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Ill Advised Relocation Of Terrorism Suspects To Anambra

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Is President Muhammadu Buhari in firm grip of governance yet after thirty days in office? Despite efforts by the President’s media office to tone down the impact of a voluntary confession, the President’s age limitations statement in South Africa is certain to be a factor in analysis of its leadership performance. Unsettled by the emergence of a national assembly leadership it did not reckon with, the new regime’s faltering start has further echoed with unrefuted reports that ministerial appointments are to be delayed till September. Nigerians are finding the continued bemoaning of an empty treasury tiresome and a weak defence for policy freeze. In the wake of growing concern over the direction and dynamism of the new government, the transfer, against public outcry, of 4 7 suspected Boko Haram militants to Ekwulobia Prison in Anambra State is confounding.

Many are at a loss deciphering the security, political, economic or social value behind the relocation of the suspected terrorists. Anambra State does not lie in the track of the terrorist insurgency. Why expand the theatre of conflict? What is gained in creating a situation that presents new striking targets for the terrorists outside the traditional conflict zone? One does not need to be an expert in counter terrorism to appreciate that a site for the detention of these combatants is a potential target of assault by the terrorist organization either to rescue their comrades or to destroy the holding facility. As much premium is placed on destruction of enemy infrastructure as on enemy combatants. The federal government is at pains fighting the rampaging Boko Haram sect in the north – east of the country; would it become stronger and more effective in the war fighting on additional fronts?

Some members of the ruling APC have tendered the defence that the relocation of the militants to Anambra State was a policy initiative of the past Goodluck Jonathan administration. The fact that government is a continuum does not absolve the Buhari regime of responsibility for a programme it has chosen to implement. This is the same Buhari regime that has pilloried the Jonathan administration to no end. In the latest of such bashing, we were told that the present government has been slowed considerably by the task of cleaning the mess left behind by the outgone government. Given this perception of the government it succeeded, it would be self - indicting of the present government to have gone ahead with a carry - over it had sworn to scrutinize without so doing. The burden of responsibility is emphasized by the exceptional nature of the subject matter which daily tasks the will and resourcefulness of Nigerians for solution.

The greater wonder however is on the suitability of a densely populated state like Anambra for the hosting of high profile, terrorist suspects. Nigeria cannot be the single all – knowing country with expertise in containment strategies unknown to other nations of the world. From dynastic early age to the present worldwide terrorism phenomena, the standard practice is to confine dangerous criminal suspects in maximum security prisons. Anambra State does not host such a prison complex, so why bring the suspects to the state? It is also standard practice to site such facilities in remote locations usually surrounded by forbidding natural features such as rocky terrain, hills, forests and crocodile infested rivers. While the United States’ Guantanamo Bay may be the most known and controversial in recent time, similar detention centres exist in other places. This is observable in countries coping with the menace of hard drug cartels and one recalls the Colombian prison fortress from which the kingpin Pablo Escobar escaped in the early 1990s in spectacular gangster fashion. Memories of the windswept, cold Robben Island where the Mandela generation was quarantined for sixteen years is still fresh in our mind. And here in Nigeria, we recall that when the Ibrahim Babangida junta wanted to put Gani Fawehinmi out of circulation in 1998, the activist lawyer was not taken to any of our city prisons but to isolated Gashua prison in Borno State.

Escobar’s dramatic escape from his water tight detention is relevant in this discourse. We are reminded of the high probability of counter attack by detained insurgents either acting alone or in league with their cohorts in attempted invasion. Jail break had become a recurring incident in our various prisons without the Boko Haram inmates. Clearly, the risk factor would triple when the fanatical militants are kept in a medium security prison located in densely populated, built up areas. Such a setting makes it easier for the sect’s intelligence arm to infiltrate the larger society and launch reconnaissance missions on the intended target.

The weird choice of a bustling city – state like Anambra for this magnitude of security operation is compounded by the gulf the matter has created between the federal authorities behind the deployment and the Anambra society. There is no gainsaying the fact that the citizens of the state resented the transfer decision and the manner of its execution as insensitive and disruptive of the social life of the people. If there is anything that has brought the elite of the state and the masses in firm solidarity in a long time, it is their rejection of the relocation as demonstrated by public outcry. It would appear that the federal government took an officious approach to a matter that called for consultation and collaboration between the federal and Anambra state governments. While it is clearly the prerogative of the federal government to run the nation’s prisons, it nonetheless requires the cooperation of the host communities to achieve lasting result.

Given the political differences between the south – east and the APC – led federal government, one would have expected Abuja to go about the exercise more cautiously and with better tact. The matter calls for constructive engagement rather than the assertion of authority and half hearted denials in turns that have largely characterized response to the problem. It is not yet late for the concerned parties to work out satisfactory alternatives in the interest of peace, fairness and national unity. President Buhari should appreciate the urgency of the matter and indeed take a holistic view of it.

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Articles by Ifeanyi Afuba