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#EndSARS: Picking up the pieces

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 -By Simon Kolawole

How can a peaceful protest end up with killing and maiming, burning and looting in a matter of days? For those of us who have seen plenty “peaceful” protests in our lives, it is not too hard to explain. The moment you hit the streets and fail to read the road signs — so that you will know where and when to turn, reverse or park — you are at the risk of losing control of the steering wheel. You will end up carrying all kinds of passengers — thugs, hoodlums, gangsters, cultists, politicians and all manner of opportunists. In fact, you may unwittingly provide cover for state agents to target the assets and possibly the lives of perceived opponents and rivals. So it goes.

In the best of times, peaceful protests can go awry — much less in these hard times, with oil prices down, government revenue falling, the currency losing value, prices of goods and services rising, and, to add fuel to the fire, COVID-19 taking our breath away. A majority of the people are already bleeding and groaning with the removal of subsidies on petrol and electricity. And with the huge population of unemployed, underemployed and unemployable youth, we knew all along that an uprising was a strong possibility at some point. That a peaceful protest against police brutality, tagged #EndSARS, would spark off this massive carnage was what we probably did not budget for.

With the protests infiltrated by rogues, the anarchy was inevitable. My biggest fear was military involvement. Those who witnessed the massacres by soldiers during the pro-June 12 protests in 1993 and other riots under military regimes would agree with me that it was not a pretty sight. I was praying that troops would not be called in to quell the #EndSARS protests. But I was wrong. On Tuesday evening, soldiers invaded the Lekki ground and started shooting. Initial reports said there was a massacre, although there is yet no identified victim: no names, no addresses, no relatives; just grainy videos with tailored commentaries. Hopefully, we will have a much clearer picture soon.

This is my “executive summary” of the #EndSARS campaign. It started as a genuine protest on social media. It went to the streets. Government saw the danger and accepted the five demands of the protesters. Police disbanded SARS. States set up judicial panels to probe police brutality. Despite getting these concessions, protesters remained adamant. Then came the partisan and sectional dimensions — with #BuhariMustGo and #EndNigeria added to the hashtags. Mayhem started. Looting. Shooting. Lynching. Curfew. Then Lekki happened. And President Muhammadu Buhari, silent for so long, finally addressed the nation, basically declaring: “The fire next time!”

After Buhari’s broadcast, I could see defeat on the faces of the youth. Many started tweeting about relocating to Canada, declaring a total loss of faith in Nigeria. #ItIsFinished began trending. This is sad but I would like to appeal to the Nigerian youth not to give in or give up. The #EndSARS protest did not fail. For one, the protesters got the government to act on their demands — which is a major victory by any definition. SARS has been disbanded. I can bet that whatever police unit replaces SARS will come under stricter scrutiny. Judicial panels have been set up. We expect to see the murderous police officers face justice. Police reform is now an imperative. These are big wins.

Moreover, the youth have shown that they have the ability to organise. These are the same youth we condemn for voting more in Big Brother Naija than in general election. We have often described them as lazy, entitled and obsessed with Instagram, fast cars and bling. By starting a campaign against SARS and taking to the streets to protest police brutality, they brought the country to a halt and attracted international interest. Everybody started paying attention to them. We started celebrating the coming of age of our youth. Older people started scrambling to associate with the cause. Ladies and gentlemen, this is surely a positive development. Let’s not discard it.

What next? According to data from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released before the 2019 general election, the youth — described as those between ages 18 and 35 — made up about 51 percent of the 84 million registered voters. If you expand the age bracket to 50 years (to accommodate other young Nigerians like me), the figure jumps up to 81 percent. That is mind-boggling. What the youth should be thinking now is how to use these humongous figures to bring about new things in Nigeria in 2023 — rather than flee to Canada. They should realise Canada was not built in a day. Its people fought hard to build the country with their sweat and blood.

Just a brief journey into Canada’s history: there were two rebellions against “bad governance” between 1837 and 1838. The rebels were arrested after the uprisings and put on trial. Samuel Lount, one of the organisers of the Upper Canada Rebellion, was publicly hanged. He is regarded as a martyr till today. Over 100 rebels were sentenced to life imprisonment. What the rebel leaders wanted was political reform. They had a common agenda for Canada. Even though they paid the ultimate price, Canada was never the same again. Reform came. Today, Canada is one of the most developed countries in the world. But Canada was not always like this. People paid the price.

