By OBINNA EZUGWU
When on Tuesday last week during a virtual meeting with United States secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, asked the U.S. to consider relocating the headquarters of its Africa Command (AFRICOM) from Germany over growing insecurity on the continent, it was in many ways, a desperate cry for help by a president whose nation is fast slipping into anarchy on account of intractable insecurity.
“The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region,” Buhari had told Blinken.
“Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing them and addressing their root causes. The support of important and strategic partners like United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.”
Under the siege of terrorist groups, bandits and sundry gunmen, it’s been tales of sorrows, tears and blood in Africa’s most populous country, once acclaimed giant now tittering on the brink.
President Buhari’s request for the relocation of AFRICOM to Africa and possibly Nigeria is akin to one swallowing its pride. Nigeria had in 2000 resisted the location of AFRICOM in Africa with the Army led then by late Gen. Victor Malu, threatening to overthrow the government of Obasanjo if he signed off on the policy.
Gen. Williams, Pioneer Commander of AFRICOM, in a recent interview with ARISE, said that the decision by African countries led by Nigeria to reject the initiative was a strategic mistake that place politics above the security of the continent.
According to him, AFRICOM was initiated to arrest the arising threat of terrorism and insurgency across the continent and other parts of the world and could have curbed the security degeneration in different part of Africa.
Buhari’s appeal to the U.S. on Tuesday, came on the back of what was considered one of the deadliest days yet on Monday; a day which saw the killing of at least 46 people, including four soldiers, 14 policemen, two vigilantes, six civilians and 19 herders killed in attacks in Anambra, Imo, Kebbi, Rivers, Katsina, Borno and Kebbi States.
Less than a week later, precisely between Saturday and Sunday, commanding officer and seven soldiers were reportedly killed when Boko Haram insurgents affiliated to the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) attacked two Army bases in Borno State.
Yet on Monday, the insurgents from neighboring Yobe State infiltrated four local government areas of Bauchi State, including Gamawa, Darazo and Dambam destroying some facilities.
The Secretary to the Bauchi State Government (SSG), Alhaji Sabiu Baba, disclosed this at a press conference.
The development is yet another pointer to the resurgence of the terror group, which has held sway in the North East since 2009.
Heavily armed non-state actors are carving out territories, kidnapping and killing without let or hindrance. On Friday, April 23, ISWAP terrorists overran Geidam local government of Yobe State, burning public properties, including telecommunication facilities and those belonging to public officials, but instructively left ‘civilians’ unharmed in what was an apparent attempt to build goodwill within communities.
The terrorists would subsequently distribute pamphlets to residents proclaiming jihad. The pamphlet, written in Hausa Language, is translated thus:
“Message: Integration with the Islamic State
From: Islamic State of West Africa
To: The Muslim Community in General and the West African Community in Particular
The Main Objective/Purpose of our Jihad: To glorify Allah’s word, by restoring Allah’s way of Judgment on the servants of Allah and on Allah’s Land.
Among our objectives are the following:
Protecting the Muslim’s religion and defending their blood, their assets/property, and protecting their dignity against who threatens them. Also, this is a call to stop idolatry, polytheism and paganism, and oppression and a conversion to Theology, Islamic precepts and justice.
Those we are up in arms against: We are fighting against Idolaters and Polytheists; The Crusaders (Christians), and other non-believers. We fight against anyone who is opposed to the Religion of Islam, including those who are professing to be Muslims.
Those whom we will not touch: The blood of Muslims and their dignity. We are forbidden from touching their assets and property. Nothing of theirs is permitted to us, except that which the Shari’ah permits us to touch.”
The terror group subsequently shared N20,000 to at least 50 households in the local government to induce them, according to media reports. While the military claimed it recovered the town from the terror group, some accounts say they continued to hold sway.
“Authoritatively I can tell you that these insurgents have taken over Geidam. You can see the videos and the pictures as they move about burning what they want,” lawmaker representing Geidam, Yunusari and Bursari Federal Constituency at the National Assembly, Lawan Shettima, said last week.
The lawmaker also said his constituents “have been under the mercy of Boko Haram for more than 24 hours without any credible challenge.”
“My people are helpless, you can’t imagine that as a full Nigerian citizen you can be at the mercy of Boko Haram for the past 24 hours and nobody cares to do anything about it. They will send jet that will go and bomb innocent people instead of the Boko Haram. This is the kind of thing that is going on now.”
Also last week, the National Assembly rose up to the challenge, insisting that the president has not done enough to stem the violence in the country. Again, the Armed services committee, led by Senator Ali Ndume, which scheduled a hearing with the finance minister, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, challenged published defence spending supplied by the ministry of finance which differed substantially in terms of releases from the records from the ministry of defence with about N50 billion short fall.
The following Sunday, the terrorist group took its campaign of bloodshed to Mainok in Borno State where it invaded military super camp with not less than 15 gun trucks.
