Unsurprisingly, the criminals are gaining the upper hand, depicted graphically in the simultaneous jailbreak and bomb attacks on security formations in Owerri, the Imo State capital. Nearly 2,000 prison inmates were freed during the attacks, with at least three people dead.
For hours on Monday morning, sophisticatedly armed gunmen launched desperate attacks on the correctional centre (prison) in Owerri. Ominously, during the insurrection, they set free 1,844 inmates. Not deterred, gunmen again razed the Ehime Mbano Local Government Area Divisional Police Headquarters in Imo State.
There have been various crimes traced to the inmates who escaped from jails during the October 2020 #EndSARS protests. The gangsters also stormed the Imo State Police Command Headquarters, where they detonated bombs. About 50 vehicles and other property there were razed. On their way, the bandits attacked military checkpoints. Two soldiers reportedly died in the attacks.
Nigeria is on the cusp of self-destruction and political implosion on Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)’s watch. Up North, Islamist terrorism has changed the ill-fitting country for the worse, threatening its viability as a country. Everyone knows this, but the Buhari-led regime is living in dangerous denial. The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, said: “We are extremely concerned about the deteriorating security situation…Nigeria is facing a lot of problems everywhere – in the North-East, terrorism; in the North-West, banditry, kidnapping; in the Middle Belt, the farmers-herders conflict; in the South, the Niger Delta conflict everywhere. And the secession movements in the South-East. So, Nigeria is really struggling.”
But still struggling to survive after more than a century of amalgamation and more than six decades of independence? A country that has consistently failed in securing its people and providing for their welfare is dysfunctional and broken. The state has lost control to criminals, despite posturing to the contrary by the regime. Two days before the Owerri daredevil attacks, gunmen shot dead about seven Hausa/Fulani suya (roasted meat) sellers in Owerri markets.
Shortly before Owerri, Anambra, Ebonyi, Nasarawa and Delta states had also witnessed attacks. In the Obeagu, Egedegede, Amaizu and the Effium communities in the Ishielu and Ohaukwu local government areas of Ebonyi State, gunmen suspected to be Fulani slaughtered 22 persons. Those assailants are still walking free. In Nasarawa State, bandits bared their deadly fangs in Garaku Market, Toto LGA, where they shot dead the chairman of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association and another official. Anambra has been in the throes of killings. The casualties include six police officers, four Nigerian Navy officers and civilians. Criminals burnt three police officers, including a Chief Superintendent of Police, alive in Akwa Ibom State in the past month. This is reprehensible. At the weekend, the deadly trail reappeared as criminals murdered two police officers on escort duty in Warri, Delta State. As it stands today, anything and any group can trip the fuse.
Other regions of the country are far from being safe. Bandits have conquered the North-West; Boko Haram is penetrating the North-West; South-West communities are confronted by a rising wave of killings and kidnapping by Fulani herdsmen, making the highways unsafe for travelling. Instead of backing the region’s enforcement of anti-grazing laws to tip the scales against killer herders, the regime segued the herders’ criminality into ethnic politics.
In the North-Central, bandits have hijacked Niger State. They control several communities there and collect tributes from farmers before they can access their farms. Schoolchildren are being kidnapped en masse there, and in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara states. It is pure bedlam everywhere. Within the first six weeks of this year, 1,525 persons were killed by terrorists, bandits and killer herdsmen. The Global Terrorism Index reported 1,606 killed in 125 incidents to make Nigeria the world’s third most terrorised country in 2020. In the first six months of 2020, said Amnesty International, 1,126 people in rural communities in the North were slain by bandits and herdsmen. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Hassan Kukah, rightly captured the state of anomie, “being the poverty capital of the world comes with its rewards such as banditry, violence, death, sorrow, blood, poverty and tears.”
What is to be done? We have argued consistently that our political structure is unworkable and the internal security system fundamentally broken. We must say that this is not a challenge before Buhari alone; inaction can spell the rapid implosion into a failed state and other stakeholders cannot afford to remain silent or aloof.
Where Buhari misses it is that as the state unravels, the Commander-in-Chief is bewildered and flat-footed. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, once said: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Exactly! But instead of demonstrating this leadership quality, Buhari worsens it all by rabid partisanship, sectionalism and nepotism. Lacking administrative and leadership skills, he is assisted by a narrow circle of ineffectual police and intelligence chiefs who brief him on what he wants to hear.
The serial attacks and sacking of police stations, military checkpoints and seizure of arms in the South-East should have provoked preventive intelligence action from the police and the State Security Service. It was obvious that the hoodlums would escalate and attack bigger targets if not apprehended. Besides, the police HQ in Owerri is close to the Government House and less than 30 minutes’ drive away from the Nigerian Army’s 34 Field Artillery Brigade HQ. Part of the institutional shortcomings of the current security system is the failure to develop a quick reaction capacity. Thus, criminals operate for hours without any challenge from our praetorian guards.
Nigeria is crumbling and all stakeholders must act fast. There is deep distrust of the government by the people; there is deep distrust and mutual antagonism among the ethnic nationalities and among the diverse faiths. The government further alienates many by what Kukah calls the mysterious investment of billions of naira in “rehabilitating” terrorists and bandits who wage war against the country with no programme of rehabilitation for their victims.
Indeed, Nigeria is facing considerable centrifugal forces. But this newspaper believes the system can still be salvaged. A major task is to mop up illicit arms. The estimate of 350 million illicit arms in circulation in Nigeria, two-thirds of the West African total, is outdated, as arms have reportedly been pouring in from Mali, Libya and Central African Republic, according to the US Military’s Africa Command.
The police, SSS and officials at the state and federal level should stop the toxic mixing of politics and religion with security; the country may not survive another civil war. The continuing sad story of Lebanon, which exploded in civil war for over 15 years resulting in 120,000 persons killed and an exodus of over one million people, proves that few countries that mix all three hardly ever completely overcome the ensuing disruption.
As the constitutional custodians of the people, the 36 state governors must without further delay, establish and fund formidable state security agencies. To be effective, these must be completely free of politics, sectarian or partisan considerations. Existing state and regional outfits should be strengthened and formidably armed; you cannot confront criminals armed with automatic weapons, RPGs, grenades and rockets with just dane guns! Operations must be intelligence-led and facilitated by ICT tools, both simple and sophisticated for surveillance, interdiction and prevention. A report said the US law enforcement agencies have become major users of drones for all aspects of policing. Surveillance helps to uncover movement of cash and logistics by terrorist and criminal networks. Bloomberg cites Ghana, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the US among countries increasingly deploying drones in crime fighting.
Nigeria should be pulled back from the brink of state failure and a veritable civil war. The governors, state houses of assembly and the National Assembly should invoke the Doctrine of Necessity and amend the 1999 Constitution to facilitate state policing immediately. The current failed central policing system must be dismantled.
Buhari’s disjunctive presidency should get serious. It is argued that the rule of law is vital, not only as an ideal, but also as a foundation upon which a nation and its institutions might be built and governed. Buhari should always uphold the rule of law: rule of law-backed by good governance, a clean, credible judiciary and sound legal institutions – that will reverse prevailing anarchy and avert imminent implosion.