What’s my point? The youth must begin to conceive a new political order and the role they can play in birthing it. The #OccupyOjota protests of 2012 helped in building the momentum that uprooted the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power in 2015 and installed the All Progressives Congress (APC). In 2023, the #EndSARS momentum can become a movement that will help uproot both APC and PDP from power and birth a new political culture where government officials will begin to pay less attention to the perks of office and more to their responsibilities to Nigerians. And I mean at all levels — local, state and federal. That would be the best legacy of #EndSARS.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it would be for Nigerian youth to unite in the quest for good governance!  They can be more politically active. They can be more involved in choosing councillors, council chairpersons, state lawmakers, governors, federal lawmakers and the president. It does not mean only the youth will occupy these positions. In addition to contesting, the youth can engage with the aspirants and candidates, scrutinise them, advance the agenda of good governance, monitor the performances of those elected or appointed, and mobilise for recall or removal if they fail to deliver. Canada was not built in a day. Nation-building is not a sprint. It is a marathon.

I hope the youth have also learnt their lessons from the #EndSARS fiasco. One, you don’t go to war without visible leadership. You will end up creating anarchy and mob action. We can now see the consequences. Things completely went out of control and there was nobody to call the mobsters to order. Leadership is key in every life endeavour. Two, you don’t go to war without a plan. There should be Plan A, Plan B and even Plan C. I did not see any plan apart from “we no go gree o”. Three, because of lack of leadership and strategy, the protests continued when they should have been called off. Now over 70 people are dead. This is extremely disturbing and disheartening.

Four, you must take your wins and know when to retreat without surrendering. When SARS was disbanded and judicial panels set up, that was the time to retreat. That was the time to say: “We are suspending the protests. If nothing changes, we will return to the streets.” Some people were even demanding that Buhari should sign an “executive order” to show that SARS had been disbanded. It got that ridiculous. Some rejected the panels because there was no “youth” and declared a boycott. I have come to learn that boycott is not an effective strategy. Campaign for youth inclusion in the panels but mobilise to engage with the process and follow through to get justice.

Five, you must stay the message. Nigerians were united in the call to stop police brutality. It was nationwide. Contrary to the propaganda, there were #EndSARS protests in Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Nasarawa, Adamawa and some other northern states. It was not a purely southern thing. Unfortunately, some people sneaked in their #BuhariMustGo and #EndNigeria agenda and things began to fall apart. More so, protesters started losing focus when they moved from the unifying agenda against police brutality and expanded it to an omnibus campaign for restructuring and ending corruption and bad governance. It is impossible to achieve everything at a go.

Finally, the youth must learn from their elders. As the Yoruba would say, no matter how many Gucci shirts a child has, he can never have as many rags as an elder. Some youth actually think the story of Nigeria started in 1999 or 2015. Actually, people have been fighting for a better Nigeria for 100 years. Our forefathers played their roles and left. We are still fighting for a better Nigeria. We cannot all adopt the same style and strategy. Ultimately, we need to engage constructively to change the rigged and warped system. From my little experience, starting a mass action without a strategy, without a fall-back plan, and without giving an inch can only lead to anarchy. Lessons learnt?

Simon Kolawole is chief executive officer of The Cable, an online news platform.

