Apart from the twin evils of excruciating poverty and mass illiteracy, rising insecurity remains a serious social problem across towns, communities and villages within most states in northern Nigeria. The monster hasn’t just claimed thousands of lives and property worth billions of naira, but has made life a living hell for Nigerians and foreigners living in states across the region. Some may wish to argue that insecurity isn’t limited to a particular region in the country, but the fact still remains that the situation is particularly alarming and worrisome in the north.
While the north eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe have suffered serious economic, social and political losses and devastations due to insurgency in the last ten years, with thousands of displaced Nigerians presently taking refugee across Internally Displaced Persons’ camps; kidnappers, bandits, cattle rustlers and other criminal elements have made life unbearable for Nigerians in the north central and north western states.
Undoubtedly, Thomas Hobbes’ famed and pungent description of life as ‘short, nasty and brutish’ best describes the current horrible and worrisome security situation in the north. In being very frank, there is hardly any part of the entire north that is not battling one form of security challenge or the other. Only recently, the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, says over 22,000 people, mainly infants and children, have been declared missing in the north east since insurgency began over a decade ago in the north east. As you read through these lines, the whereabouts of some of the missing Chibok and Dapchi school girls seized by the Boko Haram Islamist sect is still unknown.
At the moment, Zamfara and Katsina states are heavily burdened by the nefarious activities of bandits who kill, maim and kidnap innocent citizens in large numbers. The situation isn’t any different across states such as Kaduna, Kogi, Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and Niger where there is no love lost between farmers and herdsmen as they clash almost daily over land ownership. There is also the endless fight between the Tiv and Jukun people living on the borders of Benue and Taraba states. Renewed clashes between them have claimed several lives, including that of Rev. Fr. David Tanko, who was killed and had his remains set ablaze by some gunmen. There is palpable tension across states in the north, and the earlier state governors rise to tame this monster the better for everyone.
The popular and very strategic Kaduna-Abuja federal highway which is used to one of the safest routes in the country has been taken over by kidnappers who daily mount roadblocks at isolated spots where they open fire on travellers either to rob them of their belongings or kidnap them in exchange for ransom. The once-very-bubbling highway which links the entire north to the south has become a shadow of its old self as travellers now prefer to travel by train to avoid being kidnapped or attacked by criminals. At some point, despite repeated assurances of safety by security agencies, kidnapping became a daily occurrence on that route. For many, the fear of travelling on the Abuja-Kaduna highway is the beginning of wisdom.
The situation improved significantly with the launch of a police joint operation tagged Puff Adder by the current Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu. Not for the relentless efforts of the officers and men who made up the Operation Puff Adder team, the road would have since been closed. Special units in the police force like the DCP Abba Kyari led Intelligence Response Team (IRT), Special Tactical Squad (STS), Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), detachment of Mobile Police (MOPOL) and conventional police officers swung into action to trail criminals to their hideouts along the Abuja-Kaduna highway.
Interestingly, the operation recorded tremendous success as high profile kidnap kingpins, armed robbers, bandits and cow rustlers were rounded up during different operations. Different weapons including a grenade launcher and large cache of arms and ammunition were recovered from different gangs. Though there are still cases of kidnappings on that road, but not as serious as it were some five to six months ago.
Clearly, these pervasive acts of criminalities are signs of a dislocated region that is in dire need of urgent attention in terms of value and ethical reorientation. It is a ticking time bomb that we must not allow to explode. Poverty, poor leadership, corruption, illiteracy and social injustice are largely responsible for the rising wave of crimes and criminalities in the region. Governors within the region should wake up and smell the coffee before the situation deteriorates. No matter how good and brilliantly packaged their governance templates or blueprints are, if insecurity isn’t tackled there is no way they ould forge on. The better secured a society is, the brighter it chances of attracting investors and investments.
I urge governors within the region to borrow a leaf from their counterparts in the South East and South West who meet regularly to particularly address issues that border on security and general wellbeing of their people. The idea of always waiting for issues to arise before convening meetings isn’t a proper thing to do. They must be proactive and vigilant in order to identify potential security threats and nip them in the bud.
Former Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger state showed rare leadership in this regards while in office. He was always in touch with heads of various security agencies in the state. He personally led security chiefs in the state to sack members of a particular Islamic sect who were operating an illegal prayer centre somewhere in Lapai, Niger state. It was later discovered that the same group was a faction of the Boko Haram sect that operated from Okene, Kogi state.
The north as it is today has the highest number of out of school children. It is common sight to see school age children hawking wares along streets during school hours in the north. The almajiri system is equally not helping matters, as proprietors of Quranic centres are preoccupied with other engagements thereby leaving the kids put in their care to fend for themselves. The almajiri education system needs to be completely overhauled. The President Goodluck Jonathan administration thought it wise to have established a couple of modern almajiri schools across a few states in the north. I doubt if the current administration inherited and continued with the initiative.
Governors in the north should accord priority attention to the education of their people, especially children. Governors Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna and Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno have demonstrated some seriousness as seen in a couple of recent interventions in the education sector. For instance, to ensure quality teaching across public schools in Kaduna state, Governor El-rufai organized a competency test for all teachers on government payroll. Those who passed the test were retained and some elevated, while those who failed in the exercise were shown the way out.
Traditional rulers also have important roles to play in quelling rising security challenges in the region. They should hold regular meetings and interactions with their subjects, and urge them to report cases that could threaten peace in their communities. Youth group and faith-based bodies should see themselves as key players in this drive as well as being alive to their obligations as members of the society.
Finally, there is an urgent need for leaders within the region to convene an all-inclusive security summit. The proposed summit, should among other issues that would be tabled for deliberation stress the need for proper manning of all international borders in the region. An intelligence report has it that foreign nationals take advantage of our porous borders, particularly in the north to come in and perpetrate all sorts of crimes. Equally important is the need for participants at the proposed summit to think of better and quicker ways of addressing rising unemployment in the region. Unemployment has direct correlation with crime. As often said, an idle hand mind is the devil’s workshop.
The summit should involve both serving and retired security personnel, scholars, youths, community leaders, pressure groups, faith based-organizations, students, farmers, traders and opinion leaders ensure a robust and greatly beneficial outcome. Ultimately, the outcome of the summit should not just be implemented, but be seen to be implemented.
Yunusa writes from CRD, FHA, Lugbe, Abuja. [email protected]