Northeast under Siege (3): Prescriptions
The state of insecurity in the Northeast has not ceased to be the subject matter of our weekly discourse. In continuation of the series, we shall today examine measures we believe are necessary for individuals, communities and governments to take in order to improve on the situation.
In the second part of the series, we have discussed briefly the contributing factors to the state of our insecurity. Briefly, its precursor in our judgment was the decade of consumption in the seventies and early eighties that could not be sustained. Also, a military dictatorship characterized by laxity and looting of public treasury has given the crime of armed robbery enough room to be imported through our porous borders and be propagated on our soil. The slight bent by our clergy towards material acquisition and our failure as individuals to take charge of our personal security have in addition conspired to undermine our safety.
In presenting the above diagnosis last week, we sought the indulgence of our readers not to in any way consider it absolute. For reasons mentioned then, it can best pass for a contribution. The package of measures that we hereby present as prescriptions could not be better qualified. Nevertheless, we are certain that administering them, along with those from other contributors will help reduce the crime to a bearable minimum.
Let us take a forehand snapshot that will summarize the prescriptions. Security is a collective responsibility. Its improvement will require the participation of the individual, the community and finally the government, in that order of importance. As individuals we are largely responsible for our security or lack of it. Insecurity emanates from personal mistakes in behavior. So we recommend a more security conscious behavior by individuals. This will include improving the quality of elements in our social interaction; precautionary steps in handling attractive materials like money and appearance; and the type of defensive measures we employ at home or office.
At the level of community, we must amalgamate our individual vigilance into a collective protective strength. Government must itself accept that its law enforcement personnel cannot be anywhere anytime with the enough strength required to avert any danger to lives and property.
Government on its part needs to strengthen the application of our laws on security. This must include maintaining tight immigration procedures for our visiting neighbors and identity cards for all citizens. The training morale and equipment of the police specifically on armed robbery need to be improved to match the increasing sophistication in the crime industry. While we await the implementation of such proposals and their consolidation, a state of emergency need to be declared immediately in the Northeast to check the present condition of insecurity. This will enable the army to step in to wage a war, not just an operation, against this crime.
We will now go forward to elaborate on these prescriptions.
Let us start by reviewing the importance attached to life and property. Our lives are the most precious of our personal belongings. Like all other favors, God has bestowed life on us to make the best use of it.
At the biological level, in order to protect it, He has equipped us with the necessary intelligence to sense danger and avoid it by reflex action. In the society, we are instructed not to endanger life deliberately, nor destroy it by suicide or murder. Even where battles are fought in His cause, He has instructed that safety precautions be taken against avoidable casualties. All lives are sacred, regardless of the religion, gender or race of their possessors. Muslim jurists are of the consensus that the verse describing the punishment for voluntary homicide in the Hereafter represents the most threatening portion of the Qur’an.
Our wealth enjoys the same status. It must not be destroyed through squander. It must not be acquired illegally or transferred into bad hands. Finally, on the Day of Judgment we must account for how we acquired or spent it. God attaches so much value to personal protection of life and property that, according to a prophetic tradition, He considers whoever is killed defending either of the two a martyr.
From the foregoing, it is clear that the safety of our lives and properties is primarily our responsibility. Any act of carelessness in this regard is punishable by God. So rather than depend solely on government for protection, both religion and biology enjoins us to take all necessary measures to protect ourselves. If our life is threatened by a fire outbreak, a wild animal, gravity, water or wind, we immediately forget that there is anything called government. Our body immediately takes the necessary actions to avert possible annihilation. Our reaction to dangerous crimes will have to be the same.
First, we believe in the principle that misfortunes that befall us are largely the price of our bad behavior. We were wrong somewhere by either injustice or carelessness. God himself has said this in a number of places in the Qur’an, one of which is
“What befalls you of misfortune is your handwork even as He overlooks many.”
The rich should not hoard their surplus but use it to improve the condition of living of their relations, neighbors and the community in general. By doing this, they will effectively shield themselves from the evils that emanate from hatred, malice and envy. This is a divine injunction that is repeatedly specified in the Quran. Also if an employer meets his obligations on wages and treats his workers with the honor and dignity they deserve as human beings, even the most savage among them will have no reason to plan evil against him.
Failure to meet these obligations has been the chief cause of community violence including murders organized by servants, relations and neighbors.
