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Northern Nigeria’s insecurity nightmare must reach its dawn

By Najib Kazaure

It’s not even an exaggeration to say that Northern Nigeria is going through a perilous time of insecurity manifesting in the form of wanton killings, indiscriminate banditry, and arbitrary kidnapping. Running parallel to this, Nigeria’s economic slump that resulted in price hikes on petrol, electricity, and food, only serves to harshly exacerbate the situation.
For about a decade since a chapter of post-electoral violence that culminated in the rise of Boko Haram, a semblance of long-lasting tranquillity has seemingly departed the region. Although some measure of success in pushing Boko Haram on its back foot has been witnessed, a new menace has reared its ugly head and threatens to destabilise the region at a level that is not only economically cataclysmic and exponentially devastating but also seemingly resistant to law enforcement and military attack.
The roots of this insecurity hardly need any perusal. One can draw a straight line connecting Nigeria’s widening income inequality to the state of insecurity today. A mere look at Northern Nigeria’s shack rural areas, lacking access to basic life amenities, gives authority to the accusation that federal, state, and local governments neglect these communities. When rural societies live under intense economic estrangement, educational marginalisation, and food insecurity, then partaking in crime to make ends meet may no longer seem disincentivized. Even in trying to address this issue, the government followed the same pattern of disregarding the rural towns. For many years now, the Abuja-Kaduna highway has infamously been the hub of kidnapping and banditry, yet there is no meaningful engagement with the surrounding communities to garner information and ascertain the causes of this mess.
One can propose the moral argument that choosing crime over hard work is a choice people consciously make. After all, there are millions who despite the hardship have resisted descending into the depths of such moral bankruptcy. But that argument falls moot when you trace the background of most of the perpetrators as formerly little children who learned (im)morality on the streets, who society sent out to beg without any parental support in an environment filled with hard-drugs proliferation. And worst of all, they grew to become the young adults used as political thugs to create muck and disband protests. The future leaders of the North are now its biggest threat.
This is a region that voted en masse for change at all levels of government, but today that change is not one of progress and upward mobility, but one of impoverishment and living in constant fear. The present administration ran on the platform of enhancing security, but currently, insecurity is so widespread, it invades Federal Polytechnic in Kaduna and openly abducts people, it demands taxes from farmers before harvesting in Zamfara and Katsina, it blocks convoys and attacks public officials on every expressway. And worst of all, all across the North, it terrorises it impoverishes innocent citizens, trading lives for millions of naira. What that shows is voting is only a small part of the work. Demanding accountability is the bulk of it.
Unfortunately, the blasé attitude of Northern Nigeria to civic participation, clothed in a culture of blameworthy modesty, silence and overlooking, partially fosters the continuity of this ugly trend. The wheels of change will simply begin turning when someone pushes them. We saw a stark reminder of how our silence on pivotal issues runs through the veins of government when about a month ago, 19 Northern governors met to discuss events in the South and left the issue of insecurity in the North right next to etcetera.
Banditry and kidnapping in the North are existential and must be addressed immediately. And the most effective place to start this much-needed discourse is from the religious leaders, whose sacred megaphones have the power to amplify the dangers of social injustice in a way the government can’t look away. Religious leaders sneeze and their followers catch a cold, soon as this issue dominates prayer sessions, it won’t be long before the government’s throat starts to itch. It’s in no service to the truth for our religious leaders to continue shielding this administration by stoking phantom fears of a systematic subterfuge against a Northern presidency. Focus on the issue. If this trend persists, the Northern Presidency does not even need any external sabotage to fail because its incompetence in the face of severe insecurity is doing all the work.
When we successfully turn this into a national discourse, we can then start implementing expedient solutions. This is a shared responsibility, the buck does not stop at the Executive Branch. Words and actions matter. Our representatives, who face no criticism and hide behind our political indifference must foreground this issue as a top priority in both national and state chambers. We must pressure them into action to use their powers in enacting meaningful legislative policy for community policing and reforming both our dysfunctional law enforcement and legal system. Enhancing effective police training and ICT forensics integration while synergizing them with the courts to deliver swift and decisive verdicts should be the focal point of ensuring sustainable security.
Additionally, bold measures in strategic military action and espionage activities to trace and infiltrate these sleeper-cell kidnapping enclaves are viable options. As a corollary, law enforcement should be dominantly stationed within proximity of rural communities that house these terrorist activities to efficiently gather intel from indigenous people.
Then turn to redress the economic angle. Review the land border closure and ascertain whether it fulfilled its purpose or whether it only facilitated the hardship. With immediacy, state and local governments should implement targeted economic reforms in sustainable job creation, not quick cash handouts, but leg-ups in encouraging manufacturing jobs in rural areas to ameliorate poverty and underemployment. Implementing these may hopefully get us back to the good old days when, at the very least, we did not have to worry about getting kidnapped or killed every time we set foot outside. It’s time to wake up from this nightmare.
Kazaure wrote from Kaduna. (nkazaure@gmail.com)

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