Opinion

Remi Tinubu’s heart of stone, by Tunde Odesola

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(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, May 10, 2021)
The name, Eve, is not a derivative of the word, evil, though both sound alliteratively similar. It’s a name native to Hebrew, adopted by Latin as Eva, and accommodated by English as Eve.
In Hebrew, Eve means living. But religious male chauvinists are wont to disagree with this meaning and insist that Eve means the opposite of living. Death.
Religious male chauvinists would readily associate Eve with the evil that the Serpent concocted in the beginning of time, at the Garden of Eden, where the bite of an apple contaminated innocence and opened the gate for death to sneak into humanity.
But many feminists would frown on the saying, “Behind every successful man, there’s a woman.” For the feminist, a woman shouldn’t stand behind a man; that’s undignifying. Rather, a woman should stand shoulder to shoulder with any man, and enthuse, “Beside every successful man, there’s a woman.”
Shakespeare needs no introduction or a first name. A recurrent leitmotif in the Shakespearean tragedy of Macbeth is that the brave Thane of Cawdor was blinded by vaulting ambition, which pushes him to murder Duncan, the King of Scotland, and many others, on the bloody road to the throne.
But, I contend that Macbeth’s ambition would have remained an unfulfilled dream if not for the heartlessness of his wife, Lady Macbeth, who has an incurable desire to become the First Lady of Scotland, tearing out Macbeth’s heart from his rib cage and tossing it into a furnace fuelled by blood.
After Macbeth developed cold feet while toying with the idea of killing the king, he quickly banishes from his mind the image of himself on the Scottish throne, preferring to remain a thane than taint his hands with blood.
But his wife, like Adam’s Eve, would hear none of that. The deed must be done! The three predictions of the three witches must come to pass! Macbeth must be king, and she must be First Lady at all cost!
So, when the death rattle of the innocent masses rises up to Nigeria’s Awaiting-First-Lady in the chamber, she steps unto the street and sees a river of blood, but a smile breaks on her lips as she looks beyond the flood of blood and sees a crown, picks it up and saunters back home on the blood, barefooted, as though she was walking on a red Persian rug.
I aver: if Lady Macbeth could attain power without her husband, the wanna-be-first-lady would gladly toss the Thane of Cawdor down the pit of hell, (where they both truly belong), but because she knows that her ambition can only be fulfilled through the vile valour of Macbeth, she decides to stay with him and manipulate him for her use.
Lady Macbeth surely has a lot in common with Nigeria’s scheming First-Lady-In-Waiting. Lady Macbeth sees herself as the sword. She sees her husband, a foremost leader, which means Asiwaju in Yoruba language, as a mere sheath. The slim, tall and fair-skinned wife of the ruthless leader sees herself as the power behind the impending crown.
It’s common knowledge that Nigeria’s political class is crammed with chauvinists. The head of the class, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), is a first-class chauvinist, who went all the way to Germany and proudly professed before the then most powerful woman in the world and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, that women are playthings, fit only for satisfying man’s hunger and libido.
One of the many sons of Buhari in the male chauvinism clan is former Senator Dino Melaye, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Kogi. Another is serving Senator Elisha Abbo from Adamawa.
Melaye, it was, who desecrated the so-called hallowed precincts of the Red Chamber in 2016 when he reportedly threatened to beat up the matriarch of Bourdillon, Mrs Oluremilekun Tinubu, who has made the Senate her permanent address since 2011.
Melaye, also, allegedly threatened to whip out his manhood and impregnate Remi, a claim the ex-lawmaker has denied, saying Remi has ‘arrived’ menopause and so cannot be impregnated. Melaye revealed that he became angry when Remi called him ‘a thug’, and topped it up with another expletive, ‘a dog’, during a closed-door senate plenary.
Abbo, now a member of the All Progressives Congress, rose to national notoriety barely three months after his election into the Senate in 2019 when he beat up a lady in a sex toy shop which he patronises in Abuja.
But, under Buhari, civil and criminal cases involving his anointed are neither never prosecuted nor concluded. Here, I’ll mention just three for I want to quickly go back to Lady Tinubu.
Nothing is heard about the one thousand and one criminal charges levelled against the Speaker, Lagos House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa; disgraced former Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, just disappeared into thin air despite the humongous money and property that allegedly developed wings during his tenure, while the police shockingly arrested the trader assaulted by the Chairman, Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, in March, when a judge turned a street fighter in Abuja.
Back to the beautiful wife of the King of Bourdillon. I was part of an outraged nation when the news of Melaye’s infamous face-off with Remilekun broke five years ago.
I met Senator Remi up-close during a Senate oversight function at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, about a decade ago. To me, she always cuts the picture of a lovely, motherly, humble and kind soul – even at a distance.
All that changed a few days ago when she hid behind a finger, drew a dagger, and back-stabbed the Nigerian electorate, whom she swore by the Bible to protect, trashing the Constitution and the country and showing herself as the real wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Genuinely worried about the free rein of bloodletting in the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, Kogi senator, Smart Adeyemi, took to the legislative floor to appeal to President Buhari to wake up and act.
Adeyemi wept as he recalled that killings in Nigeria currently are worse than what obtained during the Civil War. He said there was nothing to show for the billions of naira voted for security yearly, calling on the Federal Government to seek foreign military help.
Sitting close to Adeyemi and completely unaware her voice could be picked up by the microphone affixed to each seat, Remi asked Adeyemi, “Are you in PDP? Are you a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” Because they’re in the same party and because she’s the wife of the Jagaban, Adeyemi ignored her and continued to speak to his conscience.
Like Lady Macbeth used blackmail and guile against her husbad, Lady Tinubu also attempted to do the same against Adeyemi, who slayed her with wisdom. What she meant to pass to Adeyemi when she murmured undertone like a lost bee was, “I’m here listening to you; I’ll report you to my husband.”
For Lady Tinubu, it doesn’t matter if 10,000 Nigerians fall to the bullets of insecurity daily inasmuch as the presidential ambition of her husband remains on course. For her, it’s inconsequential if the blood of the Nigerian masses is used to signpost polling units across the country – provided her innermost desire is actualised.
For a woman whom the illustrious Reagan Memorial School, Lagos, was wrongly named after, one would think Lady Tinubu would show love like Miss Lucille Reagan, a Texan missionary, who abandoned her home country, USA, to live and die in Nigeria, giving education and hope to millions of children. Reagan was a mother.
Remi means ‘console me’. But the side remarks of Lady Tinubu against Adeyemi wasn’t consoling. It reminded me of the wife of King Herod and the wife of Potiphar.
It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man in Abuja is snoring. Nigeria is in danger, we need to break the glass.
Email: tundeodes2003@yahoo.com
Facebook: @tunde odesola
Twitter: @tunde_odesola

