Monday, July 15, 2024

Insecurity: What next?

We have lived with insecurity for years now. The sane assumption is that we should have learnt by now how to handle and tame the situation. But we have not because there is no designated war front since this is an asymmetrical warfare. Even without a war front the situation could have been handled differently if the intelligence agencies were collaborating with each other efficiently. Two Saturdays ago a large number of terrorists and bandits attacked the Kaduna International Airport, killed one airport staff and vandalised the place. Two days later, they audaciously attacked an Abuja-Kaduna train, planted explosives on the rail track. Eight people were killed, 26 wounded while many remain unaccounted for. The next day, Tuesday a train station on the same route was also attacked.

It is difficult to understand why all these attacks of the last few days are taking us by surprise because the tell-tale signs have been there all along. In October last year, terrorists attacked a Kaduna-Abuja train with minimal casualties. Wasn’t that a warning that should have alarmed us? We were not alarmed. We simply scratched our heads and thanked God that the good Lord did not allow a major calamity to take place. We prayed that God should prevent the terrorists from doing us more harm.

On the heels of this recent attack on a Kaduna-Abuja train, the Minister of Transportation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi has revealed that he wanted N3 billion for the installation of digital security and anti-crime equipment but the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting shot it down. From the Council minutes lodged in the public space it is indicated that the company proposed by the Minister for the job was only two years old and did not provide ample evidence of its accomplishments and ability to perform. While the Federal Executive Council (FEC) may have been right in refusing to give the job to a company with doubtful ability it should have gone further to ensure that a company with ability was assigned to do the job. I am not equipped with the knowledge of how our FEC awards contracts but I should think that a job that would cost N3 billion or more ought to be open to competitive bidding so that the best vendor and the best price will emerge. It was not good enough to simply short down the award process without doing anything to secure the rail tracks. Now those equipment will have to be installed, possibly at a higher cost.

The development of train service in the country by the Buhari Administration is a major plus for the government. Leaving it unsecured is a major minus for the government because it ought to be clear to the government that in terms of committing havoc by terrorists there is a no no-go area. They have made the roads unsafe by attacking saloon cars and buses and abducting their occupants. They have struck on the high seas as well.

Since 2009 when the Boko Haram episode started there have been all kinds of suggestions on how to deal with the assortment of criminals terrorising the country. President Muhammadu Buhari has directed securitymen to go after anyone carrying an AK-47 and to deal with them severely. But the terrorists and bandits also use IED’s as well which are locally manufactured. Dealing with IED’s manufacturing needs intelligence coordination among the security agencies instead of the present competition between them.

There must be a stricter policing of the airports and seaports by the security agencies. These arms are brought into Nigeria through the air, sea and land routes which, we are told, are very porous. Without more sophisticated arms being brought into the country there would not be a proliferation of small arms in the hands of bandits and terrorists.

The governments of the United States and United Arab Emirates have released the names of Nigerians allegedly associated with the funding of terrorism. One expects the Federal Government to go after these fellows and bring them to justice. Apart from this funding source the criminals also use monies collected as ransom to buy more arms. Nigerians are wondering whether these persons have been arrested and brought to justice. If they are being tried their trial should receive wide publicity so as to serve as a deterrent to others. The National Assembly has dealt with issues of insecurity in an episodic fashion. It has asked military leaders to account for the monies approved yearly for military equipment. It has asked them to show more muscle in the fight against the terrorists. Not much seems to come out of these interrogations when Lt General Faruk Yahaya, the Chief of Army Staff, was newly appointed, he complained of logistics which he categorised as the “greatest problem.” I have no idea whether the problem of logistics has been resolved or not. As members of the public we only hear of billions of naira approved for the security agencies. We do not know whether these monies do get released to the security outfits and if released whether they are utilised for the purpose intended or whether the money has developed wings and flown into some people’s stomachs. The truth is that as at today nobody can say for a fact that the monies approved have been used for the intended purpose.

