…Musing on what can be done to secure our community and national safety
On the evening of 7 July 2014, whilst slaving over my master’s dissertation at The Forum Library of the University of Essex, Southend, UK, a young man who lived a few houses away from my shared accommodation was stabbed and killed by gang members.
My usual practice at the time was to stay in the library from about noon till almost midnight. I lived off-campus in a shared house with three housemates, about 10 minutes’ walk from the library. On that night, I had no inkling that anything had happened until almost 9pm when one of my cousins called to ask about my whereabouts. She had heard the news and quickly told me what had happened.
I packed up my stuff and left for home. As soon as I got close to the house, I saw a sizeable police presence. A section of the road had been cordoned off and there was already a large pile of bouquets placed by the door of the victim’s house.
The next day, police officers went around interviewing people, seeking eyewitness accounts. Two of my housemates, who had family in London, had already packed up and left as they didn’t feel safe, the third had not been around at the time. I was the only one available when the police came around and I told the officer that the university library could verify my claim of being there at the time of the stabbing.
Within a week or two, arrests had been made and the street opened up. In all of this, I still maintained my daily midnight return trip from the library having absolutely no fear that anything would happen to me. My housemates, on the other hand, never came back and now I wonder what gave me the confidence to stay all alone in that house for almost three months after the stabbing incident, maintaining my usual routine.
It has been a very intense last few weeks in Nigeria as a lot seems to have happened making one wonder what would make all the sad and evil news stop. Reports of kidnappings and killings, and skirmishes and riots, are rife. I can’t believe I am about to say this but there isn’t anything new in all of these occurrences. We have always had them but it suddenly appears as though these events are happening at a far greater intensity than before.
The most recent kidnapping and killing of students of Greenfield University, Kaduna appears to be the height of it all for me. The kidnappers did not even allow time for negotiation or raising of the ransom and have made good their word to continue killing the students till their needs are met. To date, five students have been killed. In this instance, both the Federal Government and the Kaduna State Government have issued statements condemning the killings with the Federal Government promising to take action with all the resources at its disposal.
Amid all these pockets of security issues around the country, a Federal Minister, Dr Isa Pantami, was accused of being sympathetic to terrorist causes years ago. He has gone from denial to admitting that audio recordings documenting his support for terrorists, were based on his “understanding of religious issues at the time” and he is now a changed man.
The Federal Government through a Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, has since offered overwhelming support for him saying “the Minister has, rightly, apologized for what he said in the early 2000s. The views were absolutely unacceptable then, and would be equally unacceptable today, were he to repeat them,”.
The kidnappings, killings, skirmishes, and the blatant support for a self-confessed former extremist without even a pretence of investigation: how did we get here? How did we allow these issues to fester and blow up? How did we get to the point where many of us, even those in government, have become so numb to all our security issues?
What value have we placed on the life of a Nigerian? If we cannot protect Nigerians in Nigeria, should we even consider being saved when we face security issues abroad or should we just accept our fate and say our prayers because we know that only God can save us?
So many conspiracy theories have flown around explaining why these security issues are popping up all over the country, however, this isn’t the time for speculations. This is also not the time to trade blames or castigate political parties for either allegedly fomenting trouble (opposition parties) or doing the barest minimum (party in power). We cannot afford for our security issues to be lost in blame games. This is the time for the Federal and State Governments to secure the people within Nigeria’s borders.
The South-West and South-East governments have launched their security apparatuses, Amotekun and Ebube Agu, respectively. There is civilian JTF in the North East and Hisbah in Kano.
Constitutional limitations in addressing security issues within their states have led us to this point but this action will not fully address the states’ and regional security issues.
It has also become increasingly obvious that the current structure of the Nigerian Police is not fit for our country. A situation whereby a State Commissioner of Police has no direct reporting line to the Governor or having police officers work in areas where they do not understand the community has presented severe limitations in the execution of their duties.
From my layman’s point of view, tackling our security issues requires addressing the root causes and not just the symptoms which we are wont to do. What are these root causes? Systemic imbalances rooted in a constitution that does not support growth and development for the country resulting in poor education, increasing unemployment, rising inflation, weakening sense of nationhood and civic responsibility, poor acculturation and cultural assimilation, and religious intolerance to mention just a few issues.
These root causes can only be tackled in the long term and any actions towards addressing them would require a lot of time to canvas support and buy-in, increase awareness, implement solutions, and even more years for the results of these actions to be obvious.
Surely some things can be done to achieve quick wins. From small actions such as lighting up streets and roads, having well-armed security officials in troubled spots, to encouraging citizen action and community support for jobless youth.
The battle for the soul of this country is real and I believe there should be no sympathy for all those who pose regional or national security challenges: government must take decisive action against such people.
As citizens, we all have a role to play and we must take this seriously. Where we can be gracious and benevolent, we must. Where we can improve the lives of people, we should. Where we can influence change, we must, and this is the way I see things today.