Nigeria between global pandemic and kidnapping epidemic

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While the rest of the world grapples with the resurging virulence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria is faced with its own social malaise of epidemic proportion – the indiscriminate kidnapping of Nigerians by local terrorists that go under such fanciful names as insurgents, bandits and rustlers, etc.

But the plain truth which no reasonable human being can deny is that Nigeria is under siege as civil authorities have been rendered hors de combat and increasingly lost control of the country to outlaw elements. The name they bear or are called depends on what part of the country they are located. While in the north-west they are either bandits or rustlers, in the north-east, they go by the ‘insurgents’ moniker.

A little down from the far north to the middle belt region, the outlaws assume an ethnic label – Fulani herdsmen! Labels such as ISWAP or Boko Haram are beginning to recede into the background even as it’s becoming anathema to call these outlaws by what should be their unvarnished description – terrorists. But what is common to the terrorists irrespective of their theatre of operation and the name they bear, names that now blur the difference between the outlaws – certain things unite them all: the destruction of lives and property including places of habitation on a mass scale, the worst form of sexual violence and the forceful abduction of human beings and/or animals for or without ransom.

While violent crimes are also rife in the southern communities, they do not measure up to the scale of what is now the norm in most parts of the far north, east or west. Thus, such criminals still go by such old fashion labels as kidnappers or armed robbers. Not so in the north, now something of a frontier region where the failure of the Nigerian state is starkly evident for even the blind to feel if not see. The latest in these series of outrages is the abduction of 344 boys from their school in Kankara Local Government Area of Katsina State.

Katsina is not just the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari. He was vacationing in his country home when the incident occurred. Given the scale of the unfortunate incident, is it unreasonable to imagine that the president himself who randomly goes home is not safe? Have traditional rulers, a highly regarded group in the north, not been victims of similar attacks in the past – even as recently as a few days ago?

Had the traditional head of President Buhari’s own community not been a victim of violent abduction? What guarantee do Nigerians have that such bold attacks on revered institutions and dignitaries can’t be directed at the convoy of the president at the rate things are going? Would Abuja now need to deploy the equivalent of a battalion to protect the president each time he visits home? Are our state institutions including the security operatives paying attention well enough? How many of our Abuja-based politicians from the north still visit their home communities?

Watching images of the Kankara schoolboys as they filed into or out of the vehicles that conveyed them back to Katsina after their six days ordeal in the forest, one cannot help wondering what type of horrors they had beheld. It was painful to see these young boys, potential scientists all, looking unwashed and subdued, a few of them limping while others bore clear marks of injuries, walk barefoot into the premises of the Government House in Katsina. One could not help wondering what unspeakable pain their families could have been subjected to had their abduction not been reversed.

What type of country allows this to happen to their children, the so-called future leaders? Had Garba Shehu’s irresponsibly hasty lie from inside Aso Villa that only ten schoolboys were abducted not been exposed for what it is and these boys had vanished like the remaining Chibok and Dapchi girls – had these boys been taken away as Leah Sharibu has so far been, what would have been their fate?

Now they are back and most of them have vowed to turn their back on their school in a region that is, in Nigerian parlance, described as educationally disadvantaged. How does Katsina State if not the entire north make up for hundreds of its school-age children suddenly dropping out of school? What does this portend for the future of education in the north in particular and Nigeria as a whole?

As if this was not enough, within two days of the release of the Kankara school boys, 84 other students of an Islamic school in Dandume Local Government Area were abducted and later freed from bandits. In this same Katsina State! There had been questions about the true identity of the abductors of the Kankara boys.

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for it but Abuja said it was bandits even when it was Miyetti Allah, the largely Fulani-dominated cattle breeders’ group that negotiated the release of the boys. Nigerians have wondered if members of the cattle breeders who are the alleged key players in the violence in the Benue Valley region are not those renamed bandits in the Kankara episode? Who were the latest abductors? How did Miyetti Allah come into this narrative and what is their true role? Was it just about their vast knowledge of the forest or the lay of the land? Or was there more to it?

While Katsina is yet seized with the euphoria of the rescued boys, in neighbouring Kaduna State so-called bandits were also at work. In Zangon-Kataf, a perennial killing field, many were again sent to their graves about the same time as the Dandume abduction was being executed. All over the north, from Zamfara to Kebbi, Niger State to Sokoto, Nigerians are under siege. Hoodlums have taken over and the country’s rulers are content to pay the ransom or blame innocent citizens out on legitimate business for not obtaining permission before straying into territories now ceded to bandits.

The Pandora box of violent kidnapping has been opened with the authority’s willingness to negotiate with rather than confront terrorists. The military leadership is more invested in rescuing victims of violent kidnappings rather than preventing abductions. Can Abuja tell Nigerians what is going on here?

Must Nigerians now remain captives in their own country? The present government wants to be seen as working and be praised for it and yet takes one lame step forward and ten giant strides backwards. It moves in a circle that it conceives as advancement. Whatever may be happening in Libya or Mali that has led to the proliferation of arms in Nigeria is not of moment, what Nigerians want is an end to insecurity. Is that too much to ask?

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