ADDRESSING CURRENT SECURITY CHALLENGES
I sat back in a sofa last Thursday with pain in my heart, as I beheld the photograph of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member who was felled by bullets in the November 3, 2011 massacre in Damaturu, Yobe State. The photograph was prominently displayed in one of the national dailies. Nothing in her innocent face betrayed any premonition of imminent death that bright and sunny day. She looked radiant, confident and hopeful that the future had promising dreams for her. Unknown to her, she had less than a day to live on mother earth. Somewhere around the corner hid the agents of death that unleashed terror and mayhem on unsuspecting civilians and security agents sending her and 150 others to their untimely grave.
Remmy, one of the victims of the senseless killings, was an Enugu State-born 2010 graduate of the famous University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She had gone to Damaturu to serve her fatherland, oblivious of the fact that she would not return alive. Her brutal murder adds to the growing numbers of NYSC members killed in active service this year. As it were, NYSC members have suddenly become an endangered species in Nigeria's socio-political life - targeted without any justification by miscreants and street urchins who parade themselves as revolutionaries to kill and maim innocent citizens. The slaying of armless NYSC members started immediately after the announcement of the results of the 2011 presidential election, and has not abated ever since. Instead of subsiding, it has assumed a more notorious dimension – with the perpetrators getting steadily emboldened.
What happened in Damaturu and Maiduguri a fortnight ago looked like a scene from a Sci-fi movie! It had the trappings of a Hollywood award-winning film; yet it was happening in our very eyes, leaving security agents scampering for safety. Even as I wrote this piece, the actual number of the dead and injured was yet to be ascertained. I believe that the number will ultimately exceed the official figure being bandied about.
I have thought and prayed over what is happening in our land and yet to pinpoint the real reason behind the troubles that are gradually enveloping all of us. Though the security agents have been putting up a bold posture in the face of the current challenges, the truth about their vulnerability cannot be denied. Imagine policemen, soldiers, Road Safety Corps and Civil Defence Corps officials being helplessly killed in broad-day light. We are told that about 36 members of the killer-gang were eliminated in the shoot-out. To me, this number is nothing compared to one innocent life. How many lives can compensate, for instance, the family of Remmy who was murdered in cold-blood?
Certainly, there were many others like Remmy, who died unsung - they didn't have an equal opportunity as Remmy for their eulogies to be written on the pages of national newspapers. Not only that, there are many families that are yet to ascertain the whereabouts of their loved ones, two weeks after the sordid national calamity.
Let us tell one another the truth: the Damaturu massacre was a bad omen for this great country. The fall-out is something we may find very difficult to handle. Already the United States and other countries have since sent be-at-the-alert warnings to their citizens to beware of such places as top-class hotels and restaurants in Abuja and other parts of the country. Gladly too, the alert was lifted less than one week after it was released.
The Federal Government skillfully downgraded the alert by the U.S. and in its place assured the citizens of their safety. As much as I admire the courage of the government, in the face of the perilous situation, I will not fail to advise it to take the warnings seriously irrespective of the security measures it had already put in place to counter any insurgency. One intractable problem confronting security agents currently is the lack of sufficient intelligence-gathering capacity. Suffice it to add that they are also not well-versed in anti-terrorism control. It is heart-warming that the United States has also offered to train them in this aspect.
I wonder for how long the present state of insecurity will last. What started like a joke has systematically snowballed into a huge national crisis, raising concern among the global community. As far as I am concerned, we are in one of the most trying times in the annals of our nation. We may not be at war, but what is happening is more heinous than war. Let somebody tell me what is greater than the killing of over 150 innocent citizens in one fell swoop? The circumstances of their death are the most troubling. The issue is no longer that people are killed accidentally while on official duties, but the preponderance. Both the guarded and the guards have become victims: nobody is safe anymore.
What the perpetrators of the November 3, 2011 debacle wanted to achieve was to sent jitters through the spines of security personnel; and by so doing seize the upper hand. How long this game of wits will continue is what nobody can accurately predict. Whichever way we look at it those that executed the dastardly act were foolhardy (or should I, rather, write bold), insensitive, and had suicidal instincts. They are ready to take more daring operations if nothing is done to curtail them.
Some people have called for direct negotiation with those fighting the government. But the question is: Who are these people and what do they really want to achieve? The insurgency is daily acquiring new dimensions and complexities, just as there are concerted efforts by the government to deal with it. Regrettably, the harder it tried the more volatile the situation becomes.
There are definitely several groups waging their campaigns from different directions, and this makes it very cumbersome to pick out the real ones to deal with among them. My worry is that nobody has told us who these people are and what their demands are. At present, what all of us are engaged in is pointing fingers at non-existent, unidentifiable enemies. We need to get our facts right in order to be able to deal properly with the precarious situation. The inability of security agencies to contain the insurgency in the north is traceable to this complex factor. Again, it has been alleged, of recent in the media, that there is no love lost between the police and the army in the maintenance of peace and order across the country. There have been cases of accusations and counter-accusations between the two.