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Opinion

Mr President, Nigeria must not go down by Simon Kolawole

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Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, what a hell of a week it was! Again, undergraduates kidnapped in Kaduna were slain while the ransom was still being negotiated. More bloodbaths in Zamfara claimed over 100 lives. Over 50 villages were deserted in Niger after attacks by Boko Haram, who cheekily hoisted their dark flag in one of them. Our soldiers were killed in Borno. Nine police officers, including a DPO, were killed in Kebbi. Northerners were murdered and mutilated in Anambra. Gunmen razed a police command in Imo and killed five officers. In Akwa Ibom, police stations were attacked and officers, including a female, were killed. Et cetera et cetera and so on and so on.

Your Excellency, I wrote an article on July 19, 2009 entitled ‘Mr. President, Nigeria Is Going Down’. It was an open letter to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, whom I accused of sleeping on duty. I recall, and repeat, the opening salvo: “Mr President, I don’t know how you would take this, but there is no nicer way of putting it – Nigeria is going down. I have watched, helplessly, in the last few months as things appear to be spinning out of control on all fronts. What are you up to? At times, I wonder if you’re deliberately quiet or you are just too overwhelmed with the circumstances in which you have found yourself. The simplest of things appear to be too difficult for your administration to handle…”

Mind you, Mr President, this was in 2009 before Boko Haram became a thing, before insurgency was ever a possibility much less a probability, before bandits left our borders with Chad and came inland, before kidnapping leapfrogged armed robbery in crime statistics, before students were being routinely kidnapped, before police stations were targeted by arsonists, before the perennial herders/farmers clashes escalated and became framed as Fulani jihad — and long before the entire country became drenched in blood. I was only complaining about Yar’Adua’s foot-dragging on amnesty for Niger Delta militants and power projects. It now sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?

I will tell you a very short story, Mr President. In 2008, I travelled to the US for a conference. In my hand was a book, ‘The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States’ by Terry Lynn Karl. The immigration official, knowing I was from Nigeria, started to chat me up on the book. He asked: “What would you consider as Nigeria’s biggest problem?” I was not in the mood for a seminar. I was jetlagged. All I wanted was for him to stamp my passport and wave me on. I gave him the global template answer on Nigeria: corruption. But he offered a different perspective: “Some countries have political problems, others economic. Nigeria has both political and economic problems.”

Mr President, you came into office in 2015 declaring that Nigeria’s biggest problem was corruption — which you argued was responsible for the insecurity. You promised to tackle both. While the jury is still out on your anti-corruption war, the consensus, even among your diehard fans, is that the insecurity is getting out of hand. It is not limited to a few parts, as the case was in 2015, but spread across the country in an uncanny semblance of federal character. More so, the economy has been on a downward spiral and our political challenges are getting more complicated. So, we are battling with insecurity, in addition to economic and political crises. We are in a fix, urgently needing a fix.

