By Kola King
There’s growing frustration in the north over the current security challenge that has bedevilled the region and seemingly created a Blood River, as it were. The north famous for its somnolent setting and verdant landscape has lost its innocence and purity as a result of terrorism and banditry. Already about two million people have been displaced by insurgents in the North East with refugees streaming into neighbouring Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. It is estimated that there are about two million internally displaced persons in various camps in the north. In real terms, the refugee population can be likened to the population of the Gambia. The security challenge has been further compounded by a wave of banditry that has spread across the northwest and parts of the north central. Nothing demonstrates this level of insecurity than the Abuja-Kaduna highway which has witnessed incessant cases of kidnapping, despite being close to the seat of power, and efforts made to secure the highway with the deployment of security forces to that notorious axis of kidnapping.
It’s an irony that President Muhammadu Buhari was swept to power in 2015 on the strength of his perceived security experience. However, today the president’s reputation is on the line due to the fact that the security situation has assumed a wider dimension, spreading across the northwest and north central regions. In short, security challenge has become the Achilles heels of the president. Without a doubt, the president has responded to the military’s request for increased spending on arms and ammunition, yet the security challenge remains critical. The military has also suffered heavy casualties in the war on terror. The recent killings of Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkusu and three soldiers of the Joint Task Force, Operation Hadin Kai, ambushed along Askira-Uba, Borno State by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists further amplifies the grim security situation.
The Spokesperson of the Coalition of Northern (CNG) groups Abdul-Azeez Suleiman gave vent to this growing frustration and rising anger in the north while addresing a press conference on the dire security challenge in that region, which seems to have defied and overwhelmed the security forces. Almost on a daily basis, bandits raid and roam towns and villages in the northwest and parts of the north central, where they pillage , maim scores, kill, and rape women into the bargain. Appeasement by some state governors has not solved the problem, rather it has further emboldened the bandits.
In the same vein, farmers have been displaced from their farmlands, entire villages sacked and burnt to the ground, and schools shut, endangering the education of thousands of students. All this has led to fears of food insecurity as the next season approaches.
Besides, kidnapping and ransom taking have witnessed an upsurge in recent times. In a word, bandits have turned kidnapping into big business. The growing terrorism in that region has left in jeopardy the future of students, further worsening the education crisis there. According to Abdul-Azeez, “insecurity have cost thousands of lives. Thousands have been displaced from their ancestral homes to Internal Displaced Person’s (IDP) camps, people displaced from their farms and pushed deeper into poverty; education in the region is endangered due to school abductions. There’s hunger, anger, gloom and terror in the region.”
Indeed it is not for nothing that there has been clamour on the part of governors and other stakeholders in the region for the declaration of bandits as terrorists so that the security forces can deploy maximum force to rout them out. While Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic Cleric and former Captain in the Nigerian army, who has acted as a go-between for the bandits has called for caution, yet others have insisted on hanging the label of terrorists on the bandits, seeing it as the logical thing to do, and which hopefully would give the security forces the chance to tame the bandits and bring an end to their dastardly activities.
In this connection, a summit on security is being mooted by the CNG to proffer solutions to the current security challenge. Abdul-Azeez stated this at a press conference in Abuja on December 9. In his words, the government seems to believe in the lie that everything is going well in the war against bandits and terrorists. On the contrary, things have taken a turn for the worse. According to him, the climax of the intolerable situation occured in Sokoto State recently where travellers numbering more than twenty in a bus were ambushed and their vehicle shelled by bandits who later set the commuters ablaze in the bus at Anguwan Bawa in Sabo Birni Council. The barbarity of the act has outraged millions.Furthermore, he disclosed that since the beginning of the year over 800 persons have been abducted in the north by Non-State actors. In September, 73 children were abducted in Kaya, Maradun Local Government Area of Zamfara State.
What’s more, Abdul-Azeez stated that Nigeria’s land borders with its northern neighbours have been completely overrun by assortments of armed criminal gangs, turning them into dangerous conduits for drugs, arms, smuggler’s, illegal migrants and foreign fighters from countries in the troubled Sahel region. Despite all this, he expressed regrets that “the presidency appears in total isolation or in deep denial by constantly flaunting victory in the face of glaring failure.” Things have reached an unacceptable and intolerable point where urgent citizens action remain the only position, he declared. Moreover, he posits that the Federal and State governments in the North have failed woefully in the vital area of providing security of lives and properties to citizens, especially in Northern Nigeria.
He concluded that the glaring inability to secure the borders, forests, highways in the north are partly a result of incapacity, abscence of political will, defence corruption and bad governance. In addition, he noted that “the escalation of the security challenge bedeviling the north today, are not only existential threats to the region but to the whole nation with our fragile democracy threatened by the worst insecurity of our lifetime.”
As the north bleeds, the descent into anarchy and barbarity can no longer be accepted, Abdul-Azeez stressed. In the end, the buck stops at the president’s table. He needs to act fast to prevent the inevitable slide into widespread anarchy.
*Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist, and currently the Managing Editor of Nigeria Now, a news magazine based in Abuja, Nigeria.