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Massacres in the age of covid-19 pandemic

November 28, 2020 is a day the people of Zabarmari in Borno State will live to remember. It was the day hardworking patriots, who heeded the call of government to embrace farming were gruesomely murdered by Boko Haram fighters, loyalists and mercenaries. About sixty seasonal farm labourers had migrated to earn a living but were let down by government who failed to protect them when it mattered. Their sin was that the community dared to arrest one Boko Haram loyalist who was terrorizing them and handed him over to Nigerian security agents. Unfortunately, they paid the ultimate price in the most gruesome manner for being loyal to Nigeria that appears to be losing her constitutional obligation to protect lives and properties of her citizens.

That Boko Haram fighters had sufficient time to round-up, tie, slaughter and arrange the heads of their victims on dismembered bodies without any security challenge shows who controls Nigeria’s numerous ungoverned spaces. The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar gave insight into the insecurity in the northern part when he revealed how 76 people in rural Sokoto were massacred by bandits who moved freely with AK-47, killing, stealing and destroying without any state resistance. Equating the Hobbesian state of Nature, life in Nigeria’s anomic ecosystem has become nasty, short and brutish. There is next level of insecurity in Nigeria everywhere you go in Nigeria and we seem not to be learning from our recent history.

On November 19, 2018 in Metele, Boko Haram terrorists unleashed terror on 157 Task Batallion of the Nigerian Army. Over 100 gallant men of our frontline fighters fell in that battle. A surviving soldier of that attack provided insights into how armoured personnel carriers failed them and how lack of aerial support from the Air force contributed to the bloody annihilation. He raised issues of delayed, underpaid and unpaid allowances, low morale among frontline soldiers and mole within the ranks. Indeed, the survivor narrated how some of those who came to destroy their camp were among those who had been arrested but were released by influential ‘Ogas at the top’.

While PMB administration continues to mouth ‘technical degradation’ of Boko Haram and claims to have done enough to support Nigerian armed forces, the outcomes of such investment show that the best of Mr President is not good enough. It is risky to travel on Nigerian bad roads because of the fear of being kidnapping or dispossessed if not killed by armed robbers. Kaduna-Abuja highway has become dreaded. Criminals shattered tradition by gunning down a First-class monarch in Ondo State. From Sokoto to Zabarmari, massacres of the masses continue while government condemns and life continues until another bloodbath occurs.

Let us even agree with Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu that the farmers did not get clearance to go harvest rice and willingly walked into their deaths, should government watch them and not protect them from harm? Why would a government or her security allow able bodied diligent workers to be killed on account of clearance? Could the army have at least arrested the farm labourers’ for flouting the ‘protocol’ and keep them alive today? What played out is failure of intelligence, criminal collaboration and porous security in many ungoverned spaces in the North and Nigeria in general. With Zabarmari brutal annihilations, it will be difficult to expect communities in terror zones to furnish security agents with information or apprehend another Boko Haram terrorist.

While PMB administration continues to mouth ‘technical degradation’ of Boko Haram and claims to have done enough to support Nigerian armed forces, the outcomes of such investment show that the best of Mr President is not good enough

Government may continue to claim it has liberated territories from Boko Haram but there is evidence that communities still pay Boko Haram to be spared from attack and protected. It is even sadder that farming communities now pay Boko Haram to be allowed to go to farm. Such informal security arrangement signposts who the citizens believe can guarantee their security in the terror zones. It diminishes the influence and power of Nigerian government in winning the war because loyalty of the people under terrorists’ governance is to Boko Haram and not to Nigeria because government has not displayed enough capacity to protect them. Why is weaponry still a problem to fight terrorists in 2020? Why do we continue to sacrifice our best fighters to Boko Haram owing to failure in security governance? Why do we continue to concede territories to bandits, insurgents and terrorists to victimize hapless Nigerians while we mourn, condemn and move on until another time of carnage? Could it be true that war merchants within and without are making the war fester in order to continue to rake billions at the expense of shedding the blood of hapless Nigerians? Why is it difficult for the security agents to know that this is the season of harvest and that farmers will need protection in order to save the country from surging food prices? Sadly, available evidence shows that we will live with insecurity beyond 2020 except the right policies and willpower is displayed to turn the tide.

Socio-economic policies of governments are producing insignificant impact in the lives of Nigerians. The gaps are widening between the haves and have-nots and opportunity for upward mobility is shrinking daily. The North has the largest chunk of Nigeria’s 14million out-of-school children. Unless given the right education, they will likely graduate to terrorize the zone and the country beyond what is being experienced today because majority of them are currently socialized to banditry, kidnapping and terrorism. Nigeria has all the trappings to experience surge in crime across the geopolitical zones in the country. National Bureau of Statistics’ last survey (2019) puts the number of poor people at 82.9million translating to 40.1 percent of the population. Considering the impact of 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, more people would have joined the poor-people’s community. Unemployment rate is 27.1 percent while underemployment is 28.6 percent and this is increasing. Many people have lost their jobs in 2020 yet have unmet cultural and normative responsibilities to discharge. The pressure to meet these needs may lead those with weak social control and social support to take to crime as they encounter rising inflation and negative consequences of recession. With increased strain, and no welfare programs to reduce negative impacts, a career in crime may be adopted as a survival strategy.

Research has established relationship between drug and crime. Increasing use of narcotic drugs will contribute to the incidence of terrorism, banditry, armed robbery and general insecurity. Available data shows that North-central geo-political zone recorded highest number of drug cases with 517,711 cases while southwest and south-south had 44,744 and 28,885 cases respectively in 2019. The northeast recorded only 4,490 cases but there are indications that this has increased.

What can be done to arrest further slide? There is urgent need to rejig and restructure Nigeria’s security architecture. Centralized policing is largely ineffective. Security issues are mostly local before spreading to other states. In soccer, only a winning coach is retained. No serious club management keeps a coach who returns failure as achievement. Mr President needs to audit his security chiefs and pave way for new persons to inject new ideas on how to save the country. Ungoverned spaces must be taken over by the state and uncompromised border governance must be ensured in the northern parts of the country. We must invest in technology, leverage on international support including intelligence sharing, deploy drones to monitor terrorists’ hideouts, improve welfare of serving soldiers and give them the required fighting weapons to conquer.

Dr Tade, a criminologist wrote via dotad2003@yahoo.com

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