Insecurity in Nigeria: Is Anyone Safe?
Contemplations on Nigeria’s escalating security issues
On September 11, 2001, the United States faced what is probably its worst terrorist attack on domestic soil. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, while another one crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. The plane crashes were orchestrated by the terrorist organisation, Al-Qaeda. I remember watching the events live on CNN and staring on incredulously. I could never have imagined that anyone could instigate and actualise such an attack on any nation.
The official response was swift. The US President at the time, George W. Bush, rose to the occasion and declared that the American citizens would receive justice for the terrorist attacks. He began a series of actions that lasted many years as America searched for the perpetrators worldwide.
That event became known as “9/11” and has been immortalised in many movies, television shows, songs, and books. The grounds where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood have been converted into a memorial site. The world has been reminded in many ways that the United States does not suffer fools gladly: they will always fight for their people and ensure that they get justice.
9/11 got me thinking about the extent to which a nation would go to deliver the benefits of citizenship to its people. They even breached diplomatic lines in their quest to secure justice for the country. It is just one of several other events where America has shown that its people matter. And truly, many Americans believe that no matter what external threat they face, the country will always look out for its people.
If there is one thing every Nigerian, irrespective of tribe or religion, status or age, probably worries about right now, it is the state of our internal security. Nigeria has been experiencing several security issues for many years: insurgency and terrorist attacks, kidnappings, gruesome murders, and banditry, to mention just a few. In majority of these cases, many lives have been lost, not just the lives of the citizens but also law enforcement and security personnel.
Many of the more prominent security issues Nigeria has had have revolved around Boko Haram and its more recent expressions or extensions, ISWAP. I remember the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja in 2011 and the very publicised abduction of the Chibok girls in 2014. There have also been many more abductions, bombings, and bombing attempts.
In recent times, we have had the attack on an Abuja- Kaduna train in March 2022 resulting in the killing and kidnapping of some passengers. Till today, no one has been held liable for the train attack, and some passengers remain in captivity with no sign of an intervention by the government, state or federal. I obviously cannot say if there are any clandestine attempts to ensure the freedom of the captives, but communication about this event has been poor. There was also the mass shooting and bomb attack at a Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo state in June 2022. It also does not appear that there have been any concrete leads on the perpetrators of the Owo massacre.
One thing that gives me cause for concern with our security issues is the approach towards providing an official response and subsequent actions by government representatives and security officials. It is very often unimpressive and borderline insensitive. With the Abuja- Kaduna train attack, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, attempted to lay the blame on the Federal Executive Council for not approving tracking equipment. This was in very poor taste as far as I was concerned as it was not supposed to be the time for a blame game. Very often, when these security issues occur, it appears as though security officials are all over the matter, so I often wonder why almost nothing seems to come out of it. Investigations seem to go on forever, official responses appear reactive rather than proactive, and perpetrators are rarely ever caught.
I consider the response to security issues almost as important as the issue itself. The attention given at the moment the issue is identified and subsequent actions taken after that go a long way to show how important the lives of the citizenry are. Even when official statements are made about some security issues, one tends to wonder whether there is an attempt to downplay issues but to what ends? A sense of urgency often seems lacking.
With security issues gradually spreading across the country, it has probably become a case of “where next” as everyone braves for the “hopefully not” inevitable. How do citizens protect themselves? What kind of security arrangements can people make to secure their lives? To what extent can estate gates and private security protect one from people who are focused on exacting their evil plans? And what about the people who cannot afford the luxury of living within gated estates or having private security? How are they protected?
If anyone thought that they were immune by some stroke of luck or privilege, the recent attack on the President’s advance convoy to Katsina by terrorists should be an eye-opener. It was reported that the attackers were repelled by the military, police, and DSS personnel accompanying the convoy, however, two people sustained injuries. I cannot help thinking about what would have happened if the attack had happened while his convoy was making the trip with him in the car. This incident would probably offer a rethink for anyone who had ever thought that the President had provided the best security for himself while everyone else was left to their devices. He is, apparently, “one of us”.
To make matters worse, a jailbreak was reported at Kuje Prisons in Abuja, on the same day. Reports flying around indicate that numerous dangerous prisoners, including all of the Boko Haram inmates, may have escaped. I don’t even want to imagine what the implication of this is especially considering our porous borders, poor identification systems, and overwhelmed security forces.
Some people would probably say we do not have the resources that America has to tackle terrorists. That is true, and since we know this for a fact, what else are we doing? What issues do security forces face that have made apprehending those who disrupt our peace difficult? I think by this time, our top security officials should be providing some form of periodic briefing on our security issues but would that signify the formal acceptance that the matter has gone beyond their capacity?
I have tried not to think about our security issues, but for how long can one bury their head in the sand? Are we going to carry on like so? We all may be able to defend ourselves against thieves and robbers, but how do we defend ourselves against terrorists? Something has to give, and I am honestly not sure how I see things today.