By SIMON REEF MUSA
Last Sunday turned out an unforgettable blood-spattered day as notorious gangs of kidnappers that were forced out of job along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway made a triumphant return in a Rambo style, sending trepidations through motorists plying the road that is known as the nation’s recurring axis of abductions. By the time the outlaws were done with raining bullets on any moving object, no fewer than 10 persons were murdered, while nine students of the Ahmadu Bello University, among others, were forced to become unwilling guests of the gangs. Scores of the injured were left in agonising pains, awaiting the arrival of the medics.
In the last three months or so, kidnappers operating along the Abuja-Kaduna expressway had been chased away through constant aerial and ground watch of the road used by North-west states as a major gateway to the nation’s federal capital. Though there were always rounds of once-in-a-while incidents of kidnaps, last Sunday’s incident re-enacted the fearful past.
Initially, there were disputatious accounts over the death toll and those abducted by the criminals. While the Kaduna State Government claimed it was reliably briefed by the ‘Operation Safe Haven’ that only two people died, a statement released by the state government and signed by the Commissioner of Internal Security, Mr Samuel Aruwan, disclosed that only two persons were killed, while nine of the abducted persons were rescued from the kidnappers.
However, after the dust had settled over the matter, accounts by survivors of the ordeal revealed that no fewer than 10 persons were killed, while several others were still unaccounted for. A newspaper reported that about 15 persons were killed, with scores herded into the abductors’ den. Survivors’ accounts contradicted that of the Kaduna State Government which had earlier disclosed how courageous officers and men of ‘Operation Safe Haven’ had battled the abductors.
Considering the wave of banditry and kidnappings ripping across the country, it is obvious that these outlaws are attempting to create their own country within the Nigerian nation. Recently, there were media reports that villages in Zamfara states were forced to pay between N300, 000 to N900, 000 to get access to their farms in order to harvest their crops. There are instances in some towns and communities where people have been forced to pay protection levies.
Just as yours sincerely was concluding this column, my attention was drawn to the rescue of nine police ASPs abducted early in the week. It is a welcome development and the circumstances under which these police officers were abducted must be probed to avoid a repeat. The Inspector General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, must rise up and unravel last Sunday’s abductions of ABU 9 and other Nigerians now. How this pans out in the future will clearly reflect the willingness of the government to bow to pressure and succumb to the demands of criminals who are now becoming unbridled in their quest to challenge the sovereignty of the Nigerian state.
The current and terrifying ordeal the ABU 9, among others, has introduced a frightening spectre foisted by the activities of criminals on our national life. The demand of the total sum N270 million ransom for the ABU 9 and the dithering disposition of the security forces to immediately stage a rescue mission and end the embarrassing episode has cast long shadows on the confidence of citizens on government to protect and guarantee their safety.
Some weeks ago, the American Navy Seal team stormed Nigeria to rescue one of their citizens abducted by a terror group. This singular act of valor has sent a clear signal to terror groups that the USA is willing to do anything to save any of its citizens from harm. When the government negotiates with terror gangs, the criminals are emboldened and encouraged to continue in their criminal acts. When criminals are crushed and defeated, as we saw in the recent rescue by the Navy Seal team in Nigeria, the criminals are forced to abandon their criminal endeavor.
That the students from ABU, among several others, are now unwilling guests of these criminal groups is in itself a gross failure on government, with the predisposition of incurring public loss of confidence on government to protect and safeguard the lives of citizens. Ahead of 2015 polls, General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) had pledged to lead at the front and not from the rear, but the mounting capacity of rampaging brigands for terror has become the dread of many Nigerians.
It is apparent that critical segments of our nation’s security architecture are yet to synergise their operations or the superior firepower of these dare devil gangs are gradually overwhelming them. In a modern world made easy by technology, the prospects of tracking down calls used by these outlaws to negotiate for ransom payments are clear as daylight. If so much advances have been recorded in technology which have made the destruction of such criminals an easy task, why are these bandits allowed to make life a hell for Nigerians?
Are these criminals not enjoying some protection from some corrupt elements in the security system for a fee? If ordeals by former victims of kidnappings which reveal that these bandits sometimes “purchase some of our roads” over a particular period and distance to enable them carry out their nefarious activities, why is it not possible to track down the sellers of these portions of our highways and bring them to justice?
Worried by the #EndSARS protests that led to the killings of nearly 100 persons as confirmed by the Federal Government, the Northern States Governors’ Forum recently convened a meeting to discuss the matter. If the governors were so worried of the implications of the #EndSARS protests which they declared was targeted at a regime change, why have they remained unflustered over the devastating level of insecurity plaguing the region that is gradually turning the House that the Sardauna built into great ruins?
Going by the invasion and conquest of communities in the country by terror gangs, I am sure that some citizens, if offered the opportunity, may prefer to be under the protection of bandits than under the sovereignty of the Nigerian state that has remained incapable of stopping these grisly murders unleashed by these outlaws.
No nation can hope to build a promising future by allowing its youthful citizens and law officers to be used for ransom payments. Fear drives a nation down the slippery slope of destruction, but, if handled appropriately, it can also be deployed to galvanise mass action towards safeguarding national survival for a country under siege. What is needed now is for the government to rally forces to destroy these outlaws threatening the sovereignty of the Nigerian state.
The incapacity of present leadership to declare a state of emergency on national security is the oxygen that gives life to kidnappers, brigands and other outlaws. As long as citizens are made soft targets of criminals, the inadequate number of officers of the law will continue to prove insufficient to provide safety to the citizenry. If the essence of government is primarily on the protection of citizens; then, it is evidently clear that the prerogatives of government have been atrophied.
The fate of the ABU 9 and many others that are presently in the dens of abductors reflect the growing challenges thrown on the shoulders of the government. As long as relations of captives and the government are willing to negotiate with kidnappers, so long will abductions continue to be a profitable enterprise. Government must for once prove to these monstrous kidnapping groups that it possesses the capacity to rescue her citizens from their jaws.