It is with a deep sense of concern that I write this piece on the deteriorating insecurity in Nigeria. Some of my friends from the South frequently ask me this question: “Your son is the president, why can’t he stop the insecurity in the North?”
What I read on some social media platforms are gleeful gloating of “it serves them right” rather than empathy with the misfortunes of their fellow compatriots.
The leadership crisis in the ruling APC, EFCC brouhaha, NDDC fainting circus, Keyamo-NASS shouting match, Ngige-Falake “If you yab me, I yab you back 10 times” drama got more media coverage than the daily carnage visited on our people.
But, I know that this mischievous sentiment does not represent the feelings of the vast majority of Nigerians. History has taught us that insecurity anywhere today is a bad omen for security everywhere tomorrow.
The North has forfeited any right or moral high ground to make any excuses or complaints about the current state of insecurity in the region.
It was late Tip O’Neil, the Speaker US House of Representatives, that said, “All politics is local.”
That is why people are asking the valid question: why is Northern Nigeria bedevilled by this much insecurity when the president and almost all the leadership of the nation’s security agencies are from the region?
The primary responsibility of any government is to protect the lives and property of its citizens. In this regard, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has miserably failed to live up to its solemn responsibility.
Our people are sick and tired of repeated excuses and conspiracy theories as reasons for this failure. It is inexcusable that despite all the bloodshed in the region, the president has not thought it worth his while to address the nation or visit the people in the affected areas.
But, he made time to address the nation twice on COVID-19, flew out to Mali on July 23, 2020, to help solve their problems, and addressed Nigerians in the diaspora via video conference on July 25, 2020.
This was why in my previous write up, I said the president seems distant, uncaring and out of touch with the suffering of his largest support base.
The reasons for this anger are worsening insecurity, poverty, unemployment, despair, growing mistrust of and loss of faith in government.
Traditional rulers who are closer to the people are literally the ones holding down the top valve of the potential volcanic eruptions of their people’s anger.
In Katsina, when bandits killed many people in Batsari Local Government Area (LGA), the youths of the village were so enraged that they loaded the corpses of the victims in trucks and headed to the Emir of Katsina’s palace, a distance of 46km, to register their anger with government and security agents for not protecting them.
The emir listened, consoled, prayed with and joined them in the funeral prayers conducted in his palace. This fatherly act of a respected and trusted traditional ruler averted a very serious riot.
Insecurity in the region cannot be solved without involving traditional rulers and giving them adequate protection against reprisals from these terrorists.
In the president’s home state of Katsina, a quarter (26 per cent, nine out of the 34 LGAs) of the state is under siege by armed bandits.
They invade villages on motorbikes armed with rusty AK47s and machetes, burning houses, raping women, killing and abducting people for ransom, and carting away foodstuff and livestock.
People live in terror and are displaced from their homes to IDP camps. Widows and their children roam the streets aimlessly. Farmers fear being killed or kidnapped if they go to their farms.
Governors in the region are frustrated, helpless and nervous at the anger of their people. Some go into negotiations with these criminals from a position of weakness and end up paying them millions of naira as “protection money” out of the coffers of the people they are terrorising.
Negotiation with unrepentant terrorists is simply wrong and immoral.
Insecurity in the region is directly related to corruption and bad governance by the governors who spend people’s money on bogus, wasteful projects instead of investing in the welfare of their people.
They use the “security vote” irresponsibly for anything, but the security of their people. Some of them even govern their states remotely from Abuja; far from the daily sufferings of their people.
They complete their eight-year tenure with nothing to show but empty treasury, a pile of debts, abandoned projects, worsening poverty and insecurity.
Some of them even have the audacity and heartlessness to award fat pensions to themselves as a parting gift with the complicity of their compliant Houses of Assembly.
There can never be peace in any society with as many inequities and injustices existing in the region, with excruciating poverty, unpaid salaries and pensions, high unemployment, millions of children out of school, millions of almajiri on the streets begging for what to eat, high incidence of childhood malnutrition, millions of families going to bed hungry, poor health indices, mass illiteracy, crumbling schools and hospitals, drug abuse among youths, lack of potable water; even in the state capitals, political thuggery, despair, hopelessness and increasing mistrust of government.
More people have been killed by terrorists in Northern Nigeria than COVID-19 has in the whole nation put together, but the pandemic is getting more attention and resources from the Federal Government.