I understand, Mr President, that some of your team members are of the opinion that the current insecurity is politically orchestrated ahead of the 2023 elections. But haven’t we heard this before? Some in the Goodluck Jonathan administration believed Boko Haram terrorism was politically motivated, geared towards the 2015 elections. I will tell your government exactly what I told the Jonathan administration: whether it is politics or not, it is the job of government to secure the country. The 1999 constitution does not say that if insecurity is politically motivated, we should sit down, twiddle with our fingers, watch criminals take over, and throw up our hands in surrender.

Before I proceed, Your Excellency, I want to be clear on this: I agree that there are those who criticise and hate you mainly because of religion, ethnicity and politics, not really because of what you have done or not done right. It appears this irritates you and makes you ignore or even dare your critics. But be assured, Your Excellency, that it is not peculiar to you. There were those who hated President Goodluck Jonathan because of his religion and ethnic identity too. Other former presidents had similar experiences. It is nothing new: that is the way we are wired in Nigeria and that cannot be an excuse not to do the needful in the interest of national peace and progress.

It may also interest you, Your Excellency, that there are those who support you blindly because they share your religion and ethnic identity — and even your politics. Nothing else matters to them. To this group, you can never be wrong. You are infallible. It is an emotional thing. They may be asking you to ignore criticism and treat your critics with scorn. Maybe it would also be of comfort to state that this is not limited to you: Jonathan also had his blind supporters who did not — and can still not — see that he did anything wrong in office. They even paint the picture that Nigeria was almost becoming as advanced as Singapore under Jonathan before he was “unjustly” voted out. So it goes.

Having said that, Mr President, I now want to make my point: Nigeria is going down, and very fast. I wish I could put it in a milder form, but no amount of honey can make my words sweet. Boko Haram, said to have been technically defeated since 2016, remains deadly; bandits are shedding blood in the North every day; kidnappers are behind, beside and in front of us; police stations are being attacked and police officers killed for fun in the South-East and South-South; Nnamdi Kanu’s IPOB is revving up the campaign for Biafra by the minute; Sunday Igboho is leading the Yoruba in a war of independence; and some Niger Delta militants have announced a return to the trenches.

If you go down memory lane, Mr President, you would recall that one of your greatest campaign pitches in 2015 was to fight insecurity. Boko Haram was bombing mosques, churches, motor parks and shopping plazas with ease in the FCT, Borno, Kaduna, Niger and Kano states, while bandits were terrorising Zamfara villagers without let or hindrance. I acknowledge that within your first year in office, you made tremendous progress against Boko Haram: they were truly beaten back at some point. Unfortunately, for reasons I would really love to know or understand, the insurgents staged resurgence and many other areas of insecurity opened up. What exactly went wrong, Mr President?

Your Excellency, I know we are bedevilled by serious economic problems as a result of our usual ailments — low crude oil prices, low FX inflow and the inevitable devaluation of the naira — but I would not even put that at the same level with insecurity. We need to be alive first to spend the naira. While individuals and businesses can cope with rising inflation, unemployment, high interest rates and such like, only the state can tackle the insecurity that has taken hold of the land. This is not an Amotekun, civilian JTF or Arksego matter. We are not talking about pickpockets and armed robbers. How do we protect ourselves against kidnappers and terrorists bearing AK-47?

At this stage, Your Excellency, we want to see a president who is clearly on top of things and connects with our emotions. You appear too detached. A leader must be present with his people in good and bad times. There is a level of reassurance that comes with it. You were all over the country during the two electioneering cycles but withdrew thereafter as if talking to the people you lead is a burden or something beneath you. Even your most ardent supporters cannot defend this. I know some tasks can be delegated, and, yes, not all the things you are doing to combat the insecurity can be discussed openly, but we urgently need you, not just your aides, to communicate with us.

Speed is also of essence, Mr President. I have noticed that consistently, things are allowed to drag unattended to. When responses come, they are either too little, too late or they come with discordant tunes altogether. Not good, Mr President, not good. That is why many Nigerians have been questioning if anyone is really in charge. Nigerians have every reason to be sceptical or even cynical. Failure to act on time — with efficiency and the needed sensitivity — has put the country on a dangerous edge where insecurity collides with economic and political challenges. Even those who normally remain calm are now more than worried about how things could degenerate further.

