Is this war or insecurity?
I posed the above question in this column about a year ago, precisely in March, 2021 after Vanguard newspaper of February 22, 2021 reported that some 1,525 people were killed across Nigeria within six weeks of 2021.
That report clearly painted a picture of warfare; for there is no other way to describe the scale of bloodbath plaguing Nigeria. Since I posed that question, has the situation abated? Rather than abate, the situation has gotten worse. There is a state of near anarchy. Nigeria has become a killing field.
The attack on the Abuja-Kaduna passenger train last Monday night, 21st March further exposed the gravity of the Nigerian insecurity situation. It has left no one in doubt that what is happening goes beyond insecurity.
There are conflicting figures about the actual number of passengers onboard the ill-fated train. According to the Managing Director of Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC), Mr. Fidet Okhiria, only 123 of the 362 people on board the train at the time of the attack had been reached on phone.
He said eight passengers were killed and 41 others injured, adding that 398 passengers purchased tickets to travel on the train but only 362 actually boarded.
Explaining that the entire seat capacity of the train is 840, Okhiria added that the 970 figure being quoted on social media was incorrect as the train did not have such capacity.
Prior to the train attack, some “200” terrorists reportedly invaded the Kaduna International Airport and killed a security guard attached to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). The terrorists also allegedly prevented a Lagos bound commercial aircraft from taking off. A combined detachment of the military and other security agents were deployed to the airport to confront the terrorists.
The passing week in Imo State witnessed a spate of attacks. The country home of the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor was burnt. Furthermore, gunmen burnt Umuguma Police Station in Owerri. And above all, the sacristy of the great Assumpta Cathedral was burnt by unknown persons.
The foregoing is a tip of what is happening in the country. People are afraid to travel by road. Traveling by air and train, which was thought to be safe is now threatened. Kaduna, which is the primate city of Northern Nigeria appears to be most dangerous.
Given the scary atmosphere all over the country, it is not clear why the Federal Government is reluctant to call a spade a spade. Situating the unrelenting attacks by bandits/terrorists/Boko Haram in the right framework would help redress the crises.
The ceaseless bloodbath in the country has assumed a monstrous dimension. The seeming downplaying of what has turned the country into virtual Syria and Iraq beclouds what would have been a firm resolve to tackle the unfortunate situation.
The popular Muslim cleric Sheik Gumi, a former captain in the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA), had once, while speaking on Channels Television’s Politics Today, expressed serious concern over what is happening.
His words: “It is a complex issue. It is an ethnic war and the solution is dialogue and teaching them Islam. To them, they are talking about ethnic existence.” He was referring to the bandits. A former army captain understands what war is.
Unfortunately, there is a wrong perception of what is happening, which is why the crisis is intractable and even escalating. Nigeria lives in denial. These insights show that what is ravaging the country at the moment is more of war than insecurity.
Some commentators have unequivocally voiced the reality that Nigeria is fighting a war. Not long ago, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, in a press conference widely circulated in the social media bluntly stated that the Fulani have declared war on Nigeria.
And as if that is not enough, earlier, the former Minister for Defence, General Theophilus Danjuma called on Nigerians to rise and defend themselves against ethnic cleansing. Danjuma’s outburst corroborated Sheik Gumi’s statement that Nigeria is fighting an ethnic war.
Some insecurity in peace time is part of human existence and the police, working in tandem with other security agencies could tackle it. But war induced insecurity, like what we have at hand, overwhelms the police and the military has to be involved. The military takes the upper hand.
The question to ask is what are the fallouts of this crisis? Are Nigerians bearing the pangs of a war situation or not? Are the realities not on ground? Daily blood lettings, fear and apprehension, insecurity of lives and properties, incessant abductions, rape, lawlessness/anarchy, etc are rife.
And perhaps, the most undeniable evidence is the refugee problem. People are displaced from their homes, mass poverty, food scarcity, hunger and high cost of living. Besides, terrorists, gunmen, hoodlums, bandits, insurgents, militants and other criminals hold sway everywhere.
Both policemen and soldiers are killed wantonly. The catalogue of abductions is innumerable. Practically, no day passes without someone being abducted or killed. Perhaps, the highlight of the vicious abductions is the abduction of innocent school children from their dormitories.
In the night of April 14, 2014, some 276 female students were abducted by Boko Haram from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. While some have been released, many of the girls are still unaccounted for.
Again on February 19, 2018, 110 schoolgirls aged 11–19 years old were kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi in Bulabulin, Yunusari Local Government area of Yobe State.
On 11 December 2020, over 300 pupils were kidnapped from a boys’ secondary boarding school on the outskirts of Kankara, Katsina State. A gang of gunmen on motorcycles reportedly attacked the Government Science Secondary School, with more than 800 pupils in the boarding house.
On February 17, 2021, 27 students, three staff and 12 members of their families were abducted by an armed bandits that stormed the Government Science secondary school in the Kagara district of Niger state, overwhelming the school’s security. One boy was killed during the raid.
The latest in the string of these dastard acts, armed bandits reportedly attacked the Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe in Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State and abducted over 300 girls who are still in captivity.
Following the series of abductions targeted at schools, Kano, Kaduna and Yobe states have reportedly shut their boarding schools. This is a big blow for Nigeria’s northern states that are struggling to attract pupils to school especially girls.
The reported abandonment of food production by farmers in the war zones is not unconnected with the raging brutal war across Nigeria, which has unleashed terrorists, bandits and herdsmen on hapless citizens in the areas. The people who used to produce enough food to eat and sell to other parts of the country are now beggars famished in refugee camps.
In December 2020, Boko Haram jihadis claimed responsibility for the brutal massacre of over 76 rice farmers in Borno State. Across Nigeria, local farmers are now afraid to venture into their farms for fear of being abducted or killed.
The over 10-year bloody internecine war that started from the North-East after Boko Haram launched its vicious attacks has virtually spread to all parts of Nigeria by virtue of the ravaging herdsmen, bandits, unknown gunmen and other criminal elements has claimed thousands of lives and devastated the areas. Borno Yobe and Adamawa states were once the epicenter but today Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara states have also joined the bandwagon among others.
Over two million people comprising mostly women, children and the elderly, have been rendered homeless and are now quartered in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps across the states.
It is unfortunate that from the outset, government underrated Boko Haram the same way it underrated the herdsmen. By treating the insurgents with kid gloves, rather than declaring a full scale war, they had the leeway to transform from being a bunch of rag tag rebels to a formidable and well-organised force.
Around 2015, government declared that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. But all that have proved to be false as the insurgents became more ferocious in the attacks on hapless villagers in the war zone.
Now that Boko Haram has morphed into herdsmen and bandits, the buck is on the table of President Muhammadu Buhari to rise up to the daunting challenge and save Nigeria from imminent disintegration if this onslaught is not contained quickly.
Last time, the president reportedly promised that the Zamfara students’ abduction will be the last to happen, but the abductions have even escalated.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan had attributed the inability of the Nigerian military and other security agencies to contain the escalating nation’s insecurity to international politics. This is defeatist and laughable. The statement is hollow, empty and void. Government has the capacity and responsibility to contain this crisis for peace to reign.