Seeking a sustainable response to Nigeria’s insecurity
On Oct. 11, 2019, Zamfara state Gov. Bello Matawalle submitted a report from a July committee investigation into the state’s insecurity. The findings indicted top military officers and traditional rulers for contributing to banditry. Matawalle found that “five Emirs, 33 District heads and several village heads were confirmed to be complicit in the banditry activities which have lasted for about a decade.” The report recommended the state dismisses the military officers and dethrones the traditional rulers involved.
It’s unclear if Matawalle acted on the recommendations. But recent attacks have renewed attention to the state’s plight.
Days after the governor received some so-called repentant bandits who traded their arms and ammunition for amnesty, armed men in February abducted 279 students from the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe in Talatu Mafara LGA. In Katsina state, gunmen similarly abducted more than 300 students from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara. The armed men released the students in both cases.
In February, Global Rights, an international human rights organization, released a report that said some 4,556 Nigerians died in 2020 from terrorism, kidnapping, banditry, herder-farmer clashes, extra-judicial killings and other forms of criminalities.
The five worst-hit states, the report says, are Borno (1,176), Kaduna (628), Katsina (501), Zamfara (262) and Niger (254). This figure represents 1,368 or 43 percent increase over the 2019 figures of 3,188 recorded. On the whole, Nigeria has lost about 30,000 lives and some two million people displaced in ten years of insurgency – most of them in the northern part of the country.
Despite the frightening figures and worsening insecurity, the government has failed to implement sufficient countermeasures.
The country still has many ungoverned spaces in its security architecture due to the limited number of security personnel. The majority of the attacks occur in terrains that are difficult to access. Attackers kidnap civilians and run into thick forests, and the security response is usually reactionary rather than proactive.
Some state governments have continued to dialogue with terrorists and bandits, in another concerning trend. Some emboldened bandits now give the government conditions. Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a prominent Islamic Cleric, met with some of the bandits in the forests of Zamfara and said the terrorists were not happy with their abandonment by the government.
Some bandits interviewed by Daily Trust blamed Buhari, who they claimed to have supported when he first became the President but said he did not reward their gesture. “An agreement was reached, but you left that person in the forest with a gun and nothing to substitute. What do you expect? How do you want that person to survive,” one of them said.
The problem with negotiation is that it often has no end. There may be as many groups as there are demands to present. Satisfying one group, or one group accepting to surrender, does not prevent or stop another group or groups from coming up.
According to Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka, dialoguing with bandits amounts to appeasing evil. “We are dealing with evil. There is no other word,” he said, adding that, “We are dealing with the proliferation, the enthronement of evil in the society. And unfortunately, we have encouraged its proliferation – its entrenchment.”
Human Rights Writers of Nigeria (HURIWA) is contemplating dragging President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to compel them to enforce the Counter-terror Act.
In the same vein, a prominent Cleric and former Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, warned that bandits might soon overpower Nigeria if the government continues to dialogue with non-state actors. The Nigerian government’s failure to address rising insecurity, according to Onoiyekan, has encouraged “a large gang of criminals that are almost taking over our country.”
Fortunately, the federal government has openly disassociated itself from any negotiation with bandits, according to a statement from Babagana Monguno, National Security Adviser, while declaring Zamfara State a no-flight zone. According to him, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, ordered security agencies to shoot at sight anyone with an AK-47 gun. In the same vein, the military high command has warned the Islamic cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi to refrain from making unguarded statements about the Nigeria military.
The sustainable solution to Nigeria’s insecurity lies in tackling the root causes. The problem has been exacerbated by the high unemployment rate, reckless impunity perpetrated by those in power, a wide gap in socio-economic inequality and economic hardship, among others.
The government should invest in education and human capital with urgency, especially in northern states. Dr. Chris Nwokeabia, a renowned academic and public affairs analyst, advised an immediate declaration of a state of emergency on education and security. “Societies are evolving and developing because they put primacy on education,” he said.
Unfortunately, many states in the north rank as educationally backward. Though primary education is officially free and compulsory in Nigeria, about 10.5 million children between 5 – 14 years are not in school by 2020. About 69 percent of these out-of-school children reside in the northern region, according to UNICEF.
Also, efforts at re-orientating the youths on the futility of engaging in crimes as a way of survival must be concerted. According to Henry Ford, (American industrialist and founder Ford Motor Company): “The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability.”