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Buhari Years: Despite much rhetoric, insecurity triumphs – Punch Newspapers

President Buhari

AMID claims by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), of taming insecurity, violence remains stubbornly ubiquitous. While traumatised Nigerians are politely reminding Buhari of his unfulfilled pledge to secure their lives and property, bandits, terrorists, and sundry criminals are underscoring the reminder with blood, broken bodies, and pillage.

The reality on the ground compels the conclusion that despite its exertions, its repeated rhetoric and record expenditure, the Buhari regime failed to tame insecurity in its eight years in office.

As activities peak for his exit, including the usual military gun salute, violent non-state actors are staging their own farewell pyrotechnics with devastating effects across the country.

Although the country has moved from the fifth most terrorism-impacted in 2015 in the Global Terrorism Index to eighth in 2022, under Buhari, it once occupied third place in 2018, and produced three of the top five deadliest terror organisations– Boko Haram/ISWAP, Fulani herdsmen and the bandits. GTI has recently listed the Indigenous People of Biafra as the world’s 10th deadliest terrorist group.

Fulani herders slaughtered over 100 persons in three days of coordinated attacks on nine communities in Mangu, Plateau State, just last week. Police confirmed on Thursday that seven persons, including four security personnel, were killed in an attack by gunmen suspected to be members of the proscribed IPOB in Anambra, on local United States diplomatic staff on a humanitarian mission two days earlier. Two Sundays ago, bandits invaded a church service in Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna State, and kidnapped over 40 worshippers.

In Benue, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and Niger states, bandits and Fulani herdsmen, some increasingly collaborating with Islamic terrorists, are laying waste to farms, communities, and markets. In the South-West, cult gangs, armed robbers, ritual killers, violent transport union toughs, and a rising influx of Fulani herders are tormenting residents.

In the South-East, IPOB’s guerrilla arm, the Eastern Security Network, and other criminals hiding under the self-determination agitation, have rendered the region unsafe with a campaign of murder, arson, and mayhem, including enforcement of their frequent stay-at-home daylight curfews.

Murders, kidnappings, oil infrastructure vandalism, piracy, illegal bunkering, and fierce gun battles between criminal gangs and cult groups are frequent in the South-South region. Meanwhile, Boko Haram and its spin-offs are still active in the North-East and spread to the parts of the North-West and the North-Central regions.

In the week of May 6-12, the Nigeria Security Tracker run by the Council on Foreign Relations tracked 18 violent incidents across the country, including the abduction of 13 persons and murder of another in Kargako, Kaduna State; the slaughter of six persons by herders in Guma, Benue State, separate cult clashes resulting in 16 deaths in Uyo, Akwa Ibom, and three in Owo, Ondo; and the kidnapping of 50 persons in Rijau, Niger State.

In truth, Buhari inherited a country wracked by insecurity in mid-2015. The Boko Haram insurgency for a while had controlled 15 LGAs across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. There was also some banditry in Zamfara in the North-West, and communal clashes in the North-Central states of Benue and Plateau, mainly by Fulani herders, who were also harassing communities in southern Kaduna State. There was piracy on the coast, kidnapping and armed robbery in the Southern states.

A former military junta leader, Buhari rode to office on the promise and perception of a tough-on-crime image. He tried to deliver. His generals initially followed on his predecessor’s last-minute eviction of terrorists from the LGs they controlled and drove them to the fringes of the Lake Chad.

Additional Army divisions and special joint military and police task forces covering the country’s six geopolitical zones were raised. Existing operations were strengthened. The International Maritime Bureau reported that the number of actual and attempted piracy attacks on ships on the coastline fell sharply from 48 in 2018 to six in 2021.

At a time, terrorists were almost completely driven out of their Sambisa forest redoubt under the military onslaught. The regime sealed international cooperation and secured US government approval for stalled purchase of 12 Super Tucano fighter/bomber aircraft.

Among the regime’s efforts were increases in Nigerian Air Force, Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Army equipment inventories, and a roadmap on police reform, including an ongoing multi-year programme to recruit 40,000 new police constables.

Despite all this, however, insecurity has spiked across the entire country. Terrorists and bandits have spread further afield. Governors Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Aminu Masari (Katsina), Bello Matawalle (Zamfara), Sani Bello (Niger), have separately admitted that bandits/terrorists control some LGAs in their respective states. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, said bandits held sway in some LGAs in the eponymous state.

Figures by the National Bureau of Statistics show that crime incidents in the country rose by 298.66 percent from 31,553 in 2006 to 125,790 in 2016. In March 2022, INEC found that 14 of the 25 LGAs in Niger State were virtually under bandits/terrorists’ sway.

The South-East is under siege from the “unknown gunmen”. The North-West hosts over 120,000, terrorists emptying farms, markets, and highways. Benue and Plateau states communities are killing fields under Fulani herdsmen terror and ethnic cleansing. Indigenous groups in Plateau claim that herdsmen have expelled the locals and occupied about 102 villages and settlements in the state.

