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Until kidnappers get their just deserts

Whether the shocking cases of mass abductions convulsing Nigeria are economically or politically motivated should not immobilise the Bola Tinubu administration from angrily emplacing measures to stamp them out. The latest Kaduna abductions from LEA Primary School in Kuriga, Chikun local government area of Kaduna State, coming hard after a few other celebrated cases early this year, should serve as a reminder that the old, fitful system of fighting banditry/kidnapping has become jaded and ineffective. Bandits strike, abduct hapless Nigerians, riding motorcycles or marching victims hard and fast into their dens, and government throws verbal and flailing punches. 

Summing up the drama, some of the abductees are released after huge ransom payments; until the cycle repeats itself weeks later. It is time to cut the Gordian knot. To serve as a reminder, the Palladium piece for February 4 is repeated today to nudge the government to abandon old and unworkable methods of combating a security problem capable of upending the country, compounding the economic salvage mission of the administration, and rubbishing the image and credibility of the president himself.

The recent Kaduna mass abduction of perhaps over 200 schoolchildren and the tale of woes accompanying it should tell the administration that pusillanimity is not an option. A community leader who spoke to The Punch last week gave an incredible insight into the Kuriga school abductions. If a community leader had such insight, including identifying the abode of the bandits, the routes they normally use for their operations, and the methods they deploy, how on earth would the security and law enforcement agents plead ignorance? And so while it is possible for the abductions and senseless killings to be politically motivated, there are enough indications in the methodologies of the bandits to help the administration respond adequately and effectively, regardless of any motives.

Here is what the community leader told the newspaper: “Kuriga village, which is not more than 26 kilometers from Birnin-Gwari town in the Chukun Local Government Area, is situated along the Kaduna Birnin-Gwari highway. The village is not far from the terrorists’ enclave in Manini, which is the gateway to Niger State through River Kaduna; the terrorists from Zamfara pass through that place to Manini to Alawa and Shawara in Niger State. Three weeks before the abduction of the pupils, the terrorists had killed the principal of the Government Secondary School Kuriga around 4am, while his wife and two children were abducted. The wife and children are still in captivity. The secondary school was the first structure you would see on the road when you are coming from Kaduna before you enter Kuriga, but because of the proximity to Manini (six kilometres), the school was relocated to the main town of Kuriga where the primary school is also situated; that was why when the terrorists struck, they took away pupils of both the primary and the secondary schools.”

By last Friday, there was still no confirmation that another set of about 200 people, supposedly from an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Gamboru-Ngala in Borno State, were abducted; but the Kuriga LEA school is without controversy. Merely releasing the victims, including paying ransoms, should never be the end of the matter. The government must not rest until the perpetrators of this hideous crime are apprehended. There is enough in the account of the Birnin Gwari community leader to help the security agencies do their job, if they are willing and determined. They should ask themselves why their response time is woefully slow, why their drones, choppers and fighter jets are not mobilised immediately the bandits strike in their hundreds and exit through well-known routes, and why the intelligence services do not seem to debrief community leaders and witnesses to these crimes in order to weave together the pattern of banditry laying whole communities desolate. Questions should be asked, and answers given, if Nigerians are not to start believing that the security and intelligence services are either inept or complicit. If kidnappers do not get their just deserts soon, the omens will truly turn apocalyptic.

The Palladium piece of February 4 titled Insecurity, Forex: Tinubu’ll have to go for broke offers some helpful hints as to what can and should be done to stop the costly haemorrhaging.

In one dizzying week, the Bola Tinubu administration has experienced probably its most challenging moment so far. Last Monday (January 29, 2024), gunmen believed to be kidnappers killed two travelling Ekiti State traditional rulers, while a third escaped the dragnet. On Thursday, the outlaws, but perhaps a different set, also killed another monarch in Kwara State, not too far from where the first set of killings took place. The killers acted like sleeper cells activated by remote control. They seemed to be saying that if other abductions and killings in different parts of the country would not ruffle the feathers of the president, these latest killings should. Hatred for the eight-month-old Tinubu administration is gradually ossifying in the North, while the Southeast has really never been placated, and the South-South continues to vacillate. With minor exceptions, the Southwest had remained a bastion of support for the administration; but now the killing of monarchs and abduction of schoolchildren may begin to stir passions.

In the same horrendous week, foreign exchange dealers took their speculative lunacy to insane heights thus making Nigeria’s puzzled monetary authorities frantic about the plunging naira which fell to an abysmal low of N1,482 on Tuesday and N1,435 on Friday against the US dollar. Before the week ended, exchange rate for cargo clearance, which had been about N952/$ in December rose to N1,356/$. By last week, the news on the economic front was virtually apocalyptic, sending dangerous signals about an impending economic disaster. In addition, last Sunday, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic announced their exit from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) without the mandatory notice. To complete his nightmare, President Tinubu is the current chairman of the regional body. But there is no need to placate the three military regimes. Just develop the remaining 12 contiguous member states, and make them a regional showpiece. Despite the security implications, the errant three which replaced French hegemony with Russian oligarchy simply lack the smartness and perspective to appreciate the implications 

