By Kanayo Jubal
“A nation is about to be over-run by her own undoing and her perplexed leaders have no clue as to how to stem the tide.”
Since the ‘Ghana Must Go’ saga of the ‘70s, many have called for more strict conditions for immigrants and many others wishing to come in through the nation’s borders. Not even the government considered it a priority, until the mid- ‘90s when undocumented individuals flooded into Nigeria from neighbouring countries (Ghana, Togo, Sao Tome & Principe, Chad, Cameroon, Niger etc.). At this time, it was a national worry.
“Note,” stated a National Boundary Commission (NBC) staff, “these were undocumented people. There were those whose entrances were documented. While we did not bid them to go away, we needed to tighten the borders, ensure their porosity was lessened”.
Then came the 2000s and with it the proliferation of insurgent groups like the Boko Haram, ISWAP etc. The insurgence, which came hand-in-hand with the uprisings in Northern Africa (Libya, Sudan, Mali etc) resulted in arms spilling into sub-Saharan Africa. With them came mercenaries and gunmen with varying objectives (religion, mayhem, war) and skillsets, in search of means of livelihood.
“There is no better prey than a country with porous borders, lacking in proper structures and an abundance of carefree leaders who play politics with security and state-hood,” Stanley Okechukwu, an Ibadan-based lawyer pointed out. Circa 2015, videos of armed, turbaned men rumoured to be from North Africa went viral on social media. In the videos, they could be seen silently gliding in canoes, carrying them into Southern, Northwestern and Middlebelt of Nigeria.
First, they were called ‘cattle rustlers’ as they turned Zamfara, Sokoto and parts of Kebbi into blood fields. The name changed to ‘killer herdsmen’, as they shifted their focus to Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Taraba, Benue and parts of Nasarawa. By the time 2019 came, Nigeria had a full-blown internal crisis on her hands. Somehow, she had let her borders open to these killers with guns proliferated from the uprisings in Northern Africa “and some from the Nigerian soldiers they killed during confrontations,” another source added.
At this time, the roads in many roads within the country became worse and the security situation worsened by the hour. Worse, the government had no answer; it watched helplessly as the nation was around, with most governors and notable lawmakers calling for “dialogue with”, “negotiations with”, “outright pay-off of”. As the confusing calls got louder, the dead littered the roads to villages forgotten by successive government.
A nation that had forsaken every tenet, which defined proper, functional nations found herself in the middle of her own mess. By 2020, farming communities in the hinterlands of Northern Nigeria opted to do business with an enemy that had come to run the rule over them. They paid dues with their farm produce. Their daughters were forcefully married off and their wives sexually molested. The government was nowhere to be found. The enemy that had plundered their arms and lands became their new ‘government’.
Then the kidnapping episodes began. School children, university undergraduates, random travelers, traditional rulers, clerics, worshippers, traders, helpless women and children, politicians, security personnel, lecturers, expatriates etc., disappeared for days and were only returned when the ransom was paid. Every time they moved; a different group disappeared. Families claimed they paid ransom, but security personnel countered these claims. Business was booming for the outlaws/gunmen; the same ones the Nigerian military claimed it had “outclassed and driven into the forests via superior airpower”.
The inaction of the Nigerian government led popular Northern cleric Sheikh Gumi to meet with a section of these gunmen. His action was greeted by various degrees of outcry and, as one of the ‘take-aways’ from his meeting, he concluded that the bandits were “victims” of the system. Of course, many are bewildered that he has never been called upon by the government to explain the circumstances surrounding his meeting and other questions.
Thanks to the government’s inactivity and confusing body language, the gunmen have ensured over 25 per cent of schools in their area of operation are shut down and the children sent home. The result: the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has increased, forgotten communities trying to survive on their own terms have been wiped out, agrarian communities supplying agricultural produce to urban areas cannot farm anymore, the cost of the available produce is almost unbelievable and food scarcity looms closer than it has ever been.
The already fragile Nigerian economy has found itself almost at breaking point, no thanks to an inflation that has gone from ‘creeping’ to ‘galloping’. Who will put a stop to the rampaging gunmen? Is there existence and ruthless expansion part of a bigger plan? When will the government wake up to its duties and protect the citizenry? Is the connection between the Boko Haram and the bandits real? Are the bandits fulfilling a portion of the Boko Haram’s objectives? Are the conspiracy theories making the rounds true?
Only time will tell. For now, the nation is near-ungovernable. The degree of collusion and infiltration, real or imagined, is hurting the nation, and resulting to the sacrificing of her military forces, to the glory of the opposition armed groups.