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Nigeria: Unknown Gunmen And The Worsening Security Challenge – OpEd

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Despite claims by President Muhammadu Buhari in a recent interview with Bloomberg News that the security situation has improved on his watch, daily events and reports across the country appear to turn his claims on their head. Those claims are at odds with reality. In fact, the past six weeks have been particularly brutal and deadly. Scores of kidnapping cases and killings have been reported in most parts of the country. In that interview, the president waxed lyrical about the security situation and explained that things had improved considerably.

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On the contrary, the nation has been on edge and in a perpetual state of mourning. It’s as if we are in a state of war, with no hiding place for anyone. Nowhere seems to be safe any longer. The highways are not safe, the farms are not safe, and even homes are no longer safe as well since the kidnappers have upped their game by abducting people right in their homes, this is especially the case in some communities in Kaduna and Zamfara States.

President Buhari spoke with pride and self-satisfaction about his administration’s achievements. He declared that his administration is the only one in Nigeria’s history to have proffered solutions to farmers-herders conflicts, exarcebated by desertification and demographic growth by introducing the National Livestock Transformation Plan, putting ranching at its core as the cure-all solution to the competition for grazing land. Nevertheless, the issue of open cattle grazing remains unresolved and has been the harbinger of several conflicts and deaths in many communities across the nation. This explains why some states in the south have passed the anti-open grazing bill into law.

And yet, the growing insecurity has become more widespread and it appears to defy all solutions. Actually, kidnappings have become rampant and a common occurrence. More worrisome is the fact that kidnappers have taken their dastardly trade to a new dimension. Not only are victims kidnapped and ransoms collected but they have gone to great lengths to throw many families into grief, despair, and sorrow by killing the abductees after collecting ransom payments.

The glaring reality is that Non-State-Actors (NSA) mostly bandits, terrorists, and so-called Unknown Gunmen are having a field day running riot all over the place having overwhelmed the security forces who are overstretched due to their operations in several theatres of conflicts in the nation.

Nothing further demonstrates the worsening security situation than measures taken by the Zamfara State government which has directed the State Police Commissioner, Mr. Ayuba Elkanah to issue licenses to residents of the State who are qualified to use guns for self-defense. This came in reaction to the rising rate of insecurity in the State.

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The State government also directed individuals to prepare and obtain guns to defend themselves against the bandits that have occupied almost all parts of the State. This was contained in a press statement by the commissioner for information, Hon. Ibrahim Magaji. The statement noted that the government was very much ready to facilitate people, especially farmers in the rural areas to secure basic weapons for self-defense. Already the banditry, terrorism and other offenses bill has been passed by Zamfara State Assembly. The bill prescribes the death penalty for banditry and kidnapping.

The move towards self-help is not limited to Zamfara State. Exasperated by the worsening security in their states both the Katsina State Governor Aminu Bello Masari and his Benue State counterpart Governor Samuel Ortom have at different times called on their people to take up arms and defend themselves. Generally, this action singularly demonstrates that the nation is moving towards state failure since the State whose ultimate function is the protection of life and property now wants to shirk its responsibilities only to pass on such onerous function to citizens that are already harried, and impoverished, and browbeaten by bandits.

On his part, Governor Samuel Ortom maintains the federal government is complicit in the rising level of insecurity in the land because the federal government has the capacity to confront this monster if only it was determined to do so. Speaking on Arise TV last Wednesday, he said, “No amount of propaganda, lies, and deceit can change the existing narrative on the security situation.” According to Governor Ortom, the real aim is a surreptitious planned programme to use the Islamist agenda to take over the lands of the indigenous people of Nigeria by the Fulani, especially migrants from other parts of West Africa and the Sahel region. Due to banditry and general insecurity, he disclosed that the IDP population in the state has swollen to about 1.5 million people. In addition, the governor said 40 people were killed in his Local Government Area in the past few weeks.

In any case, the burgeoning security crisis will be illustrated by a series of events in various parts of the country within the past six weeks. This is a snapshot of a diary of events in the past few weeks.

First, a former member of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Nelson Achukwu was kidnapped on June 9 and was later killed and beheaded after the kidnappers had collected 15 million naira ransom from his family. Mr Achukwu, a physically-challenged person, was abducted three weeks ago from his house in the Mkpor community. He was reportedly abducted a few months ago by gunmen who accused him of providing information to military authorities. He was released by his abductors only to be kidnapped once again and killed in the process. This happened barely one month after a member of the State’s House of Assembly, Okechukwu Okoye was beheaded by gunmen.

At the same time, in Zamfara State the gunmen, who abducted 29 wedding guests on Saturday, June 11, in Sokoto, had asked to be paid a ransom of N145 million before they are released, the secretary-general of the Phone Sellers Association in the state, Nasiru Musa, told TVC News.

Many of the hostages are mobile phone dealers at the Bebeji Communication Market in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State. They were abducted while returning from the wedding of one of their colleagues in Tambuwal in Sokoto. They were only released recently perhaps after ransom was paid to the kidnappers.

Also, 22 farmers were kidnapped in Abuja last week with kidnappers demanding a 44 million naira ransom. The 22 farmers were on their farms working at Rafin-Daji in Abaji Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. Now farmers are afraid to go to their farms, which holds a dire future for farming and its attendant effects on farm produce the next season. In another report, the Medical Director of Dansadau General Hospital and two others in Zamfara were abducted on Tuesday and their abductors are demanding a ransom of 20 million naira.

Again on June 18, the former Secretary-General of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Ahmed Sani Toro along with two others were kidnapped by unknown gunmen along Gidan-Waya- Akwanga highway on their way to Bauchi. Their abductors had demanded 50 million naira ransom payments for each of them before they would be released. However, Toro and his co-abductees have been freed after spending three days in captivity. Though there is no confirmation whether ransoms were paid before their release.

