By Dan Agbese
It could not get more desperate or more pathetic than this – the deepening national insecurity casting a lengthening and darkening shadow on the nation.
On December 29, Borno State government resorted to its own self-help measure to contain the worsening insecurity in the state. It turned to hunters and a vigilante group in Hawul Local Government Area where Boko Haram sacked four communities on Boxing Day. It provided them with eight Toyota Hilux vehicles and “other accessories” to fight the insurgents. I suppose the other accessories refer to more modern guns than dane guns usually used by our local hunters.
The deputy governor of the state, Alhaji Umar Kadafur, who made the presentation to the group said: “Borno State government will not relent or shy away from its constitutional responsibilities of protecting lives and property of the people and will continue to remain focussed in ensuring that total peace returned to the state.”
A laudable objective consistent with Section 14 (2) (b), to wit, “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” All other purposes of government are secondary to this. Security is about human lives. States are because the people are. States are secure only when people are secure. No one needs to be preached to about this. The three tiers of government – federal and state and local government – have no excuse not to take this constitutional imperative seriously.
Sadly, they seem to. It is inconceivable that a band of non-state actors can virtually hold the Nigerian state and its armed forces hostage in a war that has lasted this long and caused this level of killings and devastation, particularly in Borno State. However much our leaders might pretend to the contrary, no part of that state is safe any longer – not homes, not farms and not inter-and inter-state roads. Repeated official denials that large swathes of the state are controlled by Boko Haram are too laughable to be taken seriously, even by those who have the duty to perpetuate our living in denial in the face of telling facts. We have parallel governments in the state, period.
When the state government decided to arm hunters and a vigilante group to take on the insurgents, it knew only too well that they could not really fight the insurgents who have not made our armed forces look too good as modern fighting forces able to intervene in internal and external threats to the security of the Nigerian state. There is no way the hunters and the vigilante groups can match the sophistication of the weapons in the hands of the well-armed and well-motivated Boko Haram who dictate the war against the Nigerian state. It is state-approved mass suicide to task hunters with fighting such a group. But the state government could not afford to sit on its haunches and be seen to be doing nothing while its people cower in the fear of Boko Haram and moan and mourn their almost weekly loss of lives and the destruction of their property. It acted to reassure the people that it has not abandoned them to their uncertain fate in the hands of Boko Haram. Poor Professor Zulum. The choice between the frying pan and the fire is a tough one.
On the same Tuesday that the government armed the hunters, Boko Haram lured them into a trap. The hunters received a distress call that Boko Haram had struck and rustled cows. They responded to the distress call and bravely went in search of the insurgents and the cows they rustled. Seven of them were killed and 19 injured in two incidents of landmines laid by Boko Haram 30km from the state capital. Evidence, if some were ever needed, that the Federal Government’s continued treatment of the insurgents as a band of killers with a short shelf life is, to put it politely, unrealistic.
It would be both unfair and uncharitable for us not to appreciate the depth of despair that envelops Borno State government. It acted in a genuine attempt to protect its own people who have been turned into Boko Haram canon fodders with the Nigerian state and its armed forces watching almost helplessly. Borno has borne the brunt of the insurgency since 2009. When the rice farmers were slaughtered recently in the state, the state governor, Professor Babagana Zulum, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to allow the South African mercenaries to return to the state to help tackle the worrisome insecurity in the state. It would seem that the president either did not hear him or he heard him but as usual, trusting in his protected personal wisdom, chose to say nothing.
It may be difficult to admit this but let us quit pretending that the Nigeria state has not become increasingly helpless in tackling the insecurity. The Nigerian state is overwhelmed and can no longer see its way clearly through the fog of its continued failures to fulfil its primary constitutional purpose of why governments are instituted. It is such a huge national shame that this country and its armed forces cannot defeat Boko Haram for 11 years. It seems we are reduced to wailing in despair and desperation. As Bishop Hassan Kukah put it recently: “The United Nations has wailed. The Pope has wailed. Cardinals, archbishops,, bishops, priests, pastors have wailed. Emirs have wailed. Politicians have wailed. The sultan has wailed.”
I wonder if the Federal Government to is wailing sotto voce. We cannot stop harping on the security situation even if one is beginning to sound like a pin stuck in the groove of a gramophone record. I have repeatedly pointed out in this column and elsewhere that everything in a country rests on its full and protected security. We can make no meaningful progress without our government fully securing the country and its people. Those who have raised the alarm that we are heading towards the Golgotha of a failed state are not alarmists nor, as the government chorus men would like to believe, are the men who are stubbornly unwilling to appreciate Buhari’s stratospheric achievements. A failed thing is bad, very bad. Ask the Somalians. Those achievements mean nothing if the state and its people are not secure and the people feel safe enough to engage in legitimate economic activities and means of livelihood. I have searched but found no evidence of a country crippled by insecurity but made the leap to the comity of secure and developed states.
What is even more frightening must be the country’s possible descent into anarchy when states and groups are forced to provide their own security and ignore the pretences of the Federal Government as the sole security authority in the country. Lagos State was the first to introduce a neighbourhood security outfit. The South-West geo-political zone has introduced a collective security outfit, Amotekun. The South-East recently launched a similar outfit. The three northern zones are yet to bestir themselves in this area but in arming the hunters to take on Boko Haram, Borno State might have acted in desperation but the governor acted because he needed no one to tell him that it might as well wait for Godot if it thinks that the Federal Government would do better than it has done in the last 11 years to zap Boko Haram. Despite frequent claims by the military to have neutralised Boko Haram and bandits in Katsina and Zamfara states, they grow ever more daring and act with impunity and turn themselves into kidnappers who negotiate from a position of strength with the Nigerian state as happened recently with the kidnap of 334 students from their secondary school at Kankara, Katsina.
As you read this on the first day of the new year, 2021, remember that one more year has passed into history in our war with Boko Haram. And remember that a firm assurance that the insecurity shadow would grow less in the new year is swaying in the wind. It is a harrowing and unsettling thought.
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