Away from the Northeast, the Northwest and North Central were under heavy attack. Last week, Niger State governor, Abubakar Sani Bello said Boko Haram terrorists are currently occupying five local government areas of the state, including Shirroro, about two hours drive to Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Bello said the terrorists on Monday hoisted their flag in Kaure village in Shiroro and forcibly took the wives of some of the villagers for themselves.
“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,” said the governor in Minna when he visited the Internally Displaced Persons’ camp at IBB Primary School on Monday.
“Their wives 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.
“This is what I have been engaging the federal government with, 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,” the governor said.
Bello said the terrorists were trying to turn Niger into another Borno State, which has been their base for some time.
“Sambisa is several kilometres from Abuja but Kaure is just two kilometres 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,” he said.
Niger is in the thick of things. Last week, residents of the state told BBC Hausa that their villages have retorted to entering Peace Pacts with bandits. Under the deals, villagers pay money, as much as N20 million, buy motorbikes and other supplies in change of safety permission to farm.
According to the residents, the agreements are reached between community leaders and bandit kingpins, as they no longer had options since the bandits were killing them as they wished.
In Kaduna where the abduction of 28 of students of College of Forestry and several of Greenfield University – at least five of whom have been brutally murdered and the rest still being held despite their parents having paid as much as N50m according reports – which grabbed headlines, yet there has been no respite, as Gov. Nsair El Rufai vowed not to pay ransom to kidnappers.
On Friday, a security report for the first quarter of 2021, released by the state government said a total of 323 people were killed while 949 others kidnapped within three months in a spate of attacks by the rampaging bandits. The report also said troops killed 64 gunmen and arrested several gun runners during the period under review.
In the country’s Southeast, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse, as a combination of evidently armed pro Biafra agitators, bandits identified as Fulani herdsmen, and other non state actors, have given rise to a general atmosphere of insecurity.
In early January, the IPOB, through one of its facebook pages, Biafra Mirror, released a video showing more than a thousand young men being trained in an unknown forest. They were the “5th battalion volunteer force” of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a non state security outfit formally launched by Nnamdi Kanu on December 12, 2020.
The authenticity of the video could not be ascertained by Business Hallmark. The IPOB is known to rely sometimes on propaganda. But what cannot be denied is that the ESN, whose recruitment and training began months before the official launch in December last year, according to several sources, now has a substantial number of men parading forests and bushes in the zone ostensibly in search of suspected ‘Fulani herdsmen.’
But recent events suggest the group is moving beyond forests. The zone’s streets have become danger zones for the country’s security agencies. Their places of abode have become targets of attack by elusive gunmen – suspected to be IPOB members – whose primary agenda seem to be accumulation of arms.
In early April, what had been weeks of the gunmen launching attacks on police posts and carting away arms, reached a crescendo when in the early hours of Easter Monday, gunmen stormed the Owerri facility of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) and the adjoining police command, setting the facilities on fire and freed 1,844 inmates, 35 of who refused to escape, and about 80 later returned. Attacks have continued; what some opinion leaders of the zone said, is long in the making.
“The Nigerian state at the federal level has failed in its duty to provide necessary environment that will be conducive for security and peace in the South East,” said constitutional lawyer and chieftain of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Bob Okey Okoroji.
“If you notice, the conduct of uniformed security agencies, the Army and the Police and other agencies deployed to the South East is nothing to write home about. They harass, they extort, they obstruct movements of people; they kill and generally make the lives of the people miserable.
“They act like armies of occupation. And the people have endured this operation for decades. The fact is that it started after the civil war, but it got worse under the Buhari government.”
Okoroji suggested that the unfolding events could be a direct response to the state of affairs, arguing that, “there is a limit beyond which people cannot handle as endurance has an elastic limit.”
Things appear to be coming to a head. The agitators, it would seem, have decided to take up arms in response, and the South east appear set for a prolonged security upheaval, even as security agencies now maintain low profile and many are said to be lobbying to be posted out of the zone.
About a month ago, Boko Haram terror group took over Dikwa an ancient town about 90km from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital after launching attacks in the town over period of months. Few days earlier, the group hoisted their flag in parts of neighbouring Marte local government, all of which point to the fact the insurgents are growing in strength.
But the Northwest has fared perhaps far worse in recent days with Katsina, Buhari’s home state, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna witnessing mass kidnappings of school children and locals almost on a daily basis. Further central in Niger, a new frontier is unfolding. And indeed, Abuja, the nation’s capital, is also becoming a hot-spot for banditry and kidnapping.
Sometime in March, bandits in their numbers invaded Federal College of Forestry Mechanism in Mando area of Kaduna State and abducted 39 staff and students, and are now demanding N500 million as ransom. On Friday, the military said it ‘rescued’ 18 who had run inside the bush during the attack, but the actual kidnapped students remain with the kidnappers.
