With the decapitation of 78 farmers in Borno State, killing of 38 policemen in the aftermath of the #EndSARs protests hijacked by hoodlums and the kidnap of 334 Katsina Schoolboys, the year 2020, was a year like no other, writes Kingsley Nwezeh
In all the years that Nigeria battled security challenges, the year 2020 stood out as the most violent. From insurgency to armed banditry, rampant kidnapping and the aftermath of the #EndSARS protests hijacked by hoodlums, killing of IPOB members and youths in the South-east, the nation convulsed in violence all year long.
In spite of several fierce encounters between the military, security agencies and insurgents as well as other criminal gangs, there was no end in sight to the ravaging violence in the outgoing year. The military has stayed on the narrative that insurgents were technically defeated but the terrorists have wrecked more havoc with the military equally decimating scores of insurgents with intensified bombing campaigns in the North-east and North-west.
Slaughter of 78 Farmers By Boko Haram
One of the most heart-wrending events of the year was the beheading of 78 farmers in Zarbarmari in Jere Local Government Area of Borno State by terrorist group, Boko Haram.
The insurgents had invaded the community to avenge the arrest by the community and subsequent handing over of one of them to the military. It also accused the farming community of providing information to soldiers on the movement of the terror group.
The decapitation of the farmers which triggered international outrage, prompted calls on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to intensify efforts aimed at containing rampaging insurgency, armed banditry and other criminalities in the country.
Terror group, Boko Haram, had also claimed responsibility for the mass slaughter of the farmers.
The shadowy leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, had claimed that “the farmers arrested and handed one of its brothers to the Nigerian Army. You thought you would apprehend our brethren and hand him over to the military and live in peace?
“The third message is on those who notoriously nab our brethren and hand them to the military or give them a clue on us, you should know that, unless you repent, what happened to your people is awaiting you,” he further threatened.
The United Nations and Borno State government had also confirmed the grim casualty figures. On December 2, 2020, Borno State Commissioner for Information, Babakura Abba Jatau, said the death toll had risen from 70 to 76. “Forty-three bodies were buried on Sunday and another 33 were buried on Monday,” he told the AFP news agency.
Residents of the community further reported finding more corpses of the farmers afterwards.
On its part, the presidency had explained that in view of the presence of the military in the area, the residents ought to seek clearance from the military before accessing their farm lands, a position that rankled many Nigerians.
The military high command had corroborated government’s position by insisting that the day of the killing was an election day conducted by the state government for local government councils.
Coordinator of the Directorate of Defence Media Operations (DDMO), Major General John Enenche, said beyond the council polls, the insurgents had called the community for a meeting.
He said members of the community did not inform the military about such meetings which they had severally with the insurgents. He said it was at the meeting that the farmers were beheaded by the terrorists.
More than anything else, the event that posed the greatest security challenge to law enforcement was the hijack of the #EndSARS protests by hoodlums.
The protest was sparked by the shooting of a young man in Delta State by the operatives of the now disbanded police unit, Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS) seen on viral video.
Government denounced the video as fake and arrested the man, who uploaded the video thus sparking more anger. The police unit was in the past variously accused of extra-judicial killing of hundreds of Nigerians, most of which were factual.
On October 3, Nigerians took to social media with the hashtag, “#EndSARS” soon sending it to the top of twitter global trends as the most tweeted item with top artistes, David, Wiz Kid, P-Square and others joining the fray. Demonstrations began in major cities with protesters calling for the abolition of SARS and an end to police brutality.
From Lagos, Abuja, Ogun, Edo, Enugu to Rivers, Imo and other states across the nation, protesters poured into the streets with placards bearing the inscriptions: “respect for human rights” “a more equal society”, “end police brutality now”, among others, clashed with security agencies.
On October 11, after days of demonstrations, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, announced the dissolution of SARS “with immediate effect in response to the yearnings of Nigerians”.
He said the operatives would be redeployed but the protesters were not appeased.
As protests gathered momentum, the Nigerian Army warned “all subversive elements and troublemakers” to desist from formenting trouble. It said the army “remains highly committed to defend the country and her democracy at all cost”.
