Last week, when I got bored of staring at data and figures on my laptop, I picked up my phone to reply my WhatsApp messages, few seconds in, my finger mistakenly tapped on the status icon and I decided to immerse myself in other people’s world. I was fleeting from one status update to another when I saw a colleague’s update with a screenshot of security tips to address the menace of kidnapping released by a Nigerian university’s security service.
I felt there was more to the bulletin, so I replied the status, asking for the complete document. After reading the four-page bulletin, I was more confused and frazzled than I had been. Why? The bulletin was signed off by the Office of the Vice Chancellor and under the subheading for “In case it happens (Coping Tips for hostages).” It read, “we are putting in what we have got and as well praying and believing…”. The Bulletin also advised that if it happens you should SCREAM, STAY CALM, COOPERATE and BE THEIR FRIEND.
It wasn’t the choice of the words, PRAY and BELIEVE that made me angry but the fact that security has become a joke in this country to the extent that we need to believe and pray not to be kidnapped, and when we become victims, we must scream, stay calm, cooperate and be friends with our abductors too. Same way the Chibok girls did all these and they all came home safely? Or the Dapchi girls? Or those abducted on expressway ambush or their homes? Or the recently kidnapped Kankara boys?
A week ago, over 600 boarding students of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS), Kankara in Katsina state were said to be missing after gunmen on bikes attacked the school and abducted hundreds of students. Although, about 340 students were rescued while some fled away from their abductors, hundreds of the students from this all-boys secondary school were unaccounted for.
The usual script played out — the blame games; shifting of responsibilities and; unresponsiveness of security agencies — again. And our worst fears became a reality, in a video released on Tuesday, Shekau’s Boko Haram faction claimed responsibility for the kidnapped Kankara boys, though reports said the abduction was outsourced to local bandits in the area. Luckily, the boys were released on Thursday night, a welcome development, but for how long can we continue to pretend that it wouldn’t happen again and that our security agencies will always be on top of the insecurity situation?
This year, we have come across news headlines that read: School children and their teacher kidnapped in Kaduna; Eight students abducted in Kaduna; Nine ABU students abducted along Kaduna-Abuja expressway; Gunmen kidnap four students from Nigeria seminary school; UNIJOS student kidnapped in Plateau; Boko Haram executes abducted Plateau student; Gunmen abduct two PhD students in Adamawa; Gunmen kidnap 17 year-old Secondary School student in Abuja. What about similar stories which never made it to news platforms or blogs?
These incidents reaffirm Nigeria’s insecurity problems and that the agencies charged with protecting us has failed us. The government has refused to step up to the plate; they would rather lay blames than take decisive actions to resolve these security issues. Nigeria’s government and its MDAs would rather focus on labeling investigative reports on security issues in the country as fake news, than work towards ensuring the loopholes that led to these security breaches are plugged or capitalised on to flush out the bad eggs.
Being a Nigerian child has become a joke because the only thing you can show for it is long months of university academic union strike or kidnappings for ransom for being a student. Also, these concerns do not override the fact that families, farmers and other citizens are affected by these kidnappings and insecurity issues, it is affecting us all, including our economy.
A recent data revealed that citizens spent one billion naira on ransom request in 2019 — only 1,386 people were abducted then — and this ransom request is projected to increase in 2020 as about two thousand people have been kidnapped at the time this data was published.
These monies paid as ransom to save the lives of our loved ones could be used to improve standard of living and cater for basic family needs. Issues of insecurity have made foreign embassies release tons of travel advisory to their citizens on where to visit and not to visit when they land in Nigeria. Our unsafe territories make it harder to generate investments and tourism, locally and internationally. Food inflation skyrockets across the country as farmers are scared to visit their farms, for fear of being waylaid by bandits and kidnappers or worse, become another statistics for gruesome killings like the Zabarmari farmers.
In the midst of these travails, President Buhari still gets surprised, shocked and deeply saddened by the incidents —whenever he decides to react— while the security agencies keeps getting charged —all the time— to bring the culprits to book with slight progress to show for it.
The military operations to combat banditry, kidnappings and insurgency are embarrassing jokes in some circles because they have become counterproductive. In the midst of these, the security chiefs are playing ostrich when they can do better to admit that they have failed us and resign, but they would rather wait for Buhari — whose body language reads he will not lift a finger — to replace them.
Meanwhile, Buhari’s ministers and aides are busy securing their stronghold on power, something fickle, while ignoring the ravaging insecurities permeating the country and their respective countries. The governors have become one-man MOPOL and lone agents saddled with solving and cauterising their state’s security issues —Governor Masari just got copied on the memo.
In the midst of all these insecurity problems, the National Assembly is solidifying its place as the bishop and sometimes, the queen in Nigeria’s grandmaster governance while the King, Buhari disguises as a democratic lord in babariga — but still a military man through and through.
We, the pawns — abducted Kankara boys, Leah Sharibu, remaining Chibok girls, every kidnapped citizens and well-meaning Nigerians — are tired of these posturing, it is not always that they will be able to control these insecurity issues. The government should seek help from the global security frameworks, counter-insurgence network, international organisations, countries, troops of US Africa Command, Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) networks, mercenaries or any security apparatus that can help us end this living nightmare of looking over our shoulders.
The emotional turmoil of kidnapping is heart wrenching for the victims, their families and the nation. We yearn, as always, to feel safe in our fatherland.