Issues bordering on security are what should be handled with caution and professionalism. It requires collaboration and continual methodical appraisal. It is quite disheartening that personality suspicion has torn the security agencies apart and pitched one against the other. This mutual suspicion will make it increasingly difficult for them to contain the insurgency since their rank and file is divided. It may not be far from the truth for one to easily believe the allegation that some security agents may be working for the enemies: feeding them with classified information on how to counter the efforts of government to restore normalcy. It happens in other lands and can easily happen here in Nigeria.
This brings us to the issue of corruption among security agencies. Corruption is the chief culprit in the fight against insecurity. As mentioned above, it is very likely that some security agents work for the criminals as alleged. This allegation is very possible going by the continual casualties recorded among the security agents. Since the October 1, 2010 bombing in Abuja, there has been a series of other bombings in different parts of the north. In all of these attacks the security agents have recorded the highest number of fatalities. Take for instance the Force Headquarters Abuja bombing: many security personnel were killed. Imagine what would have happened had the suicide bomber succeeded in hitting the main structure of the command.
The Damaturu/Maiduguri attacks, penultimate Friday, have indisputably heightened the fear that security personnel are now the major targets of these increased attacks. This development is as obnoxious as it is heart-wrenching. The death of a single security man or woman is a huge loss to the nation and his/her family. Then consider what the nation stands to lose in the event of the death of as many as 25 recorded in the last Damaturu attacks.
Left for me, we should enter into dialogue with whoever can reach the insurgents to see how soon the situation can be contained. We cannot afford to continue to lose innocent citizens - whether civilian or military - to such senseless attacks. For whatever names these groups are called are immaterial. What is central now is sustainable peace. So, it may not be out of order if they are invited to dialogue with people they can trust. The late President Musa Yar'Auda used diplomacy and tactfulness to unsettle the militants of the Niger Delta Region and extract a commitment for peace and order. The current Amnesty in the region was achieved, so to speak, on a platter considering that similar packages were achieved at huger costs. This does not, in any way, mean that effort or cost was spared in achieving peace in the region.
I believe that security across the country can be restored if the government makes conscious effort to reorient the citizens and make them more committed to national development. The yawning gap between the rich and the poor including the biting poverty, have all combined to cause the escalation in violence. The inability of government to contain the growing cases of religious violence in the past is also a contributory factor. What is happening in Nigeria today is a consequence of the accumulated negligence and apathy, which have resulted in the breeding of insurgents, reactionaries, cultists, rapists, brigands, armed robbers, kidnappers, and other social fits that have been a thorn in the flesh of security agents. It is not arguable that crimes grow at a proportionate rate with population, just as it is common knowledge that government alone cannot meet the needs of the citizenry. There is a need for partnership between the government and the Organized Private Sector in dealing with issues arising from population explosion, youth restiveness, unemployment, and general poverty.
There is also no questioning the fact that the provision of social amenities, boosting agriculture, and enhancing the quality of education in our schools will help to remedy the increasing rate of insecurity. These three indices are central to the development of the economy of any nation. This is why the effort by the present government to streamline the developmental and transformational initiatives should be encouraged. My worry is that there is no conscious effort to grow the economy at such a speed as to address the lingering developmental challenges we have had over the years. A nation as a large and intricately complex as Nigeria requires a deliberate development plan that will drive the youth of this country into productive enterprises as a way of dealing with the problems facing them. It will amount to an error of judgment to allow the vulnerable youth population of Nigeria to continue to grope in the dark. Their neglect is largely responsible for all the ills plaguing this nation.
What we should do in the interim is to tackle the menace of insecurity headlong, but diplomatically in order not to make victims of those that may be innocent. It is true that the efforts in the past to flush out miscreants had consumed the lives of innocent people who were cut down in the crossfire between miscreants and security agents. This mistake must be strictly avoided as we search for a solution to the current situation.
We cannot afford to continue to lose precious lives to sectarian misunderstanding, ethnic disagreements, hunger and diseases, armed robberies and other kinds of criminality. This is why every Nigerian is challenged to cooperate with security agencies to restore normalcy in the country and secure lives and properties. Nigeria is a country God has blessed like no other. While other nations are grappling with all forms of natural disasters Nigeria is relatively safe and habitable. All we need to boost our global image is to address the challenges listed in this piece so that very soon we will have cause to smile.
Things may be very hard at the moment, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. This should give us cause to thank God and work for the peace and development of our fatherland.
Those aggrieved in any way should sheath their swords and embrace peace. Peace is what we need to make Nigeria great.