In the absence of any effective and clear-cut containment strategy, mindless killings of innocent and defenceless Nigerians have continued unabated across the country. It is becoming increasingly dangerous and unreliable for law-abiding citizens of the country to look up to the government to protect their lives and property. In this regard, given the prolific nature of the killings, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has let Nigerians down massively.
It has been a thoroughly disappointing experience for those who thought security would be Buhari’s forte. As a retired general, it was expected that he would handle it better than his clueless predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Unfortunately, what Nigerians have experienced so far has been a gradual descent into anarchy. Almost every part of the country has become a war zone where people are robbed, kidnapped or killed and their houses and farmland destroyed. For the pessimists, this could be a prologue to something calamitous, if not arrested soon.
Most significant has been the calls by prominent citizens on hapless victims to start defending themselves against attacks by marauding arms-bearing killer gangs, posturing as herdsmen. While on a visit to an Internally Displaced Persons camp last week, the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, told the people to return to whatever was left of their homes – after the scorched earth policy of the invaders had resulted in the burning down of their homes and farmland – and “defend themselves with stones.”
The governor may have made a specific reference to stones, but the message was not lost on the people that they should thenceforth defend themselves with anything at their disposal. Nothing could capture the disillusionment of Nigerians more than an earlier message by a former Minister of Defence, Theophilus Danjuma, accusing the military of partisanship. “If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die, one by one,” Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff, warned ominously last month, while also advocating self-defence.
Nigeria’s landscape in the past few years has been watered with human blood, the magnitude of which is almost comparable with happenings during the Civil War years of 1967 to 1970. Ortom’s call for self-defence was prompted by one of the recent massacres in his state, which is among the worst hit in the killing spree. In addition to the 73 that were killed at the turn of the year, the state had last week suffered the slaughter of 24 others, including security men, after an attack on Agagbe community by marauders suspected to be Fulani militia men.
It is also significant that not even the threat of a resort to self-defence has been able to stem the tide of attacks. Barely a few days after Ortom spoke, 30 more people were reportedly killed in Taraba and Benue states. Another 36, including four policemen, were reportedly slaughtered across Awe, Keana, Obi and Doma local government areas of Nasarawa State between Saturday and Sunday. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the number of people killed on a daily basis in the most vulnerable states of Benue, Taraba, Plateau and Nasarawa. Aside from the Boko Haram frontline states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, Zamfara and Kaduna have also witnessed much bloodbath.
Unfortunately, the President’s responses have not helped matters. When he is not claiming a better performance than his predecessor, he is telling Nigerians that the war against terror has been won, contrary to all available facts. His most recent utterances in the United Kingdom, where he claimed that the killers were not Fulani, but remnants of the late Muammar Gaddafi’s fighters, leave a lot to be desired. “The gunmen were trained and armed by Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. When he was killed, the gunmen escaped with their arms. We encountered them fighting with Boko Haram,” Buhari said.
This creates the impression of one who may not have got a handle on the situation; which makes it worse than earlier imagined. The President and his security advisers are living in denial. Could he, by his statement, be showing helplessness, accepting defeat or outright resignation to fate? If we may ask, what difference does it make whether the killers come from Libya or even Mexico? What matters here is that the President, as the Commander-in-Chief, should ensure that invaders are beaten back, killers arrested and prosecuted, no matter where they come from. If it is true that Nigeria is under attack by gunmen from outside the country. But that is external invasion that should be repelled.
So far, calls for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes have fallen on deaf ears. The security agencies have failed to preempt most of the attacks, only reacting after people are killed and the killers had moved on. Many believe that the criminals have been able to go scot-free because of the lopsided composition of the heads of the security institutions. There is the need to review this composition.
Even in smaller countries, when there are serious security breaches, heads are bound to roll. In Somalia in 2014, both the intelligence and police chiefs were fired after an attack on the presidential palace by al-Shabab. Both Abdihakim Said and Bashir Jama were relieved of their duties despite the fact that three of the four attackers were killed and a fourth taken into custody. When security heads know that their continued stay on the job depends on performance, they are more likely to perform better.
Besides, what is happening is an overwhelming evidence of the need for state police to complement the existing policing structure. A central police command can no longer singlehandedly oversee security in a plural and multicultural society like Nigeria. Pending when state policing becomes operational, there is the need for state governments to set up vigilantes to protect the citizens from further attacks.