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Friday, May 21, 2010

The Shameful State of Our Insecurity

The Shameful State Of Our Insecurity
Dr. Aliyu Tilde
About three weeks ago, a gang of armed robbers carried an operation along Bauchi-Kano highway, robbing victims of their possessions and money. At the end of the operation when the passengers were happy that no life was lost, the robbers pointed at a woman among the victims and said, “You, we are taking you along.” The victims at first thought it was a joke. But before their eyes and despite their pleas, they saw the armed robbers drag the sobbing woman into the bush and fled.
The above was a brutal experience that will shock any right thinking citizen. We are still a traditional society where women are believed to deserve the utmost protection not just because most of them are seen as weaker than men but, more importantly, because their conduct and condition is the barometer of our morality, honor and pride.
How depressing has been of the woman victim and her family – husband, children and parents, etc? How harsh and dishonorable to her womanhood was the obvious treatment she received or has been receiving in the hands of her abductors? How long would the trauma last in her memory, especially her concern that she carries the stigma of gang rape for the rest of her life? While she lives in their den, she would certainly wish to know the time it would take for the society to come to her rescue. What crime, she would query the heavens, did she commit to the society to justify her vulnerability and eventual victimization.
Very saddening. It is our hope that the story of her suffering will be the strong impulse that will compel authorities to pay the required attention to insecurity not only of the Northeast but also of the whole nation. In our own little way, I have dedicated this essay to examining the degree of our insecurity, its roots and possible solutions. I have discussed this subject extensively four years ago at the inception of this administration in a series titled Northeast Under Siege, available in my page at
Armed robbery was rarely experienced in most parts of the country until the last decade and a half. In the early 1970s, the operations of Oyenusi and other armed robbers in broad daylight in Lagos and Ibadan sounded unbelievable to people living in the hinterland. By the late 70s, however, armed robbery has started reaching places like Kaduna. I can still remember how shocking it was to me, as an undergraduate in Ahmadu Bello University then, to learn that a robbery operation took place between Kaduna and Zaria. But even as at then the hinterlands of the Northeast and Northwest were largely safe for their dwellers. All they had to contend with were thefts that they could be prevented through vigilance. Even as late as 1990, most of my shuttles between Zaria and Sokoto took place at night. I even once left Zaria at mid-night and headed for Argungu in Kebbi State without any fear, arriving there at 4.00am.
Those days are gone. Forget about the night that has habitually harbored evil through its darkness and loneliness, the day that is characterized with light and togetherness itself is no longer safe. On the highways people are attacked indiscriminately, commoners and rulers alike, including police commissioners and state governors. Urban dwellers suffer from car snatchers during the day and at night gangs of armed robbers have the liberty, temerity and composure to rob an entire street, house by house. In rural areas, it has become customary for every person returning from a Market Day to retain a sum that will save him the bullet or razor of ambushing armed robbers who usually claim to have “paid for the road”.
The recent trend is that entire villages are attacked at night after their dwellers have returned from selling their farm produce in nearby markets. Here, I remember the complaint of people of Lame village during the last election campaigns. The only rich man among them – rich by village standards, mind you – had already relocated to Gumau. Others are following him, leaving behind their houses, farms and age long heritage.
The Fulani are worse hit. By nature of their sociology, families live very far apart, leaving enough land in between for grazing and farming. The fashion these days is that armed robbers would visit a family, direct its head to sell a number of his cows to raise a specific amount for them which they will return to collect it on a fixed date. And they always returned to find their money waiting! On few occasions the Fulani would risk telling the police who would usually give excuses for their inability to help. May God protect the weak!
It is not departing with money and possessions that is most disturbing nowadays; in fact, a victim would be lucky if he looses all his possessions only. On many occasions wives and daughters are gang-raped before the very eyes of their family members. The distress can only be imagined. As if that is not enough, the armed robbers now have developed the practice of taking the women away. The mind here is incapable of contemplating a worse kind of humiliation.
Why has the situation become so hopeless? Standard answers include economic reasons like unemployment, inflation, and the collapse of the social sector – education, agriculture, law enforcement, desertification, etc. Beyond this broad spectrum of causes that call for long-term remedies, we have to focus on specific weaknesses in our law enforcement that is responsible for the exacerbating our insecurity. The police have long complained about their grossly insufficient number, poor equipment and training and low morale created by low wages sub-human welfare. When their complaints were not attended, they went on strike recently.
