President Muhammadu Buhari’s seems overwhelmed as criminal gangs abduct, kill and pillage communities in different parts of the country, writes Akani Alaka.
It is virtually becoming useless keeping tabs on the number of killings, maiming or abductions of persons by criminals of different hues now holding people in different parts of the country by the jugular. The rapidity with which the news of mass killings, abductions, arsons by felons who go by different names – kidnappers, terrorists, bandits or hoodlums hit the airwaves or are reported will make any such venture outdated as soon compiled.
Even without such statistics, the fact that Nigeria is gradually sliding into anarchy under President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired military General is a situation that cannot be denied even by the most rabid supporter of the administration.
The sense of frustration of the supporters of the President who was elected with the promise of tackling insecurity as posed to the country then by the insurgent group, Boko Haram was expressed by Fr Ejike Mbaka, the Catholic Priest and Spiritual Director of Adoration Ministry, Enugu, in a video which went viral last week. In the sermon delivered at his Adoration Ground, the Catholic Cleric had asked the President to resign or get impeached over the growing insecurity in Nigeria.
Mbaka was particularly worried that even as people are being killed in their scores across the country, the President has refused to speak to Nigerians. “A good coach cannot watch his players be defeated when he has players sitting down on the bench. It is either Buhari resigns by himself or he will be impeached,” the Reverend Father said.
He also acknowledged that he has been a supporter of the President, but the situation in the country is now beyond such considerations: “This statement is too mysterious and supernatural; I know many people will begin to fight it, saying did you not pray for Buhari? Did Samuel not anoint Saul? Am I the creator of Buhari? God created him, Nigerians supported him because he did well sometime. But now, how can people be dying and the chief security officer of the country will be sitting down without making any comment? Gunmen attacking people everywhere.”
‘Gunmen’ On Rampage In South-East
The fact is that for Mbaka, the insecurity is nearer home than ever. His Southeast for some weeks now witnessed the kind of violence probably last seen in the region during the late 1960’s civil war. Gunmen or hoodlums suspected to be members of Biafra secessionist agitators, the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB had carried out targeted killings of security operatives and burning of security assets across the states of the region and in some parts of the South-south.
One of the most audacious of such attacks was on 5 April when heavily armed men attacked a prison and the Imo Police Police Command headquarters in Owerri. Nigerian Correctional Service, said the gunmen, wielding machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and explosives stormed the facility and were able to gain entrance to the prison yard and “forcefully released 1,844 inmates from custody. The Police also confirmed the attack on its headquarters.
Both facilities were few metres away from the Imo State Governor’s office. Imo Governor, Hope Uzodimma initially blamed IPOB for the attacks but later recanted.
But Muhammed Adamu, who was sacked while on a visit to the attacked facilities as the Inspector General of Police had insisted that the attack was carried out by gunmen linked to IPOB.
Emma Powerful, spokesman for the Biafra group told journalists that the group did not carry out the raid. “IPOB and ESN were not involved in the attack in Owerri, Imo State,” the spokesman said. “It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities.”
Just before the attack on the prison facility, a tally by a national newspaper had indicated that at least, 67 security operatives comprising the police, Navy and prison wardens, had been killed by the rampaging gunmen in the South-east and South-south since December 2020.
The attacks on security assets began soon after Nnamdi Kanu announced the formation of the Eastern Security Network as an armed wing of IPOB that will protect the South-east against Fulani herders. The ESN operatives have been indicted in raids on Fulani settlements in the South-east.
Members of ESN and security operatives have been involved in skirmishes with the Army and the Airforce deploying helicopters to bomb a forest in Orlu suspected to be the operational base of the security outfit some weeks ago. However, in the early morning of Saturday, 24 April, the security operatives announced the killing of a top ESN commander known as Ikonso during a joint military operation in Imo State.
Before the announcement, the so-called unknown gunmen had stormed the country home of Governor Uzodimma during which they killed a security operative who tried to stop them from burning down the sprawling structure. It later emerged that the attempted arson may be a retaliation for the killing of Ikonso, which was made public soon after the news of the attack on the Governor’s residence was spreading across the country.
IPOB described the killing of Ikonso as “very painful.” It also alleged that Governor Uzodimma colluded with security operatives to murder the IPOB commander because he turned down his offer to head the Ebube-Agu security outfit announced by South-east governors.
The pro-Biafra movement added that Uzodimma had stirred the hornet’s nest and told him to get ready for “a sting” while announcing that it had already appointed a new commander to replace Ikonso.
The killing of Ikonso and the threat of IPOB had been followed by killings of security operatives in the South-east and the South-south.
