INSECURITY: TIME TO DECLARE THE NORTH WEST A WAR ZONE, By Maiwada Dammallam

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No gainsaying that the intractable situation of insecurity in some parts of the North, particularly Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara States is beyond embarrassment. Somehow, rather than get better commensurate to ongoing efforts to resolve the problem, the situation is getting bad or even evolving for the worse. It’s so bad that today in the Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara axis kidnapping could be said to be wearing the image of inevitability just like death. It’s no longer a matter of ‘IF’ but ‘WHEN’ one will make the daily growing list of victims. It’s that bad unfortunately!

As it is today, driving from Kaduna to Abuja is almost a one way ticket to disaster and nobody is spared in this madness. Not long ago a lady Professor, a former Commissioner of Education in Katsina State, was killed while traveling with her husband on the now deadly Kaduna/Abuja road. A lot more less recognizable citizens cutting across class and status were captured on the road at different times; some made it out alive but not without emptying their life savings to secure their freedoms while others were not so lucky and were lost to a war which size and motive remain in the realm of speculation.

Deeper into the North, villages in Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina States have been burying their dead in a dignified silence that’s louder than any expression of anguish and bereavement. Particularly in Zamfara, deaths by the guns and machetes of rampaging criminals is as random as it’s regular. No city or village outside the Gusau state capital is immune from the senseless, spontaneous and unprovoked attacks that are now so normal to even attract media attention even on an uneventful day. The inexplicable situation has left both citizens and their elected leaders dazed, confused and seemingly out of hope and options that the Zamfara State Governor has resorted to invite “charmers” to free the state from what’s clearly an issue of criminality that could be resolved with enhanced intelligence gathering and commitment. The desperation of the Zamfara Governor to revert to superstitious capacity of charmers to free Zamfara of banditry is nothing short of proposing flying carpets for air travellers to avoid purely resolvable mechanical problems that could crash aircrafts. That’s by the way.

Kaduna, Katsina and Sokoto States aren’t any less under siege from the ragtag bandits who, on one hand, are taking advantage of the contagious forest reserves interlinking the 3 states and offering the convenience for such criminality to flourish and on the other hand, a seeming insistence by the government to win the war using hitherto workable methods clearly overtaken by a fast evolving criminal industry as seen to it by easy access to small arms etc as made possible by the torpid Nigerian system and compounded by the pervading global banditry and the system collapse of countries like Libya.

Certainly the efforts of the Federal Government to curtail the menace of banditry in Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara States is not paying off or not paying off as it should. This is indicative of a failure of strategy because, despite challenges like dearth of manpower and poor or misapplied funding, it’s inconceivable for a bunch of barefooted ragtag criminals to defy the amalgam of Nigeria’s security agencies fighting the war. Something critical must be missing in the adopted strategy of the ongoing efforts. This is an unconventional battle that should be intelligence gathering based and, going by the numerous cases of traceable ransom demands by kidnappers almost on daily basis without being traced, it’s apparent a lot more need to be done to enhance the intelligence aspect of the war.

A whole new approach must be adopted to win this war. The ease with which these criminals strike and vanish into the forests only to stealthily come out when the dust settled and blend with their victims require more than conventional methods to tackle. Just as much, there’s need for a more pragmatic approach to tackle the legal aspect of the problem. If the conviction and punishment of these criminals could be matched with the same and frequency they attack, hope and confidence will be restored in the polity. Most of these cases get lost in the confusion that’s Nigeria’s judicial system. It is a frustrating and endless circle of “arrest-bail-and-back-into-the woods” situation. Simply put, we are making motions but not moving.

I’m yet to hear of a single conviction despite the numerous arrests of bandits I read about much less, hear about a punishment commensurate to the gravity of the crime and its impact on the socia-economic development of Nigeria. Thanks to our obsolete laws, when and if we score convictions it will be nothing more than rubbing salt to the wounds of the victims of banditry beside being a mockery of justice. This is saying that both the laws and methods with which this war is being fought must be overhauled and improved to reflect reality. The idea of adopting judicial technicalities to spring free identified criminals should be dropped off the list of our options. It’s my opinion that Anti-banditry Tribunals should be created to fast track cases of banditry.

The need for synchronization of efforts between the Security agencies and state governments cannot be overemphasized. A lot of money is going down the drain in the name of this war with very little to show for it. This is caused by the near absence of a reliable strategy to monitor funds meant to curtail the menace. As it is, there are numerous drainages in the detached system of funding through which funds are voted for the war and probably diverted for purposes other than noble. This is easily agreeable going by the poor logistics with which the war is being fought. To resolve this, there’s need to harmonize and co-ordinate especially the funding aspect of the war to ensure efficient application of funds for maximum results.

I’m yet to be convinced that there’s a better option than Buhari among the 2019 presidential candidates. I’m still of the opinion that people in Zamfara and Katsina States were correct by trusting President Buhari again as the man for the job. Actually I’m of the opinion that the situation will be worse under any of the 2019 presidential contenders. President Buhari has all it takes to win this war. He’s equipped with the requisite background, discipline and uprightness to see the Nigeria through this problem. That’s not saying there’s no room for improvement by the President though. As a matter of urgency, he should give this problem his maximum concentration and the best shot he got.

With the burden of 2019 elections behind, this administration is out of excuses for the embarrassing events that are turning the North into a miniature Afghanistan. We may not like the sound of it but the truth is, events in the Northwest are robbing this administration of all the gains scored across Nigeria in different sectors. President Buhari should leave nothing out of his options to fight and win this war. He should bend laws, knock heads and break bones if necessary to have the job done. Restoring normalcy to the Northwest is simply non-negotiable. For a start, the President should give serious consideration to the lamentations of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. T. Y. Butatai about poor funding of the Army which he claimed worsens insecurity. Nothing should be spared to fund this war and no one should be spared to ensure the funding serve the purposes intended.

In the same shot, even in a calm season, policing Nigerian should be given more attention than obtainable today. No so many people are aware that an average Local Government in Nigeria is being policed by averagely 35 policemen functioning mostly barehanded (out of which 10 to 15 will be attached to local VIPs as personal guards). Improving the capacity of the Police is the first step in the right direction. With just about 400,000 personnel, Nigeria, with an estimated population of 200m is no doubt under-policed. This explains the pressure on the Nigerian Army and other security agencies that may not be primarily trained and equipped to handle the problems at hand. In this regard, the need to recruit, train and equip more people into the NPF cannot be overemphasised. DCP Abba Kyari is recording regular and swift success not by magic but by well trained and having a well trained and well equipped task force to work with. If this should be extended to all personnel and command posts, I’m sure the narrative will change for the better.

The most important thing is, we must accept that we are all in this together. No one can say with certainty he or she is immune to this incidences. Not after a former Chief of Defence Staff, late Alex Badeh was killed by a bunch of idiots for as little as N25,000 payouts. This is a problem that transcends beyond political and ethno-religious subscriptions. If there’s a truly national problem, this is a truly national problem that need to be tackled without the usual sentimentalities because there are only two groups involved in the fracas — those dying for the war and those making money with it.

Dammallam writes from Abuja.

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