What goes round comes round, goes the popular saying. Nothing perhaps better illustrates this saying as relates to the insecurity hazard we collectively face in this country than the killing of seven policemen in Abuja last week by unknown assailants. You could say that killing of armed agents, coming barely a fortnight after the massacre of more than 100 defenseless community people in Plateau State, acutely showed up the commonality of our collective endangerment as Nigerians.
Last week’s bloodbath in the federal capital involved roving gunmen who faced down a police patrol team in a shootout that felled the seven policemen at a checkpoint erected close to the gates of the Africa Science and Technology University. Reports said the patrol team was on stop-and-search duty when the assailants stormed in and unleashed a firepower that must have ambushed and back-footed the cops.
The location of the incident had a police post close by and was some 100 metres away from the university, according to reports. Hence we could well imagine the brazenness of the assailants, and as well the potential danger vulnerable members of the public were saved from. Besides the fatalities, another policeman and some civilians were accounted injured, but there was no report of any casualty among the assailants. The Police only said it had launched a manhunt and commenced investigation of the attack to bring the assailants to justice.
Although Force spokesman Jimoh Moshood blamed the attack on suspected “armed robbers and other bandits,” the incident couldn’t but stoke déjà vu of daring insurgency strikes in the federal capital city under the former Goodluck Jonathan presidency. The difference now, perhaps, is that Boko Haram insurgents who controlled territory and operated with near-impunity in Jonathan’s time have provenly been degraded and dislodged from territorial control, though not altogether vanquished yet by the Muhammadu Buhari administration as to completely hamstrung them from staging lone wolf suicide attacks.
It could be argued that the killing of security agents by lawless actors isn’t particularly new, that security operatives fall casualty every now and then in line of their heroic duty even under this Buhari presidency. But then, that has mostly been on the frontlines of hostilities – for instance, in theatres of counter-insurgency operations and communal clashes; rarely in serene urban dwellings far off from the frontlines. Last week’s incident in the federal capital city brought the porosity of security provisioning in our country home to the government’s doorstep.
The bloodletting a couple of weeks earlier in three council areas of Plateau State had resulted from attacks by suspected herdsmen on unarmed native communities, and many have blamed the recurrence of such killings and consequent huge tolls on defective engagement by the security agencies frontguarded by the police. Besides repeated failure of intelligence gathering that could have staved off security breaches, for instance, a major lapse after breaches occur is that suspected culprits are rarely apprehended and brought to justice. Then, there is the notoriously slow response by operatives to distressed victims’ urgent pleas for security intervention that has been widely flagged.
Two weeks ago, reputed global watchdog, Amnesty International, accused federal authorities of fuelling rising insecurity across this country by failing to hold killers to account. The group, in a published report, alleged a worsening security trend; saying it independently verified that at least 1, 813 people were murdered in 17 states in the first six months of 2018, which is double the 894 persons accounted killed in all of 2017.
Country Director of Amnesty, Osai Ojigbo, laid the blame squarely on government. She said: “The authorities have a responsibility to protect lives and property, but they are clearly not doing enough going by what is happening…Despite the deployment of security forces, including the military in over 30 states, the escalation of these attacks shows that whatever is being done by the authorities is not working. There is urgent need for people who are suspected of committing crimes to be held accountable.”
Quite uncharacteristically, neither the Presidency nor security spokespersons have responded to the latest report by Amnesty. But it wasn’t the non-governmental group alone that had red-flagged critical pitfalls in Nigeria’s security architecture. Actually, voices internal to government have done so. For instance, Zamfara State Governor Abdul’aziz Yari sometime in June remonstrated the helplessness of governors in taking control of security operations in their respective state despite being designated as chief security officer. “We have been facing serious security challenges over the years. But in spite of being governor and chief security officer of the state, I cannot direct security officers on what to do or sanction them when they err. Being chief security officer is just in name,” he said.
The governor as well claimed that security agencies were indeed stalling on obeying the very orders of Mr. President. Lamenting that 38 people were killed in Birnin-Magaji council area of Zamfara in an attack that occurred nine days after the President ordered the deployment of more security personnel in the state, Yari said: “Not a single additional security man has reported to the state following the presidential order, and so the bandits have continued to unleash terror on innocent citizens of the state.”
Even within the federal government, all, from indications, isn’t well with our security architecture. Prior to the Zamfara governor’s outburst, National Security Adviser to the President (NSA) Babagana Monguno was reported blaming insecurity in the country on insubordination by security chiefs who allegedly were in the habit of spurning invites to meetings in his office. According to a media report, which was not controverted, the NSA told senators in a closed-door parley late in May that the security agencies had no respect for his office. He added that their uncooperative attitude meant his inability to coordinate their operations on the President’s behalf.
Most incidents of killings across this country, before the Plateau carnage, occurred without suspected culprits being apprehended, much less brought to justice. Worse, in cases of two-sided communal bloodletting, security agents have often fallen under suspicion of abetting one side against the other. The seeming indispassion of security agents, for instance, recently prompted respected elder citizen, former Defence Minister Yakubu Danjuma, to advise community people to self-defend.
To be sure, security operatives did arrest some suspected culprits of the Plateau killings. But those are yet to have their day in court as of now, and it remains to be seen how diligent the government would be in seeing their prosecution through to conviction or acquittal. Besides, on the heels of the Plateau mayhem, Mr. President was widely reported contemplating a shake-up of security top brass to allow for fresh ideas on tackling the national challenge. Three weeks after, there has been neither further word from the President to that effect nor any indication of such eventuality happening soon. Meanwhile, the porosity in security provisioning persists and apparently hit home on one of the armed agencies last week.
The 1999 Nigerian Constitution provides that “…the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” And so, the current security challenges remain inevitably the liability of government and its core responsibility to redress. A standard narrative from government has been to blame incidents of insecurity on political masterminds seeking to gain some partisan capital from the chaos. But even at that, it remains the duty of government to fish out such masterminds and ensure their diligent prosecution before the courts. The Buhari administration can’t by any contortion of argument pass the buck regarding the myriad security challenges we presently face and should earnestly begin prospecting for fresh ideas to stem the tide.
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‘Last week’s incident in the federal capital brought the porosity of security provisioning in our country home to the government’s doorstep’