Significantly, eight security operatives were killed in suspected reprisal attacks by gunmen at different security checkpoints along Omagwa to Elele road in Rivers between the Saturday Ikonso was killed and Sunday morning. There were also killings of security personnel, burning of security facilities as well as raids on Fulani settlements in different parts of the South-east.
At least, two commissioners – one in Imo and the other in Ebonyi- had escaped assassination attempts from the ‘gunmen’ since the killing of Ikonso.
Thus, most governors in the South-east have imposed curfew in parts of the states where the killings have been prevalent. Governor Dave Umahi imposed a curfew between 8 pm and 6 am on every entry and exit point across the state after two soldiers, a policeman and a civilian were killed in the state on Monday evening.
“I’m not standing for either IPOB or ESN, but they continue to deny involvement in the violence but for me, criminality is criminality and I have directed security agencies to crack down on all criminal activities in the state. And for those who did the killings, the security agencies must bring them to book within 72 hours, they must do that,” the governor said after the State Executive Council meeting last Wednesday.
Citing concerns over the attack on security personnel and facilities, Governor Wike had also imposed a 10 pm to 6 am curfew all over the state till further notice. He said the curfew was imposed because of information that ‘faceless criminals’ are planning to unleash deadly actions on the state.
In the South-west, it was a reign of kidnappers, most of whom are also of the Fulani stock as arrests by the police and Amotekun in Ogun, Oyo and Osun states indicated.
Relentless Bandits/Boko Haram
However, the biggest headache for the Buhari administration is the Northern part of the country where supporters of the President and members of his party are lamenting his failure to rise to the occasion as rampaging bandits, Fulani criminal gangs and Boko Haram terrorists continue to kidnap and kill their people.
Last week, Governor Abubakar Bello raised the alarm that aside from the bandits that had been abducting and killing people across the vast rural communities of the state, Boko Haram has also taken over parts of his state. He told journalists that aside from over 50 villages taken over by bandits, members of the insurgent group have now hoisted their flags in Kaure and Shiroro local government areas of the state.
The terrorists, he said, had displaced over 3,000 residents of the affected communities. “I am confirming that there are Boko Haram elements here in Niger State, here in Kaure, I am confirming that they have hoisted their flags here. “Their wives (of the villagers) have been seized from them and forcefully attached to Boko Haram members. I just heard that they have placed their flags at Kaure, meaning they have taken over the territory.”
He lamented that his call on the Federal Government to act has not been given adequate response. ”This is what I have been engaging the federal government on, unfortunately, it has now got to this level. If care is not taken, even Abuja is not safe. We have been saying this for long. All our efforts have been in vain,” Bello said while warning that even Abuja may not be out of reach of the terrorists.
“Sambisa is several kilometres from Abuja but Kaure is less than two hours’ drive from Abuja. So nobody is safe anymore, not even those in Abuja. This is the time to act. All hands must be on deck. It is not a fight for Niger State alone. I am not waiting for anyone anymore, I am going to take action,” he said.
But bandits have also put residents of communities in the outskirts of Abuja on edge with frequent kidnapping reported in Abaji, Gwagwalada, Pegi, Tuganmaje and Kuje among others.
Two more students were killed after being kidnapped with others last week by gunmen in Kaduna State, bringing the death toll from the attack to six.
Bandits who have made most parts of Southern Kaduna a no-go area as a result of their regime of kidnappings and abductions have upped their infamy with mass abductions of students.
The latest abduction was at Greenfield University where 20 students were abducted about three weeks ago. Five of the students have been found dead while the hoodlums are holding on to the remaining students.
The armed bandits are still holding on to nearly 30 of the 39 students abducted on 11 March 2021 at Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Igabi Local Government Area of the state.
About 730 students have been abducted by bandits in Zamfara, Katsina, Niger and Kaduna States in the North-west since December 2020, according to reports. Most of the students have been released after payment of ransom by the governments of the states.
But Kaduna Governor, Nasir El-Rufai had insisted that he would not pay ransom to free students kidnapped from his state to the distraught of the parents. He has also totally dismissed the option of engaging in any form of negotiation with the bandits. “We will not give them any money and they will not make any profit from Kaduna,” said El-Rufai. According to him, the best way to deal with the bandits is to ‘kill them all.’
However, the governor has failed to disclose how he is going to get the students back to their parents in the face of the inability of security operatives to rescue them.
For one, El-Rufai’s position cannot be faulted given the fact that states like Zamfara and Katsina where the governors had tried to appease the bandits have continued to suffer massive attacks with scores of villagers being killed every week.
