If there is any doubt left about the utter state of insecurity and impending anarchy in the country, events this week cleared that doubt, completely and utterly.
On several fronts and for several reasons, Nigerians could have woken up on Wednesday to the worst news possible. It could have been a great national tragedy or a huge national embarrassment. None of which is good, to be honest.
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First, news broke that the ubiquitous ‘bandits,’ by design or by accident, had laid into an advance convoy of the president. The convoy was travelling to the president’s village to lay the groundwork for Mr Buhari to spend Sallah in Daura. The bandits opened fire. The president’s men returned fire. Fire cancelled fire. Some personnel were injured. Some were killed.
On the same day, armed men launched a daring raid on the Kuje Correctional facility right inside the Federal Capital Territory. In an operation that lasted several hours, they used heavy gunfire and bombs to break into the prison housing celebrity criminals, looters and worst of all, notorious extremists, some of whom were only transferred to the prison a few weeks ago. Hundreds of inmates were freed, including all Boko Haram suspects in the custody.
While such audacious highway ambushes and prison breaks have become routine, tedious even, this time, they hit far too close for comfort. To even imagine a Nigerian president injured, killed or captured by bandits is unthinkable. To have a prison raid in the capital, surrounded strategically by military formations was, well, not entirely beyond the realms of possibility. But here we are.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu issued a curt statement on the attack on his principal’s convoy, acknowledging the death of “a few personnel.” It is in the title of the release that the problem becomes evident. “Gallant Presidential Guards Repel Attack on Advance Team Ahead of President’s Visit.”
Well, what is the problem with such a celebratory tone, you might ask? For one, it sounds like something copied from the media scrapbook of the military: ‘Troops repel terrorist attack on so-and-so town’. Or ‘Gallant troops repel terrorist attack on military base.’ Sounds familiar?
The problem is the normalisation of repelling attacks as a victory because troops, presidential guards and the Nigerian state should not be repelling attacks but ensuring they never happen in the first place. And now that the convoy had miraculously, corpses and injured persons in tow, limped to safety, for those who survived, what resolve has there been to hunt down the attackers and to send a clear message that such barbarity will not be condoned?
Such attackers have been increasingly growing cojones because there have been no consequences for their minor transgressions and so they have graduated to major ones. Civilians in their homes, police officers at their posts, and soldiers on their bases have all been attacked without consequence for the attackers. Now, the adjective ‘gallant,’ often deployed by official spokespersons, is increasingly sounding pusillanimous to the hearing of tired and frightened Nigerians. After all, gallantry is not what you do when you have no choice but to fight, gallantry is what you do when there are options.
Options. That word, like fuel, is proving to be a scarce commodity in this country. What option does a poor farmer living in an isolated village has when he is attacked by these bandits? When his wife and daughter are raped and his son is shot in his presence? When he is captured and slaughtered for daring to visit his farm? Or when his village is burnt to the ground for no offence other than being a citizen of an unbothered country.
The option has been to trust God to protect you. But God must not do for man what man must do for himself and that is why the country has security personnel, trained men with guns and uniforms, who have sworn to defend the country and their fellow citizens.
But what option does one have when these banditry and killings have been going on for years, where governors have been running between pillar and post begging the president, who promised to tackle insecurity, to act, take action to safeguard the lives of the people? When these pleas and entreaties have gone unanswered for years? When it appears as if asking to be protected seems to bother and annoy the person, especially the one person, who took the oath to protect you?
If Nigeria is celebrating repelling attacks on a presidential convoy, on prisons and military bases, what then would Nigerians who have no protection celebrate when they are attacked?
So last week, the Zamfara State government, finally tired of running to Abuja to ask for protection for its citizens, implored and made arrangements for its long-suffering people to take up arms so they don’t continue to be massacred like cockroaches being stumped upon by depraved, drooling and screaming children.
There have been all sorts of reactions to this call. The most vociferous coming from the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor who said, “We are there to give support to the civil authority, in this case, the police. We are there to ensure that peace returns to Zamfara. The governor does not have the power to ask the CP to issue licences. I am yet to get the details but I do not think that is the right thing to do.”
When the police have failed to secure the lives of citizens as is their constitutional role, and have been nonchalant about the habitual massacres across the country, and the military, despite Irabor’s words, failed to provide the needed support to help the civil authority while Nigerians in their hundreds have continued to be killed, what then is the right thing to do?
Remember, this is not the first time a frustrated state executive has made similar calls. The governors of Katsina and Benue States said the same thing. Even the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi, a retired major general, had in February 2021 made the first call. His tone then seemed to chide Nigerians for being cowardly and not confronting bandits armed with automatic weapons with sticks and stones.
“We should stand and face them. If these people know that the people have the competence and capability to defend themselves, they will run away,” he had said then while his ministry continues to guzzle billions in defence budget that doesn’t translate to any defence for Nigerians.
Will more arms result in chaos? Yes. But are we not in chaos already? Do we have a system to control who owns a gun? No, but have we ever really had a system to control that? No. Will it result in the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the country? Yes, but then again, Nigeria has already been flooded with small arms and light weapons that the country has no will, and no system, to try and mop up, as it does not have any functional system to contain its increase. And with over 6,145,000, small and light weapons, a good number of them lost by the military and the police, in the hands of non-state actors, and law enforcement agencies collectively accounting for 586,600 firearms, according to SBM intelligence, one might think we are already past that point.
If the Nigerian state—beyond rhetoric and media sound bites, lacks the will to protect its citizens, and has especially failed to do so in the last eight years, and has, up until this point, no clear strategy to do so, is it then unreasonable to let the citizens do what they can so they are not killed like roaches and to at least die on their feet than to die on their knees?
The way I see it, there are two options left: the government must act, with alacrity, vigour and sincerity to protect Nigerian lives, or let Nigerians do what they can for themselves.