Then we move on to the issue of carelessness. There is an urgent need for a campaign to raise the consciousness of the population on safety precautions in business transactions. Most of our less educated brothers have been too conservative or slow in appreciating the importance of the bank and its cash movement services. People particularly notorious in this respect include those involved in cattle, car, petrol, and produce businesses. Purchasing a bank draft or using checks in large transactions will undoubtedly reduce the volume of notes in public hands that always has the potential of attracting armed robbers. The problem is that we are inherently created impatient. But still, the creator instructs us to subdue this sometimes-deleterious habit with considerable forbearance.
Our rich also need to cut back on their present level of flamboyance. The flashy cars they ride and the mansions they build justifiably attract the attention of criminals easily. If such luxuries are difficult to forfeit, then they must be protected by adequate security measures. These measures are too many to enumerate here but they could be learnt from the police free-of-charge. Apart from fortifying houses, a recent encouraging trend is the employment of professional security personnel in homes, offices and in transit. We wonder why the police department is slow in moving in to carve a niche in this fast growing market. Many people will be ready to pay for a 24-hr police protection.
Possessing arms is an important measure of defense. “Armlessness” must be an exception. A person that is defenseless is an easy prey. But possessing a gun is not enough. The owner must train not only in using it skillfully but also in the precautions and intelligence that will improve its efficacy. Government would do better by increasing the margin of weapons permitted for self-protection by members of the society whose lives are liable to threat but whose character is unquestionable.
Finally, our effort not withstanding, we have to put our trust in him and pray for his Protection that is the ultimate. God listens to whoever minds to call Him irrespective of color, race, religion or position in the society. The Muslim tradition in particular is full of ready-made prayers for various circumstances. Our problem has always been to put aside a fraction of the time we spend on our worldly pursuits and pray to God.
The measures prescribed for individuals above must be fused at the community level to create a formidable safe environment. Collectivizing defense will make up for weaknesses and lapses of the individual. Communities in essence need to be security-conscious. They must, as a support to state security provisions, organize how to protect themselves against external threats as well as purge or tame the bad eggs within.
It is in light of this that we observe with keen interest and deep sense of delight the evolution of community vigilante groups called banga here in the North. They have come to symbolize the alertness of their communities to the disturbing deterioration in security. However, since they were founded, they have met with two obstacles; one their making and the other a product of rivalry from the police. The low level of education of their members has limited the degree of sophistication of their operations. It has also made them temper with freedom of individuals due to poor role conception.
It is no secret that the police have been uneasy with the success of banga. In many cases they release suspects handed over to them by the banga groups. The banga has also reduced police freedom to cover up the crimes of their bad eggs. Finally, they have allowed themselves to be used by the delinquent rich to fight against banga as an efficient security contingency in the community.
The police themselves, as much as they would like the population to believe in their commitment to combat crime, must be humble to accept their failure in many instances. For this they have always complained against the reluctance of the community to assist. But when the community responded by forming banga, they viewed it as a parallel, not an auxiliary effort.
Our prescription here is that government should recognize banga and make the police accept them as a supporting contribution from the society on security. The existing powers of the police to revoke the license of banga should be withdrawn except with the approval of the community leaders themselves where necessary.
We also recommend that quality of banga membership be improved to introduce some considerable amount of civility and sophistication especially in the area of intelligence gathering. The local government, traditional rulers and ex-service men will render invaluable contribution to this polishing process.
Finally communities must return to investment in moral instruction and productivity. People particularly youths have to be brought up with a sense of moral obligations to the society. One of the best ways practiced by our grandparents was to keep them busy and productive all the time. An idle mind, we heard them say, is a devil’s workshop.
Policy makers must remind themselves that God will hold them accountable for every drop of blood spilled or life lost unjustifiably for which they have not made adequate arrangement to protect. No condition of living is meaningful if we are not alive to enjoy it. For this reason, they must take the issue of security seriously.
We have really witnessed humiliating events against government. We find it difficult to believe that armed robbers will attack a state military administrator on three different occasions. Another one had his car ceased. If this is the level of security of Governors in the Northeast, you can imagine that of their subjects. Nil!
In their effort to redeem the situation, governments may wish to consider the following recommendations.
State of emergency in the Northeast
This is necessary to stop immediately the current state of insecurity. Soldiers must be drafted in full force to flush criminals out of the savanna forests and villages.
