Exploiting Nigeria’s frail security system, cross-border bandits have triggered an orgy of violence in Zamfara State. At the end of their latest horrific killings, which occurred last week, the criminals left 39 people dead in Zurmi Local Government Area of the state. Governor Abdulaziz Yari blamed the carnage on the negligence of the security agencies – particularly the police and the State Security Service – and failure to act on intelligence that a major attack was in the offing. It is another frightening moment in the country. In particular, the security agencies seem clueless in preventing or solving atrocities across the landscape, making Nigerians vulnerable to attacks by rustlers, terrorists, robbers, militants and kidnappers.
In an audacious operation, the bandits, numbering about 600, stormed the area on 200 motorcycles. According to the Emir of Zurmi, Atiku Abubakar-Muhammad, each motorcycle carried three persons, who were armed with sophisticated weapons. The damage was, however, limited because of a local vigilante force of 500 people, who confronted the hoodlums and prevented them from completely overrunning the community. In their frustration, the bandits decided to shoot at anyone in sight as they retreated. It was horrendous.
However, this was a tragedy waiting to happen. Yari, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, gave this indication during the National Security Summit organised by the Senate in the aftermath of the January 1 Fulani herdsmen massacre in Benue State. He argued that Zamfara State, with a population of four million, and about 5,000 police officers, was susceptible to attacks.
The police reaction followed the same trajectory as it affected the carnage in Guma and Logo LGAs in Benue State that claimed 73 lives. Like Yari, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue blamed the security agencies for not taking seriously timely intelligence report on the impending attacks. In both incidents, the police only reacted after the event, instead of taking proactive measures to prevent the wanton killings. “On this particular incident, we had intelligence reports 24 hours before it happened that bandits were grouping….But it does appear that security agencies are failing in their responsibilities,” Yari agonised.
Security agencies’ predilection for tepid reaction to violent crimes smacks of inefficiency and cluelessness. In 2010, the killing of over 200 people in three villages of Dogo Nahawa, Zon and Ratasat in Plateau State, was preceded by police and other security agencies’ indifference to the then Governor Jonah Jang’s red flag.
Confronted with such a frightening level of insecurity and bloodletting, the federal and state governments must pull out all the stops to stamp it out and bring perpetrators to book. The first task should be to deploy all available resources more effectively with a security strategy featuring deterrence/prevention, interdiction and prompt response, as well as punishment. The Nigerian Army battalion that Buhari deployed in Zamfara, the extra police teams (reinforced by three MOPOL squadrons on Saturday), as well as the clandestine services, should be more effective.
Effective intelligence is essential for potent law enforcement and for issues relating to national security. In addition to the traditional sources, especially reports of crimes committed and tip-offs from informants, the intelligence community must deploy technical monitoring devices, including unmanned aerial vehicles and other sophisticated devices in maintaining security at our borders.
Zamfara should upgrade, recruit and generously fund state and local vigilance teams with emphasis on discipline and firm control. They should be armed with light weapons and work very closely with the police and the military. The incorporation of vigilantes into the Civilian Joint Military Task Force has been acknowledged by the military as the game-changer in the war against Boko Haram in the North-East region. Leaders cannot wring their hands helplessly when hundreds of their people are being killed and economic activities paralysed, while debating and waiting for a constitution amendment to allow state police.
Nigeria should mount very strong diplomatic pressure on Niger Republic and Chad that these neighbours clamp down on the criminals who use their territories as sanctuaries from where they launch attacks on Nigerian soil. We must employ diplomatic relations to ensure border safety. If necessary, we can close part of our borders to drive home the seriousness of the situation and compel cooperation as we once did with the Nigeria-Benin Republic border during Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidency to stem cross-border banditry.
Impunity thrives when there is no penalty. All perpetrators of banditry, terrorism, murder and arson must be pursued, apprehended and subjected to the full weight of our penal system. Nigerian government has been particularly remiss in punishing offenders, thereby allowing lawlessness to flourish.
Buhari should realise that insecurity has run riot and deserves urgent, intelligent response devoid of partisanship and indolence. This is the time to demand results from the police and the SSS. But this again reminds all Nigerians that the issue of state police has gone beyond idle ramblings: without state police, the society will continually be in Hobbesian state of nature, where life is “poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”