Worried by then gruesome and ceaseless destruction of communities by bandits and other criminal elements, the former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd), in March 2018 called on his fellow citizens to embrace the self-defense strategy to avoid being obliterated by bandits he alleged were in bed with rogue elements of Nigeria’s armed forces. The criticism against the retired Taraba-born military general over his call for self-defense came in torrent.
The former Chief of Army Staff was not only castigated and condemned by a cross-section of Nigerians, many called on the military top command to question him for inciting insurrection. Danjuma maintained sealed lips and refused to dignify his traducers with a response. Few months later, those who had disagreed with Danjuma’s position, joined in the call for communal efforts in stamping out the flood of destruction caused by the activities of bandits.
Last week, the call for self-defense returned to the centre of public discourse as Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State called on his state citizens to acquire arms in order to defend themselves against the activities of bandits and criminal elements that have turned Zamfara State into a hell on earth. Before now, Governor Matawalle had granted amnesty for bandits if they renounced banditry and other criminal activities.
However, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, has kicked against the call for self-defense by the governor, stressing that it is against Nigerian laws to allow citizens to bear arms. The CDS has assured Zamfara citizens that the Nigerian military is capable of ensuring their safety. The Zamfara State Command has also warned citizens not to heed to the governor’s call for self-defense.
There’s no denying the fact that the capacity of security forces in defeating monsters of insecurity has become questionable, in view of the ravaging insecurity ripping across Nigeria. Apart from the challenge of inadequate boots on the ground; the non-deployment of modern technologies to fight these criminals has continued to provide oxygen to insurgency and other forms of criminal activities. In the modern world of technologies where one can deploy drone technology for security purposes, the capacity to deploy the relevant technology is paramount in dealing with the challenges.
Over four years since General Danjuma called on citizens to bear arms against efforts at destroying them, Governor Matawalle’s call on his distraught citizens to embrace self-defense reflects the level of insecurity wreaking the nation. Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina had earlier called on his people to arm themselves in order to confront the murderers. Masari’s frustration came on the heels of failed negotiations with leaders of the gunmen to end banditry and recurring attacks on Katsina communities.
Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai of Kaduna State, after paying foreign herdsmen compensation over killings in the southern axis of the state, has suddenly discovered that the only option to end banditry is the bomb. He has continued to remain a lone voice in calling for the complete obliteration of these criminals that have turned our forests into ungovernable spaces. For his bold and audacious position on the best way of ending banditry in the country, bandits have turned Kaduna State into an epicentre of kidnapping and bloodshed. Matawalle’s call is thus a signpost that the chickens are coming home to roost.
Having witnessed the gruesome killings of his people and destruction of communities in the state, Governor Matawalle’s trust on the armed forces to bring these criminals to justice has been greatly vitiated. Confronting the recurring security challenges, these governors have now discovered, requires a commensurate degree of violence on perpetrators of the crimes. Anyone who has kept taps on the spiraling level of insecurity can attest that the urgency of dealing with the monster is now or never.
How can one explain a situation where these outlaws have continued to operate as if there is no government in place. Under the watch of the current administration, these daring bandits have shot down a fighter jet belonging to the Nigerian Air Force. There was also a report in several media outlets that remains of a shot NAF jet were discovered in Sambisa Forest. Unlike in the pre-2015 when insecurity was restricted to the North-east zone, these criminals now export their adventure to other parts of the country. In a nation that is increasingly becoming a stranger to peace, the enthronement of insecurity poses grave dangers to citizens.
I was in Zamfara in 2018 and was privileged to visit areas then termed as hotspots of abductions and kidnapping. During the visit that was organised by the Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP), an organisation founded and funded by the Vienna-based KAICIID International Dialogue Centre, I came in touch with the unmitigated violence unleashed by these cold-blooded murderers.
Before 2015 when the birds of insecurity were yet to spread their wings beyond the North-east zone, the nation’s security personnel were overwhelmed. A security official confided in the team that inadequate boots on the ground could not withstand the overwhelming number of bandits.
Those who know insist that if the war against banditry and other criminal elements is to be won, the need to recruit more security personnel is unavoidable. It is this dearth in the number of security personnel that has rendered the victory of security forces over criminals an impossible feat to be attained. The need to close the yawning gap in engaging additional hands in the fight against banditry underscores the call for self-defense.
That Governors Matawalle and Masari are now calling for self-defense reflects the sad realities of our precarious state of security. The call for self-defense by these governors questions the capacity of security forces to tackle these criminal groups. It is now clear that security personnel cannot secure citizens and their property. If the loss of lives and decimation of communities must be avoided, governors and communities must be involved in fighting these monsters of bloodshed and destruction.
Considering the rising level of insecurity that has trailed national life since 2009, beginning with the Boko Haram, only a pro-people strategy remains the most effective means of combating insecurity. Safeguarding the lives of Nigerian citizens is not only the business of the government but also the people. When templates aimed at tackling security challenges are evolved without the involvement of citizens; such a template becomes ineffective in dealing with the problem. Insecurity persists in Nigeria not because of inadequate boots on the ground but because of the presence of political leadership that is devoid of empathy.
A sincere government that has the vision of enthroning fair play and equity for all groups won’t leave no stone unturned to ensure the security of citizens. Last week, there was a news report that personnel of one of the anti-graft agencies stormed an Abuja home of a military contractor where they uncovered over N1. 7 billion meant for the purchase of arms for the military. As I pen this article, some retired military officers are standing trial over their roles in the misappropriation of funds meant for the armed forces.
There is a need to democratise security matters to allow besieged communities that are now victims of insecurity to work in harmony with security forces in ensuring the protection of lives and property. A situation where governors have no option than wait until Abuja orders security personnel against banditry and other criminals should henceforth be discontinued. That is why the call for state police should be considered and approved now. Delaying empowering state governors to empower their state citizens against banditry is akin to elongating the long night of insecurity.
Getting communities involved in the fight against insecurity should not be seen as an open invitation to allowing every member of the community access to arms. Much as we require additional hands to join in the fight against insecurity, getting quality people to collaborate with security forces will go a long way in tackling dangers posed by these militant groups engaged in genocidal attacks.
Those opposed to communal engagement in securing lives of citizens are simply opposed to ending the security quagmire. A new strategy against current bloodshed should be anchored in recruitment of additional security personnel, synergies among members of security forces and a committed leadership that is determined to crush insurgency and banditry.
Matawalle’s call for self-defense should not be wished away as it represents a new challenge to be met, no matter whose ox is gored. Allowing agents of destruction to turn our nation into a flourishing killing field, without giving them a run for their money, amounts to courting an imminent destruction for our country.