By Dan Agbese
Of the 36 states in the country, we have 19 successor states to the Northern Region. That, if you do have some problems with simple arithmetic, translates into 19 state governors, also known as their excellencies, the keepers of the flame of democracy and the agents of development in their various states. With 19 state governors plus a president of northern extraction, this should be the brightest moment in the former region. It should mean that although things can go wrong, this being a nation of imperfect human beings, they would not go so badly wrong in northern Nigeria.
It must rank as an irony with sulphuric smell, that things are going badly, so very badly wrong, for northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria bleeds; it reels from a level of insecurity that had never been visited on any other part of the country in our chequered national history. Northern Nigerians are helpless and totally overwhelmed by this critical, indeed, existential challenge that casts a dark shadow over their future. The seeds of the blooming insecurity were sown in 2009 when Boko Haram began the murderous and misguided and retrogressive campaign of violently taking us back to many centuries the world left behind in the dark wombs of human history.
Now, because the insecurity challenges have left the Nigerian state in a quandary, things have taken the natural path of deterioration and gotten worse with the result that the cattle Fulani, hitherto one of the most peaceful groups of men in the country, now wield the deadly AK-47. With that, they have been transformed from simple cattle rearers into dreaded herdsmen able and willing to use their killing power.
The most worrisome of the burgeoning tribes of criminals in northern Nigeria is the ugly dimension of the kidnap industry, easily the biggest industry in northern Nigeria today with instant recoupment on investments in AK-47. None of the 19 states is safe from this blooming scourge. Kidnapping for handsome ransoms began in the creeks of the Delta region when young men used it to extract money from expatriate oil workers. Young men in other parts of the country soon cottoned on to the idea and the opportunity for easy money – and kidnapping soon shunted aside armed robberies as the most lucrative criminal enterprise in the giant of Africa. Men, such as Evans, became so successful with killer young men as foot soldiers that they became kidnap kingpins living in the laps of luxury as seemingly respectable wealthy citizens.
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram changed the face of the kidnap industry when they abducted 276 female students from their secondary school at Chibok, Borno State. They did not ask for ransom. They simply took them away as sex slaves. His inability to rescue them became the major failure of President Goodluck Jonathan and most probably blocked his return to Aso Rock for a second term. But seven years later and with President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to do what Jonathan could not do, most of the girls remain in captivity and lost to their parents. You could hear the Nigerian state still scratching its chin over their fate.
Then, it became worse. It bears to recount the tragedy of the region now virtually controlled by criminal elements negotiating from a position of strength with the federal and state governments doing their bidding with Ghana-Must-Go bags. Under Buhari’s watch, Boko Haram struck again. On February 19, 2018, they abducted 113 female students from GGTC, Dapchi, Yobe State. In a negotiated settlement with the Nigerian state, only one student, Lea Sharibu, a Christian who refused the command of her captors to convert to Islam, still remains in captivity, most probably forgotten now by the Nigerian state.
Then, it got even worse. The path to negotiated settlement with the Nigerian state having been cut through for Boko Haram as a lucrative criminal enterprise, other criminal elements moved in and began to target other secondary school students for purposes of handsomely negotiated settlements with federal and state governments. This new group known as bandits, chose the northern-western flank in northern Nigeria and first operated as cattle rustlers and mindless killers before moving up the scale as kidnappers of the most vulnerable group – students.
On December 11, 2020, they invaded the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina State and abducted 344 students. They poked their fingers in the eyes of the president because they struck while he was holidaying in his home town, Daura, in the same state. A negotiated settlement with the bandits freed the students – to our collective sigh of relief.
A brief sigh of relief, apparently, because on December 20, 2020, they struck again in the same state and took away 80 students of the Islamiyyah School, Mahuta. The students regained their freedom again through the same process – a negotiated settlement in which the criminals recouped their investments in AK-47.
The new year more or less opened with the February 17, 2021, abduction of 27 students of GSC, Kagara, Niger State. Before we could cry, oh my God, they struck at the GGSS, Jengebe, Zamfara State, and abducted 317 students. At that point, an exasperated President Buhari was quoted in the news media as talking tough. He said, and surprisingly so, given the record of performance of the Nigerian state negotiating from the position of weakness with the criminals: “No criminal group can be too strong to be defeated by the government. We have the capacity to deploy massive force against the bandits where they operate…Let them not entertain any illusions that they are more powerful than the government. They shouldn’t mistake our restraint for the humanitarian goals of protecting innocent lives as a weakness or a sign of fear or irresolution.”
No one need to be persuaded that the Nigerian state has a massive military and police force. Buhari promised that Jengebe would the last time the criminals would test the will of the government. The criminals simply chuckled because they know who, between them and the Nigerian state, is more powerful. Just to prove the point, on March 12, 2021, they abducted 39 students from the Federal College of Forestry, Mando, Kaduna State. The fire and brimstone the president appeared to have promised, did not rain on the bandits. Banditry goes on.
The Northern Governors Forum managed to squeak. Its chairman, the governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, said that the assault on schools “…has the tendency to set the nation back to ignorance and more poverty.” That is elementary. And as if chiding some of his errant commissioners, added, “Enough is enough.” Words, words, words. Mere politics. They don’t frighten criminals. They make them laugh and thumb their noses at our redoubtable rulers.
Here is what is happening that underlines the tragedy of northern Nigeria and its future development. Six northern states have been forced to close about 129 schools. According to figures compiled and published by Daily Trust of March 16, 2021: Sokoto, 16; Zamfara, 10; Katsina, 38; Yobe, 46; Kano, 17 and Kaduna, 1.
As you can see, the bandits reign and the northern states quake in dread of them. Repeated presidential tough talks have taught them not to take the man seriously. His tough talks are not backed by action and, therefore, blow in the wind as mere political sound bites. The tragedy is way beneath pathetic. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that in the eleven years of the Boko Haram insurgency, 30,000 were killed and some three million people turned into refugees in their own country. It has not been raining in northern Nigeria; it has been pouring.
Last week, Bauchi State hosted a meeting of the North-East Governors Forum. The host governor, Bala Mohammed, told his colleagues: “Instead of playing the ostrich, we must accept the fact that our over-centralised internal security arrangement is an obsolete tool for tackling the monstrous life and death scenario playing out in the country, especially our region.” Tell that to the president and make him listen. Now, they know and admit the weakness of the current arrangement that has ill-served the country and has always been defended by the northern governors. I hesitate to see Mohammed’s admission as a shaft of light in the darkening plains of northern Nigeria.
The governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum, for the nth time, told the federal government “…to look into the possibility of involving mercenaries, with a view to ending the insurgency because it seems the commitment is not there.” We need external help because the government can’t. Pity with capital P.
I wonder if in the future historians looking into these times in our history would conclude that we savoured our kolanuts in contentment while criminals reigned and put our governments to shame.
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