Terrorists, criminals, kidnappers, and non-state actors have never been this emboldened in Nigeria’s history. Almost like an ungoverned space, the Nigerian state is growing weaker by the day and the reality of the average citizen is becoming scarier. With Nigeria already exhibiting clear signs of State failure, it will only be a matter of time before Africa’s most popular country caves in and becomes a full-blown failed state if nothing drastic is done to curtail the pacy downward slide.
A few weeks ago, barely a year after the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, criminals struck again, this time they attacked a train at the Igueben Railway station in Edo State and abducted a number of innocent Nigerians. It is heartwarming that all victims have now been rescued and reunited with their families but the nature of the attack definitely puts several marks on the security architecture in the country. On a positive note, however, unlike the Abuja-Kaduna incident where no one was reportedly apprehended, seven suspects, including two traditional rulers are currently reported to be in police custody from the Edo attack.
The truth remains that the recurrent terror attacks on critical state infrastructure smirk of an overarching incompetence of both the state security agencies and the Federal Government to who they report to. When one considers the fact that just a few months ago, a similar dastardly attack happened and the wounds are far from healing it surely leaves a bad taste. Another rehash of the same plot signposts an authority that failed to pick up concrete lessons and it clearly shows that the government of the day is competency-challenged.
Once bitten, twice shy they say and to be twice bitten is a disgrace for any people that have a sense of self-worth. A second daylight attack and abduction of citizens, this time on the Warri-Itakpe rail line, speaks volumes of the awful legacy and dismal prowess of the national security apparatus under the grossly inept President Muhammadu Buhari.
The ugly train attack which occurred at the Tom Ikimi/Ekehen Station in Igueben, Edo State is quite disturbing to the entire world and that it is getting synonymous with Nigeria is something that should worry any individual that has a conscience. The police, in a press statement, shortly after the attack, described it as an attack by a large number of ‘herdsmen’ armed with AK-47 rifles, who from the forest invaded the station just minutes before the arrival of the Warri-bound train that is however most significant here is that they abducted staff and passengers, numbering over 20 and that is clearly unacceptable by any standard.
Sadly, nonetheless symbolically, the attack was reminiscent of the March 28, 2022 attack on the Abuja-Kaduna rail when bombs exploded midway and terrorists killed nine on the spot before abducting 62. One would have expected a paradigm shift in the security arrangement that is more proactive than reactive – which turns out to be more grueling emotionally and financially. It took the grossly inept President Buhari-led federal Government over eight months to secure the release of abductees and a much longer time to bring the high-end rail service back to operations. This is horrific because, besides the growing apathy for rail transport these attacks have given rise to, the over $4.12 billion worth of borrowed funds that Buhari and his goons sunk into the rejuvenation of rail transportation appears to have been completely wasted.
All over the world governments exist to solve problems not create new ones but in Nigeria, the realities on the ground only point to the opposite. As far as security in the country is concerned, the Nigerian police is the constitutionally-designated law-enforcement arm of the state, with the constitutional obligation to uphold law and order. Yet, the Nigerian police is structurally flawed and a mockery of a real Federal State. A police formation that takes orders from Abuja to deal with local miscreants in remote local councils is an aberration. Despite these glaring inconsistencies and irregularities, Nigerians are not collectively demanding that the country be restructured.
The Nigerian police which is obviously facing a terrible lack in terms of funding and requisite trained personnel today are more useful in forming rings around thriving politicians and Nigerian elites than strategically policing the state to secure the lives and property of the average Nigerian. To make matters worse, the little number left is not having it any better because typical of the bureaucracy in a government setting, there is no coordination whatsoever between the police and other sister agencies. Therefore, intelligence gathering and its assessment – the pastime of modern security agencies no more existence, and no one seems to be asking questions!
Before forcing their way into Aso Rock, Buhari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had earlier acknowledged this dysfunctional system and more than twice elected to fix it. They failed at all their promises solely due to their selfish reasons and their lack of empathy for the citizenry that is daily killed or abducted across the country which they promised safety. Contrary to his pre-2015 election pledges and recommendation of the APC Restructuring Committee on state policing, Buhari blatantly rejected decentralised policing, yet rooted for no workable alternative to curb worsening insecurity nationwide. Buhari has turned out to be perhaps the worst leader Nigerians have ever seen.
In reality, security is collapsing under Buhari’s watch and the numbers are at variance with official feel-good self-appraisal. Notably, the Sahel region as a whole has been the hotbed of internecine battle for supremacy among rival gangs, with domino effects on civilian populations. In the contiguous boundary that has Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cameroun, Chad, and Burkina Faso, the United Nations reported that the Jihadist criminal gangs and other armed groups have been busy fighting, forcing the closure of more than 10,000 schools and 7,000 clinics. Which country can survive in this manner of onslaught?
In 2022 alone, bandits and separatists struck in at least 550 of the country’s 774 local governments. Over 10,000 people were collectively killed by Boko Haram, kidnappers, bandits, and so-called unknown gunmen. Last year, over 3000 persons were kidnapped – an almost 30-fold spike compared to the 2016 record. While the Armed Forces are doing much on the battlefronts, there are too many unmanned territories nationwide that should ordinarily be secured where the police are efficient and proactive. It is, therefore, not surprising that ragtag criminals are targeting farms, civilian communities, schools, worship centres, roads and train stations to wreak havoc. Only the Federal Government would not seem to be bothered to take drastic action of significance.
One thing must however be made clear here, despite the constitution kneecapping sub-nationals in handling their own security, state governors cannot be absolved of failure for repeated security breaches in their domains. The same 1999 Constitution, as amended, recognised governors as the chief security officer of their states. Hence, it avails an ample opening in the window for serious-minded administration to take responsibility and rally forces in defence of the state. A number of examples which have been remarkably fruitful will surface. The likes of Neighbourhood Watch in Lagos, Hisbah in Kano, Amotekun in the South-west, all working with local communities and the police, give credence to what could be achieved where the state governors are more development-oriented than just lounging in the corridors of power. Besides investing in local security apparatus, the onus is on the governors to consistently fund and demand better coordination and intelligence sharing among all security agencies and service providers in their domain.
Governments that give excuses, downplay or deny problems tend not to solve them. It is heartwarming that security operatives have secured the release of abductees in Edo State. But it does not foreclose another attack somewhere else soon. Those arrested should be prosecuted promptly. Nigerians are sad that many criminals apprehended after committing heinous crimes, including the attackers of Owo Catholic Church, are apparently being treated with kids’ gloves or possibly walking free in the society. A more respectable development is to collectively accept the burden of insecurity in the land, the extent of police inefficiency to push back and begin implementing short, medium, and long-term interventions to avert another disaster. Nigeria is fast running out of options with every tick of the clock.