‘To curb highway crimes, citizens must complement police efforts’
Ona Ekhomu, a renowned security expert and Chairman, Trans-world Security, spoke to LAOLU ADEYEMI on the issue of killings, and banditry on the nation’s highways. He urges Nigerians to support the efforts of the security agencies to deal with the problem.
What is your take on the current security situation of the country?
The security situation in the country is quite troubling. I don’t agree with the explanation of the political leadership that the violent targeted attacks are isolated. The evidence is that the attacks are very widespread – occurring in almost all geo-political zones of the country. The frequency of attacks is also high, while the criticality of the attacks is astronomical. I also reject the argument that herdsmen violence increased because attention of the nation was focused on Boko Haram in the Northeast. There is herdsmen violence in Adamawa State. The truth is that Nigeria is fast looking like the Hobbesian state of nature- where life was “nasty, brutish and short”.
This unfortunate state of affairs should concern all Nigerians for many reasons. First, the state of insecurity is claiming lives. The killing of Mrs. Olakunrin was one of the thousands of killings carried out by the attackers.
Second, the incessant violence is giving Nigeria a bad name in the world. I was in the USA recently and many Nigerians I spoke to swore that they would never visit the country for fear of their lives.
Thirdly, the situation is depriving the nation of badly needed foreign direct investments (FDI) and it’s resulting into an exodus of foreign and domestic capital. Fourth, it is aggravating the fault lines of the nation and raising questions about national unity. Fifth, it is undermining the public trust in governance and our social institutions. Sixth, it is negatively affecting economic activities, as Nigerians now prefer not to travel by road as a risk mitigation strategy.
Where do you think the killing and banditry can lead the country to?
Should these killings persist unchecked, we will have serious societal problems on our hands. Already, various ethnic groups have issued threats of violence to non-indigenes. The situation is setting the stage for generalised violence throughout the land. The government needs to nip the current crisis in the bud to prevent a large- scale breakdown of law and order.
The government must ensure strategic performance by deterring the killings and banditry so that citizens may not resort to self-help remedy, which might exceed the capacity of the security agencies to control. The killings and banditry constitute an existential threat to Nigeria and Nigerians.
What do you think is missing in the current strategy of fighting insecurity?
As usual, we get the issues wrong at the level of problem analysis. The value system is skewed in favour of lionizing wealth and having little regard for knowledge, truth and facts. Our leaders are adept in exploiting the emotional content of any situation. This enables them to control us and, maintain power. The fact is, most societal problems – like the herdsmen violence is poorly analyzed and understood.
In such circumstance, workable solutions can’t be invented. For example, President Jonathan minimised the Boko Haram problem and it consumed his presidency. The current government of President Buhari, likewise, is in denial over the herders violence. The eventual outcome cannot be palatable. Social problems don’t solve themselves. Someone has to make a policy intervention to resolve them.
What strategy can be effective to combat insecurity on the highways?
The highways are not as dangerous as the forests. The real danger lurks in the forest where the criminals hide and operate from. They are the masters of the forest and don’t use the highways. They emerge from the forests to attack; kill innocent citizens and kidnap passengers.
They usually execute a classic ambush using gunmen in the middle of the road as a stopper. Depending upon the size of the gang, they put a plug about 100 metres from the stopper. All vehicles between the stopper and the plug are in the kill zone. Anybody attempting to escape is fired upon and killed. The seizure of victims from the highways is very swift.
Bottom line is that patrolling the highways may not produce useful results in catching the kidnappers in the act. Policing belong to the citizenry. To check this ugly trend, we need to train many law abiding citizens to augment police efforts. We can have more of neighbourhood watch, neighbourhood security in all the states of the federation. An agency like LASTMA is more respected in Lagos and they don’t use gun. We don’t have enough police or soldiers.
What steps can citizens take to protect themselves?
Citizens have the power to bring an end to the current state of insecurity. First, they must write, text, call their elected and appointed leaders and insist that something be done about the threats to their lives.
It is also important that citizens get familiar with high risk locations like Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Benin-Ore expressway, Ife-Ibadan highway and avoid those places, or ply them using armed escort. Security awareness is the most effective form of target-hardening, as citizens will act in ways to prevent a loss event.
If you observe people being attacked, get away from there and phone the police to take action.
Lastly, citizens in rural areas should form vigilance groups to protect themselves and ensure all security incidents are reported to the police promptly.
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