BusinessDay

7yrs under Buhari, a retired general, Nigeria’s security crumbles

At least 54,948 people have been killed in Nigeria due to violent acts, within seven years from May 2015 to May 2022 under the Presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army general that came to power with one of the key promises of fixing Nigeria’s security challenges. The other popular chant was fighting corruption, which is another story.

The number of deaths, deduced by BusinessDay analysis of data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), is described by the Council on Foreign Relations, which collates it as a conservative estimate, based on numbers reported by the press. This conservative estimate, however, shows that at least 21 people have been killed every day of the Buhari administration’s 2,555 days in office.

From Boko Haram, which was the predominant security subject in Nigeria, other actors have joined the plot, such as ‘bandits’, ‘unknown gun men’, and the usual mix of violent herders-farmers clashes, kidnappers, robbers and other criminal actors. While deaths attributed to Boko Haram have dropped, by some accounts, up to 90 percent, other violent actors have kept the death rate increasing.

Virtually all parts of the country are currently battling one form of violent crime; evidence that the President has failed to keep his promise on security

“By all indices, and according to all various data that’s out there, the level of security incidents recorded across Nigeria has increased significantly,” said Tanwa Ashiru, a U.S Airforce veteran, and CEO of Bulwark Intelligence Solutions in a phone interview.

While the Buhari administration inherited some insecurity, especially Boko-Haram in the Northeast, Ashiru says the terrorist group’s activities have significantly reduced in Borno state. “However, what we have noticed is that it has also spread across other parts of Nigeria. So in essence, it’s not necessarily that it’s been eliminated, they’ve (simply) been removed from one part of the country and they have moved to other parts of the country,” she says.

The problem of terrorism as represented by Boko haram, said to have been ‘technically defeated’ according to the government, is therefore still there, and has even spread, “which is even scarier,” says Ashiru.

The incidents of kidnapping and banditry have also worsened and become more brazen. From abducting a military officer from a military facility, to attacking an airport, derailing a train and kidnapping a yet-unknown number of passengers (many of them high profile persons), so-called bandits have taken their reign of terror up a notch.

“The state of security at the moment in Nigeria is highly unpredictable. You really cannot say what will happen next, to whom, when and how. There is a high level of what you may call public apprehension, everybody is apprehensive and nobody is really sure,” says Aliyu Umar, a retired army captain and security analyst.

“Security in our homes, security in workplaces, whatever is the case, there is a high level of security ‘unpredictability’ in Nigeria, and it’s an uncomfortable place to be.”

In the South East, where an intending military couple were brutally killed and the videos circulated, violence has reached an all-time-high as ‘unknown gunmen’ linked with the IPOB separatist movement continue to unleash terror. “We’ve seen attacks increase especially in the Southeast and this is something that’s really getting to high levels under this administration,” says Ashiru.

Driven according to her by socio-economic factors and hardship, the incidents in the South East, she recalls, started as a transitory movement of people being unhappy with things within the region, and even the country at large.

At different times in recent years, different groups of ragtag gangs with no known military training and described as ‘bandits’, as previously reported by BusinessDay, are exposing the severe weaknesses in Nigeria’s security architecture through attacks that are humiliating for Nigeria’s security forces.

The so-called bandits have murdered at least one army general, while a number of senior military officers and several soldiers have been brutally killed at different times. Military aircraft (with at least one fighter jet) are among material losses suffered by Nigeria’s military formation, which appears clueless as to how to contain the security crisis

The Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna, which is the country’s foremost military university, was also attacked by bandits who killed two officers and abducted one other. Ironically, the military institution, located along Airport Road, Afaka, in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, is close to the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka where 39 students were abducted by bandits few months earlier.

“The President on coming on board did promise to tackle insecurity particularly Boko Haram (BH) insurgent activities head on; this, people believed based on his background as a retired general and one time head of state,” says Ademola Onalaja, a retired colonel and MD, Proton Security Services Ltd.

“However, seven years as President and about one year to his final second term, insecurity has worsened beyond the BH insurgency. Virtually all parts of the country are currently battling one form of violent crime; evidence that the President has failed to keep his promise on security.”

In fact, seven years of this administration, he says, has witnessed more daring violent crimes both in physical and virtual (unchecked corruption being perpetrated by goverment officials and civil servants).

The cumulative number of deaths from May 2011 (when NST launched) to May 2015, when President Buhari was sworn-in for his first term, was 34,972 deaths and it has been on the increase, except for 2017, when the figures reduced before rising (again).

By May 2016, Buhari’s first year in office, an additional 8,388 people had been killed in Nigeria, bringing the tally to 43,310 deaths. The death rate slowed in 2017 by 4,949, about 40 percent, before increasing the follow year, 2018, and recording 5,361 deaths.

By May 2019, the number of deaths had risen again by 8,663 and by May 2020 it was 8,800 deaths even in a year of national lockdowns. This time, the death tally had become 71,083.

By May 2021, an additional 9,243 people had been killed in Nigeria and of the time of this report in May 2022, the tally had increased by 9,594, bringing total deaths due to violence since 2011 to 89,920 in Nigeria.

Reiterating the menace of Bandit attacks, Ashiru, of Bulwark Intelligence, says these are now spreading from the “traditional states we were initially dealing with” and now covering the entire Northwest and most of the Middle belt, especially all the states surrounding Abuja, the country’s capital, which are seeing increased cases.

Some of the brazen attacks by so-called bandits on the military include the killing, last year, of Hussaini Ahmed, a major general who was once Provost Marshal of the Nigerian Army, along the Lokoja-Abuja highway. Also, gunmen suspected to be bandits killed seven soldiers and injured five others after ambushing troops of the Forward Operational Base and that of the Special Operational Command operating in Kebbi.

The Nigerian Army also buried 12 soldiers, in April 2021, killed by bandits in Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State, whose state governor once claimed to have been attacked while visiting his farm.

Read also: Buhari’s seven years: The gains and the pains

A document shared with BusinessDay shows that according to Area! an incident sharing app by Towntalk, a total of 279 verified attacks on government institutions were recorded between the 1st of January and 31st of July 2021.

Disaggregated by regions, the North East and South East reported 46.9 percent and 21.5 percent of the incidents, respectively. The South South reported 12.5 percent of verified incidents and 7.9 percent of attacks on government institution occurred in the North West.

Ashiru says, however, that there is some good news, even with all the security challenges. One of these is the level of piracy reported in the Gulf of Guinea, which she says has reduced significantly. However, she says “We are not going to give that kudos entirely to the Nigerian government. It is really because of the international collaboration that has been taking place off our Coast”.

For Onalaja, addressing the mounting security concerns should be a focus of the remaining one year of the Buhari administration. It should see the President mandating all the security agencies for “effective coordination and apt intelligence sharing whilst employing technology to curb all related insecurities in the country.”

The issue of state police must be addressed for immediate promulgation and deployment, he says, and also, there is a strong requirement for re-evaluation of military approach and view-assessment of those deployed in theatre of operations including those of political office holders.

Yet, as solutions are sought and proffered to Nigeria’s security challenges, in May 2021, a little over a year ago, burglars attempted to break into the residence of Ibrahim Gambari, the President’s chief of staff.

The attempt on the said residence located within the heavily guarded Presidential villa was dismissed as ‘a foolish attempt’, but one year later, like thousands of other criminal acts in Nigeria, it has remained unsolved (at least by public records). From the highest corridors of power in Nigeria, to the lowliest of places, insecurity, as observers say, is fast becoming part of daily life.

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