During the receding days of the immediate Muhammadu Buhari administration, the popular maxim then was that terrorism and banditry had been badly degraded and that the undesirable elements were merely carrying out cowardly attacks. Then, anytime bandits struck and picked up some unfortunate Nigerians just as the hawk hunts chicks, and carried them off to their den to demand ransom, it became a sing song for the then Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to say that those picked up were mere “soft targets” no matter their number and how frequently it occurred. Nigerians were constantly reminded that by the time the Buhari government was taking over from the previous government, residents in Abuja especially were preyed upon by bandits and killed in numbers. Then the spokespersons of the government at different levels would not stop schooling Nigerians how they should be grateful to their stars that Abuja had been liberated once again as a safe haven.
It did not make any difference when reminded that they promised total eradication of insecurity, not “degraded”.
Even with their “degrading” theory, horrible hostage takings took place, but they were explained away that Nigerians shouldn’t be ungrateful that some of them could still sleep on their bed. The most ridiculous was the infamous Kaduna bound train from Abuja that came under fierce attack by daring bandits who bombed it and its tracks on March 28, 2022. After the attack, many of the passengers were dragged inside the forest and for more than six months, they became common monetary commodities in the hands of their captors. Then a princely N100 million per head was charged before they were left off the hook. And for that length of time, they were kept in the same forest while all sorts of negotiations and bargaining took place.
The bandits used the seized passengers to exhibit their filmmaking skills and constantly released footage of their captives, which Nigerians watched as season films. Of course, that was a terrible all time low for any semblance of intelligence gathering component of the country’s security forces.
While the Nigerian Armed Forces watched helplessly as bandits made mincemeat of the train passengers, some funny individuals were always in constant touch with the bandits and were relating the goings on in the forest to Nigerians. They knew who and what and how the hostages were faring in the hands of their captors. Right from the forest, the bandits launched a deadly attack on Kuje Prison and took away their “own” into freedom. All of these were explained away: they were all soft targets!
With change of guard in the military after President Bola Tinubu took over Aso Rock, Nigerians invested great hope that at last they could heave a sigh of relief. But unless we want to deceive ourselves, there is an escalation of insecurity all over the place now with the spate of kidnappings, killings and other forms of violence.
In Ondo State recently, a busload of choristers of a church was waylaid and all occupants were herded into a bush for days and only regained freedom after payment of millions of naira in ransom. In fact, they were released at the same spot, which means that their captors had a field day without any hindrance by security agencies. They demanded ransom and they got it before they released their captives.
A scarier pattern now is the abduction of female university students, which has happened in Zamfara and Katsina States and recently in Nasarawa State. Till now, a large number of the students are still held hostage by bandits in these places, leaving their parents in great distress.
Some weeks back, some prospective National Youth Service Corps members travelling from the South South area to the North for their primary assignment were waylaid and captured by bandits. They are still held up somewhere in the forest while their families are running from pillar to post in search of millions to secure their release.
Quite a number of farmers have also been seized while working on their farms by bandits who demand and get ransom without any hindrance. Bandits run rings around security agencies all over the place. In fact, security forces are now said to have allegedly encouraged families of kidnapped victims to pay ransom to secure the release of their loved ones first before any operation to arrest the criminals in order to save lives!
Throughout the eight years of the Buhari government, the issue of good, effective intelligence gathering remained a topical point. Nigeria’s poor intelligence gathering processes crippled its ability to nip crime, violence and killings in the bud as done in more advanced climes.
Many of the crimes committed and violence recorded could have been averted if Nigeria had a virile intelligence network and there is greater collaboration, not rivalry, among the government units tasked with providing intelligence and security, say experts.
“The truth is that if the obvious lack of actionable intelligence is properly addressed among all the security, intelligence agencies and the military, then insecurity would have been solved 50 percent,” said Timothy Avele, the Chief Executive Officer of Agent-X Security Limited. Avele went on to add: “From the president down the ladder of the leadership of various security agencies and the military, all acknowledged this thorny issue of lack of actionable intelligence. The problem I see there is that while everyone wants intelligence, sadly, no one wants to invest in its acquisition. Imagine the military top leadership asking villagers to provide intelligence. Intelligence could only be produced by trained intelligence analysts. Sadly, the entire police force has less than 70 trained modern analysts, the military less than 100.”
Azeez Olaniyan, a professor at the Department of Political Science, Federal University Oye Ekiti, Ekiti State, took it further: “The intelligence network is apparently not working. The security architecture is obviously inadequate to secure the country. A centralised security architecture cannot secure a country as large as this. It is even against a federal arrangement.”
There is also a great need for governors to take charge of security in their various states instead of always looking up to Abuja all the time. It is high time they became chief security officers of their territory, in the real sense of it. To a large extent, they should work with their Commissioners of Police and the heads of the various security agencies in their states because when governors of component federating states are able to secure their own space, the country will become safer for all to live.
A good example of this is Ondo State, where the South West Security Network in the state, popularly known as Amotekun, has been receiving kudos for the massive reduction in crime in the state. Since the attack on St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, the only notable successful attack on the state was the recent abduction of the choir members mentioned earlier. In fact, the efforts of Amotekun in the state was recognised at the last conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja.
Now, farmers are scared of going to their farms because of the morbid fear of ransom-demanding bandits. And the consequence is what everyone is facing today: food insecurity and biting hunger. And when students, especially females, are preyed upon by bandits in the university, before we realise what is happening, they say bye bye to education. And when our roads are no longer safe to travel without being waylaid by bandits, how will Nigerians carry out their legitimate business transactions?
The implication of all these is that the entire country is perceived to be unsafe for anything by the outside world. And as usual, various travel advice notes are issued to nationals of various countries not to venture into an unsafe Nigeria.
Recently, President Tinubu’s men regaled Nigerians with tales and pictures of their principal during his “successful” business encounters with world business leaders in India, United Arab Emirates and other places, with the expression of willingness to storm Nigeria with loads of hard currency for investment in various sectors of the economy. But with just a few copies of travel advice from the world powers to their nationals to be wary of travelling to Nigeria, all the lofty stories will remain just what they are: photo ops on paper. So where does that leave all the resources expended in pursuit of such ventures?
That is why Nigerians are looking up to the Service Chiefs, Inspector General of Police and heads of other security agencies in the country to match their words with action. Their appointments, especially those of the Chief of Defence Staff, Service Chiefs and Inspector General of Police, sparked excitement among Nigerians. That excitement should not be allowed to die with the spike in insecurity. And not even with the huge investment President Tinubu has made in acquiring better platforms for the war against evil in the country. Now is the time for them to act. And decisively too.