The army added that it “is ready to fully support the civil authority in whatever capacity to maintain law and order and deal with any situation decisively”.
But demonstrators were undaunted and continued to demand justice for victims of police brutality and an overhaul of the security apparatus.
By October 20, a military detachment, said to have been called in by the Lagos State government was accused of killing demonstrators at Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos State, according to several witnesses, prompting a curfew by government with a promise to investigate the claims.
Amnesty International said it received “credible but disturbing evidence of excessive use of force occasioning deaths of protesters at Lekki toll gate in Lagos”, stating that it was investigating the killings.
It said 12 people were killed, a claim the military vehemently refuted.
At the heat of the crisis, President Muhammadu Buhari assured of government’s determination to ensure justice for victims of police brutality and police reforms.
The United Nations (UN) also condemned use of “excessive and disproportionate” force by Nigerian security forces against peaceful protesters.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urged “Nigerian authorities to take urgent steps to deal decisively with the underlying problem of persistent violations committed by the security forces”.
Hijack of #EndSARS by Hoodlums
As government battled protesters, the demonstration took a quick turn for the worse. Hoodlums hijacked the protest. Policemen became the target as many police officers were killed.
The nation watched on TV as major public infrastructure were set ablaze by rampaging hoodlums. Police stations were razed. In Abuja, motor marts were set on fire as many other vehicles were damaged in Apo and Lokogoma Districts and Dutse Alhaji sparking ethnic confrontation.
Giving details of the massive destruction within the period, the Inspector-General of Police
said 38 policemen were killed while 205 police stations and other public and private infrastructure were destroyed. He said 71 public warehouses and 248 privately owned stores were looted in the course of the protests nationwide.
The IG said there were 51 civilian fatalities with 37 injured, and 38 policemen gruesomely murdered while 26 others were injured during the protest.
He said 10 firearms, including eight AK 47 rifles, were carted away during the attack on police stations, and a locally made pistol was recovered from elements operating under the guise of the EndSARS protest.
According to him, 1,596 suspects were arrested in connection with the violence and widespread looting across the country. Many prisons and correctional facilities were broken into while inmates were set free.
Witnesses that appeared before the panels set up across the states to probe cases of police brutality have regaled Nigerians with tales of destruction and police brutality.
Looting of Palliatives Warehouses
During the lockdown at the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and state governments had stored foodstuff and other palliatives in government warehouses.
But many Nigerians did not have access to the palliatives supposedly set aside to help the citizenry cope with the lockdown imposed by government.
Following the development, government warehouses were looted in Lagos, Abuja, Plateau, Imo, Anambra and four other states.
The pandemic had exacerbated hunger in the land for many of the country’s 83 million extremely poor people, according Federal Bureau of Statistics.
Vivian Bellonwu, Head of Social Action Nigeria, said the amount of food kept in storage is an indication of “systemic failure.”
“To think that certain persons could lock down this quantum of food and materials as we are seeing them in their premises, in their custody and watching while people wallow in poverty and difficulty, is really unthinkable.
“I think that it is quite mean, I think it’s highly insensitive and I think that this is a betrayal of trust of the people”, she said in a report captured in Voice of America (VOA).
Kidnap of 334 Katsina Schoolboys
Reminiscent of the kidnap of over 280 Chibok girls in Borno State six years ago, 344 students of Government Science School, Kankara, Katsina State were abducted by armed bandits on December 11.
The abduction which sparked international outrage followed the pattern of the Chibok girls’ abduction
The kidnapping also took place at a time President Muhammadu Buhari was on a one week vacation in his home state, Katsina.
The pupils were kidnapped by gunmen on motorcycles, who shot policemen guarding the school located in the outskirts. Later accounts of the kidnapping said the students were forced to walk for days in bush parts and were later located in Rugu Forest in neighbouring Zamfara State.
The Katsina State government and military authorities later announced that the location pupils had been identified. The state government said it had entered into negotiations with contacts close to the abductors. The incident had put the military and security agencies under intense pressure, having occurred in the president’s home state.
