Nigeria News
Halting looming anarchy, preventing imminent implosion

ANARCHY is rapidly gathering momentum in the country and there are many reasons to be fretful. Terrorists, gangsters and bandits are fiercely charging at the soul of the Nigerian state. Now, the newest epicentre of the pervasive lawlessness is in the South-East and South-South, especially in Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and Delta states. Audaciously, non-state actors are taking on state security forces and menacingly challenging the legitimacy of the Nigerian state. The inevitable consequence is political implosion.

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 yesterday.

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.

culled from PUNCH