents had these terrorists and bandits decided to operate in estates or residential areas of the metropolis? We cannot even imagine the carnage.  

The breach of National Security Act 1990, as amended, seen in this week’s events, requires an effective response from the government, security ecosystem, and citizens of Nigeria. The details of the incidents are still unfolding, but existing reports are heartrending and disturbing. It is disturbing that attacks on prisons by terrorists and bandits have been increasing in recent times. The fact that terrorists took the attack to the capital city within the central government’s jurisdiction of authority is a spit on its face.  

The second incident is even more daring. First, news broke that the ubiquitous ‘bandits’, by design or by accident, had laid siege into an advance convoy of the President. The convoy was travelling to the President’s village to lay the groundwork for him to spend Salah in Daura, his hometown. The symbolism of these attacks is obvious to contemplate. First, these criminals can attack anywhere and anytime they choose and are brazenly audacious. Besides, no one is off-limits to them. By attacking the number one citizen’s convoy, they have sent a clear message they can strike anyone.  

Furthermore, they have declared conventional war on Nigeria using asymmetrical methods. This is guerrilla warfare, for want of words to describe it. And they have struck terror in our collective consciousness. If they can reach the Kuje Correctional facility and the convoy of the President, they can get anyone. The gradual boldness and audacity signal a shift in approach that requires a corresponding response. Finally, they have raped the sense of security of Nigerians and created a perversive cloak of insecurity in cities and remote villages in Nigeria.

  There is a need to create counter symbolism and narrative to reduce the impact of these symbols and bolster our collective psyche to confront, obstruct and defeat terrorism and banditry in all their ramifications. These new symbolisms must be created from the actions and reactions of the government and security community to confront existing terror-inspired symbols that dominate our consciousness.  

The lessons of the Kuje terror attack and bandits’ attack on the presidential convoy are glaring for all to see. We must stop treating insecurity with sentimentality and as business as usual. The hydra-headed monster breeding may consume us all if we do nothing now. This is “a swim or drown situation”, and Nigeria has no choice but to swim at all costs. Beyond the collective shame, the sensations that these attacks throw up go beyond mass hysteria and feelings of insecurity but also bear instigating substances to further embolden terrorists and bandits in Nigeria.

We are now amidst the turbulence of insecurity and mayhem, demanding nothing but the full attention of the government. Such a response requires a radical security strategy and emergency operations to deform Nigeria’s insecurity and terror networks. The threats before us have grown beyond maintaining a docile posture. Government and security agents must rise from slumber and become vehemently driven by concerted firmness to clamp down on security threats.  

The rhetoric should go beyond repelling the attacks to preventing such attacks. Government and security architecture celebrate repelling attacks on presidential convoys, prisons, and military bases. What would ordinary Nigerians who have no protection do or celebrate when attacked? It now sounds pusillanimous to the hearing of tired and frightened Nigerians when government and its security agencies talk about gallantry in repelling terror and bandit attacks. Nigerians want permanent solutions to prevent and end attacks on the Nigerian state and its citizens.

With fear in the air and a sense of hopelessness in dealing with insecurity, calls are coming from the usual places, especially among governors, asking for a license to arm citizens to defend themselves. As unbelievable as this sounds, it is a call for survival and a testament to the fact that people are beginning to lose faith in government to tackle insecurity.

A vigilante-style protection system may emerge from the seeming collapse of security when it becomes a Hobbesian natural state of every man to himself, and life becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all”. We must avoid this state because Nigeria cannot afford to fail, and it will be too expensive.