LAMENTATIONS of worsening insecurity in the North-West by two governors, one of whom is Aminu Masari of President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, Katsina, should compel him (the President) to rethink his administration’s self-adulatory scorecard on security. In Katsina and Zamfara states, bandits kill innocent citizens with reckless abandon and burn police stations, while carrying out robbery, kidnapping and cattle rustling operations.
Many rural communities have been reduced to rubble in these two states. The fatal and socio-economic consequences of banditry have become so unbearable that Governor Abdul’aziz Yari of Zamfara recently called for a declaration of a state of emergency. He even expressed his readiness to vacate his seat, if doing so would save lives and restore the peace. Much earlier, he had caused many eyebrows to be raised, with his denial of being the chief security officer of his state, against the spirit and letter of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Similarly, Masari, on January 2, expressed sadness that residents in the 34 local councils in the state were sleeping with one eye open. He said, “Our state is under siege by armed robbers, kidnappers and bandits, who arrest rural people at will and demand ransom, which, if not paid, results in the killing of their victims.” In November last year, 10 people from Gora village were killed. The victims were men murdered in their farms by herdsmen. On Monday, bandits attacked Mamman Nasir, an ex-president of the Court of Appeal, between Malumfashi and the capital, Katsina. They abducted his orderly, leaving the 90-year-old retired jurist in a limbo.
In a headline-grabbing macabre incident in February 2018, bandits numbering about 600 invaded the Zurmi Local Government Area in a caravan of 200 motorcycles, killing 39 people. Each motorbike reportedly carried three armed men. When bandits dispatch letters to bucolic dwellers in Zamfara to notify them of imminent attacks, demand that N5 million ransom be set aside for them, otherwise, they would be wiped out; men sleep on tree tops at night to keep vigil; farmers no longer go to farm out of fear of being killed; or travellers are routinely ambushed, then governance has taken flight in the area. It is within this context that Yari and Masari’s lamentations should be viewed.
The President has thrice since November 2017 ordered the deployment of the military in Zamfara. In fact, in one of the operations, he visited the state wearing a military gear to ginger them to action; and in August 2018, he directed a batch of 1,000 troops to be “as ruthless as humanly possible” in fighting the bandits.
Amnesty International, which has monitored these wanton killings in Zamfara, claims that “at least, 371 people” were killed in 2018 alone. According to it, 238 of these killings occurred after the deployment of Air Force personnel in the area. It attributed this high casualty figure to the absence of the military personnel in villages where they were needed more than in Gusau, the state capital. “The government is still neglecting the most vulnerable communities in this region,” reasons Osai Ojigho, Director, AI Nigeria.
The failure of these military interventions to restore normalcy should inspire some introspection and a new security strategy from Buhari, being the country’s chief security officer. At the heart of this conundrum is the centralised policing system, which has abysmally failed to guarantee security in the country. The police hierarchy has acknowledged that more than 100,000 police personnel serve as guards to the elite, thus leaving a little – about 200,000 others – to police the entire country. Such a force is grossly inadequate to effectively serve a country of an estimated 193 million people. In all federations, like the United States, Australia and Canada, policing is decentralised for result-oriented duty. This pragmatism is also underscored by the 43 police forces in the United Kingdom, despite being a unitary state.
The realisation of our bizarre situation, informed the Nigeria Governors’ Forum’s resolution in the last dispensation, when Rotimi Amaechi, then governor of Rivers State, was its chairman, to adopt state police. The popularity of that proposal was further evinced in the 2014 political conference echo of it. Surprisingly, barely one month after that NGF decision, the Northern Governors’ Forum, chaired then by Babangida Aliyu, the then governor of Niger State, reneged, save for Jonah Jang of Plateau State. Their fear was based on its likely abuse by governors during elections. In countries with multiple police forces, strict regulations exemplified by legislative checks and balances have defined their operations. Therefore, we don’t see how Nigeria’s case should be different. The overall national interest should override parochial considerations on this matter.
Unfortunately, the President has aligned with the northern governors with his avowal to oppose decentralisation of policing in the country. This narrow, ill-digested stance, will continue to undermine internal security, especially in the North, where Fulani herdsmen, cross-border banditry, cattle rustling and porous land borders with Niger Republic and Chad have conflated to create a security nightmare never experienced before by the people.
It is obvious that the military are over-stretched with their presence in over 30 states, performing the statutory duties of the police. Soldiers cannot, on a permanent basis, secure Zamfara’s remote villages, especially Buku-Bake, Yartalata, Sabon Gari and Mandaba, which have 1,500 people now in IDP camps in Kankara Local Council Area of Katsina State. Only local policing, which state police will guarantee, aided by technology and effective land border control, can.