It is no longer surprising that Nigerians hear or read about insecurity in various parts of the country. We have become so narcotised and insensitive to the news of insecurity that when kidnapping, bombing or attacks on villagers by bandits, terrorists, or other non-state actors happen unless people were killed, maimed, or taken hostage in their hundreds, it hardly makes news, and if at all it does, it will be back burner or minor news with little significance. Neither does it shock us nor cause moral panic as it did in the past. These days, we have priced insecurity into our daily lives that it is almost becoming uncommonly common. Nigerian citizens have no place to hide, and they have no actors to look up to for protection and solace.
The state seems to have failed in its primary responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of the Nigerian people, and worse still, we live in limbo without any hope. Bandits and terrorists attack at will, destroy lives and property, and cart away unlucky victims into exile, with little or no consequences. People are resorting to self-help to protect themselves and their loved ones, and gradually, Nigeria is snowballing into a Hobbesian state of war of every man against every man. Events prove that we are on a precipice, waiting for a slight push into the abyss each passing day.
It is frightening that those whose responsibility it is to salvage the situation are playing Russian Roulette with our collective existence. It has been a slippery slope to damnation. Nothing much has changed from the kidnapping of Chibok girls that shocked the world to the recent attack on the Kaduna train. The Nigerian state has not risen to its responsibility to protect and defend its citizens. Some of the Chibok girls are still in captivity, and so are some other victims of these heinous crimes against humanity, with no definite actions from the Nigerian state. It is deplorable that 35 days after the terrible train incident, over 168 persons, including pregnant women, abducted and their families, are still crying for action from the state to help release the victims and bring justice to the perpetrators.
The train hostages are not the first and may not be the last set of hostages that present the Nigerian state as helpless and hapless in combating insecurity in the country. Statistics reveals the growing trend in kidnapping since 2013 and ranked Nigeria among the top five countries known for kidnapping for ransom. By analysing data collected through the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) between 2015 and June 2021, Hum Angle observed a growing trend in the number of mass abductions and the total number of victims of kidnapping in Nigeria. While in 2017, there were 484 kidnap victims, the figure grew to 987 the following year, then 1,386 in 2019 and 2,860 in 2020.
Between January 1 and June 30, 2021, at least 2,944 people have already been kidnapped, making 2021 the worst year yet based on this security index. These numbers are higher if communities along the border areas in Cameroon, Chad, and the Niger Republic are considered. We can easily speculate that data for 2022 will even be worse than 2021. Furthermore, political induced conflict, citizen alienation, terrorism and violence define the Nigerian insecurity scene. According to the Global Peace Index, Nigeria is included among the countries with the least peace globally, and it is the 17th un-peaceful state in the world. Besides, the Global Terrorism Index reports that Nigeria is the third country most affected by terrorism.
Same report says there is a substantial risk of mass killing or genocide in Nigeria, and Nigeria is the second country in Africa with the highest risk of genocide and the sixth worldwide. This risk is influenced by over two hundred million people, a high child mortality rate, ongoing battle-related deaths, a history of mass killing, and ethnic agitation “. These disturbing facts are apparent, yet we do not see serious actions from the state to change the narrative and stem the descent to anarchy we are witnessing daily. Nigeria seems to have failed its citizens and is watching while insecurity becomes a permanent feature of our country. Nigerians are screaming for more effective and efficient tangible actions to radically reduce or eliminate our land’s insecurity.
In a recent statement, John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria, notes that the inability of the Nigerian government to keep its citizens safe and secure is one of the signs of a weak or a failing state. The state’s inability to defend citizens against robbery, natural adversity, and economic vagaries is a symptom of failure, and worst is its failure to protect its citizens from non-state actors from within and outside the country. Going by Ambassador Campbell’s statement and other definitions of failure of the state in its responsibility to citizens, the question to ask is, has the Nigerian state failed its 168 citizens kidnapped in the last 35 days ago? To these 168 Nigerians, “Nigeria has happened to them” – a statement that characterises the rising hopelessness and an uncanny acceptance that Nigeria connotes terrible things, and when it happens to you, it is the worst thing you can face.
“Nigeria has happened” to one of the kidnapped women who had the unfortunate situation of having her baby in a dungeon amidst terrorists and kidnappers. What a way to enter the world for the new baby! This incident makes a mockery of the many excuses of the state. The terrorists and kidnappers brought doctors and medical supplies into the forest to get the baby delivered. Yet our security operatives have not managed to fish them out. The kidnappers successfully managed labour delivery, contacted the family, broke the delivery’s news, and sent photos of the new baby to the woman’s family and the world. Where are our intelligence operatives with all these happening? If the kidnappers interact within the community, why can’t the intelligence operative track them through those means? The state must take this issue of insecurity more serious than it does now.
The minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, claims that the state’s actions to release the kidnapped victims are confidential. He expects Nigerians to trust the government and believe that the victims will be released soon. But history is not kind to such expectations. Similar past events have shown that such hope in the government may be misguided. “Once beaten, twice shy”. The average Nigerian citizen has expectations of the government – that it will secure citizens’ lives and properties in most cases. This expectation aligns with all citizens’ social contract with the state and expects the state to abide by that creed. The situations where nonstate actors cross boundaries and attack unarmed civilians in their villages are unacceptable. Similarly, when citizens going about their regular businesses are terrorised and kidnapped by internal nonstate actors, and 35 days later, nothing meaningful seems to have been done by the state is against decency and good taste.
Nigerians have the right to demand security and safety of their lives and properties, and the state must act quickly to fulfil that. Erosion of trust in the state to protect citizens will lead to anarchy and mayhem. The international community has expectations of the government too. It expects the government to maintain and protect its territorial integrity and monopolise control of all instruments of coercion within its territory. Nigeria is a regional power and has a history of keeping regional peace in the sub- Saharan region. This history earned it the respect of the world in the past. How the giant of Africa faltered to the point that non-state actors are constantly challenging and sometimes outmaneuvering it beggars belief. Security-wise, Nigeria is almost becoming the butt of jokes among countries within the region who hitherto rely on it for security.
This anomaly must be contained very quickly. The Nigerian state has no business competing for control of territory with non-state actors, and where this is the case, it must do whatever it takes to restore its control over all its parts and deal decisively with all forms of local banditry, terrorism, and secessionist rebellion with its might. Nigerians and the international community have been expecting this for a long time, and this is the time to make it happen. The pertinent question here is; how can Nigeria solve the insecurity crises facing it? Among the many apparent solutions to the problem of insecurity is the most practical one – the state must rein in its security forces and give them everything they need to succeed. It is crucial to empower the security forces and provide them with the mandate with clear deadlines to wipe out bandits and insurgents. Adopting effective kinetics and non-kinetic approaches in tackling criminals will improve the situation.
This is time for action and not statements or declarations. The state should optimise intelligence and involve the people in intelligence gathering. By the way, the bandits are humans and live and interact within communities. Good intelligence gathering will help the security forces efficiently deal with insurgencies, including banditry and kidnappings. The insurmountable nature of insecurity in Nigeria is heart-breaking. It is time for a change in thinking in tackling insecurity.
There is no sense in doing the same thing repeatedly that gives the same results. We need to change tactics and resolve to deal a decisive blow to non-state actors terrorising the citizens and our way of life. We should start with the perpetrators of the train bombing last month. Government must make it a duty that it owes Nigerians and the victims of the train terror attack to rescue the 168 victims of the ordeal, plus the new baby, and bring to justice, the criminals who committed the crime. It is now or never!
• Dakuku Adolphus Peterside is a Nigerian politician. He was formerly the Director General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Prior to his appointment at NIMASA, he was a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives.