Children of the new forest
Kaduna used to be the seat of power for the former Northern Region. That was the capital from where Sir Ahmadu Bello ruled the region for more than 10 years. There are more than 150 ethnic groups including Hausa, Fulani, Birom, Kanuri, Angas, Kataf, Jukun, Nupe, Yoruba, Ebira, Tiv and many others. The city by the bank of the River Kaduna was a small settlement before it was taken over by Sir Frederick Lugard who made it his capital when the British established the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. When his bosses decided to amalgamate the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914, Lugard suggested that Kaduna should remain the capital of the union. The big men in London objected and power moved to Lagos.
Apparently now, trouble remains a native of Kaduna. In which other conflict would women and children be regarded as a fair game? But the bandits of Kaduna State have no soft spot for children or women. They kidnap the children. They rape the women. They kill the men. In the war of Kaduna, there are no sacred cows. Every target is a fair game.
One would have thought that Kaduna would be one of the safest places in Nigeria. It is the traditional home of the Nigerian military, sharing the similar antecedents with cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Jos, Enugu and Maiduguri. But among these cities, Kaduna holds the gold medal. It is the home of the First Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army. It was from that historic fortress that Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogwu launched his offensive against the First Republic when he led the squad that assassinated Ahmadu Bello. It was from the same barrack that then Brigadier Alani Akinrinade, General Officer Commanding the First Division, made the radio announcement aborting the 1976 coup spearheaded by Colonel Buka Suka Dimka.
That same Kaduna has become the unsafe city for Nigerian children. This year alone, perhaps over 1000 children may have been kidnapped by criminal gangs and the government seems perplexed by their operation. The only man who seems to understand what is happening to us appears to be Sheik Abubakar Gumi. Yet Kaduna is surrounded by the best armaments in the world and one of the best-trained armies on the African continent.
Kaduna is home to not just the headquarters of the 1 Infantry Division; it is home to a sprawling Air Force base. It is from here that Air Force bombers and attack helicopters take off every day to drop bombs and ammunitions on suspected bandit hideouts in Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and other states. Only last week, fighter jets of the Nigerian Air Force that took off from Kaduna eliminated an estimated 120 bandits at their base in Sububu forest in Zamfara State. Before our very eyes, Nigeria has begun another war in the North West while the North East is still smoldering. Now our children are children of the new forest where the laws of the jungle are the laws. Thomas Hobbes wrote about the state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish and short.” We now know the meaning.
Governor Ahmad El-Rufai, a man who cannot be accused of lack of courage, seems to be confronted with an almost intractable problem. When he became governor, he had moved some of his children to public schools to show good example to the people. Few weeks ago, he said he and his government would not pay ransom to kidnappers. Later he was told that suspected kidnappers were stalking his children and he quickly moved them to safer schools.
In reality, there are no safer schools in Kaduna State. Few days ago, the criminal swooped on Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna, and kidnapped many students. Some of them escaped, but up till yesterday, 121 students are still with them. The abductors literarily want half the state’s budget as ransom. Samuel Aruwan, the Kaduna State Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, said on Tuesday that in the last three months alone, 774 people had been killed by bandits and kidnappers. Among those kidnapped were 239 women and 32 children. Many of the women have been physically violated. These criminals have also killed 222 persons. If this is not war, then we don’t know what it is.
Kaduna State has become the epicentre of a frightening crisis of insecurity in the North-West of Nigeria. In this zone, the criminals are enjoying a winter of boom, making bountiful harvests from Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna. Only Kano seems to have some formula and there kidnapping has not yet become an epidemic.
And it is big business. In his statement, Aruwan also announced that within three months, these criminals stole 8,553 cattle. As the commissioner was making his announcement, a kidnapping gang released Alhaji Alhasan Adamu, the Emir of Kajuru, who had earlier been seized from his palace with 10 of his relations, including his wives and children.
We should remember at this juncture that kidnaping started in the South-South as a weapon by militants fighting for justice in the region. It was later copied by criminals in other parts of the country. It is now a big business in every part of Nigeria, especially in the Northwest. Criminal gangs in Yorubaland and other parts of the South are envious of the impunity that the criminals of the North West seem to enjoy. Despite their high profile activities in the last three months, only 24 suspects are held and awaiting trial.
Every part of Nigeria is involved in this crisis. Said Aruwan: “Insecurity, particularly in frontline communities, have threatened food security because farmers in those communities have abandoned their farmlands for fear of being killed or kidnapped for ransom.”
No wonder the price of tomato and yam has skyrocketed in Lagos markets!
Every well-meaning Nigerian should be interested in what is happening in Kaduna State. There is a need to agree by the power elite on a comprehensive response to the gale of criminality sweeping the land. First, we need to ensure that crimes do not pay. Suspects should be allowed to have their days in court and cases should be concluded within two to three months. In Lagos State, the notorious kidnap suspect, Chukwudi Onuamadike, alias Evans, has been standing trial now for many months and the end is not in sight for him. He was arrested in 2017. How would aspiring kidnappers learn from his experience if eventually he is convicted? For almost 20 years, Major Hamza El-Mustapha, who attained notoriety as the Chief Security Officer of General Sani Abacha, stood trial for his alleged role in the assassination of Mrs. Kudirat Abiola. In the end, he was declared not guilty. He and some of his handlers are even planning to install him as our next President!
It would not be wise to leave Governor El-Rufai to tackle the problem alone. He needs the support of the Federal Government. There is also the need to have a regional response to the crisis. In the Southwest, the governors have agreed that for Nigeria to make progress, we need to look at the possibility of making the six geopolitical zones the new federating units. What is necessary is that the crisis needs political creativity and flexibility. It needs true statesmanship and courage.