These four complaints are legitimate. The federal government is largely to blame because it enjoyed exclusive control over the apparatus of coercion for decades now. It has been more concerned with spending billions on equipping the military for the obvious opportunity of gratification, fraud and espirit de corp even in the absence of any evidence of external aggression for over a century. Adequate attention should be paid to recruiting and training of our police in addition to equipping them with state of the art communication facilities, effective transport and superior firepower. No price would be too high in achieving this because it is from the police, not the military, that we derive the immediate and daily right of civil protection. They are also entitled to the best remunerations commensurate to the highest risk they must take to ensure our safety.
Canvassing support for the police will not prevent us from telling the command and the army the home truth about the necessity of purging themselves of rotten eggs. This will go a long way, even as at now, in curtailing armed robbery. Many police and soldiers have been found conniving with bandits and armed robbers. The belief is rife among the population that some of them are involved, directly or otherwise, in armed robbery operations in the country. There is need for the command to ascertain the moral records of its personnel before promoting them to command positions.
Roadblocks have been mounted on highways throughout the Northeast, except in Borno State where they were abolished recently when citizens became very suspicious about the role of the personnel manning them. Generally, the roadblocks have been turned into extortion centers and death traps for motorists. They should be scrapped and replaced with mobile patrols that will be much quicker to contact, easier to mobilize and faster to response. In doing so, however, it is essential to ensure that police and army officers do not swindle allowances of personnel sent on such patrols nor divert funds meant to their logistics.
The police also need to withdraw their hostility to vigilante groups. The command must concede their shortcomings which we listed above and see the groups as partners in ensuring security in our rural and urban communities. The issue of allowing people to carry arms, contentious as it is, needs to be revised. Renowned people of impeccable character should, in my opinion, be allowed to equip themselves with the firearms they need to protect themselves and their communities, under the close police supervision.
The population itself is to blame in its practice of indiscriminate settlement. As our society becomes more sophisticated socially, living in isolation will increasingly become an expensive luxury that families must abandon. Social services like health, education and infrastructure are better accorded if people live together than when they live in units that are difficult to access. The Fulani, not withstanding the threat to their culture of independence, would need to settle and gradually adapt modern methods of animal husbandry with the aid of government that will provide the necessary extension services and grazing infrastructure.
It is important that attention is at the same time paid to long-term solutions of improving education, agriculture, skill acquisition, mineral exploitation, industrial growth and all other avenues that will harness our gross domestic product. Never should any responsible government lend credence to the exploitative arguments of multinational agencies, suckers who live on the blood and sweat of our people.
Immediately, people in the Northeast are demanding that their forest reserves need to be combed by joint teams of police and the military, including the airforce, while the navy handles oil bunkering at the coast and sea. War should be taken to the den of the robbers. This will force them to retreat while more lasting solutions are sought. They are the real enemy to fight, not the imaginary one that the military has been waiting for since 1900.
In conclusion, those in position of authority must realize that security is the first and foremost responsibility they owe their people. Where they have failed to provide it, as it is now, every other thing becomes meaningless. The federal government needs to prove the logic of its monopoly over the apparatus of coercion by ensuring our security if it does not want us to buy the idea of state police. To become convinced that a ceremony is taking place in their house, a dog once demanded to see bones littering the ground.
Had government heeded the advice we gave four years ago, the woman victim whose pathetic case we earlier mentioned would not have suffered the humiliating indulgence of male libido in a way that her grandmother was never subjected to. Let us recall that the early 19th Century British explorer, Clapperton, once wrote that this part of the world was so secured at the time of his stay at Sokoto during the reign of Muhammadu Bello that, as he allegorically put it, a woman carrying a bowl of gold could travel the land without fear of molestation. It is today a painful irony that two hundred years later, the same country, in spite of modernization and enlightenment, has woefully failed to guarantee her granddaughter the safety of her body and spirit. It is false to claim that such a woman is the happiest in the world.

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