New, troubling dimensions of insecurity

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p style="text-align: justify;">“Police and military personnel stood guard around the college on the outskirt of Kaduna city on Friday afternoon as anxious families and parents waited for the news. A fighter jet flew overhead.”

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p style="text-align: justify;">–The Guardian (London), Friday, March 12, 2021

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p style="text-align: justify;">The narrative of The Guardian (London) on the recent abduction by bandits of 39 students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Kaduna paints an increasingly familiar picture; wailings of parents following another kidnap of students, a show of force after the event and the harrowing suspense as families await the outcome of negotiations for the release of their children and wards.

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p style="text-align: justify;">In particular, note the subtle hint by the paper that only after the horse has bolted from the stable did security mobilisation of a high profile nature occur. The hostage-taking for instance, had taken place on Thursday but the security presence captured by the report occurred the day after, suggesting the tendency for reactive, perhaps a little over-reactive demonstration of power after the occurrence of a tragedy. Obviously, it would have been more appropriate and topical if through intelligence-gathering techniques much talked about but hardly implemented security forces had nipped the operation in the bud by aborting another incident of students’ kidnap by the now ubiquitous gunmen.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The portrait by the paper is also one of virtually impotent security infrastructure unable to arrest the growing tide of banditry but majoring in a rather cosmetic display that says little about the fundamentals. That picture may be somewhat generalised to capture a governance style that announces its mediocrity or ineptitude by an armada of promises, proposals and resolutions that do not get to the heart of the matter nor relieve the woes of citizens. So, vast swathes of the country’s population are caught in an existential bind in which respite appears to be a distant dream. Obviously, the nation is fast gaining a reputation of a highly insecure territory in which bandits and gunmen on the loose call the shots with no one apparently able to arrest the commotion and running disorder. Each kidnap with its attendant sorrow and upsets sentences and codifies the territory, North-West Nigeria especially as an ungovernable space where law and order are increasingly elusive.



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p style="text-align: justify;">Mark you, the manner of resolution, which is the payment of huge ransom, emboldens the kidnappers, providing them with fresh economic leeway with which to prepare for the next operation. One of the questions to ask is the quality of surveillance and forecasting techniques, so weak and unreliable that they are easily brushed aside by bandits.

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p style="text-align: justify;">The gangsterism targeting schools is extremely worrisome to the extent that it seeks to arrest the artery of human capital development in a part of a country where what is required is accelerated educational development. Add this to the stoppage of other economic activities such as agriculture for which practice farmers have to pay fines to the bandits not just to safely go to their farms but to also harvest their produce. For economic and social dislocation that have been with us for several years to cascade in the current  intensity and reach suggest that the bandits seem to be always one or several steps ahead of counter-banditry and counter-insurgency activities. Hence, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), promised that the kidnap saga to attract ransom will not happen again but the outlaws disproved him by staging two recent attacks in a row, the last one involving the abduction of primary school teachers.

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p style="text-align: justify;">One of the theories currently bandied around and given credence by Sheik Abubakar Gumi is that the ongoing distemper has escalated precisely because of the presence of internal saboteurs laughing to their banks as Nigerians reel under the horror of repetitive attacks. Interestingly, no one seemed to have pursued this line of thinking with any diligence for, shortly after the Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, threatened to disclose the identities of the kidnappers’ sponsors and barons, he relapsed to strange silence by failing to return to the issue. It would have been profitable if the veracity of such a line of thought is established with the authors of the suggestion invited by the security as part of the collective search for relief from the current distress. To put out such appetising material in the public space and to fail to pursue it does not speak too well for intelligence build-up and information sharing.

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p style="text-align: justify;">As some commentators have observed, banditry as at present experienced does not seem to have a coherent ideological or ideational character and is not linked to any particular social movement seeming to have no objective beyond the making of fast bucks through the payment of ransom.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Beyond such assertions however, one may glean a rudimentary class war in which under-privileged but armed groups secure a living by holding an affluent and ostentatious political elite by the jugular in order to force it to share some of the loot it had illegally acquired. In this sense, we are back to Emeritus Professor Richard Joseph’s epigram that banditry in the political arena produces the other kind of banditry now ravaging North-West Nigeria and beginning to spread to the North Central and South-Western part of the country. Only on Sunday night for example, two female students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ayetoro Campus were kidnapped by unknown gunmen but mercifully subsequently released on Tuesday indicating the possible spread and growth of the lucrative mini-industry.   Undoubtedly, schools and educational institutions provide soft and dramatic targets for kidnappers. Consequently, security planners and technocrats must worry about what may happen should the current travails of Nigerians in the North-West gain geographical and national traction.



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p style="text-align: justify;">In this respect, we must not behave like the fabled generals who prepared only for the last war while ignoring the possibility of contemporary dimensions and future developments. It is a good thing that the failure of federal institutions has invigorated a flurry of activities among local leaders and regional stakeholders who are fast taking their fate in their hands. Sadly however, this development has not gone very much beyond rhetoric illustrated by the virtual reduction of Amotekun to a dog that can bark, even howl but not allowed to bite. Any serious and thoughtful projection of current trends will understand that it is no longer enough to pay lip-service to community policing so called without coming to grips with the inevitability of state police. Even those who earlier for historical and political reasons opposed the concept of state police are beginning to see that far from being a covert secessionist battle cry, is perhaps the only way in which a far- flung and sprawling federation governed by a powerful but incompetent centre can work.

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p style="text-align: justify;">If there is any time in the history of this country in which clear thinking, strategic responses and effective leadership matter, it is now, given the enormity of the challenges we face. Unfortunately however, the politicians across the parties are playing business as usual forming precarious alliances, obsessed with the melodrama of power games without articulating how a nation in such peril can be rescued.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Given the exigencies of the hour, a conference of stakeholders and influential citizens on national security is not out of place.

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p style="text-align: justify;"> Copyright PUNCH.

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p style="text-align: justify;">Contact: theeditor@punchng.com
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