Few days afterwards, the bandits returned, this time to Government Science Secondary School, Ikara in the state. Commendable, the army, according to Samuel Aruwan, Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, were able to fight them off on the occasion, preventing them from abducting the students.
But stories of such prevention are rare. On Wednesday the precious week, the bandits raided Kwaita community in Kwali Area Council of Abuja, and during their operation, shot a pregnant woman and abducted her husband, as well as three others. Earlier in late January, the bandits successfully abducted seven orphans and a security guard at the Rachel’s Orphanage Home in Naharati, Abaji Area council in the capital city, and only released them after collecting millions in ransom.
Yet, while Abuja can be said to be relatively safe, Niger is already a hot zone, a status highlighted by the February abduction of three teachers, three non-teaching staff, nine family members and 27 students of Government Science College, Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area of the state; an incident that resulted in the bandits killing one student who tried to flee.
Niger has since remained in the news. Indeed, the student’s abduction had been preceded by the abduction 40 Niger State Transport Authority (NSTA) passengers. Almost daily, kidnappers raid communities and abduct as many people.
Days afterwards, the scene was Gidigori town in Rafi Local Government Area where the bandits kidnapped unspecified number of people, burnt five cars and carted away valuables. The latest high profile kidnapping in the state was the abduction of over 50 passengers along the Tegina-Minna road in the same Rafi Local Government.
Elsewhere, Zamfara, the original home of the bandits is boiling. On February 26, a group of gunmen invaded the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe and abducted 279 students. They were only released last week, after, it was learnt, despite claims to the contrary, ransom was paid.
This was yet followed by abduction of scores of villagers, numbering about 60, at Ruwan Tofa village in Maru Local Government Area of the state.
“President Buhari must wake up and make up his mind that he wants to put a stop to this rising insecurity, particularly the herdsmen problem,” said Mr. Ebenezer Babatope, elder statesman and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain. “If he continues with what he is doing, this nation is in trouble.”
In a report last year, SB Morgen intelligence said between the year 2011 and 2020, Nigerians paid N7 billion as ransom to kidnappers. The emboldened bandits have since begun to export their trade to Southern Nigeria in the name of cattle herding.
The fallout has led to an escalation of ethnic suspicion and tension with the ethnic warriors like Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho, Nnamdi Kanu and so on, becoming increasingly popular in their enclaves, a potentially explosive situation.
“The key issue here is that there is no government commitment. The problem is institutional. If the Police were allowed to do their job properly, they alone can tackle the criminal elements amongst the herdsmen, said Aremo Oladotun Hassan, president, Yoruba Council of Youths.
Buhari, a retired major general, had promised to bring his military experience to bear, and root Boko Haram who kidnapped over 250 school girls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State in 2014, and incurred global outrage and delivered final nail on the political aspirations of then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan.
But five years on, the hopes of a better secured Nigeria, with thriving economy, which many looked forward to, have given way to despair and frustration. The economy has nosedived. Insecurity has grown into a monster.
Under this administration, life has lost its value, and more and more citizens are coming under the influence of criminals. We do not see any evidence of willingness on the part of President Buhari to honour his oath to provide security over Nigerians, Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the Northern Elders Forum said in a statement recently.
“In civilised nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign.”
In May last year, International Crisis Group in a report titled, Working Document Fulani Militias Terror: Compilation of News (2017-2020), said between 2017 and May 2, 2020, Fulani herdsmen alone conducted 654 attacks, killed 2,539 and kidnapped 253 people in the country, mostly in the North Central and Kaduna.
The Global Terrorist Index 2019 published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, indicates that the primary driver of the increase in terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa was a rise in terrorist activity in Nigeria attributed to Fulani extremists: in 2018, Fulani extremists were responsible for the majority of terror-related deaths in Nigeria (1,158 fatalities), with an increase by 261 and 308 percent respectively from the prior year.”
The group said bandits have killed about 8,000 people since 2011 till May 2020, and forced more than 200,000 to flee their homes. The number would have risen exponentially with attacks and kidnappings now more regular.
On Friday, Buhari convened the security meeting which had in attendance Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari; Minister of Defence, Major-General Bashir Magashi (retd); Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola; and the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno (retd).
Others in attendance were Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor; Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo; Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Ishiaka Oladayo Amao and acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Usman.
A statement by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno after the meeting said the president made it clear at yesterday’s meeting that “while the insurgents, bandits and criminals are still at it, he has no doubt that the Nigerian security agencies and all of us as a nation will certainly overcome all the current security problems and defeat the forces of evil marauding in different parts of the country.
“While the criminals continue to test the will of the Nigerian government, the president and the Council, which adjourned today’s critical meeting until Tuesday morning to receive further briefings from the security chiefs, are set and determined to decisively end the assault on the country and will do all that it takes.
“Mr. President is very prepared to take profound measures in the wider interest of the people and the Nigeria. There shall be no relenting until peace and security is significantly restored in our communities,’’ the statement said.