Under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, some outrages gained global attention, including the 2011 suicide car-bombing of the UN Building in Abuja that killed 21 persons and injured over 60 others; simultaneous church bombings in Abuja, Jos, Dadaka, and Damaturu on Christmas Day 2011 in which 41 persons died and dozens of others injured; a suicide bomb attack on the Nigeria Police Headquarters, Abuja, and bombings of motor parks in Kano, Jos, and Kaduna.

While Boko Haram’s infamous kidnapping of 276 mostly Christian schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, 2014 set a global record, discredited Jonathan and aided Buhari’s campaign to replace him, bandits/terrorists have since perfected mass kidnapping on Buhari’s watch. In February 2018, terrorists kidnapped 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe State; in December 2020, bandits ferried away 344 schoolboys from a secondary school in Kankara, Katsina State; in March 2022, bandits/terrorists waylaid the Abuja-Kaduna train, killed eight persons, and kidnapped over 60 others. In June 2022, terrorists bombed the St. Xavier Catholic Church just after Sunday service, in Owo, Ondo State, killing 40 worshippers.

Research portal, Dataphyte, calculated that cases of kidnapping of schoolchildren rose by 361.19 percent under Buhari, with 1,010 abducted between 2018 and 2021. Terrorists stormed the Kuje Correctional Centre, FCT, in July, killed several persons and freed over 600 inmates, among them about 150 Boko Haram members.

Audaciously, terrorists, bandits and South-East gunmen have been ambushing and killing soldiers and police officers, assaulting military formations and police stations. Bandits attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, killed two officers and abducted another; terrorists ambushed a patrol team from the elite Brigade of Guards; and bandits once brought down a NAF Alpha jet!

Dataphyte said the total number of killings by non-state actors from May 2015 to September 2021 was an estimated 38,631 persons, a 248.03 percent increase over the figure 2009-2014.

The rampant insecurity has impacted negatively on the country, discouraging investment, reducing productive activities and public revenues, and increasing poverty and unemployment. Experts say about 11 percent of GDP has been lost and projects worth about N12 trillion abandoned nationwide. The GTI calculated $40 billion in investments lost in the 10 years to 2020. Food insecurity has increased and UNICEF warns that 25 million Nigerians face shortages from June to August this year, as lost production combines with inflation and climate change to disrupt the food value chain.

Historians will seek to explain why Buhari could not effectively secure Nigerians despite his background, various measures and the trillions poured into security funding (N1.78 trillion in 2020 according to BudgIT, a civic tech NGO), but some reasons are in plain sight.

Buhari’s regime did not undertake proper diagnoses of the roots of insecurity, and where it did, it failed to muster the political will or rise above divisive considerations to act decisively. It fails to connect the nexus between Islamic terrorism and the long-running federal and Northern states’ brazen promotion of religion and rights violations in furtherance of religion.

Rather than a ferocious clampdown, it adopts a dubious, partisan amnesty for so-called “repentant terrorists,” a misnomer since Salafist jihadism is an apocalyptic movement whose adherents seek martyrdom. Identified terror financiers, including bureaux de change operators, have not been tried. But the United Arab Emirates jailed six Nigerian BDC operators and Boko Haram financiers in 2021. In Iraq, from January 2018 to October 2019 alone, the justice system processed over 20,000 terrorism-related cases following the ISIL terror reign from 2014-2017.

Buhari and his generals deny the obvious, asserting regularly to have defeated the insurgents. Typically, Buhari did not adopt a hands-on approach, content to appoint security chiefs and look away. Crucially, coordination is weak, and inter-service rivalry played out.

The regime lacked an effective overall intelligence and ICT-led strategy and a coordinator, backed by the weight of the Presidency.

Security was politicised: Buhari spent eight years making excuses for the Fulani incursion in other people’s farms and settlements and promoting policies to entrench the unsustainable open cattle grazing system. Military and police leaders followed suit with undisguised partisanship for the Fulani enterprise. Politicisation also sees a ferocious, alienating approach to insecurity in the South-East, where the military forces are as quick to wreak violence on the innocent populace as the IPOB/ESN terrorists.

By his appointment of an overwhelming number of security chiefs from one section of the country and one faith, the anti-crime fight lost the critical buy-in of large sections of the country that experts say is crucial to defeating crime. Corruption also hinders law enforcement.

Finally, Buhari sealed any chance of success with his obdurate resistance to autonomous state and local policing even as evidence mounts daily in the body bags, rivers of blood and the mayhem around the country that the single policing structure is totally outdated for today’s realities.

Buhari’s efforts were simply not enough, and his claims to have done well deepen the hurt of mortified Nigerians. He will be remembered for this deficit.

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