I do not for a minute, Mr President, underestimate some of your strides. I do not support the view that you have achieved nothing in office as some of your dyed-in-the-wool critics would want us to believe. Those who are mocking your infrastructural projects and agricultural policies today would most likely eat their words in another five to 10 years when we begin to derive the benefits. I keep wondering what might have been if you met crude oil at $100/barrel. Oil made many Nigerian presidents shine in the past, so you have to bemoan your luck. But, Your Excellency, we need to be alive first to be able use the roads and eat the rice. At this rate of bloodshed, that is not guaranteed.

Mr President, Nigerians feel besieged. The condition is critical. They need the commander-in-chief to be the reassurer-in-chief. I know you have been taking some steps and holding several meetings, but whatever you are doing needs more firepower. It appears the criminals are this bold partly because they think they can get away with anything. I request that you begin to act in a way that even the criminals will say: “Baba is not playing o.” May I respectfully remind Your Excellency that you have only two years more in office, God willing. How you handle this delicate and defining period may eventually define your entire public service. Nigeria must not go down under your watch!

  • Kolawole is editor-in-chief at TheCable

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We are paying ransoms with loans—Niger State residents

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– Bandits’ attacks in Niger State have escalated in recent months with deadly cases recorded almost on a daily basis. The bandits attack and ransack villages, abducting the inhabitants for ransoms and subjecting even the women and children to untold horror. The security apparatus appears to be overwhelmed by all this and seems to be losing the battle. JUSTINA ASISHANA visited Munya, one of the most affected local government areas, and reports on the plight of its inhabitants.

Asabe Mathew, a middle-aged woman sat in a pensive mood in front of a classroom at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Central Primary School, Sarkin Pawa, Munya Local Government Area, Niger State gazing intensely at something that only her own eyes could see. She was brooding over the horror she had passed through since the bandits that hold a significant part of Niger State to ransom abducted her daughter and son, forcing her to sell everything she owned to pay for their release.

“They have finished me, as I am now,” she said as her eyes glistened with tears. “I have sold all my farm produce and I have loans to pay because I had to borrow money to pay the ransom for my children abducted by bandits. Now I have absolutely nothing left.”

Recalling how her two children were kidnapped by bandits and how she had to raise money as ransom to redeem them, she said: “My son was kidnapped when he was returning from school, and we were asked to pay one million naira to rescue him. What can I do? I had to pay because if I didn’t, they would kill him. I sold my farm produce, added my salary to the proceeds and also obtain a loan to raise the sum demanded as ransom.

“My daughter was also kidnapped. But that happened before they kidnapped my son. We also had to pay a ransom to rescue her. Right now, I don’t have anything left. It has not been easy for us in Munya.”

But Asabe was not alone in her plight. Mohammed Isah currently has two of his sons in the den of the bandits while he currently stays at the IDP camp at the Central Primary School, Sarkin Pawa. His two sons were taken in a recent attack on his Dangunu community in Munya Local Government Area.

He said: “Yesterday, before I ran to this camp, two of my sons were taken on motorcycles when the thieves came to our village. They have not been released because we do not have money to pay for their release. What they asked for is in millions. Where will I get it from? I cannot go back to the village to take my farm produce and sell because that will be equal to dying.”

The Vice-Chairman of Munya Local Government Council, Hon. Luka Garba, is not left out of the ordeal. Two months ago, he lost his younger brother to the bandits. According to him, his younger brother was a member of the local vigilantes in Kachu village and was killed during an ambush.

 Rising spate of insecurity in Munya LG

Munya is a local government area on the border between Niger and Kaduna states. Because it shares border with Kaduna State, many inhabitants of the local government area believe that most of the bandits come from Kaduna to carry out their attacks.

Banditry attacks in Munya Local Government Area began about six years ago and have literally turned the area into a terror zone everyone avoids like leprosy. The bandits make sporadic attacks in villages, maiming, killing and abducting people with reckless abandon.

The situation has crippled socio-economic activities in the local government as the farmers can no longer go to their farms for fear of being attacked. Traders who used to go to the local government area to buy farm produce are no longer turning up, causing revenue generation in the local government to reduce drastically.

