That Bishops’ call for self-defence
Catholic Bishops of the Owerri Ecclesiastical Province the other day called upon their fellow citizens to defend themselves against bandits in every guise in view of “serious doubts on the willingness and capability of Nigeria’s security outfits to rise up to their constitutional responsibility.” In a communique issued on this score, the clerics urged people to, “Rise up in prayer to God in vigilance and in legitimate self-defence, for the rights to life, to our homes, to our lands that is God-given.”
Coming from such high quarters of the religious community in the land, this is worrisome. It is a damning indictment of primarily the Federal Government: that highly placed and influential Nigerians are speaking out in this manner at this time. But it is not difficult to understand the frustration that has propelled this sentiment. Simply put, the three tiers of constituted authority that are, by law, granted the powers and the resources to secure the lives, property and welfare of the citizens have shown themselves incapable of doing so. Indeed, it is the direct failure of the Federal Government, which controls the security forces to fulfill this primary obligation that the Bishops had to specifically call out the Imo, Abia, and other state governors to protect their people and their lands.
The religious leaders are not saying anything that others have not voiced in recent times. Even the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom has gone so far as to suggest that the Federal Government should “grant licences to responsible citizens to carry sophisticated weapons such as AK-47 in order to deter criminals from attacking innocent and helpless Nigerians.” In March 2018, retired Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma spoke in the same vein at the convocation of the Taraba State University. The former defence minister said, inter alia, “everyone must rise up…I ask every one of you Nigerians to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory because you have nowhere else to go….” In June this year, in a paper he presented at an event in Abeokuta, former president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo argued that the federal security architecture as organised and operated by the present government cannot give any individual or group hope, let alone assurance of security within Nigeria.” He warned that, “our destiny is in our own hands” and therefore suggested that Nigerians must take initiative and spearhead actions that would “devolve more security responsibility on the community, local and state authorities.” On so crucial an aspect of governance as security of the state and its people, these are indeed weighty utterances against the performance of the incumbent government.
At various locations in the North Central, South East and South West of the country, where the Boko Haram insurgents are not running riot, herdsmen, bandits and other categories of criminals are on a rampage, killing, maiming raping and kidnapping, especially in rural communities and on the highways that connect towns and the urban communities. Communal crises fuelled by the indigene-settler conflict and inter-community land disputes also contribute to the insecurity in Nigeria. It is no exaggeration that in this land now, nowhere is secure, no one is safe. Precious human blood is shed literally daily. Thousands have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes, farms and places of productive work, the country’s food supply is severely threatened, economic activities, social and political stability are under assault.
But notwithstanding the glaring facts and figures, the people in government live, unbelievably, in denial. This is most strange. Nigerians are subjected, on the one hand, to such claims as having “technically” defeated the Boko Haram insurgents, and having “degraded” the fighting capacity of the terrorists. On the other hand, government explains its failure with excuses that are simply laughable. These include that the murderous bandits are foreigners from the Libyan crisis, or that the herdsmen engage in mindless killing of rural farmers as a struggle for grazing land, or that powerful persons sponsor these dastardly acts, or, in the words of Buhari in his 2019 inaugural speech “decades of neglect and corruption in social investment, infrastructure development, education and healthcare,” or that foreign weapon manufacturers refuse to sell arms to Nigeria, or “lack of resources” and the ‘‘fantastic phenomenon’’ of COVID-19.
The point to make directly to Nigerian leaders in governments is simply this: No one elected them to give excuses for inaction in the face of inescapable challenges of governance. They are in office and power to solve problems, not to explain their failure to so do.
And it is a matter of the peoples’ trust and of their personal honour that Nigerian leaders should try harder and do much more for this country and its people. Countless times, Buhari has said that security is top on the agenda of his government. His All Progressives Congress (APC) party was voted into power on a manifesto that promised to remedy the security failings of the Jonathan administration. The first statement of commitment in the APC manifesto is to “initiate action to amend the constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.” The party told the people it would, if elected into office, “urgently address capacity building of law enforcement agents in terms of quantity and quality as this is critical in safeguarding the sanctity nationwide;” “be of lives and property;” establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals-driven Serious Crimes Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious communal clashes nationwide;” begin widespread consultations to amend the constitution to enable state and local governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community….”
Five years of an APC government is yet to deliver on these and indeed many other promises in the documented contract willingly offered the people of this country. Take the case of policing. As rightly noted by Sola Tayo of the Chatham House research group, “The Police Service in Nigeria is inadequate for the size of the population and is very much urbanised, leaving people in remote areas vulnerable.” Every reasonable person (including the APC party of course) agrees that the most efficient and effective policing is local. President Buhari noted in his 2019 inaugural speech “most of the instances of inter-communal and inter-religious strife and violence were and are still as a result of sponsorship or incitement by ethnic, political or religious leaders hoping to benefit by exploiting our divisions and fault lines …”. He promised to move Nigeria to the “Next Level” ostensibly on matters of security and welfare. It is more than a year into his second ‘‘democratic coming’’ but there is hardly any evidence of any movement except to a lower level. The statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics support this assertion.
Besides useful suggestions from other well-meaning groups and persons, the Northeast governor are reported to have offered Buhari pieces of advice that include addressing the root cause of insurgency, empowering the police with “state of the art equipment and armoured personnel carriers … with a view to bridging the manpower gap observable in the Nigerian army.” They are the leaders on the frontline, they should know. But it must be said too that Buhari is a military general and must bring his knowledge, skill and experience to bear on the clear and present security threat to Nigeria on his watch. Nigerians are therefore waiting impatiently for a ‘‘change’’ to that ‘‘next level’’ of better security and welfare.
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