Nigeria: A Land That Consumes Its Inhabitants

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SimonKolawolelive By Simon-Kolawole, Email: simon.kolawole@thisdaylive.com, sms: 0805 500 1961

SIMONKOLAWOLE! BY SIMON KOLAWOLE

If you take time to study Nigeria since 1960 — when we began to govern ourselves — you would notice an unrelenting constant: bloodshed. From political violence to coups, civil war, ethno-religious riots, communal clashes, military massacres, banditry, terrorism, farmers/herders clashes and kidnappings, it has been a gory story spread across 60 years. In the last three years, though, it appears all the terrible things are happening at once, like under Murphy’s Law. As we are battling communal killings in Kaduna, terrorists are beheading farmers in Borno, bandits are slaying villagers in Zamfara, and kidnappers are grabbing people all over the federation. We are in a horrible state.

Killings have become so routine that it takes something gruesome to jolt us. The killing of farmers in Zabarmari, Borno state, on November 28 by Boko Haram actually shocked us, although it would appear we have put that behind us now. Boko Haram had killed 70 Nigerian soldiers in Gorgi, also in Borno state, early this year. While we were debating whether or not the national assembly can summon President Muhammadu Buhari over the state of the nation (I thought it was only honourable for him to honour the invitation having promised to do so), a Taraba lawmaker was kidnapped. On Friday, bandits attacked a secondary school in Katsina state. It is dead scary.

Nigeria is a land that should be flowing with milk and honey. Instead, it consumes its inhabitants. It is as if the country has been on a tragic auto replay, particularly since 1999. It has been a catalogue of bloodbath. In November 1999, at least 1,000 villagers were massacred by soldiers in Odi, Bayelsa state. In October 2000, hundreds were killed in Zaki Biam, Benue state. Various ethno-religious riots in Jos, Kaduna and Yelwa between 2000 and 2004 claimed at least 10,000 lives. We also had OPC, Bakassi Boys and MASSOB causing havoc here and there. President Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general, was somewhat overwhelmed. I once heard a critic call him the “bad luck” president.

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo in 2007, was not less fortunate, even if his tenure was short-lived. Jos North exploded yet again, with over 700 deaths recorded as Berom and Fulani communities renewed hostilities in November 2008. When Yar’Adua visited Jos after the riots, his convoy was attacked by youths, some of whom accused him of visiting only the Berom community and neglecting his own Fulani kin. In May 2009, troops invaded Gbaramatu, Delta state, and massacred hundreds to enforce “peace”. A military onslaught ordered by Yar’Adua against Boko Haram in July 2009 produced more than 1,000 dead bodies, mostly in Maiduguri and Bauchi.

Under Jonathan, who held power from 2010 to 2015, Boko Haram bombed Abuja six times, with notable attacks on the UN building, police headquarters and Nyanya. In July 2013, the terrorists killed 42 students and teachers at a secondary school in Mamudo, Yobe state. They killed 58 schoolboys in Buni Yadi, also in Yobe, in February 2014. Hundreds of Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped two months later. Troops allegedly carried out a massacre in Baga, Borno state, in April 2013 over the killing of a soldier. Several bombings in Kano and Kaduna killed at least 400. In Zamfara, bandits killed 43 in Kizara village in June 2013 and 79 in Galadima village in April 2014.

Jonathan came under sustained media attacks from APC leaders who branded him “clueless”. They weaponised the insecurity to oust him. Buhari was marketed as the ruthless retired general who once routed the Maitatsine sect and would easily crush Boko Haram. Ironically, in my article before the election, “Buhari and the Burden of Expectations” (January 25, 2015), I cautioned: “In an attempt to market Buhari, some chaps have gone overboard, designing and spreading beautiful disinformation about him… God help Buhari if, assuming he wins, he is unable to stop Boko Haram’s suicide bombers. God help him if the terrorists continue to grab more villages under his watch.”

Five years on, is Nigeria safer? Major-Gen Bashir Magashi (rtd), minister of defence, says we are. However, many Nigerians, including my humble self, will dispute this claim. While Boko Haram may no longer be attacking Abuja and Kano at will, insecurity is now pervasive all over the country. Gunmen continue to terrorise the north-west. Non-oil kidnappers have never had it this good. The Kaduna-Abuja road has become a long stretch of anxiety. Clashes between farmers and herders have become more pronounced and political. Women are still being kidnapped, abused and traded for ransom. Southern Kaduna remains the killing field it has been since 1987.

But why is Nigeria’s security situation getting so dreadful by the day? There are different ways of looking at it. One is to look at the remote cause: economic hardship. Any society as infested with poverty and unemployment as Nigeria will also be infested with crime. There is another way to look at things: any society with a security ecosystem as broken as ours will also be infested with crime — ranging from the petty to the petrifying. We not only have a largely corrupt security system, we also have so many demotivated and demoralised officers and operatives who are daily trying to keep us safe at the risk of losing their lives cheaply. Many things have gone wrong for too long.