Last week, the governor vowed to take a tougher stand against the bandits, their informants, collaborators and weapons suppliers in the state. “The action became necessary to fully address the resurgence of armed banditry activities in some parts of the state, which is being aided by the people who are living mostly in the cities and providing information to the bandits in the bushes,” Matawalle told Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who came along with his council members to commiserate with him over the recent bandits attack in some parts of the state, which claimed nearly 100 lives.
In the North-east, Boko Haram has continued its ravage of communities in Borno and Yobe states with daring attacks on the people and military facilities.
Last week, the insurgents scored a ‘bull’s eye’ in their attacks on military facilities and killing of soldiers when they were able to go away with premium-grade army weapons after they attacked Mainok, in Borno State.
The insurgents who killed several soldiers during the attack have since released a video in which they showed the tanks, Buffalo operational vehicles and MRAPs captured by their fighters during the attack. And just as this story was being written, there was a breaking story of Boko Haram invasion of Kanamma, a town, the headquarters of Yunusari LGA of Yobe State. The attack was the second by the Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in Yobe in less than a week.
The terrorists had earlier attacked Geidam, where they displaced over 6,000 people from their homes. It was learnt that the military base in Kanamma was the target of the insurgents. The extent of casualties or damages was not known at the time of filing in this story.
Buhari Deeply Pained By Terrible Acts Of Violence
Benue Governor, Samuel Ortom had after the latest killings attributed to Fulani herdsmen in one of the internally displaced person camps in the state accused President Buhari of being insensitive to killings, banditry and abductions going on in various parts of the country.
The governor advised the President to seek foreign, alleging that he had been overwhelmed by the criminals.
Ortom had also accused the Buhari of being soft on suspected killer herders of Fulani extraction who he blamed for attacks on his communities. But the Presidency had responded strongly to the allegations in a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu.
The Presidency had said Buhari was deeply pained by the terrible acts of violence happening not only in Benue but also in other parts of the country contrary to the assertions of Ortom.
”President Buhari took an oath to defend the life and property of every citizen, a duty he takes seriously and is committed to ensuring. Those citizens regardless of their affiliations, who either incite, sponsor or are proven to be abettors of these atrocities will face the law squarely and be answerable for their crimes against our fellow citizens and nation.
Shehu said the president would continue to keep security, police, and the armed forces on their toes to be on top of their activities in troubled parts of the country. But he added that the situation in the states would greatly be helped by everyone working together ”because that is the foundation on which progress and prosperity can be achieved.”
Shehu noted that the president had expressed his condolences to the families of those citizens who lost their loved ones in the recent spate of killings in Benue.
The presidential spokesperson added that the president condemned the rising levels of incidents, especially the killings and violence in various parts of the country, and called for further collaboration with security agencies to curb its recurrence.
However, what cannot be denied is that there is a growing sense of helplessness as criminal gangs take control of different parts of the country without an appropriate response by the security operatives as noted during debates on the issue by both chambers of the National Assembly last week.
Buhari Must Listen To The People
The House of Representatives had called for the declaration of a state of emergency in the areas by the insecurity.
Aside from the call on Buhari to seek foreign help; there have been suggestions for an initiative that will lead to the establishment of state police, recruitment of more security personnel and more investment in war armaments to tackle the multiple security challenges facing the country.
But President Buhari had so far failed to act on the suggestions. Many had likened the President’s approach to that of the historical Nero who was fiddling while his empire, Rome was burning.
The National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince Uche Secondus agreed with the suggestion, warning that the 2023 general elections might not hold because of the pervasive state of insecurity.
He noted that terrorism which was previously confined to the North-east has spread to the North-central. “Herdsmen are also menacing in the West; gunmen causing havoc in the East; and the militants in the South; all killing, looting, raping, maiming and burning down homes. The situation is bad; Nigerians all over are living in fear,” he said.
“We are worried Abuja is not even safe. It is no longer politics. We got alert of plots to bomb and burn down our airports. We urge the federal government to declare a national state of emergency in security. There is the need to call a national conference to discuss the insecurity in the country,” Secondus said while asserting that the President must speak to the people.
“There may not be any election in 2023 in Nigeria due to insecurity. This government must listen to the people. The Buhari government should call a national confab to discuss the security and state of the nation. It is no longer politics. This time we are not playing politics. Let’s keep politics aside and move the nation forward.” He noted that the country had been grounded, regretting that there had been no matching response from the Federal Government.
Last Friday, the President in company with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo met the service chiefs ostensibly in response to the growing security in the land. But there have been many such meetings without any change in the security situation of the country. Hence, many doubt if the situation will be different this time around.