During my first degree days as a 300 level student of Political Science, I was taught that ‘vulnerable people whose disappearance couldn’t be questioned’ were easily recruited by the army of the world renowned terrorist, Osama Bin Laden known as Al Qaeda. The senior lecturer who took the course in International Relations also added that ‘weak and failed states’ serve as fertile grounds for the development of terrorist groups. I took the lessons well with keen interest. I took them with me to my service year in Bauchi State, the north-eastern part of Nigeria almost two years later.
When I visited Bauchi State for the first time in October 2010, I felt the level of poverty and despondency in the land on a firsthand note. The issue of illiteracy was also rife. Most of the expansive areas of land weren’t well policed. You could commit murder in the nearby bushes, clean up the area and bury the dead without being confronted by anybody. The prevalent problem of illiteracy, poverty and weak security systems reminded me of the factors that facilitate terrorism as I learned in school and I felt there was a ticking bomb in the northern part of Nigeria. The fact that the Boko Haram sect was also lurking around the corner in the struggle for momentum also bothered me.
I have always been told that the northern part of Nigeria is populated by some of the nicest people in the world which is largely true but its also a very volatile place where anything can happen. I was born in Kaduna State which I left at the age of 4 due to crisis. A part of me felt glad to be back and was almost mooting the idea of staying back after NYSC due to the simplicity of life there. It was during my time that the post-election crisis broke out after former President GoodLuck Ebele Jonathan defeated the current leader, President Muhammadu Buhari at the 2011 presidential polls. We lost over 15 corps members and till date, nobody has answered for those gruesome crimes in court. On the night of the presidential election, the youths in Kafin Madaki came out with cutlasses and pieces of firewood to demonstrate. Before that day, I hadn’t seen that kind of huge number of people in the sleepy town. The presence of soldiers and policemen failed to intimidate them. That night, I took another lesson about the volatility of the geopolitical zone.
As for formal education, most of the people could hardly speak English language. They struggled to read and write. The schools were in bad shapes and some students could have been more intelligent than their teachers at least according to my observation. Also, the number of out-of-school children was clear for the blind to see even if you want to argue with facts and figures.
As for poverty, it hit harder than the sun and harmattan over there. You will see an elderly man with two wives and six children selling dates or sugarcane for a living on a very petty scale. How is he expected to cater for them? Some of their clothes were like school uniforms that have seen better days. An Okada man over there could maim a passenger over a disagreement centered around an amount as small as N20.
The Almajiris could be seen constantly begging for alms and food with bowls. After attaining a particular age, they become more conscious of life and graduate into the society without requisite skills for survival and decent living. Nobody cares about what later becomes of them but they must survive one way or the other. Politicians easily recruit them during elections for cheaply for selfish interests.
These worrying signs bothered me a lot that one day I started asking questions from people familiar with the North. One thing I noticed was that they felt content with the little they had and they were generally happy. They loved their leaders so much. One day I asked, ‘Why are these people so poor and happy? These attributes are only obtainable in comic and elementary storybooks” I said.
I was told some people by religious doctrines believe poverty is their fate and it’s the duty of the rich to look after them. I was also informed that they don’t have any hunger for wealth like we southerners. Both explanations didn’t make sense to me because everybody desires comfort and good life. With my knowledge of Political Science which I am pursuing up to doctoral level at present, I knew a big bomb was ticking. One day, the dog which was formerly eating fish would taste human blood, realize it’s sweet and then become wild as it hunts for human beings.
Today, Nigeria is grappling with the serious challenge of Boko Haram insurgency which is lingering for over a decade. They rob, kidnap, maim, destroy, spread fear and kill. Despite the regular killing and arrest of their members, they keep increasing by the day. Bandits have also taken over some states like Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina, Plateau, Taraba and a few others. They are not only bothering the North, they have been spreading their tentacles across Nigeria. They now make easy money from kidnapping for ransoms targeting both the rich and the poor.
I can’t blame President Buhari and the service chiefs for the dire state of security Nigeria has found itself. They inherited the problem. The ‘patient’ called Nigeria has always had the symptoms of an acute viral disease. The full blown state only manifested under Buhari.
Now, here is the truth that Buhari and the service chiefs know. They can’t just win the battle out-rightly like a newspaper columnist or a critical Twitter user wishes; they can only manage the situation till their tenures in office end. The challenge will be passed on to another boastful election-seeking leader using it as political brickbat. He will struggle with it and pass it on again. We need to tackle the catalysts of terrorism and banditry such as unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, weak security architecture, well-policed borders and others. These conditions can’t go away overnight. They can only be treated with incremental efforts.
We are in a grave dilemma. My best bet is the introduction of a regional security network across the six geopolitical zones like Amotekun to mitigate the crises of insecurity to the barest minimum for now. Sacking the service chiefs as the House of Representatives recommended might not change much.