The economic situation of Nigeria is bad, but the insecurity in the country is more threatening and disheartening. Every day, there is a news story of some people killed or abducted by Boko Haram, herdsmen or so-called bandits. I wish I could go into the mind of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to find out how he feels any time he hears a story about mass abduction or killing of Nigerians.
It is shocking what Nigeria has become in the last 11 years and even more shocking what it has become in the five four years under Buhari’s watch. Boko Haram became violent 11 years ago, using suicide bombing which was unusual in Nigeria. Then, about five years after, not long after Buhari assumed office as president, herdsmen attacks rose to frightening heights with whole villages wiped out and burnt, especially in the North-Central zone. Then, another group of criminals (nicknamed “bandits”) emerged, in the North-West terrorising communities and collecting protection money from them. Road trips became highly dangerous across the northern part of Nigeria. Even security officials and government functionaries are afraid to use the road between Abuja and Kaduna, a distance of about 190 kilometres. They prefer to use the rail or air, just to avoid the bandits who abduct travellers for ransom.
The security challenge, especially in the North, has become so bad that Buhari as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces could not even visit the school where over 300 children were abducted last week in Katsina, his home state. He cannot freely move around his home state or any part of the North, which he used to feel at ease in. Before, it was in the South that he used to feel ill at ease, perhaps for whatever reason. Except for General Sani Abacha who virtually locked himself up in Aso Rock when the world tightened its sanctions against his regime, no other Nigerian head of state is scared of moving around the country like Buhari.
Buhari is the only Nigerian head of state that stays in Aso Rock and gets visited by state governors whose states have experienced a crisis or disaster. Rather than Buhari visiting such states to commiserate with the bereaved and wounded and encourage them, he gets visited by the state governors and delegates from the affected states.
Nigeria has been ranked among the three most terrorised countries of the world for some years now with Afghanistan and Iraq. This was a country that was not mentioned on anything relating to terrorism some 15 years ago. There were perennial religious and ethnic clashes that came and went. But there was no non-stop fear of bombing or massacre or mass abduction on the highway, in the home, in the farm or even in the mosque or church like Nigeria has now.
From the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which were under the persistent attacks of Boko Haram, the insecurity has spread to virtually all the 19 states of the North in different dimensions. The southern states are relatively safe from the trio of Boko H`aram, herdsmen and bandits. However, there are occasional attack forays by herdsmen into the South. Southern states like Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo, Enugu, Ebonyi, and Cross River which share boundaries with northern states are most prone to intermittent herdsmen attacks.
Unfortunately, if you watch the body language of Buhari, you would notice that he seems to have given up on the insecurity in Nigeria. It is not that he does not care about the insecurity. He simply does not know what else to do to arrest it. He seems overwhelmed. The service chiefs too are overwhelmed. They have adjusted to the reality that insecurity has come to stay in Nigeria. As far as they are concerned, all that needs to be done is to manage it, not stop it. All they need to do is to ensure that terrorists don’t completely take over the running of the country. The Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, said that much early this month. According to him, terrorism may last another 20 years in Nigeria.
Buratai posted his view via his verified Facebook page three days after Boko Haram terrorists beheaded dozens of rice farmers in Zabarmari, Borno State. He wrote: “There is general misunderstanding of what insurgency and terrorism entail. There is a likelihood of terrorism persisting in Nigeria for another 20 years.
“It only depends on the level of escalation and the appropriate responses by all stakeholders both civil and military authorities. Also by both local and international actors.
“Citizens’ responsibility is equally important and imperative. All must cooperate to contain the lingering insecurity. Let there be collective action and responsibility.”
Reading in-between the lines, one could see the resignation and abdication of responsibility in the words of Buratai. He made this clear that the responsibility to stop Boko Haram did not lie with him but with the citizens, as well as local and international “actors”. Therefore, if the activities of terrorists are not curtailed, the Chief of Army Staff can safely argue that Nigerian citizens and international actors did not give the army the needed support.
On a lighter note, there is something insecurity has done to some towns and villages in Nigeria. Because of insecurity, the names of many hitherto unknown towns and villages, especially in Northern Nigeria, have become known. These include Chibok, Dapchi, Baga, Dalori, Konduga, Agatu, Nimbo, Kajuru, Gubio, Koshebe, Zabarmari, and Kankara. Before the start of this present era of insecurity in Nigeria, the names of many of these towns and villages had never been heard of by many Nigerians. But large scale attacks in these communities brought their names to the consciousness of many people. This is not a positive development, but it underscores how pervasive insecurity has become.
Terrorism is hard to fight but there are measures government can take in the short run to fight against insecurity. One major way is to encourage communities to create armed vigilante groups to guard their communities. Even if these vigilante groups cannot fight against Boko Haram, they can at least curtail the attacks by herdsmen and bandits. The police and army in Nigeria are undermanned and underfunded. They have been overstretched across the country trying to fight against different forms of insurgency.
Sadly, government’s actions show that it does not want communities to create any form of security group to protect themselves. It seems government sees any attempt to create a community security outfit as an attempt to fight against the nomadic Fulani people. But that is far from the truth. There are many communities with local vigilante groups where the Fulani rear the cattle peacefully. The Fulani herdsmen in such communities do not take their cows into people’s farms to destroy their crops. They graze their cattle in uncultivated areas. In the event of an attack by any criminal group, the vigilante is the first line of defence before the police and military arrive. The presence of the vigilante even discourages criminals from attacking such communities.
In the long run, poverty, illiteracy, religious intolerance, ethnic intolerance, injustice, inequality and impunity are issues that need to be tackled in Nigeria. For decades, Nigeria has continued to run on the wrong footing. Equals have been treated unequally, while unequals have been treated equally. Government has brazenly encouraged the country to be run unjustly. Over the years, these issues have coalesced to become a monster that is out to destroy Nigeria. A father who encourages his children to insult and attack his neighbours is training children that will turn on him later in life.
Azuka is of The Punch