By Magnus onyibe.
President Mohammadu Buhari’s Democracy Day speech which was presented in one hundred and one ( 101 ) paragraphs in which he highlighted six (6) particular sectors that he believes his administration has excelled-Economy, Security, Agriculture, Electricity Power, Transportation , and Peace in the NigerDelta makes an interesting reading. And obviously the lofty claims made about the nation’s accomplishments under his watch are very debatable.
But that would be the subject of another intervention, as l want to concentrate my focus in this essay on the security situation or lack of it in Nigeria in the course of president Buhari’s leadership in the past six years.
Remarkably, mr President dedicated paragraphs 55 to 64 of his 101 paragraphs speech to reporting on the state of the nation in terms of security and safety of lives and properties. He painted a somewhat rosy picture of the situation.But it would not take an expert to avert the minds of Nigerians to the fact that the report dwelt so much on statistics and it is laden with grand statements with very little bearing to the reality on ground. In my view, it sounded the same way that presidents ,ministers and Govt spokesmen/women, back in the days, regaled Nigerians with tales of how the economy was recording amazing 6-7% Gross Domestic Products, GDP rate while the average Nigerian continued to wallow in poverty as they survived on a paltry average income of about one dollar a day. Back in those days, critics of the subterfuge contended that it was simply a gimmick deployed to impress gullible Nigerians and donor countries or organizations, just as the claim of security of lives and properties being better now, than it was six (6) years ago, in my considered opinion, is to say the least, an ingenious manipulation of facts. It is as if each time Govt boasts about degrading or defeating boko haram or ISWA they unleash mayhem on vulnerable people in outlying villages and the military perhaps to put a lie to govt’s claim . The assertion above is underscored by the recent killings in Mongonu in Borno state, barely one day after President Buhari’s democracy day speech. Reportedly , about 60 lives including those of our brave men in uniform were prematurely terminated by the terrorists.
Before anyone accuses me of sensationalization, let’s put things in context by comparing the number of people killed since January by Fulani herdsmen (now termed bandits in deference to decent law abiding Fulani men and women ) and Boko haram, cultists, kidnappers as well as ISWAP attacks on communities across the country to the number of Nigerians that have died from the COVID-19 pandemic since January when coronavirus disease was discovered in Wuhan, China . As we all know, it took a period of about three months for coronavirus to reach our shores, and as at March 27, only one person had died from Covid-19 pandemic.
Even till today that the death toll from the coronavirus is about 407, the fatalities from the so called bandits is much more than those that have died from coronavirus disease .
This makes the insecurity of lives and properties in Nigeria as bad, if not more of a pandemic than Covid-19 pandemic.
But the security of the lives and properties of Nigerians is not receiving up to 10% of the attention being paid Covid-19 pandemic by both the public and private sectors of Nigeria.
One factor may be responsible for that.
And it could be drilled to down to the fact that tackling Covid-19 pandemic is international and driven from abroad.
Since we are a people that are easily taken in by foreign trends ,it is expedient and convenient to join the bandwagon. But the practical reality on ground does not justify the neglect of the introduction of robust security measures that would guaranty security of lives and properties .
The facts below support the assertion above that insecurity may be assuming the dimension of a pandemic.
Relying on PremiumTimes (online media platform ) report “at least 245 persons were killed in violent attacks across Nigeria in January 2020, according to various newspaper reports and available records”.
Also based on mass media reports , in two weeks (May 27th to 14th of June ) bandits have cut short the lives of 60 in sokoto , 40 in katsina state , 81 in Gubio and another 60 in Mongonu, Borno state. We have not added the killings that have taken place in kaduna and Benue states recently.
In comparison, what’s the total number of those that have died from coronavirus within the same period of two weeks ? Nothing compared to the fatalities from insecurity.
Put succinctly, if you add the 245 people that died from attacks in January to the 160 that were killed in the past few days (245+160=405) to those that have passed away till date owing to complications from Covid-19 pandemic (407) , your faith in the ability and capacity of our security architecture would be profoundly shaken.
For the sake of emphasis, in Borno state alone, in a space of three to four days, 60 were killed in Mongonu area and 81 had been massacred in Gubio district, a couple of days earlier. The situation is so dire that in a period of less than a week, human lives in excess of 140 have been lost to boko haram and ISWA in just one state.
What can be worse and how can Govt in good conscience claim that the security situation in our country is under control in the face of such human carnage ?
To combat the coronavirus pandemic, the federal Govt in line with the World Health Organization, WHO rule has set up a powerful presidential task force, PTF with a ‘war chest’ of N500 billion naira. It is under the leadership of the secretary to the federal government, mr Boss Mustapha. The COVID-19 PTF charged with stemming the tide of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria is to say the least funded to the hilt.
And to be fair, unlike a similar task force that Govt had previously established to manage the affairs of internally displaced persons, lDPs whose leader became mired in corruption, the Covid-19 PTF has so far acquitted itself creditably.
How about the private sector Coalition against COVID-19 pandemic , dubbed Ca-Covid-19 team. This is a club of multi billionaires in Nigeria who like their counterparts abroad have decided to convert the funds they could’ve paid into the coffers of Govt as taxes or into their respective charity organizations, into noble efforts that would help ameliorate the negative effects of Covid-19 pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians on the lower rung of the society ladder.
Although N120 billion naira was targeted, nearly N30b has been raised as at the last time that l checked .
Notably , the combined efforts of the presidential task force and the philanthropists have made significant impact in reducing the negative effects of coronavirus on Nigerians.
By providing Covid-19 isolation centers nationwide , funding the establishment of modular testing laboratories , procuring and suppling test kits and personal protective equipment to medical workers, as well as contacts tracing, the country has so far been able to keep the death toll below 500.
Compared to Egypt where a little over 1400 have perished , South Africa recording a little over 1,350 deaths ; in the UK, people in excess of 40,000 have also died , and the USA with death rate inching towards 115, commendably, Nigeria with the help of both the PTF under the auspices of the presidency and led by Boss Mustapha as well as Ca-Covid initiated by the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele and driven by Aliko Dangote and Herbert Wigwe have done well.
With the success recorded against Covid-19 pandemic, and when a vaccine against the disease might have been discovered , (perhaps in six months time as being speculated) shouldn’t an equally powerful committees be established ￼by both Govt and the private sector to combat the prevailing insecurity of lives and properties in Nigeria?
Better still, why can’t the existing committees currently engaged in tackling the coronavirus disease remain standing with their mandates changed to security of lives and properties?
The idea is not completely novel as a similar strategy has been applied in other climes in other spheres. Only recently a group of economic and crime watch organizations joined forces to establish Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime, GCFFC to tackle financial crimes around the world. This followed the high rate of illicit transfer of funds around the world. With the huge losses to financial crimes including loses to armed robbery and bandits that have revved up attacks in the hinterlands, the need to address the high crime rate that is fast becoming a pandemic can not be overemphasized.
With their secretariat in Brussels , Belgium , the World Economic Forum, WEF, Global Fund for Integrity, GFI and a host of others are members of the global financial crime fighting organization .It may be recalled that Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative NEITl under the watch of Waziri Adio had reported that between$15-18 billion dollars is lost annually to illicit financial transactions in the oil/ gas sector in Nigeria.
While the presidency disagrees with reports that criticise President Muhammadu Buhari’s handling of the worsening security situation in the country , members of the National Assembly, NASS have been expressing concern about insecurity in the country and recently summoned the security chiefs to their chambers for debriefing.
It is not only Congressmen and women that have been rankled by the alarming rate of insecurity, but members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) across the country have also had cause recently to protest the alarming rate of insecurity in our clime. Even Miyeti Allah the umbrella body of cattle herdsmen have reportedly stated that they are planning to establish vigilante groups nationwide to protect their members-cattle rearers and their livestock.
That unprecedented proposition is remarkably and undoubtedly a confirmation of the fact that Nigerians are increasingly losing faith in the security agencies and rather relying on self help.