On April 21, bandits invaded a military camp in Zazzaga community in the local government area barely two weeks after they attacked the military base in Allawa, Shiroro Local Government Area, killing five soldiers and a mobile policeman and burning down the base before they moved into the communities where they also killed seven people and abducted several others.

The majority of bandit attacks occurring in Munya Local Government Area go unreported because much of the focus is on Shiroro Local Government Area of the state probably because of the latter’s economic importance as the host of one of the country’s major power stations.

The attacks are usually carried out with the aid of motorcycles.

When the reporter visited Munya Local Government’s headquarters two days after the attack in the military camp in Zazzaga community, some women were seen running back from their farms. Asked what the matter was, they said some bandits had invaded their farms and they had to run for dear lives.

One of the women, who identified herself as Louis, said: “We were working on the farm when we saw them coming. We had no option but to run. We had harvested some of the crops, but we could not carry them because we had to run.”

Other Munya residents who spoke with the reporter said that is the way they live now because they can no longer farm in peace in an area where the majority of the people are farmers.

A youth leader, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said that the invaders move like breeze and usually carry out their attacks on new motorcycles.

He said: “They all ride on new motorcycles. That is why before you have the time to react to their invasion, they are by your side. They move like breeze.”

The Vice-Chairman of Munya Local Government Council, Hon. Luka Garba, said that the people in the communities are currently running away from their homes and they are either entering Sarkin Pawa, Gwada and Kuta or running to Minna, Niger State capital, for safety.

“At Kuchi two weeks ago, bandits killed three mobile policemen. They slaughtered one of them with a knife. That is why security has moved from Kuchi to Sarkin Pawa. Even yesterday, they killed one man called Jacob in Zazzagi, then they went to the military camp and burnt the army vehicles and properties,” Garba said.

‘Does government still care about us?’

One question that is constant on the lips of Munya Local Government residents is whether the government is unaware of what is happening to them or simply does not care since there has been no visible effort made by the government to safeguard their lives and properties.

Garba said whenever the chairman of the council takes their complaint to the government they pay deaf ears, adding that the council was overwhelmed with the spate of insecurity.

He asked: “What is the government waiting for? We don’t know what is happening. Does that mean that there is no government or what? As a local government, we are trying our best. As the vice-chairman, I sleep here with my people to know what they are facing. This is more than us. The governments at state and federal levels need to look into this issue.

“Another question we are asking is where are they getting the weapons they use from? Who is providing these guns for them? Is it that the government cannot retrieve these weapons and give them to the security people?”

Asabe Mathew noted that since the insecurity problems began in the council, the people had not felt the presence of government in any way, adding that the government seemed to have abandoned them to their fate.

She said: “Government should look into this security challenge for us. We are suffering and they are supposed to be there for us. Why can’t they help us? If the bandits kill us all, who will they govern? We are the ones who elected them, why are they treating us like this? Why have they abandoned us?

“People are no longer coming here to trade. Government is not helping us to solve this insecurity problem. Are we not human beings? Can’t the government do something to help us?”

 Ransom payments have rendered us bankrupt, say residents

Many families in the Munya Local Government Area are currently bankrupt as they have had to sell their farm produce, lands and other forms of property and even obtain loans to pay the ransom for kidnapped loved ones.

Kidnapping incidents in the area have become so rampant that the people no longer ask when the next kidnapping will occur but whose family would be affected. It was learnt that the residents have now hit on the idea of contributing money for anyone whose family member is kidnapped.

The youth leader said: “If they kidnap anyone, we contribute money for those that are kidnapped to enable their families pay for their ransoms and secure the release. If I don’t do it, when it is my turn, no one will join hands to help me. I must help others so that when it is my turn, they will help me.

“You don’t usually hear about small amounts but large ones between one and five million naira. Just one family cannot pay it. A lot of people don’t have any farm produce anymore because they sold them to raise ransoms.”

Garba said that there were currently about 20 women with the bandits and they were asking for N20 million as ransom.

“Presently, we have about 20 women with the bandits and they are asking for N20 million for their release. We are trying our best to raise money for their release,” he said.

Youths to government: Give us the weapons, we’ll face them

The youths in the area expressed their readiness to battle the bandits if they are given weapons. Mathew John, one of the youth leaders, said that the youths do not have the weapon to face the bandits, but if given the weapons, they can defend the council.

