Highway kidnappings: Task before southern governors
Brazen invasion of the South by terrorist groups and incessant abductions on the highway both signpost the worsening trend of insecurity in the country. The concerned federal agencies have been less than spectacular in keeping Nigerians safe, fueling insinuations of official complicity in the business of terrorism. But despite collusion and bureaucratic barriers against self-help measures, this is the time for states to further close ranks, collectively jolt the Federal Government to its constitutional duties and reinforce regional security networks to flush out invaders from the South.
In a manner never heard of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, terrorists have lately turned the ever-busy stretch to a theatre of free abduction of all classes of Nigerians. In the last couple of weeks, they have brazenly halted traffic flow to steal, kill and kidnap motorists even in broad daylight. Such had been recorded at the Ibadan-end of the artery, the Sagamu-interchange in-between, and the Kara Bridge end in Lagos. Most recent kidnapped victims include the former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Adigun Agbaje, who was only released after ransom was paid to the kidnappers. Beyond that corridor, at least seven terrorist invaded Irele Ekiti-Oke Ayo Highway in Ekiti lately, hijacking travellers into the bush. Chilling experiences of survivors are in the public domain. They keep coming with specific mention of kidnappers in their numbers, some in military camouflages, daily execution of victims without ransom value and steady reign of terror in farms and forests in close proximity to villages.
Slowly but surely, terrorism has been building in the South and now nearing its climax. It was the same set of attackers that in June this year invaded St. Francis Catholic Church in Ondo State, killing about 40 worshippers on a black Sunday. There is no forgetting the myriad of kidnappings and killings in the Oke Ogun area of Oyo and Osun states. They invaded Igangan agrarian community in Ibarapa zone of Oyo State, killing about 30 persons and setting houses including the palace of Asigangan of Igangan town on fire. Armed invaders also stormed Idere in the same Ibarapa area of the state, with some residents claiming to have seen a helicopter dropping firearms to bandits in the forest. Not peculiar to the Southwest, Southeast has also been having its own worst nightmares of daylight abduction and mindless killings on Enugu-Port Harcourt highway among others.
Suffice to note that the Chairman of the Oyo State Amotekun Security corps, and an ex-General in the Army, Ajibola Togun, earlier warned that some foreign Fulani herdsmen and bandits of Tuareg extraction have perfected plans to invade communities in the Southwest, masquerading as commercial motorcyclists, pepper traders and carrot sellers. Togun raised the alarm that these are invaders from Mali, Guinea, Chad and other West Africa countries in the perfected act of killing and kidnapping. He had revealed that: “There would soon be a problem in the Southwest. These foreign Fulani herdsmen would soon come for the purpose of taking over Nigeria. This is because they (Fulani) have the backing of some people in government to take over Nigeria as a heritage that Allah has given them.” Sadly, his prediction is coming to pass.
It is unfortunate that the security agencies, constitutionally saddled and routinely funded to keep Nigeria safe, have been fingered of complicity in curbing the incursion, especially given the ethnic affiliation of Mr. President to the Sahel pastoralists. The presidency has neither been bothered by the weighty allegations nor motivated to spur security actions against those giving the Commander-in-Chief a bad name, at least to set the records straight. After all, the same administration has for years been placating barefaced terrorists as aggrieved Fulani herders and bandits until it was too late to curb their excesses nationwide.
Despite the letdown at the top, the primary duty of government is still security of lives and welfare of all. Without the sense of protection, socio-political and economic policies of the state are all flights of fancy, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Successes of the security agencies against Boko Haram in the North are commendable. However, it is dangerous that the Federal Government has chosen to keep mum on insecurity and growing cases of kidnappings in the South, while working hard to truncate efforts at state policing and self-help measures in endangered communities. But to keep incentivising criminality in the South, in the name of sectionalism, is to drive the country into a full-blown anarchy. There is no doubt that the country is better together. But, it has to be one that works for all and not for a few that seems to appeal more to the president. It should begin with a presidency that represents all sections equally and not given to ethnic chauvinism and hegemonic tendencies. To do otherwise in the face of prevailing gruesome killings and general apprehension, is to give room to self-helps among nations that feel alienated, and inadvertently lend credence to secessionists’ agitations.
Nonetheless, this is a time for the state governors and representatives of West and Eastern regions to form stronger alliances and push for the security of lives and property – in enlightened self-interest. As it is, everyone is at risk and terror will surely escalate without a determined pushback against marauders. Again, the governors should take charge of security in their states and in their regions. This is the time to reinforce security networks like Amotekun, Ebube Agu and with the cooperation of security agencies and local residents, the criminals would be flushed out of the forests. The way out is a concerted effort of local intelligence and military might that sustain the momentum against invaders. All hands must be on deck.
By extension, it is incumbent on all representatives of the South at the National Assembly to demand a better deal for the protection of lives and properties in the region. It is a shame that infrastructure like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway have taken forever to be completed and the concerned lawmakers in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo rarely make efforts to demand accountability from both the Federal Ministry of Works and the contractors like Julius Berger. The rather snail pace of contraction work at the Lagos-end of the expressway has steadily created bottlenecks and traffic snarl that kidnappers are finding attractive around the Kara Bridge. The people’s representatives should be asking questions and making demands that would make life and living tolerable. Lastly, the lawmakers are aware of the constitutional bottlenecks to state policing, as well as the near helplessness of the Nigeria Police as presently constituted. The National Assembly as a whole should not continue to play the ostrich, ignoring the call for restructuring the country, devolution of powers and state policing.