Terrorists stepped up the game on Tuesday when they ambushed the Presidential Advance team in Dutsinma, Katsina State, injuring two security personnel. Distracted, unfocused, lacking a coherent strategy, or strong will to defeat criminality and perpetually in denial, the violence and mayhem engulfing the entire country are getting closer to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Nigeria is inching closer to chaos, no thanks to Buhari’s many failings. The chickens the regime hatched are coming home to roost.
When terrorists ambush the President’s convoy or his person, the symbol of national sovereignty, all pretentions to safety and normalcy are brutally shattered. The “bandits” did just that with the audacious attack that captures the collapse of Nigeria’s security system. More discomfiting is that the attack occurred close to the President’s home in Daura. Numbering about 300 and mounted on motorcycles, the sophisticatedly armed terrorists/bandits engaged the security personnel attached to the convoy in a gun battle, leaving two of them injured.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, described the incident as sad and unwelcome. Buhari should wake up to the reality of a country inching ever closer to anarchy.
Tuesday’s occurrence coincided with other bloody security breaches around the country. Earlier that morning, the bandits, wielding General Purpose Machine Guns and AK 47 rifles, ambushed an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Aminu Umar’s team in Zakka Forest, Safana LGA of Katsina State. Not for the first time, the felons had an upper hand, killing Umar and another officer. This prepared the ground for the attack on the President’s convoy.
That same day, terrorists besieged the Nigerian Correctional Service, Kuje, at the Federal Capital Territory, for three hours, freeing about 879 inmates, including 64 Boko Haram suspects. Some 443 were recaptured. That means more hardened terrorists on the loose.
Buhari visited the Kuje Prisons, but jetted out to Senegal on Wednesday. He had similarly embarked on a trip to Portugal, amid unprecedented security breaches last week. During his absence, bandits raided a mining site in the Shiroro LGA of Niger State. They slaughtered at least 30 soldiers, seven mobile police officers and civilians. A few days later, bandits also killed a police inspector and wounded another officer at a mining site in Shao, Moro LGA of Kwara State. Over the week, bandits have also wasted five people in the Kajuru LGA of Kaduna State.
Terrorists, bandits, and their Fulani herdsmen confederates are carving a bloody path through Nigeria. In March, the Ansaru terrorist group attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train, killing eight passengers. About 50 of the victims remain in captivity. In June, terrorists slaughtered 40 worshippers at the St. Francis Xavier Church in Owo, Ondo State.
With hindsight, the Buhari regime has been primed for failure by refusing to act swiftly to events. In July 2021, bandits shot down a military aircraft over Zamfara State. Curiously, the military did not pursue and bring the assailants to justice. Next, bandits attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, killing two officers and abducting another in August 2021. In March, bandits on motorcycles stormed the Kaduna International Airport, slaughtering a worker, and bringing operations at the airport to a trickle.
The North-West states are under siege. From Kaduna to Katsina and Sokoto to Zamfara, bandits are dictating the pace. In the North-Central, particularly Benue, Niger and Taraba states are soaked in blood from perennial Fulani militants’ attacks. In the South-East, wanton killings and kidnappings are rampant. In June, the Prelate of the Methodist Church, Samuel Kanu-Uche, said Fulani militants operating in Abia State forests collected N100 million ransom before they released him and other kidnapped officials.
Nigeria’s slide into state failure has accelerated. Terrorism, insurgency, and banditry did not start under Buhari, however. But it is to his eternal discredit that all have escalated almost beyond control on his watch. His major and persistent posture is to live in denial, and blame his predecessors. He does not take responsibility; he lacks acuity. He fails to provide strong leadership either to his team, the security agencies or to Nigerians.
Normally, a commander-in-chief would take charge, provide hands-on leadership, and stay focused on the evolving ‘battle front.’ Instead, Buhari appoints a succession of unimpressive defence ministers and security chiefs. As some fail, he refuses to replace them promptly in line with global standards. He rarely empathises physically with grieving communities as every other head of government does; his visits to afflicted communities are few, content with rote statements issued on his behalf by aides.