This exercise must be something close to a declaration of war by the army. We expect it to deploy all its fighting skill and equipment. It has to go well beyond the past cosmetic measures of operation this or that. It must not lose momentum half way nor should it be withdrawn without the situation being under adequate control. Nothing will be more comforting to people living here in the Northeast.
Without tightening our borders, any benefit accruing from the success of the first step will quickly be exhausted and we will simply return to our previous state of insecurity. We need both short term and long term immigration policies that will permanently secure this region and the country at large from infiltration.
Short-term immigration measures like sealing the borders completely in the first weeks or months of the ‘war’ will send a quick and unequivocal message to both resident and intending criminals that the nation means business. The entire immigration personnel will then turn their attention towards expelling all illegal immigrants out of the country irrespective of their professions, social status, and so on.
Long-term immigration measures will on the other hand forestall any future re-occurrence. Before anybody is allowed to visit Nigeria, he has to forward convincing evidence to the immigration department about his mission and the necessary economic provisions for his duration of stay. There is nothing within the framework of any of our regional agreements to prevent this. That will be speaking in the Franco-phone language they understand very well.
The population must contribute here, especially if they are sensitized, to report to immigration officials any immigrant living without permission or whose mission appears dubious. Our grassroots traditional institutions will be very much invaluable here also.
National identity cards
Nothing will enhance our immigration policies like a national identity card program. The public is not in a position to know the state of the program as of now. One wonders how a nation of such enormous human and economic resources has not awakened to this responsibility long ago.
Improving the Police force
The current state of morale and skill of the police need to be improved. We must improve their combat readiness and intelligence gathering ability through provision of state-of-the-art equipment and training on security information management. Their morale will be improved through wages, better condition of living as well as through other rewarding measures.
The bad eggs among them and among the army need to be flushed out to raise public confidence in the force. At the moment it is very low. Punishment needs to be meted on offending officers with more rigor than on a commoner. Also, the expectation on their commanding officers needs to be raised above the present threshold of mediocrity. For example, give the divisional police officers the equipment they need and hold them responsible for any case of murder emanating from their negligence. Also make promotion and such positions the sole preserve of officers who have at least once exhibited a heroic performance in combating crime. Etc.
Harmonizing State Commands
State governors have many times found themselves in a security dilemma as a result of lack of cooperation from their police commissioners. The police command always asserts their independence at the advent of the slightest misunderstanding with the governor thereby ridiculing the position of the state executive. This has aggravated the state of insecurity and reduced governance to derision. Otherwise, how can we judge the resort of the present governor of Yobe State to employment of hunters and banga?
We may overlook this as a result of past dictatorship that survived by concentrating power at the center. But this is a democracy and the aspirations of people exemplified in the office of their state executive must be respected. No authority can exist without the power of coercion. Having governors is not enough to guarantee the aspirations of the population without their control over the apparatus of terror and coercion in the state. Here, the Federal government has to reconcile the two at least on issues bordering on security.
No peace will be attained amidst social injustice. The thirst for the principles of social justice and democracy is more intense now than ever.
The present government has pledged its commitment to poverty alleviation. It needs to tilt the balance of resource allocation in favor of rural areas by increasing their productivity and creating the market to accommodate their goods.
Enough vigilance has to be paid on such programs to make them effective. Many past attempts have been essentially cosmetic.
All these issues center on the commitment of elected officials in a democracy to better governance. The combination of laxity and the penchant to loot the treasury, as we said in the second part of the series, have provoked various forms of violence in the society. It is necessary for the present set of elected politicians at different levels of governance to become exemplary by eschewing these vices.
With their vigilance and responsibility most crimes will be brought under control.
That is how far we can go. With the application of these collective measures, in addition to those of many other contributors in and outside government, the state of insecurity in the Northeast and the country in general will come to pass. Our cities and highways will be safe once more, not only for our generation but also for those that will follow. In light of the high prospect of oil in the Chad basin, the Northeast will definitely witness a surge in economic activity and human traffic in the near future. Investment in its security will therefore certainly yield dividends.
Our countryside, to which some of us would like to relocate one day, will then be safe enough to accommodate them. On their relocation journey to its “almost heaven” environment, they will have the assurance and peace of mind to listen to Country Road, Take Me Home. Safe journey!
17 June, 1999