It is very easy to blame the soldiers and the police officers — the boots on the ground — for the insecurity. Of course, there is solid evidence that they are part of the problem. SARS is my key witness. However, we need a deeper and wider understanding of why things are the way they are. Fundamentally, the police are not primed to protect ordinary Nigerians. They are at their best protecting VIPs, principally politicians and moneybags. Any reform of the police that does not address this warped mentality will be a waste of time. We need to totally re-orientate the police in particular to understand their duties to the ordinary Nigerians: to protect and to respect their rights.

It is also clear that the security agencies have been weakened and damaged by indiscipline and incompetence. When you see a vehicle driving against traffic, parked in a ‘no parking zone’, running a red light or using siren without any emergency call, look inside properly and you will find a police officer or soldier at the wheel. You see some police officers playing “Baba Ijebu” (gambling) early morning on Kaffi Street, Ikeja, Lagos state. This indiscipline says a lot about our security agencies. It is as damaging as the incompetence that runs through — such as a police commissioner not knowing his left from his right when there is civil unrest. Many are simply not qualified to wear the badge.

Operations-wise, do we have the necessary tools to combat serious crimes? Even if we had all the tools, whatever we are doing is not solving the problem. If we don’t have ordinary tear gas, can we describe ourselves as a serious set of people? The disbanded SARS was “fighting” cybercrime by checking people’s phones on the road. So crude! It can only lead to blackmail and extortion. More so, modern policing is very sophisticated. It is further disheartening that police operations are poorly funded. Attempts to reform the police will benefit tremendously from an appraisal of operation funding. Field officers and middle-ranked officers need to be allowed to make inputs, uncensored.

My overriding impression is that our security agencies are not in a position to outthink and outsmart the criminals. That is one major reason criminals keep hitting our underbelly. I still rate Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, the inspector-general of police between 1986 and 1989, as one of the best security chiefs we have ever had. His policing was professional and intelligence-led. Police performed better under his watch compared to this era — despite the force being relegated to the background under military rule. What we have now are billionaire police chiefs, corrupted and incapacitated inside out by the elite. No surprises that we have been going downhill. We need to go back to the basics.

Above all, the basics have to start from the leadership of the security agencies. We need new thinking. We need fresh ideas. The current chiefs have done their best but it is clear that whatever they are doing is neither sufficient nor efficient. We need people with fire in their belly, people with a point to prove, not those living on the edge — unsure whether or not the president will heed the persistent call to sack them. Critically, we need clear key performance indicators and accountability from the leadership of these agencies. When they are given such positions, what are the expectations? Who holds them to account? What are the consequences for non-performance?

The insecurity is a problem affecting all divides. We must resist the cheap temptation to politicise it. What we need now is a united front. Nigeria is under attack. Ironically, if the current devastation across the north had been in the south, we would have been regaled by now with theories of “Islamisation” and “Fulanisation” by you-know-them. Clearly, the system is failing ordinary Nigerians and failing itself. Too many lives are being wasted everyday in painful circumstances. Dear President Buhari, Nigeria is going down. We can all see it. We can all feel it. It behoves on you to see what we are seeing and feel what we are feeling. You must ACT now to stem the tide. Mayday!

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

NDA-ISAIAH GONE
Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah, publisher of Leadership newspapers, drew his last breath on Friday night, reportedly from complications of COVID-19. What a loss. What a huge loss. The exit of the consummate publisher, pharmacist and advocate of Big Ideas — coming days after the death of Maj-Gen Olu Irefin, also from COVID complications — should once again alert us to the stark reality that the pandemic is far from over. The conspiracy theorists are not helping matters with their propaganda which gullible people are swallowing recklessly. Some even say there is no COVID, or that it is ordinary malaria we call COVID in Nigeria. COVID is real. Let’s not throw caution away. Sad.

FROM ARGENTINA
Argentina has passed a law taxing its wealthiest people — those with assets worth over 200 million pesos (about $2.5 million) — to pay for medical supplies and relief measures to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. About 12,000 Argentinians are expected to pay the “millionaire’s tax”, as they call it. I find this quite interesting. In our own Nigeria, some billionaires will gather under an umbrella, announce donations, grab the contracts to supply materials funded by their donations and then get debt relief from the government for their “kindness”. Is there any other evidence to prove that the Siamese political and business elites are holding Nigeria by the jugular, even in tragedy? Captured.

RUNNING AWAY
I don’t know if Alhaji Abdulrasheed Maina, ex-chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), is guilty of corruption charges. That is for the judges to decide. However, his conduct in the last eight years has been suspicious. First, he ran out of the country when his probe began. Three years ago, he sneaked into the country until Premium Times blew his cover and he was arrested. Then he ran away again as his trial started. He must have done something wrong for him to be running away. He was apprehended in Republic of Niger and brought back. On Thursday, he collapsed in court in front of the cameras. He will now have to travel abroad for medicals (don’t laugh). Dramatic.

VACCINE AT LAST
On Tuesday, Mrs Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, became the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 jab as the UK rolled out the much-anticipated vaccine. If we are to use the logic of religious fundamentalists and their allies in the anti-vaccine movement, Bill Gates has now injected Keenan with a chip and she will soon become his zombie forever! On a more serious note, though, it is a thing of joy that humanity is now set to take on the coronavirus. The damage the virus has brought upon our world will take ages to repair — some are irreparable — but we should take solace in the fact that humanity is not as helpless as it was with the Spanish flu in 1918-1920. Progress.