For example, in Gubio, Borno State, Boko Haram killed 81 people in less than two hours, while COVID-19 killed 29 in the whole state in the preceding three months.
I have tremendous admiration and respect for the sacrifices of the men and women in our security services who put their lives in harm’s way to protect us and the territorial integrity of this nation.
I was very saddened after watching the video of the bodies of officers and men of our armed forces killed in an ambush by bandits while on an operation in Jibia LGA of Katsina on July 18, 2020.
These unfortunate losses of our soldiers are common occurrences in the military’s fight against insurgents in the North East.
Another equally shocking video on social media is that of the execution of five aid workers by Boko Haram.
All these should be a reminder to all Nigerians of the dangers these gallant warriors are exposed to daily in all of the many theatres of conflict across the nation and the sacrifices they are making for our safety.
The deteriorating security across the nation should be a source of concern to all citizens. It is time for an honest dialogue involving stakeholders for a way out of this quagmire.
Part of the conversation we must have as a nation is for our leaders to accept that the continuing carnage shows that things are not working and must be changed fast.
We cannot continue doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
Nigerians were not hopeful of any meaningful change after the president met with the service chiefs on June 18, 2020, because previous such meetings made no difference in their sufferings.
The National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (Rtd), in a press conference after the meeting, told Nigerians that, “The president lost his cool, he referred to the current security situation in the nation as embarrassing and told the service chiefs that their best was not good enough for him and demanded an immediate reversal of the situation.”
The NSA, at the press conference, inadvertently made an eloquent case for why it is time for the leadership of all the security agencies to be changed for these reasons: 1. Worsening insecurity on their watch; 2. Lack of synergy between all the services; 3. The turf war between them which is negatively impacting the war effort; 4. Absence of fresh ideas on how to stem the bloodshed; and 5. The president and commander in chief’s displeasure with their performances.
The military is always called in only when things get out of hand to clean up the mess created by the political class and get blamed if things do not turn around quickly.
That is why I do not think that changing the service chiefs alone without a coherent strategy involving stakeholders: political, traditional, religious, civil and military, will make any difference.
Therefore, the status quo is simply not acceptable, and unless we end insecurity, it will consume us all.
Nigerians need to hear from and see their elected president, not his surrogates, who oftentimes appear on TV to minimise the sufferings of the people.
Mobilisation of the civilian population: Nigeria has been at war for the past 11 years, but the nation has not been fully mobilised and the people educated about this war. No nation wins a war without the understanding and support of its people.
Involve all stakeholders: The problems and solutions to all these conflicts are local, that is why solutions from Abuja that do not involve the local communities will not work.
The military is only called in when things get out of hand to put out the fire. These terrorists are all from the communities they terrorise; not from some foreign land. There needs to be involvement of all local stakeholders in finding an enduring solution.
Flush out local collaborators: No insurgency thrives without the support of informants and collaborators within the community who offer them material and intelligence support.
The terrorists and their collaborators are part of the community and are well known. Effort must be made by the security agencies to identify and flush them out by giving protection to those in the community who help provide intelligence.
Actionable intelligence is crucial: These terrorists come on motorbikes, where do they buy them from, where are their sources of fuel and ammunition, what do they do with the ransom money they collect, which markets do they sell the cattle they rustle, where and who buys drugs for them, why are they allowed to come in hundreds on motorbikes unchallenged, why are Chadian and Nigerien troops responding to our people’s distress calls but not our troops?
Establish forest rangers: Nigeria must control its forests which have now become operational bases for these terrorists. This will entail having boots permanently on ground in the forests. Nigeria should establish armed forest rangers recruited from the local communities to be trained and supervised by the military.
The Federal Government’s Special Public Works Programme (SPWP) that plans to employ 1,000 in each LGA should be used to employ local youths to guard the forests in all affected areas.
Prioritise the rescue of all kidnapped victims: There are hundreds of Nigerians being held captive for ransom in forests across the nation. The government should document all persons abducted and intensify effort to bring them safely back to their families.
Presidential task force on security: The president should seriously consider establishing a task force from the affected areas that will be giving him first-hand information on the security situation in their communities.
Governors should end negotiations and payment of ransom to these terrorists. The Federal Government should use its might to subdue these criminals and bring them to justice.
Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation