Nigeria Today

March 10, 2024

Insecurity in Nigeria: Any change yet? By Tonnie Iredia

Insecurity in Nigeria: Any change yet? By Tonnie Iredia

A new government  in Ni geria came on board, on May 29, 2023, that is  some 9 months ago. Although the new administration headed by former Lagos governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu is sponsored by the All Progressives Congress, APC, which had earlier sponsored his predecessor, optimists believe that this time around, change is around the corner.

If it is actually on its way, it does not appear that any such movements concern the pervasive insecurity of the Buhari years. As if nothing has changed, several students and their teachers only 3 days ago faced threats of kidnapping resulting in no less than 287 missing persons in Kaduna State. The modalities of the abduction as well as official reactions to the development suggest that at least as far as the subject of insecurity is concerned, Nigeria is yet to move from where it stood before May 29, 2023.  

Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State has quickly visited the scene – from where he has given the assurance that the abducted pupils would be rescued soonest. While addressing members of the affected  community, the governor said, “In my capacity as your elected governor, I am assuring you that by the grace of God, all the children will return unhurt.” The stereotype statement is a very familiar one. His predecessor, Nasir El Rufai gave similar assurances 8 years earlier. President Tinubu has also promptly waded in with a directive to the security agencies to swiftly rescue the abductees including those affected in Borno State. Again, this is not new because former President Buhari spoke similarly all through his tenure. The only difference is that Tinubu is more assertive and better forthcoming with his acceptance of vicarious liability for several incidents.

If some citizens believe the relevant agencies will do as the President directed, nothing shows that insurgents are also as simplistic. Evidence that they are emboldened to remain lawless is provided from the same state – Kaduna, where in less than 48 hours after attacking and abducting about 287 students from  Kuriga community, the bandits struck again killing at least two worshippers during Friday prayers.

According to one of the community leaders, Hudu Kwasakwasa, the attack took place at about 2 pm on Friday, a day after the school abductions;  with the bandits opening fire indiscriminately on the worshipers. When incidents like this occur who precisely should be held accountable? This is probably the appropriate junction to ask the question that is yet to be answered in the country making it appear that no one is in charge of security anywhere in our clime.

There is also a possiblility that identified security agencies may do little or nothing about security breaches and that they would not be held accountable. Here, we recall the 2018 story of former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who disobeyed President Buhari’s orders to prioritise government’s response to insecurity in Benue state by personally relocating to Makurdi. It is not only that Idris did not relocate as directed, the President did not know that the Police boss disobeyed his orders. Buhari got to know only in March 2018 during his own belated visit to the state whereas the directive had been given in January, that is, 3 months earlier when gunmen invaded some Benue communities and killed 73 persons. Even when the President became aware of Idris’s non-compliance, he was surprisingly allowed to remain in office as IGP.

By the suspension of Minister Beta Edu and a few removals of some office holders for one lapse or the other, Tinubu has shown that it may not be business as usual but actions taken so far are too few to make the desired impact on the level of impunity and prevalent indiscipline which he inherited from his predecessor. In all honesty, so many things happened in the past for which no one was held accountable; a good example being the series of jail breaks in the country.

Between 2015 and when President Tinubu assumed office in 2023, there were no less than 18 prison breaks in Nigeria, with nearly 9,000 inmates released. The Kuje prison at the heart of the nation’s capital, Abuja, presented a scandalous jailbreak which followed the same pattern of attacks on security forces with the use of explosives. When Buhari visited the location and was showed round the facility, all he said via a  tweet was that  he was “saddened” by the attack and “disappointed” with Nigeria’s intelligence system.’

With the way the jaibreaks were handled it is easy to imagine that in future, Nigeria  may not be able to develop strong correctional centres or indeed any viable societal institution . Here, the attack on an Abuja-Kaduna train service in March 2022 is instructive. According to media reports,  terrorists emerged from the Kateri-Rijana forest of Kaduna State, setting off explosives to derail the train carrying 362 passengers. Shots reportedly came from all directions as the attackers surrounded the train and managed to abduct over 100 of the passengers while 8 people died. Government did nothing thereafter to allay the fears of citizens that there was no safety anywhere in Nigeria.

Instead, the nation was left to hear claims and counter claims on the subject. The then Kaduna governor El Rufai was sure the blame ought to have gone to the military for failing to attack the terrorists, despite identifying them long before the train tragedy. On his part, former transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi,  said he had long warned of possible attacks on the rail line. Amaechi claimed he had requested some digital security and crime detection equipment that could forestall such terror attacks on the rail line but his requests were turned down.

If a minister got approval to spend huge sums to put the rail into use, those in the corridors of power who turned down a smaller request to technically secure the system may have to be unravelled by posterity. And that would come several decades after the lapse had led to the holding of several passengers as hostages who were released in batches following negotiations with their captors after the attack. The abductors were believed to have collected huge ransoms from the families of the abductees. This confirms that in Nigeria, the security of the people along with their welfare which our consitution says is the primary purpose of government is handled halfheartedly with no one held accountable for its unending  breaches

Unfortunately, information on future developments after the initial passing of the buck has as usual been poorly managed.  For example, although the military later claimed to have apprehended one of the masterminds of Abuja-Kaduna train attack, nothing substantial emerged as to who the sponsors of the attacks are or the extent to which the capture of the said mastermind could have led to getting to the root of the national embarrassment.

The military only said the suspect was apprehended by the troops at Damba community in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna state. Such incomplete  stories could only make citizens doubt the capacity of our men in uniform to help get a secured Nigeria.  

Benue State citizens are probably among the most prominent Nigerian citizens who lost faith long ago. During the tenure of the immediate past Governor Samuel Ortom, a few people imagined that daily killings in Benue communities were exaggerated for political purposes.   Now that the new governor belongs to the same ruling party as the President and  therefore have no cause to be ‘intransigent’ as Ortom allegedly was, everyone had hoped that peace would return to Benue after May  2023.

It would seem that the hopes are misplaced as the new Governor Hyacint Alia has started vowing to fish out killer herdsmen in Benue state. Alia says  his administration will not rest until the armed herdsmen responsible for the recent brutal murder of innocent persons in Wandoo community, Mbalom in Gwer East Local Government Area (LGA) of the state, are brought to justice. Who should the nation hold responsible for the unacceptable deaths? Why can’t government move faster on the issue of state police and isolate external bandits creating homeless people in Nigeria?

Many citizens are probably impressed with President Tinubu’s approach of accepting responsibility unlike his predecessors who hid comfortably under excuses. But because the approach visibly needs a buffer, it is time for Tinubu to be encouraged to show many officials charged with specific duties the way out when such duties fail. If such officials in charge of security in a state are asked to step aside for others to take control when security breaches occur in such a state, everyone will be become conscious that to hold an office is premised on the capacity and alertness of the office-holder to ensure that nothing under the office goes wrong. They should not only step aside but be made to account for each lapse. This task of holding people accountable must be differentiated from the camera talk-shows which the legislature often organizes with their so-called invitations to heads of Ministries, Parastals and Agencies. It is time to see changes  in security matters in Nigeria.