The regional security agencies being established across the country as alternative or further security measures such as Civilian Joint Tax Force, C-JTF in the northern parts of the country, Amotekun in the south west, and similar initiatives that are in the pipeline in the south-south and south-east, attest to the precarious security situation in our country and further affirms the fact that insecurity has degenerated to crisis point in Nigeria and which controverts mr president’s position in his democracy day speech.
As if to confirm that the security agencies and by extension the presidency is being cavalier about the worsening security situation in the country, the very powerful Northern Elders Forum , NEF under the leadership of prof Ango Abdulahi has last weekend added its voice to the denunciation of the state of insecurity in the northern parts of the country. The frustration in the north about insecurity in Nigeria was conveyed in a media statement by NEF last Sunday.
Despite the outcry against the worrisome security situation in Nigeria by a vast majority of Nigerians including youths in katsina state, (mr president’s home stead) who recently blocked a major highway in protest against lack of presence of security men to ward off bandits that have persistently attacked and killed their kits and kins, indicating that bandits have become unhinged, and reflective of the fact that our country is fast becoming a killing field, mr president’s democracy day speech which suggests that Nigerians have reasons to be grateful as the security situation is better than it was before he assumed office in 2015 obviously fly’s in the eyes of reality.
The most disappointing part of the whole shenanigan, in my considered opinion is the constant claim that villages previously taken over by Boko haram under the previous regime have now been recovered under the watch of president Buhari. This has become such a refrain that it now sounds like a broken record . Using the liberation of a few remote hamlets or villages hitherto occupied by boko haram as measure of how effective and successful our country’s security agencies have been in the past 6 years is pure subterfuge. Can Govt stop making these grandiose claims about victory over the terrorists and spare the lives of innocent Nigerians living in the front line and soldiers in the battle front who the terrorists take out their vengeance against by launching ferocious attacks against them to dispel the untruths about Nigerian Security Forces having degraded or defeated them ?
The truth is that the bandits have moved from the remote villages to the cities as they have changed their tactics from the traditional warfare system to urban and guerrilla warfare when Nigerian army and air force started engaging them frontally.
As the outlaws are obviously outnumbered and would be outgunned, l believe they’ve melted into society from where they engage in hit and run . But, instead of recognizing the change of strategy by the terrorists and bandits , and thus come up with counter strategies, our security apparatchiks (that are apparently more adept at torturing civilians) have been left flat footed. And bereft of any viable solution , they have been selling to mr president the wrong impression that they are winning the war and using the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic as excuse.
The truth that seems to have eluded our intelligence community is that the terrorists have blended with us and they have spread out nation wide like wild mushrooms in an evil forest. Unfortunately , on the nearest future , this is bound to have dire consequences on the society nationwide as the armed bandits now ply their nefarious trade with impunity all over Nigeria . With their dastardly acts manifesting from Sokoto , Maiduguri to katsina , Ekiti , Agbor, Warri, and Enugu, the death tolls are bound to be higher and also have more negative impact on society than the number of hamlets and villages that they control.
Given the scenario above, the correct indicator of the level of security or otherwise in our country should be how many Nigerians have been killed by boko haram terrorists and Fulani herdsmen (a.k.a bandits) between 2010 and 2015 compared to 2015 till date. When that question has been asked and answered truthfully, it would be obvious that mr president has been misinformed by those Incharge of security of lives and properties in Nigeria.
The heightened level of insecurity in the country is undeniable and the average Nigerian seems to understand where the laxity stems from-the shambolic security architecture whose members have become infamous for infighting than in fighting boko haram/ISWA terrorists, and the so called armed bandits masquerading under any other names.
ln a recent piece titled “Blood In The Banking Halls”published June 11 on the backpage of ThisdayNewspaper and online platforms, Segun Adeniyi , the editorial board chairman of Thisday newspaper catalogued the alarming incidents of robbery plaguing banks in the rural areas of our country by painting very grim but realistic picture.
