The escalation in terror attacks
The higher level to which terrorism is being taken in the country leaves no room for doubts that rather than the much bandied story of terrorists having been largely decimated, they are actually waxing stronger. Their more recent operations around Kaduna, the political capital of the North, as epitomised by their attack first on the Kaduna International Airport; and then twice in 24 hours, their dastardly attacks on trains depict that if the country’s security forces continue in their present poor form, democracy, and the coming elections, are deeply threatened. Many are feared abducted as the terrorists attacked a Kaduna-bound train, detonating explosives and opening fire on hundreds of passengers on board. The train derailed as explosives planted on the rail track went off close to Rigasa station.
But the handwriting has been plainly written on the wall ever since the criminals tampered with the railway line several months ago, suggesting their plan to strike at a more auspicious time. That time came when security forces had apparently relaxed on the erroneous assumption that all is well.
The result is the cruel killing, on Monday March 28 of about nine persons aboard a passenger train bound Kaduna from Abuja. The attack was followed up by another barely 24 hours later; and it happened even as security forces were belatedly investigating the extent of damage of the first attack. With reports emerging that government had prior intelligence knowledge of the attack, it is equally clear that security agencies have failed badly.
Indeed, three previous attempts had been made to derail trains. To crown it all, there were reports, before the Monday incident, of intelligence information warning of a planned operation by the criminal groups; suggesting that the tragedy could have been avoided. Nigerians recall with sadness that similar intelligence warning was seemingly ignored by government prior to the kidnap by terrorists of more than 200 school girls in Chibok, Borno State; dozens of who are yet to be located or rescued since 2014. There is no justification for the blame game between security agencies and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), considering the loss of lives, infliction of injury, abduction and other collateral damages occasioned by the incident. The question remains as to what exactly the security forces did to confront and destabilise the terrorists before they struck. What synergy is there between the Intelligence Units and other arms of security to prevent the Kaduna attack?
In the circumstances, the general public view that government failed in its core duty of safeguarding the lives of Nigerians is apt. Indications had been rife that trains and the railways are potential targets of terrorists who in October last year blew up rail tracks with explosives. It is unfortunate that officials treated the incident without any sense of urgency, trading blame on why procurement of surveillance equipment was slow.
It was not surprising to many security watchers that the terrorists took a swipe on the Kaduna International Airport last weekend, killing a personnel in the airport. Attempt by the Army to downplay the incident is not acceptable, given that it disrupted some flights and raised apprehension in the aviation sector, as some airlines reportedly threatened to stop flights to the airport in the absence of security. It is confounding that security and airport officials had always known that the terrorists regularly pass through a route close to the airport and believed that the best action is not to disturb their movement.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari has indeed said all the predictable things about the train attacks, condemning them and urging the police and the Army to go after the killers and kidnappers. Nigerians know, sadly, that such statements usually mark the end of official anger against such acts. The statements are not new, and they have not produced any relief for Nigerians. The president should be bothered that the whole insecurity issue has become one huge thriving industry assured of regular financial input by the government. What role are saboteurs playing in this regard? Equally disturbing is high suspicion that the country’s security agencies have been compromised, such that terrorists seem to easily get wind of their planned operation and move to neutralise the forces. Beyond this is the seeming determination of the terrorists to kill natives of communities in the Kaduna and Zamfara zones, going by the regularity and brutality of attacks on these communities.
Beyond his condemnation of the terrorists, President Buhari should be concerned also with alleged connivance of some public officials with terrorists, which has given vent to insinuations that even the president is unwilling to wield the big stick against the marauders on account of their ethnic base. This insinuation seems to have been strengthened by government’s policy of rehabilitating terrorists branded as “repentant”, even against reports that the pardoned or rehabilitated terrorists often go back to their roots of violence against innocent communities, now armed with cogent information garnered during their “rehabilitation”. Added to this is the failure of government to block the finance base or sponsors of terror, even when some of these have been identified with the assistance of other countries.
Certainly, the country is not out of the scourge of terror yet, as it waits to recover the missing Chibok girls, Leah Sharibu and thousands of Nigerians killed or held in captivity by terrorists. Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor should not be quick to support political office holders who live in denial of the rampaging banditry and corruption in the country. Leaders should not appear to be conniving with terrorism with the way they turned a blind eye to the ethnic cleansing in Kaduna and Zamfara states. Another justification for government connivance with terror is the alleged disappearance of 178,459 arms and ammunition belonging to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
The details of the missing arms are contained on pages 383-391 of the Auditor General of the Federation (AuGF’s) annual report on non-compliance/internal control weaknesses in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government for the year ended December 31, 2019. The report indicated that 88,078 AK-47 rifles, 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols from different formations nationwide could not be accounted for as of January 2020. These anomalies could easily be attributed to connivance by the authorities particularly because, like those funding terrorism, government has refused to sanction the culprits of the missing arms.
A government whose security operatives cannot protect its citizens from rampaging marauders and terrorists and kidnappers cannot wield any influence on the global stage. Nigeria must restructure politically and otherwise to be able to deliver good governance, through running the country on its natural contours of diversity. With about 370, 000 police personnel for a population of about 211 million, Nigeria cannot expect to protect lives and properties of her citizens, besides failing to meet the United Nations 340 to 100,000 police-to-citizen ratio. Nigeria’s current police format is not congenial to effective policing in a federation.
It is high time for the zones to be empowered to secure their own territories. The template already exemplified by the setting up of Amotekun security outfit in the South West; Ebube Agu in the South East and the Hisbah of the North West can be developed to decentralize the present police force which is clearly overwhelmed by the numerous challenges. Nigeria needs more policemen and better training and equipment to break away from the grip of terrorism, and to free the military to face its core duty of protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity. National security is already on emergency, and government should use every available strategy to entrench security and welfare of Nigerians, which, under the Constitution, remains the primary purpose of government.