Also, the Vicar of St. James’ Anglican Church, Ichi town in Ekwusigo LGA of Anambra State, The Venerable Ekene Remigius Iroanusi was kidnapped last Thursday, according to Advent Cable Network Nigeria Television (ACNNTV) reports. He was abducted by unknown gunmen as he left a funeral ceremony at Nnewichi village, Nnewi town, Anambra State. The kidnappers were said to have intercepted him along the road within Uruagu village, Nnewi town in Anambra State.

In the same vein, Rev. Father Vitus Bogoro was killed at Prison Farm, Kujama, Kaduna last week. Bogoro was Chaplain of the Nigerian Catholic Diocesan Priests Association, Kaduna chapter.

In another development gunmen suspected to be bandits reportedly killed at least five persons including two policemen, a university lecturer, and two others in separate attacks in Benue State last week. According to news reports, the attacks took place in Guma and Ukum Local Government Areas of the state. Mr. Fred Akaayar, a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication at the Federal University, Wukari in Taraba State, and two others were gunned down at Jootar in Ukum LGA, a border community between Benue and Taraba States on Thursday night.

Joining the list of priests who have fallen victims to kidnappers is Rev Father Christopher Odia. Last Sunday Rev. Father Odia was killed by his abductors after being kidnapped in his rectory at St Michael Catholic Church, Ikabigbo, Uzairue, Edo State. He was the Administrator of St Michael Catholic Church and Principal of St Phillip Catholic Secondary School, Jattu. He was aged 41. The Owo Church attack in which 40 people were killed and several others injured still reverberates across the country, which underscores the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country.

For good measure, the Divisional Police Officer in charge of Nasarawa Eggon Local Government of Nasarawa State, CSP Haruna Abdulmalik has been reportedly kidnapped and taken to an unknown destination in the state. The DPO was said to be on patrol off Nasarawa Eggon – Akwanga Road last Thursday night when he encountered the gunmen around Bakyano. Scanty information available to journalists had it that the DPO has been taken away to an unknown destination. The kidnappers were said to have contacted his family, demanding 5 million naira ransom.

With the nation reeling under the yoke of growing insecurity, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Rev. Mathew Hassan Kukah has said kidnappers are demanding N200 million for a Catholic priest and reverend sister abducted over three weeks ago. Kukah stated this at the flag-off of the 70th Anniversary Lecture of the Order of the Knight of Saint Mulumba, at the St. Leo’s Catholic Church, Ikeja, Lagos.

“As I speak, for the past three weeks my priest, a young man, and a sister are still in captivity even though the Nigerian state wishes to pretend that we are not negotiating with the kidnappers.

“We are negotiating with the kidnappers as I’m talking because I don’t know how else to get back my priest.

“It is a very painful experience. My blood relations have been kidnapped. Last year, I lost a priest to kidnappers. I have lost a seminarian to kidnappers and somehow we like to pretend we have a government,” Kukah said.

Meanwhile, two of the recently kidnapped victims in Katsina, a husband, and wife, have regained freedom after reportedly paying 11 million naira ransom. Recall that three weeks ago, bandits attacked the Shola community in Katsina Local Government Area of Katsina State, abducting six persons in the process. One of the victims, Alhaji Tukur Turaki, said on a fateful night, his wife heard some people manhandling their son and thought they were soldiers, so she opened their apartment which gave the kidnappers access.

“When they came in, they asked my wife where I was and even before she pointed at my position, I responded. They asked for money and I gave them the N700,000 that was with me.

“After collecting the money, one of them said they were not there for my money but they were hired to kill me and I said he should tell me how I should position myself for him to kill me. When he heard that, he held my hand and said ‘we would not kill you but we would go with you so that you can pay ransom to free yourself.’

“When we went out, my wife followed us and they asked her to go back but she stood still and one of them said she should come with us and that was how they abducted two of us,” he recounted.

He said they trekked to a place close to Bugaje village in Jibia where the bandits kept their motorcycles and took them to a forest.

“The following day, they asked me to pay N30m ransom and we negotiated down to N10m, but unfortunately it rained that day so my people could not deliver the money until the following day. By then our captors said we must add N1m for the additional one day and I called my people to mobilize the additional money and they delivered a complete N11m,” he said.

In a nutshell, the foregoing experiences of victims of kidnapping clearly demonstrate the dire security challenge faced by Nigerians in many parts of the country. The bewildering details of individual experiences in the den of bandits illustrate the current reality of the security situation in the nation today. Nigerians now live in fear not knowing who’s next in the macabre dance of insecurity that has engulfed the nation. Indeed these are trying times. The government should wake up to its responsibilities as security of life and property is the basic irreducible minimum and charge for any government. No amount of whitewash can wish away the spectre of insecurity that has enveloped the country.

At the end of the day, the government has to revisit the security architecture since the existing structure is not working to the optimum. The clamour for State police by various ethnic nationalities and State governors becomes urgent more than ever before as it holds the panacea to the existing problem of insecurity. Desperate times call for desperate measures. All said the government needs to harken to calls by various stakeholders for the restructuring of the federal system without which things will continue to deteriorate., especially the security situation. As they say, a stitch in time saves nine.

Kola King

Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist. He worked for more than two decades as a reporter, correspondent and editor in major national newspapers in Nigeria. He's the founder of Metro newsletter published on Substack. His debut novel A Place in the Sun and was published and released in 2016 by Verity Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa. His writing has appeared in Kalahari Review, The Missing Slate Literary Journal, The New Black Magazine and Litro magazine. He earned a Bachelors degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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