Regional security: As North-central joins the frenzy

The North Central may have joined the frenzy for regional security borrowing a leaf from the initiatives of other regions setting up operations to complement the conventional security following the last security summit of the North-central, ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

With the security situation almost engulfing the entire country the Kwara state Governor, Alhaji Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq, had added voice to the need for lasting solution to the increasing crime rate with the convocation of a North-central security summit so as to provide an avenue to share ideas on way out of the menace in the region.

Abdulrasaqm, who spoke in Ilorin during a one-day stakeholder security dialogue with the theme: ‘Towards Strengthening Security Architecture in Kwara State: Exploring Community Initiatives,’ said: “The issue of security of life and prosperity remains a major concern of all the affected states and all hands must be on deck to tackle the menace.

Speaking further he said, “Just recently, I spoke with Nasarawa state governor, Alhaji Abdullahi Sule, on the need to have a security summit in North-central states of Nigeria. Although Kwara state is peaceful, we cannot sit down and pretend not to be aware of the current trends in the North-central,” he noted.

The genesis

What in Nigeria today is known as banditry was noticeable in the North-central part of the country as far back as 2005, precisely in Plateau state when Joshua Dariye was governor.

Although there is no record to suggest that his administration was culpable in the escalated killings that took place then especially among the locals, but the state recorded mass murder of innocent persons such that former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo placed a curfew on the state and removed Dariye as governor following which normalcy returned, but that was when the seed of discord was sown in the region.

Many years after, the story did not change as what started as local clashes among the people snowballed into major religious crisis between adherents of the two religions: Christians and Muslims in the state thereby leading to mutual suspicion among them. Shortly thereafter, it became farmers/herders clash with serious ethnic colouration.

State-by-state account

Investigation by Blueprint Weekend shows further that while governments at all levels were battling to overcome the crisis, it spread to the nearby Southern Kaduna Plateau and Nasarawa states with thousands killed especially from 2015 to date.

It wasn’t too long, Benue state became the next target as armed herdsmen engaged local farmers in fraternal crisis leading to loss of lives with the herdsmen laying claim to lands in the state. It resulted in the death of not fewer than 2,590 persons according to Human Rights Watch. The case of Benue became even more pronounced that a former governor, Gabriel Suswam’s convoy came under attack from armed herdsmen in 2014 while he was on his way to inspect a farm settlement destroyed by the herders in Guma Local Government Area. Also in January 2020, Governor Samuel Ortom came under attack from the herdsmen while on his farm in a settlement near Makurdi, the state capital. This is coming after the state House of Assembly passed a bill prohibiting open grazing in every part of the state, a move that the armed herdsmen vowed to disobey on the ground that they were not properly consulted before the bill was passed by the House and signed by the governor.

Today, almost all the forests in Benue are being taken over by the killer herdsmen who raid communities at will and leave tolls of deaths. At the moment, farmers in this ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ are afraid of entering their farms for fear of being killed by the herdsmen.

The same goes for Nasarawa state where it is assumed to be a safe haven for killer herdsmen. This is so because it has been alleged that the killer herdsmen who usually hit local Benue communities often strike and run into the state. Also, local farmers in the state have come under serial attacks from herdsmen leading to refugee problems. The state is also an epicenter of high-level kidnapping, for instance, the permanent secretary in the state Ministry of Works and Housing, Jibrin Giza, was last week Sunday kidnapped by unidentified gunmen from his own residence in Shabu, a few kilometres from Lafia, the state capital. His kidnap was confirmed by the state commissioner of police, Mr Bola Longe, who said the gunmen stormed his residence in the early hours of that day and took him to an unknown destination.

The police chief said the police were on the trail of the kidnappers, but the senior civil servant spent six days with the kidnappers before he was released after undisclosed sum of money was paid as ransom. He was lucky to have been released but many were not lucky like the wife of a Kaduna medical doctor who was kidnapped alongside her two children from their residence, but killed despite the huge ransom paid to the kidnappers.

In nearby Niger state, bandits and gun-wielding motor bike riders have caused incalculable damage in the state. Investigation reveals that between January 1, 2020 till the present time, no fewer than 2,760 lives have been lost to bandits who raid communities especially in Shiroro local government area of the state, according to figures by Human Rights Watch. Analysts say attack in that part of the state is more because of its close affinity with Birnin Gwari area of Kaduna state, a long stretch of bush that is home to thousands of terrorists and bandits. The case of Niger is so pathetic such that bandits operate freely without any inhibition.