He said: “Our youths can take action against these bandits, but they are afraid because we have no weapon to face them. However, if given the weapon, we are ready to defend ourselves. But we cannot go there with catapults. We can’t face them with sticks or cutlasses. This suffering is too much.”

Garba is in support of the idea that security agencies equip the youths in the council to help in securing it, saying: “I will support the youths if they want to defend the council because I am telling you that this suffering is too much. Anyone who is not here cannot feel what we are feeling.

“I can tell you sincerely that if we have weapons, we would face these criminals. But the security agencies always have a problem with us mentioning rifle or guns, and the moment you hold a rifles or gun in public, they will start challenging you.

“That is why they are killing us anyhow because we have no weapon to face them.”

 Churches, mosques deserted

In the past four months, it was learnt that four churches in the local government area have been burnt while Christians and Muslims have become scared to gather for worship in the villages. According to Garba, the Christians suffer it more as the bandits attack churches on Sundays, pursue and shoot at worshippers.

He said: “At Dongulu, they burnt a church to ashes. They also burnt the Cherubim and Seraphim Movement Church in Kampana. They destroyed another church in Tantana. In all, they have burnt about three churches.

“Anytime these bandits see people worshipping on Sunday, they will come and surround the church, pursue the people and shoot at them. How can we worship God when there is no peace in Munya?

“In terms of religion, they are disturbing us because most of these people in the communities affected cannot worship God properly.”

Musa Luka, another youth leader, said that the churches burnt were up to five.

Munya is known to be one of the top producers of yam, corn and rice in Niger State and its markets were highly patronised before the banditry attacks. However, this has changed as the markets are no longer full like before while the majority of the farmers no longer have farm produce to sell. Others have to take their produce to Minna, the state capital.

A female farmer, Martha Egbe, recalled that people used to come to their farms in the past to buy crops even before they were harvested, but now, it is hard to get a buyer as everyone cites insecurity as the reason why they cannot go to Munya.

Asabe, stating the difficulty in selling her crops, said: “I have to take my goods to Minna because people have refused to come because of insecurity. It has affected the sales of our goods. Sometimes, getting transportation to Minna is a problem because some of the vehicles will refuse to carry your goods or they will charge extravagant fees.

“People are no longer coming here. They are scared of being caught up in bandit attacks. But we that are here are human beings. We have goods to sell and need people to come. We cannot go anywhere because this is our fatherland.”

 IDPs seek government’s help to return home

The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at the Central Primary School in Sarkin Pawa have cried out for hunger and are seeking government’s help to return home. They are also seeking help for their children and relatives who have been kidnapped by the bandits who are demanding ransoms they cannot afford.

Ladi Shehu, a farmer from Geshu, said that they left their village for Zazzaga, and after the Zazzaga attack, they had to move to Sarkin Pawa.

Shehu said: “The bandits chased us out of our homes and we cannot return home because going back is like inviting death. We are not happy to be here. We have no food here, and in our home where there is food, we cannot go there to get the food. Our children are not feeding well.”

Another IDP said the bandits kidnapped their children and killed their young men and husbands, adding that they did not know what to do since the government has refused to come to their aid.

He said: “If the government would come and end this problem, we will be okay. If these bandits are no more here, we will be able to stay in our communities and live normally.

“It is sad that we have not got anything from the government apart from this building we are given to stay in. The government has not done anything for us, and we want them to act.”

Isah Mohammed, a native of Dangunu community, said that all they need is security as their community has been repeatedly attacked by bandits.

“We are managing here. We have food problem here whereas in our homes, we have no such problem. We are not enjoying ourselves here. We need security to return to our homes.”

 Calls heighten for declaration of state of emergency

Various people across Niger State have called on the state government to declare a state of emergency in the Niger East Senatorial Zone which has been taken over by bandits. Top among the voices is the lawmaker representing Bosso Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Hon. Madaki Malik Boss.

Boss said the declaration of a state of emergency will enable the government to tackle the insecurity problem bedeviling the zone. Bosso, who visited the IDP camps, explained that insecurity in the zone was getting worse by the day and had spread to most of the local government areas in the zone.

He noted that all the schools in the zone had been turned into camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), lamenting that the people could no longer sleep with their eyes closed.

– The Nation

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