All stakeholders in the Nigerian project need to rise to prevent total annihilation and a descent into anarchy. Buhari needs to replace key security chiefs and source competent hands. His appointments should reflect the country’s diversity. As insecurity spikes, the State Security Service appears preoccupied with issues of agitations and regime protection.
Buhari has not crafted an effective strategy against insecurity. Unrealistically, he appears to believe that by merely appointing heads of security agencies, or endlessly appropriating money for security, the problems will vanish. Without effective coordination, oversight or presidential attention, some security chiefs have carried on as they please.
The anti-insurgency campaign cannot succeed without a coordinator and a realistic, intelligence-led strategy. Buhari should act on this now.
It is tragic that insecurity has been heavily politicised; Buhari’s policies, utterances and actions have encouraged the Fulani rampage across the country. By promoting RUGA, cattle colonies, state-sponsored cattle ranches, grazing routes, and grazing reserves – all geared at making others’ land available to the herdsmen – Buhari has emboldened herders from all over West and Central Africa. Consequently, the country is under siege from heavily armed, vicious and ruthless marauders propelled by a gigantic sense of entitlement. The Governor of Zamfara, Bello Matawalle, says there are at least 30,000 of these bandits in the state. Another 120,000 are spread across the North-West region.
Taking a cue from their principal, some security chiefs are partisan, sometimes openly so in favour of the killer herdsmen. This is playing out in Benue, Plateau and in Oke-Ogun, Oyo State.
Buhari and regime officials should stop living in denial. Nigeria is in deep trouble, and this requires a national consensus to deal with it.
The repeated falsehood that terrorists have been degraded should stop. Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Borno governors have separately confirmed that terrorists/bandits control territory. Bandits operate all over the North and kidnap-for-ransom has become the country’s most lucrative “industry.”
Buhari, the military, the intelligence services and the police should devise an effective, sustainable response to the epidemic of terrorism and kidnapping. Appeasement through ill-thought out “amnesty” for terrorists has failed woefully in the North-West; the government continues with this counter-productive error in the North-East. It should stop.
There should be a strategy, pooling all policing, intelligence, military, and political assets to defeat criminality and terrorism. This requires Buhari’s personal intervention and initiation of the combined combatant command format increasingly adopted by many countries to eliminate inter-service rivalry on the field and ensure seamless fusion of all operational assets and personnel into a single fighting force.
Take the fight to the terrorists: the security agencies should flush the bandits out of Nigeria’s forests and border territories. A state must have control over every inch of its own territory.
Besides, this war should be intelligence-led and technology-driven; the failure of the domestic intelligence service is glaring. It should be reformed.
Nigeria should secure all the assistance it can get from all friendly countries and its neighbours.
The need for greater air power is urgent, beyond the air strikes being conducted by the Nigerian Air Force. Willing partners should be invited to site temporary air bases and drone bases in Nigeria to assist. Iraq and Syria could not defeat ISIS without the air cover provided by NATO and Russia respectively. Drones for surveillance and attacks are urgently needed to track the terrorists in real time. It should be made impossible for terrorists to move in groups of hundreds of motorcycles without being tracked, intercepted and destroyed by the security forces. The military should also develop a rapid response capability to react to attacks in quick time, based on reliable intelligence, as well as hostage rescue ability.
The regime should stop playing politics with terrorism. The hasty attribution of the Owo church massacre on ISWAP by the government was insensitive politicking, an attempt to deflect suspicion from Fulani militants.
State governors are also remiss. Instead of rallying to promote state policing, establishing well-armed and equipped state and regional security forces, they are focused on politics and their personal ambitions. They should do so without further delay. Existing ones like Amotekun should be reinforced by state agencies. Working with federal and state legislators, they should press for an immediate constitution amendment to facilitate state policing.
The country is in danger. Buhari and the National Assembly should immediately invoke the constitution and declare a full state of emergency, first in Zamfara, then in Kaduna and Katsina states.
All stakeholders should rally today to save the country.