Although what is known as pure banditry is not recorded in Kogi state, but activities of kidnappers have worsened the security situation in the state.

The Abuja-Lokoja road; Okene-Lokoja road; Kabba-Lokoja road and Ajaokuta-Anyigba road all in the state are havens for kidnappers such that people are no longer comfortable to travel along those routes anymore because of the high-level kidnap going on along these roads connecting the southern, eastern and western parts of the country as the state is a transit route to every other part of the country depending on where one is coming from.

Regional security outfits predate independence

According to Okechukwu Innocent and Anyadike Nkechi, both of the Department of Public Administration, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, regional policing is not new in the country; therefore, its essence in the current dispensation is unavoidable.

“In the pre-independence era, the Native Authorities (NA) was in direct control of their domains. It was the primary responsibilities of the NA police to maintain law and order in their respective localities. Through the NA police departments, the native authorities were able to enforce local ordinances, bye-laws, rules and regulations of the localities or municipalities over which they presided.

“It was the intervention of the military in the nation’s body politics that foisted a centralised police force on the entire country under the present quasi-unitary system of government.

“In the immediate post independent era when regional government was in direct control of its affairs, each region has its own police structure independent of the power at the centre.

“However, history has it that some regional political leaders abused local policing as the local police force was used as instrument of political intimidations and harassments against their opponents. Even now, the tendency is still very high for some over ambitious political leaders to turn state police to an instrument of apolitical vendetta.

“But since the beginning of the Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, robbers, kidnappers, and other criminal gangs have intensified their activities. They are everywhere: on the streets, highways, in our homes, banks, party and campaign offices and voting centres. They rob, kill, kidnap and maim. All the security outfits do now is to bark without the ability to bite.

“The question most Nigerians ask every other day is: who will be the next victim? The security outfits whose constitutional duties and responsibilities it is to control crime appear helpless. So many factors are said to be responsible for their inactivity. Among them are poor funding, lack of motivation and poor welfare services. They lack equipment and functional vehicles for their operation.

“Arms and ammunition are problems too. Faced with the upsurge of crimes, these security outfits are unable to perform. Some of the fallouts of this kind of situation include: social and political displacement and dislocation, social tensions, citizenship question, deepening of hunger and poverty in society and political insecurity and instability in the polity. This is why regional security apparatus is needful now.”

Time for regional force

A cross section of North-central citizens who spoke to Blueprint Weekend said like , Forest Guard and other security outfits being established for other regions in the country, the time has come for the North-central region to establish a security outfit that would checkmate the rising tide of insecurity especially kidnapping and banditry that have taken over the region.

According to Isah Abdullahi, a retired police officer from Kogi state, establishing a regional security for the zone to complement the existing police force is what the region needs as against state police so that state governors would not have ultimate powers to use them against their perceived enemies.

“I am one of those who kicked against the formation of state police because of what governors could do with them, but the reality now is that a security outfit for the entire North-central will help out of the current kidnapping spree in Kogi state and banditry in Niger state.

“Right now, we are afraid of travelling to our communities for fear of being kidnapped on the highways. Because the criminals are persons known to the grass roots, it would be easier for them to be fished out by grass root security outfit so that peace can return again. The quicker the governors meet to establish theirs like their South-west counterparts, the better for the region,” he said.

Others’ll fail without North-central

A security consultant, Dr Nwokolo Obia, said a regional security for the North-central especially in the face of recent upsurge in kidnapping would help other regions like the South-west and South-east who are the immediate neighbours of the North-central.

According to him, “ or any other security outfit cannot succeed in their respective regions if the North-central remains a training ground for the bandits. It is akin to what is happening with the Boko Haram whose training camp is in the desert of Niger Republic but carry out their sporadic attacks on Nigeria from their hiding abodes in Niger Republic. “That would be the story of and the Forest Guard or whatever name would be given to the South-east outfit if the North-central remains neutral in these whole arrangements.

“The region needs a formidable outfit that would make the entire region uninhabitable for bandits and kidnappers such that whenever it becomes concerted efforts in all the regions, with time, the menace would die.”

At the moment, everyone is waiting for what the outcome of the recent security summit for the North-central region held in Lafia in January would look like even as the clamour now is for a regional security outfit that would complement the efforts of the conventional police force.

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