To the relief of parents of the pupils, who had started protesting in Katsina, government announced on December 18 that the pupils, looking weary and traumatised, were rescued and handed over to security agencies. They were later received at the Katsina State Government House.
Boko Haram had earlier claimed responsibility for the abduction and even released a fake video showing the abducted boys which was later disproved by the military and later accounts if the freed pupils.
Hausa Farmers, Fulani Herdsmen’s Clash Caused Abduction
A recent report said the abduction of 344 Katsina schoolboys was the product of feuding Hausa farmers and Fulani herdsmen and not extremism, some officials of Katsina and Zamfara States said.
But four government and security officials familiar with negotiations that secured the boys’ release told Reuters the attack was a result of inter-communal feuding over cattle theft, grazing rights and water access, not spreading extremism.
Officials in Katsina and neighbouring Zamfara, where the boys were released after six days, said the attack was carried out by a gang of mostly semi-nomadic ethnic Fulanis, including former herders who turned to crime after losing their cows to cattle rustlers.
“They have local conflicts that they want to be settled, and they decided to use this (kidnapping) as a bargaining tool,” said Ibrahim Ahmad, a security adviser to the Katsina State government who took part in the negotiations through intermediaries.
Abduction of 80 Islamic School Pupils
Before the furore generated by the kidnap of the Kankara students had died down, students of Hizburrahim Islamiyya School in Mahuta village of Dadume Local Government Area of Katsina State were also kidnapped.
The Islamic pupils were said to have been abducted while returning from Maulud celebration at Alkasim village of the the local government area on December 19.
Katsina State Police Command said the the children were rescued after a fierce gunfight with armed bandits. Both the military and police laid claims to the rescue operation.
Killings in Enugu, Rivers, Kaduna
There were also cases of killings of members of the Indeginous People of Biafra (IPOB) in Emene, Enugu, killings in Southern Kaduna and Obigbo in Rivers State.
A security research group and human rights advocates, Intersociety, alleged that armed soldiers and other security agencies turned the South-east to a killing field in 2020 especially within the #EndSARS protest.
“The Int’l Society for Civil Liberties & Rule of Law can circumstantially, verifiably and statistically state that the EndSARS protests in the Igbo States of Rivers (largely Igbo), Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia and Imo were turned into shooting and killing spree by ethno-religiously imbalanced armed soldiers of the Nigerian Army and personnel of the Nigeria Police Force, leading to close range shooting to death of at least 110 unarmed citizens and terminal injuring of at least 200 others”, it said.
The group affirmed that “the killings were so glaring that the corpses of the slain littered inside the bushes and by the roadsides; with some buried shallowly or left to decompose and others picked up by their relatives or emergency officials of some of the affected states especially Rivers and Enugu States.
“There are also independent reports of scores of bodies of the slain buried atrociously by soldiers in shallow graves including melting them with acid substances. Such was the case in Aba in February 2016 and Sept 2017 and Onitsha and Nkpor in May 2016”, it said.
The COVID-19 pandemic that broke out in March 2020 has also impacted the security situation in Nigeria. With the second wave of the virus in place, it has shown its capacity to weaken the security architecture.
Recently, a major general died of the disease during the recent chief of army staff conference in Abuja.
Since then over 26 more generals and personnel out of 417 tested for the virus came out positive. The military had set up over 60 testing and treatment centers for the virus across the country. Other security agencies, government parastatals and the citizenry have been mobilised to adopt preventive measures to avoid contracting the virus.
Undoubtedly, the criminal elements have not always had the upper hand. The military recorded some laudable successes this year in the war against insecurity. Although the successes, which are too numerous to mention are no doubt laudable, given the huge sacrifices the soldiers make, the gains must be sustained if it should have any meaningful impact on the war against terror.
In all, it promised to be a good year. It always does until plans start to unfold and make a mincemeat of all carefully laid out plans. Year 2029 was not so different. It would be stating the obvious to note that security-wise, Nigeria went through ups and down. From kidnappings to murders, suicide bombings, armed robbery, car snatching, banditry, beheadings amongst others, 2020 was a potpourri of events.