However, it is when things look dark that the true character of a man shows through. The economic/forex crisis had been simmering for decades unattended to, and the insecurity crisis has lasted for more than 15 years. The crises were expected to get much worse before the country turns the corner. However, because there are really no social safety nets, and the nets hastily cobbled together in the past few months had been poorly executed or even exploited by both elected and appointed public officials, the discontent among the poor may be threatening to boil over to the streets to the satisfaction of disaffected opposition forces. Worsening the crises are powerful elites and regional interests, many of them still hoping that somehow the whole democratic experience could be scuttled or truncated. Clearly, President Tinubu does not have the luxury of time. He needs to act now both to save his presidency as well as to deliver the country. He had tried to mollify the opposition, trodden gingerly over complex economic and social issues, and spoken cautiously to the powerful and highly connected, perhaps with an eye on future elections. Now, he will have to go for broke if insecurity and forex speculators are not to break him. Those angling for a collapse of the system foolishly think that once the process is triggered it can be controlled like specimens in laboratories. They are unrealistic.

Firstly, the president must convince himself that the economic crisis, particularly the Forex logjam, has been handled with dexterity and the best expertise available in the country. Does he have a group of economic experts and advisers, other than appointed officials, with whom he meets minds and debates the dominant themes of the economy? He needs to rejig his staff. At first view, the panaceas applied by the administration, including palliatives, have been eclectic, reactive and often incoherent. The panaceas give the impression of a lack of surefootedness. Yet, the problems ought to be profoundly understood and clearly enunciated, and the solutions affirmed beyond a shadow of doubt, regardless of the maliciousness of economic exploiters and saboteurs implementing the scripts of opposition forces. The president must be keenly aware already that the economic condition of the people is indeed very dire, and he has a little time to remedy the problem. Yes, it must get worse before getting better, and it is also true that he is trying to grapple with issues and decisions evaded by his predecessors for decades, predecessors who opted for the low hanging fruits while jauntily passing on the rest of the nuisance to successors. But President Tinubu wants to be different. That should be lauded. He must, therefore, let wisdom direct him as he calibrates what pains the people can endure without threatening the safety of his administration and the stability of the country.

Secondly, he has the more pressing and far more difficult job of stanching the flow of blood as a result of insecurity all over the country. Here he must really, really go for broke. He has to break tables and break eggs. In fact, he has little or no choice, for should the situation continue for a few more months, he will not only lose respect, even the myth of his invincibility will be shattered and the stability of the country threatened. One, a rash of informal state police imitations are springing up in many states in response to unremitting insecurity. President Tinubu should retake the initiative and kick-start the constitutional process of devolving state policing powers. This measure is urgent and cannot wait for comprehensive restructuring deals. Regional emotions are still too fragile and combustible, especially in the midst of economic storm and silly arguments about relocations of departments of federal agencies and ministries, to be added to the far more complex and sensitive restructuring process.

Two, while the state police devolution measure is being worked out, the president needs to assemble a tactical mix of police and military squads in all the states and designate them as rapid deployment forces to fight kidnapping. Previous measures have become impotent. He should also put the legal machinery in motion to enable him and state governors activate a statewide lockdown when kidnappers strike in order to hem them in and fish them out. Had this system been in place, when kidnappers took the schoolchildren in Ekiti or killed monarchs, Ekiti would have been immediately put on lockdown, and armed squads in surrounding states put on red alert patrolling Ekiti boundaries until the abductors were fished out. This process must not be terminated even after the release of captives; it must continue until the kidnappers are apprehended. The president should also consider the legal imperative of setting up special courts to try kidnappers, a trial that should terminate at the Court of Appeal, while the cases must be disposed of in a few months, say three months. This process should be applied to Plateau, Nasarawa and Benue where gunmen continue to rampage and carry out ethnic cleansing. Lock the states down when killings occur, and the government must not rest until the perpetrators are fished out, even if it takes weeks. If former administrations were fond of sending condolences and promising to rebuild destroyed communities, the Tinubu administration should toe a completely different line.

The president should also set up a panel to resolve why big-time kidnappers who keep captives for months and negotiate with victims’ families endlessly could mystify and wrong-foot the intelligence and security services. Are security agents complicit? There should be no excuses. The kidnappers are known to communities which replenish them, some out of fear, others out of financial inducements. The Tinubu administration should be interested in why the intelligence services have proved both inept and impotent in the face of such open challenges to the peace and stability of the country. The president should be tired of playing the rule book of his predecessors who summoned security chiefs to Aso Villa when preventable tragedies occur. He should sit with them, formulate ironclad plans, task new and old agencies with arresting the situation, local hunters included, and saddle communities with the responsibility of overseeing their forests. Failure is not an option. It is time to stop the madness. With devolved policing, states should take part of the blame for insecurity. Old measures have clearly proved nugatory; it is time for a bold and innovative administration to find and apply new weapons of lifting the siege to which the nation has been subjected by nomadic criminals and their local accomplices. It is time the president fiercely combated the menace and set a six-month or one-year target to impose peace. NATION 

Source: Hardcore News 

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