Below is a copious except:
“With reports of ransom paid to kidnappers to secure the release of abducted policemen, it is evident that the capacity of the force to protect itself is increasingly being called into question. That eight police personnel and a civilian would be so casually executed by criminals is symptomatic of the state of insecurity in our country. But the concern here is not just the weakness of the police but the growing number of bloody bank robberies in our country. Statistics of fatalities from such robberies is quite chilling and no bank has escaped the scourge. The choice of location, audacity of attack and the ease with which these hoodlums get away are some of the issues security agencies must begin to address. They must also look at the complicity of some rogue policemen and that of compromised bank officers.
According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) records, there were 27 bank robberies across the country in 2019 with 12 of them at the United Bank for Africa (UBA) branches. Access Bank and Sterling Bank had four robberies each. Union Bank and Polaris Bank had two each. GTBank, Fidelity and Wema had one each. The highest haul in these robberies was N53.9 million carted away on 24th January 2019 at Polaris Bank in Ila Orangun, Osun State (a policeman and two civilians were killed) followed by N21.8 million taken away from Wema bank in Ise Ekiti (a policeman was also killed) on 3rd October 2019. In total, from what I gathered, as much as N180 million was lost to the 27 bank robberies last year. This of course is no more than a mere token when compared with the quantum of money being stolen by smart Alecs who sit behind computers to rob these same banks and their customers. But that is not the issue here. From the attack in February this year in Ile Oluji, Ondo State, which claimed several victims, including two policemen to the latest in Kogi State, it is clear that bank robbers in Nigeria are not content with simply carting away money. They are also eager to leave a blood trail. That is what should most concern authorities, especially at a time like”
Incidentally , the referenced article which was published on the 11th of this month,(just a couple of days ago) reflects the true state of security in our country and makes a good case that underscores my proposal for the private sector to (when the coronavirus is defeated) retain Ca-Covid in another name to assist Govt in enhancing and sustaining our country’s civil security system .
Only last week, burglars attacked the home of my elder brother, Elvis in Agbor , delta state. They threatened to pour petrol on his house and burn it down if he did not open the door which the bandits could not forcefully gain access into because of the burglary proof . Not taking the threat of burning his house with him and his family inside lightly , he had to pass ransom money to the burglars through the window. Throughout the period of the attack , no police man or woman came to his rescue. Only the local vigilante showed up after the siege. I would not deign to mention what the involvement of the vigilante or police entails.
The ordeal that my brother and his family suffered is routinely being endured daily by millions of families across the country.
How would victims of insecurity from katsina , maiduguri, sokoto to kaduna and Agbor , warri as well as Asaba and Enugu process paragraphs 55 to 64 of Mr president’s speech wherein no sense of urgency on how sustainable security would be enthroned or efforts at halting or reversing the slippery slope in which security was sliding was robustly articulated?
Without a doubt, a declaration of a state of emergency on security and safety of lives and properties for the protection of the lives of the masses that the ruling party APC relied on for votes in its journey to Aso Rock villa twice could have been in order and applauded/celebrated perhaps with jubilation spilling into the streets .
In my view , paragraphs 55-64 of President Buhari’s democracy day speech should have featured the announcement of the change of guards from the current leaders of the security architecture of our country to a new crop of leaders that would change the game from analog to digital system which is where the world has migrated in 21st century policing .
But then again, mr president being an old soldier and war veteran may have his strategy and tactics wrapped up under his sleeves ready to spring a surprise.
So, l optimistically await change.
But before then, l would like to re-emphasize my proposal that the private sector that has hitherto been funding the police in their respective areas of operation should, when COVID-19 pandemic is defeated, consider retaining Ca-Covid in another name in order to harness the benefits of a coalition of individual capacities into a single force for optimum gain.
From experience , the banking sector and telecommunications firms gained when they started co-locating their communications infrastructures as opposed to the initial period when individual banks and telecom service providers invested in such infrastructures alone.
In conclusion, Nigerians who are highly distressed and weary are waiting anxiously to hear that relevant Govt authorities and private sector players are ready to tackle and combat insecurity in the way and manner that Covid-19 pandemic is currently being tackled.
Magnus onyibe, a development strategist,alumnus of the fletcher school of law and diplomacy, tufts University, Massachusetts, USA , and a former cabinet member of delta state Govt , sent this piece from lagos.