Nigeria and her people have gone through the last eight years plagued by various security challenges, including terrorism, armed banditry, kidnapping, separatist tendencies, crude oil theft and militancy. If anything, the impact of these criminalities, which scourged the Goodluck Jonathan Administration, only worsened in this government.
We cannot forget the numerous individuals, including Bethel Baptist School children, Leah Sharibu, 98 Chibok girls, 29 Birnin Yauri schoolchildren and 85 boys in Zamfara that remain in captivity. Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to reunite these victims with their families, the situation did not improve and more individuals continued to be kidnapped. All that changed in February and March.
There appeared to have been an observable lull in these criminal acts in the thick of the activities around the 2023 General Election. With all attention directed at the campaigns and electioneering in the lead-up to the election, which started in February, reports of banditry and kidnapping all but disappeared from the local news. Those closely following developments will have, however, noticed that there is a renewed uptick in security challenges and crimes now, in the post-election climate.
The re-availability of naira notes in the country, after the bottlenecks that occasioned the currency redesign, has contributed to the increase in security challenges in the country. Kidnapping for ransom has picked up pace like the lucrative business it has become, with criminals using the cash obtained from ransoms to fund their activities and purchase firearms and ammunition. The situation is worsened by the lack of accountability for security leaders who often escape punishment, even in cases where kidnapping occur under their jurisdiction, a very sore facet of the current administration.
Still, about four weeks ago, President Buhari declared that his administration had achieved significant milestones in national security over the last eight years. Buhari made the claim while inaugurating two facilities – the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC). The President noted that these were set to provide a legacy of infrastructure for the incoming administration to coordinate national security and counterterrorism efforts. In expressing his delight about his administration’s milestones, he indicated that they had degraded the threat of terrorism in the North-East, curbed armed banditry and kidnapping cases in the North-West and North-Central geopolitical zones, and effectively tackled key maritime security threats such as piracy, sea robbery, crude oil theft and illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
The President also spoke about protecting Nigeria’s cyberspace and establishing the Nigeria Computer Emergency Response Team. Furthermore, he praised the ONSA for producing or revising several key security policy documents such as the National Counterterrorism Strategy 2016, National Security Strategy 2019, National Cyber Security Policy and Strategy 2021 and the National Crisis Management Doctrine 2022.
Buhari expressed his confidence that the newly inaugurated ONSA and NCTC facilities would enhance the desired peaceful and secure environment for the country. Yet, the recent resurgence in armed attacks and kidnappings across Nigeria point to the fact that the situation has not improved. Fresh attacks have resulted in the destruction of communities and homes in Abuja, Taraba, Plateau, and Kaduna, resulting in numerous deaths and abductions over the course of the last two weeks.
For instance, on March 5, Sunday morning, Maru Divisional Police Officer, SP Kazeem Raheem, and Inspector Rabiu Umar were murdered by bandits armed with sophisticated weapons in an attack on the Maru Division. The police report indicates that the bandits intended to destabilise the town’s security architecture to make it easier to attack and abduct members of the community. Unfortunately, the DPO and the above-named Inspector lost their lives while protecting the public and the command has not announced any arrests in connection with the attack.
The following day, March 6, suspected bandits attacked Kimbi Village of Randagi Ward in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, burning an immovable armoured vehicle belonging to the Mobile Police. The attack occurred around 1:00 am, with eight bandits holding AK 47 storming the village, but they did not kill or kidnap anyone. According to Alhaji Yahaya Kimbi, the community leader, the bandits only intended to destroy the armoured vehicle.
In another attack on the Bwari-Jere Road, near Bwari town in the Federal Capital Territory, gun-wielding criminals killed two passengers while abducting several others. The incident occurred this month around Ganmi Junction and witnesses reported that the bandits had been shooting sporadically.
According to a witness named Isah John, the bandits shot dead two passengers and kidnapped several others after blocking the road. The operation lasted for about an hour and the bandits eventually left with the kidnapped passengers. Gunshots were heard in nearby villages, including Ganmi, Garam and Idah, causing panic among the residents.
This is not the first attack by bandits at the same junction. Two weeks ago, they abducted five people who paid a significant ransom before being freed. The villagers residing along the road from Bwari to Jere are now living in fear, according to reports, and a community leader has called on the military to intervene by combing the areas to dislodge the bandits.
Along with the leader, some commentators have asked the military to curtail the activities of bandits and kidnappers, but the truth is that the police, not the army, is responsible for internal security in Nigeria. To combat the security challenges in the country, the police should implement strategies, such as increased road checks and intelligence gathering. Their leaders should be held accountable and deprived of promotion if there are cases of kidnapping in their jurisdictions.
Due to harsh economic realities, many criminals have turned to kidnapping as a means of generating income. Experts believe that revisiting the implementation of the cashless policy with a more refined approach and better mass enlightenment is the only way to stop the crime of kidnapping for ransom.
Nigeria’s security problems, occasioned by the availability of naira notes after the issues of currency redesign and scarcity, is a serious concern that requires immediate attention. This fresh wave of armed criminality has caused me to counsel the Federal Government to take another look at the implementation of the cashless policy. Evidence shows that there were positives to be accorded the policy, especially in curbing the prevalence of ransom-based crimes and armed robberies. What failed the policy however, were the implementation and actions of unscrupulous bankers.
While the policy did result in a reduction of kidnappings during the presidential election period, there are recommendations for a refinement of its implementation phase, which will this time be accompanied by impactful mass enlightenment to render it truly effective. This is to the credit of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, who has been severely maligned for the courage and fortitude involved with the policy. It took nothing less than heroic guts to identify the issues around the currency, relating to counterfeiting, security and the overall integrity of the country’s currency and be determined to make the most daring changes in decades.
The decision of the Supreme Court to allow the use of the old currency bills until December to ameliorate the pains of the citizens under the drudgery of the redesign implementation has now revealed the flip side of the entire process. The activities of these criminal elements are a reference point.
In a recent incident, a large group of gunmen raided several apartments in Abuja, kidnapping nine people, including women and children. In another attack, bandits killed a pastor’s son and abducted his wife and three others in Kaduna State. The police have arrested some of the attackers, but more needs to be done to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.
Still, as a result of these attacks, which occurred separately in Abuja and Kaduna, at least 19 people have been abducted and their distraught families will have to live through the anguish. They will be required to cough out large sums of money, in millions of naira, to potentially be reunited with their loved ones, if they are fortunate.
On April 7, more than 80 people were kidnapped by gunmen while picking firewood in Wanzamai Village, Zamfara State. The kidnappers have since demanded ransom for their release.
In another incident, Professor Onje Gye-Wado, a former Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, was also abducted from his residence in Gwagi Village, Wamba Local Government Area, with a ransom of N70 million demanded for his release. He was later released after his family parted with N4 million to secure his freedom.
There have been other reported cases of attacks and kidnappings, including an attack on an Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Benue and an attack in Umogidi Village, Entekpa-Adoka District, where 46 people were killed.
These examples exemplify the current state of insecurity in the country. It is therefore imperative that action is required to curb this new wave. The increase in crime rates, loss of lives and properties, and a perception of Nigeria as a kidnap haven with its consequential decrease in foreign investments are not positives that can be allowed to fester.
Indeed, the situation has also affected the country’s image, as it is perceived as a nursery for criminal activities.
The APC-led Federal Government must adopt a multifaceted approach to arrest these issues. The incoming government will need to take a comprehensive approach that addresses both the symptoms and the root causes of these crimes for an end to the scourge.