Determined, sufficiently-resourced, well-armed and aided by the weakness of the Nigerian state, Islamic terrorists of various stripes – Boko Haram, Ansaru, ISWAP, bandits, and Fulani herdsmen – are moving to achieve their avowed aim of overthrowing the Nigerian state. On Sunday, they demonstrated their confidence, and ability to operate anywhere in the country by ambushing a detachment of troops from the elite Brigade of Guards, right in the Federal Capital Territory. Their vow to take over all or part of the country is no longer so far-fetched; complacency and continued reliance on a vacillating, rudderless government could spell doom. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should for once act decisively, failing which other stakeholders will need to act to save the union.
A pointer to other options was provided on Wednesday when 80 senators out of the 105 total, and a majority of members of the House of Representatives, gave Buhari a six-week ultimatum to arrest the growing insecurity across the country or face impeachment. Almost too late, the self-serving and subservient legislators have finally woken up. Soon, they will have to make a choice between continuing to kowtow to Buhari, and saving Nigeria from insurgent takeover, disintegration, or both.
While the Buhari regime dithers, terrorists, sure-footed and audacious, are moving strongly to fulfil their desire to carve out a caliphate.Their bloody imprint, ingrained in the North-East and North-West, is spreading fast southward with successful raids in the FCT, the seat of power.
They have threatened to capture Buhari and Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State. They are not bluffing. Driven by their inflexible Salafist ideology, fanatical and cruel in the extreme, they will try. With Abuja under repeated attacks, National Assembly members have finally been shaken out of their false sense of safety.
The demystifying rout of the Guards detachment also forced the FCT administration to shut down all public schools; the Nigerian Law School in Bwari shifted its activities to the city centre after the extremists raided the villages around the school and the Federal Government College, Kwali, last weekend. Three officers and five soldiers were killed in the ambush. A few weeks earlier, terrorists had attacked and torched the Kuje Medium Security Prison, FCT, freeing 879 inmates, 64 of them Boko Haram fighters.
From the modus operandi of the Islamists elsewhere, the attack on the Guards corps that protects the President and the entire FCT, could be the beginning of the gradual seizure of public institutions and regions. With a similar strategy, the Taliban gained power from 1996 to 2001 in Afghanistan until the United States-led coalition forces drove them underground. After a 20-year-long insurgency, the Taliban returned to power in August 2021.
The conditions that facilitated the Taliban takeover and the Islamic State’s overrunning of parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 are ominously present in Nigeria. Weak, incompetent, sectional and monumentally corrupt governments aid terrorists. Governors in the North abet terrorism by promoting religion, and like the terrorists, enforce their interpretation of religious strictures on everyone, destroying economic assets and violating people’s rights. Failure to punish the religious extremists who murdered Deborah Samuel, Gideon Akaluka, Eunice Olawale and Oluwatoyin Olusesin in different parts of the North waters the ground for non-state fanatics.
Also like Iraqi minsters and the Afghan government, as usual, the regime is recklessly downplaying the threat. Emerging from the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, lambasted the Senate “for playing to the gallery like their counterparts in the United States,” declaring that the government “is on top of the game.” In Nigeria, that is the standard euphemism for buying time while doing nothing. Buhari yesterday summoned a National Security Council meeting; Nigerians hope that this time, it would yield meaningful results.
In any other properly functioning democracy, Buhari would long ago have been pressured to resign or been impeached. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was forced to resign recently for far much less dangerous mismanagement.
Buhari has piloted Nigeria to the brink. Boko Haram was restricted mainly to three North-East states when he took over in 2015, but under his disastrous regime, terrorists are everywhere today. Again, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, insurgents use their control of territory, small at first, to rally fighters to their side, create revenue streams and logistics routes, then launch out nationwide.
Across the North, terrorists now control pockets of territory. In the South, they are entrenched in the forests. They control parts of Zamfara, Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, and Niger states. Ansaru terrorists are collecting taxes from residents of an LGA in Kaduna State. In Niger State, officials admitted that bandits control two LGAs.
Despite humongous funds appropriated for security –N900 billion voted by NASS this year – the regime emboldens the terrorists. In July 2021, bandits shot down a Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet in Zamfara State. A month later, they invaded the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna, where they killed two officers and abducted another in broad daylight. In a normal environment, the government of the day would have deployed its military might to hunt down the killers.
Instead, there has been little push back or an effective strategy from the dysfunctional regime. CFR’s Nigerian Security Tracker recorded 5,222 violent killings from January to June 2022.
Amid the breakdown of security, the regime lives in denial, fails to act decisively, and pursues policies that divide the population. Just like Iraq was weakened by the Sunni/Shia divide, Nigerians are divided along regional, ethnic, and sectarian lines.
Bloody attacks by bandits on the Kaduna International Airport in March without any serious repercussion for the culprits were all ISWAP needed. Two days after, ISWAP fighters attacked the Abuja-Kaduna Train in Kajuru, killed eight passengers and abducted the rest. Since that March 28 incident, about 40 victims are still in captivity. On June 5, terrorists attacked the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, slaughtering over 40 worshippers just after a Sunday mass. They attacked Owo again on Wednesday. An army of bandits on motorcycles waylaid the President’s advance team close to Daura, his hometown, where he was billed to celebrate the Eid-el-Kabir.
Instead of sitting down and marshalling his troops for an effective counter, Buhari has been embarking on needless international trips.
Violence has also overtaken the North-Central, with frequent massacres in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Taraba. A war-like situation has been evident in the South-East since October 2022.
Analysts therefore fear that the terrorists might soon seize some states/regions, just as they once did in the North-East when they occupied 27 LGAs by mid-2015. A former governor of Zamfara said there are 30,000 bandits in the state alone. In the North-West, the figure is about 120,000. That is a huge army. With the ransoms they are receiving, they are acquiring more weapons at a faster pace than Nigeria. With their numbers, weaponry and official helplessness, they may soon push Nigeria into state failure. It took only about 15,000 IS fighters to rout the 210,000-man strong Iraqi Army in 2008. As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military, the last line of defence, is weakened by disturbing casualty rates, allegations of corruption and low morale. This is dangerous.
What to do? Seeing that Buhari has failed abysmally on all counts, it is time for a pan-Nigeria solution. The governors should partner with their state parliaments and the NASS to invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to immediately establish state police, sufficiently equipped with arms, intelligence gathering gadgets/technology, CCTV cameras and drones.
At the national level, Buhari should reform the leadership of the major security agencies – from the police to the military, and the State Security Service to the Nigeria Intelligence Agency. He should remove the faltering service chiefs and commanders. The sectional and sectarian imbalance in the senior hierarchy is hobbling national defence efforts and should be redressed.
Failing this, to save Nigeria and avert a terrorist takeover of territory, stakeholders in the Nigerian Project should consider all constitutional options, including, as the legislators have mooted, Buhari’s resignation or impeachment.