Out of desperation some Nigerians have been advocating for the employment of mercenaries to take up the fight. The Governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El-Rufai has now joined the bandwagon and bought into it although the Federal Government is not keen on engaging mercenaries. The security officials are also unlikely to approve the idea because it means that they have failed in their assignment so their jobs would be on the line. The demerit in the mercenary option is that they would have a full knowledge of the lay of our land and they can be hired, in future, to work against Nigeria.

This fight against criminals can be much improved with digitalisation. I am not an expert in this area but I know that technology is capable of doing a lot for us in terms of information gathering and location of terrorists and bandits. Also, we have to deploy the whistle blower mechanism in this fight. Terrorists and bandits live with or near people who can easily provide information to our security agencies for a fee. It has been useful in tracking products of crime and it can be utilised in getting information about the habitat, strength, equipment and movement of terrorists and bandits.

Again, out of frustration a member of the National Assembly is asking for Nigerians to be allowed to carry guns. It sounds like an attractive, a dangerously attractive, idea. If that happens, then there will be a balance of terror, a gun against a gun. In that case, the terrorist may feel that he may be gunned down before he is able to commit any atrocity. So the winner is the one who shoots first. It all sounds like a quick solution to the problem but it is not. Infact, it is no solution at all. Putting guns in every hand will be the next thing to madness. The experience of the United States where gunmen have shot worshippers in churches, children in schools and funseekers at entertainment arenas ought to be a warming to us. Now various communities in the United States are calling for strict gun control laws. In Nigeria, guns-in-every-hand will bring more harm than good. Even today that there is no laxity in gun control all kinds of persons, young and old, are making guns their play thing, shooting people without provocation, or killing people with other kinds of instruments. The use of a gun must be accompanied by a lot of self-discipline which many Nigerians, including those trained to use the gun, have not acquired. We must still leave the protection of our lives and property in the hands of those paid and trained, to do so. To make the possession of a gun a bazaar is to indirectly deprive the government of the responsibility for our protection. That is a sacred responsibility and even if the government is not discharging it efficiently that is no reason to take that responsibility away from it. Our protection is the main mandate of our government. We must encourage it to discharge it effectively and efficiently for the good of all of us. This can be done by the government getting the buy-in of the public so that it can get maximum cooperation. Right now the members of the public have not been brought into the matter of securing the country. It is seen as solely and wholly the responsibility of the government and security agencies. The government has failed to get the buy-in and the public therefore stays aloof as innocent bystanders. To win this war that must change. The public must get involved in providing information that can assist the security agencies.   

Ray Ekpu
Ray Ekpu
Ray Ekpu has two degrees from the University of Lagos, a bachelors degree and masters degree in Mass Communication. He also has a diploma in Advanced Journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington, USA. He cut his journalism teeth at the Nigerian Chronicle where he rose like a meteor to its editorship position in 1977. Apart from editing the Sunday Times, Africa's highest selling newspaper at the time, he also edited the Business Times and later became Chairman of the Editorial Board of the Concord Group of Newspapers. In 1984, he along with three other friends - Dele Giwa, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed - established the path-breaking newsmagazine, Newswatch. He became the magazine's Editor in Chief and Chief Executive in 1986. His writings have been published in several Nigerian newspapers and magazines as well as in such foreign publications as the Portland Oregonian, Milwaukee Sentinel, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, and the Journal of Democracy. He has contributed chapters to several books and edited Newswatch Best, A leap of Faith, Jogging in the Jungle: The Newswatch Story, Ojukwu and co-edited with Yakubu Mohammed Nigeria's Business and Trade Fair Journal. Mr. Ekpu's writing style has been studied in several Nigerian Universities while he has delivered Journalism lectures in several universities and media houses in Africa, Europe and America over the years. He has been given many awards, national and international including the International Editor of the year Award (1987) for Journalism Excellence


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