Banditry: Beyond the Shoot-on-Sight Order

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By Onikepo Braithwaite Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com Twitter: @TheAdvocatesTD

Every time the Federal Government of Nigeria takes one step forward, they seem to take another 10 steps backwards! It seems that those in power do not quite understand that fighting insecurity successfully, demands a holistic approach. It goes beyond shooting on sight, those armed with AK 47s in the forests. It goes beyond using Super Tucano Jets and satellites, to monitor criminals from above. It also goes beyond seeking external assistance from military contractors, to join this fight. And certainly, it goes beyond rhetorics, motivational speaking and the brave words of encouragement that we are used to hearing from Government spokespersons. Interestingly, in recent times, we have not heard anything about the arrival of the Super Tucano Jets which we paid almost $500 million for in 2018, to assist in the fight against insecurity. Knowing Nigeria, there would have been a grand reception ceremony to receive the aircrafts on arrival, bigger than the one that heralded the arrival of the Covid-19 vaccines! It is not only the Yorubas that are the merry making tribe of Africa; the Federal Government too, is not doing so badly in that regard. Even though we have a population of about 200 million people, Government could only bring in vaccines for 1.5 % of the population (which it didn’t even pay for); and even though this is rather remiss of Government, it was well celebrated, as if something very special had been done. Yet, Section 17 (3)(c) & (d) of the Constitution mandates inter alia, that the health of Nigerians be safeguarded by Government, and adequate medical and health facilities be provided for all persons – something which successive governments (present company very much included) have failed to do.

Next time the foreigners are repatriating any looted funds, Government should elect to use some to upgrade our public medical and educational facilities to a decent standard. and pay our health workers and teachers better. Lagos Ibadan Expressway for one, is beginning to sound as if it has the length of Lagos to China, as it’s always seems to be a recurring decimal when incoming funds are mentioned. Whether they are put to use there, is another matter. My first point is that, there will always be criminality in a country which lacks adequate basic infrastructure. One thing is certain – rich or poor, people fall sick every day. If there are no decent hospitals for the majority to go to, and the ones that are half decent cost and arm and a leg to get treatment, those who cannot afford to pay will commit whatever crimes are necessary to be able to secure medical help for themselves or their children. Ditto for education.

Yes, call me ‘Cacofonix’, a broken record or a scratched compact disc, but the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of Government (Section 14(2)(b) of the Constitution) – all tiers of Government, including State and Local Governments, not just Federal – but it seems that every second, Government must be reminded of this crucial role, so that eventually, hopefully, they will all step up to the plate and start to play their role.

President Buhari’s Vow

President Muhammadu Buhari had vowed after the kidnapping of the Jangebe girls a couple of weeks or so ago, that nothing of the sort would ever happen again, only for us to wake up to the news last Thursday, that on Wednesday night, gunmen kidnapped two students and one teacher from National Institute of Construction Technology, Uromi, Edo State. Again, the next day, (last Friday), we woke up to the news that 219 people, predominantly students, had been abducted by gunmen, and 180 of them escaped/were rescued; but about 39 still remain in captivity. They were kidnapped in the early hours of Friday from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando, Kaduna. Videos have been circulating on social media, showing the abductees being flogged, terrified, crying and begging that the ransom be paid to their abductors so they can be released. It is heart wrenching.

So much for the President’s vow! Are these criminals/bandits/daredevils by their actions, showing us that “talk is cheap” and they are unstoppable? The truth of the matter is that kidnapping is now a national malaise, as no part of the country has been spared from it; and while some of the actors like Boko Haram are downright evil and bloodthirsty, poverty, hopelessness and easy money are mostly the driving forces behind what has become a lucrative criminal enterprise; and sadly, it will continue unless the Government at all levels, deal with the issue of high unemployment and workers’ salaries appropriately. Apparently, over a period of about five years, at least $100 million or more has been paid in ransom to kidnappers in Nigeria! According to the 2015 RiskMap Report, in 1999, Nigeria ranked eighth as a global kidnapping hotspot, with Colombia and Mexico ranking first and second respectively. By 2014, we had risen to fifth place. Who knows, today, we may have overtaken Mexico and Colombia, possibly topping the list.

Holistic Approach

Aside from law enforcement facing insurgents, kidnappers, class of recalcitrant herdsmen and criminals head on, the issue of poverty, non-payment of living wages to workers, corruption, religious bigotry, illiteracy and high unemployment which are also an accelerant to criminality, must be addressed simultaneously by Government. There is a direct correlation between poverty, low income, and to a lesser extent, income inequality, and criminality; and the sooner Government realises this, the better. If you look at the famous theory of motivation, ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ which is often displayed in form of a pyramid, starting from the top – self-actualisation, esteem, love/belonging, safety, to psychological needs at the bottom of the pyramid – comprising of basic needs like food, shelter and clothing – if people do not even have the basics, they will do whatever it takes to get it, even if it means kidnapping the whole of Nigeria for ransom, because those are the things a human being needs firstly, to survive. This is the reason why Britain provides Council accommodation, NHS healthcare and unemployment benefits (‘dole’) to its citizens, to satisfy the lowest cadre of Maslow’s pyramid. This is not to say Britain is crime-free, but, undoubtedly their crime rate is nothing compared to ours, where practically has become a kidnapper or ritualistic to make ends meet.

The Minimum Wage Brouhaha

Poverty, inadequate wages and unemployment, are three of the primary factors that promote crime in Nigeria. So, when half of the States in Nigeria refuse to pay a minimum wage of a paltry N30,000 to workers, and are looking for a way to extricate themselves from this commitment based on frivolous excuses, it is not only abominable, but it is taking 10 steps backwards and creating an enabling environment for more criminality. As we have seen, many resort to crime to make ends meet, when pushed to the wall. Have the Federal and State Governments not yet realised that paying majority of workers inadequately, overmanning special positions with favoured staff aka Special Assistants/Special Advisers/Personal Assistants and so on, paying them scandalous salaries, while also they, their family members and cronies live lavish lifestyles, is a catalyst for resentment, desperation and criminality? Nevertheless, what the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) must bear in mind is that, by virtue of Section 4(4)(a) of the Constitution, the National Assembly (NASS) and State Houses of Assembly (SHA) are both empowered to legislate on the items on the Concurrent Legislative List. What the NLC should insist on, is that NASS/Federal Government must maintain the baseline minimum wage, so that if States are to legislate on the issue, they will not be allowed to fall below the baseline, only higher. A community reading of the provisions in Sections 16, 17, 34 and 42 of the Constitution, as far as I’m concerned, means that all Nigerian workers must be paid a living wage – and I submit that N30,000 cannot be a decent living wage in most, if not all parts of Nigeria. Last week, I listened to an interview of Mr Bismarck Rewane, one of the members of the Dr Doyin Salami led economic team constituted by President Buhari in 2019, in which he said that all the States in Nigeria can indeed, afford to pay the minimum wage – it simply depends on their priorities and commitment to their people. My advice? No State in Nigeria should attempt to renege on paying the minimum wage to workers, if we are to start to make any progress in the fight against insecurity.

Creation of Jobs

Look at the show of shame Nigerians witnessed between the Minister of State of Labour & Productivity and the House of Representatives, over the creation of 774,000 jobs! The Minister accused the lawmakers of trying to hijack the initiative, possibly to give the jobs out to their own appointees. Education and Skills Acquisition, are also sure ways of lifting people out of poverty. But, how useful for instance, is it to poor families who struggled to put their children through school, when upon graduation, even if their children have the best results and are the most suitably qualified for the available jobs, they are unable to secure them because they have no ‘connections’? With their incomes from decent employment, they would in turn be able to assist their families financially, and put their younger ones through school, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Section 17(2)(a) of the Constitution provides that every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities, not only those who have connections, while Section 17(3)(a) provides that the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that all citizens without discrimination on any group whatsoever (in this case, the poor and less privileged), have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood, as well as adequate opportunity to secure suitable employment.

Religion

As for the problems that religion has caused, even though in certain parts of the country there have been times in which there were problems between Muslims and Christians, from the moment President Obasanjo allowed then Governor of Zamfara State, Ahmed Yerima to get away with adopting Sharia Law in his State and it spread like wild fire all over the North, it gave Islam a pride of place over all other religions contrary to Section 10 of the Constitution, fuelling religious bigotry to the point that Boko Haram believes it can foist on us, its outlandish ideas that western education is an abomination to Islam, when we all know that illiteracy is an acute disease which has absolutely no place in the 21st century, and Islam encourages education and the quest for knowledge. This is why I maintain that, the PDP is an integral part of the problems Nigeria is facing today. Granted, even though someone like Governor El Rufai stated categorically that many of these bandits do not believe in religion, and the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno has also stated that they are not looking for anything genuine, instead of reversing some of these bad decisions, the ruling APC has worsened the situation. Government must, as a matter of urgency, uphold Section 10 of the Constitution which provides thus: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. It can be done. After all, with the ousting of Omar Al Bashir in Sudan, the transitional government ended 30 years of Islamic rule. I am a product of a staunch Muslim Father and a Catholic Mother, and I maintain that religion is personal, and should be kept where it belongs – in the homes, churches and mosques. Hisbah for example, would do better and contribute more impactfully to society by engaging in community policing and curbing criminality, rather than arresting people for drinking alcohol and wearing mini skirts.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that, we live in a dysfunctional society. However, if we are truly seeking a better Nigeria, we must tell ourselves some home truths, no matter whose axe is gored. Some of my observations are only a tip of the iceberg, in a sincere quest to curb criminality in Nigeria. There is too much inequality in our nation, and until they are addressed one by one, I fear that the efforts by law enforcement to fight insecurity, may be in vain.