One of my favourite Indira Ghandi quotes is this one about violent death: “If I die a violent death, as some fear and a few are plotting, I know that the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassins, not in my dying.”
Prophetic! She died in the hands of assassins.
Now, that was a world figure, a prime minister. What does one say when that same fear is expressed by the ordinary man and woman – the farmer, the pastoralist, the barber, the civil servant, the trader, businessman, housewife, student, politician or, even, the policeman? There is so much insecurity in the land that the problem has become a pandemic. No part of the country is insulated as happenings in Zamfara, Benue, Southern Kaduna and other parts of the country have shown. We are all threatened with sudden, violent, untimely death in this gale of mindless killings sweeping all over the country.
Many of our compatriots find themselves at the portals of the Hobbesian wartime victim in a condition where “there is no place for industry… no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
In Zamfara, where there are about 30,000 internally displaced persons, violence has become a way of life, so much so that ace broadcaster Kadaria Ahmed led a protest against the state governor for not showing leadership while his people were violently sent to their early graves.
It hadn’t always been like that. In the past, there were thousands of cattle herds for the youth to pasture. Then came the phenomenon of cattle rustling by local and foreign vagabonds. With fewer and fewer herds, idle Zamfara youths took to crime. Kidnapping for ransom became fashionable. With arms and ammunition easily accessible from militants streaming in from the Magreb on the one hand and politicians kitting their local armies on the other, the state became a theatre of the macabre.
Now, instead of roaming the wilderness with a herd of cattle as was his wont before the current madness, the young Fulani boy who is now a herd-less herdsman, finds the dangling carrot of kidnap-for-ransom and rural banditry quite tempting. Then, with gold mining creating several oases of relative prosperity, there is enough to tempt the criminally minded even as one wonders why, essentially, it is a poor-on-poor violence; the rich mine owners are largely unscathed.
This is a tragedy foretold. Last year, Amnesty International through its Nigerian director, Osai Ojigho, described the Zamfara situation as “Nigeria’s forgotten conflict” where the villagers were at the mercy of “armed bandits, who have killed hundreds of people over the course of two bloody years”.
“Villagers described feeling helpless and on edge, constantly bracing themselves for attacks. Men said they are sleeping outside their homes and in trees as a way of keeping vigilant, while women and children are sleeping together in groups for protection. Villagers described a pattern where they receive warnings ahead of attacks, including by phone, ordering them to pay huge sums of money or be killed or abducted.”
Thousands of people have been reduced to beggars in their own land.
The gale of insecurity in Benue and Kaduna states are relatively better known, even if the efforts to combat the problem have so far proved inadequate – so inadequate that there is now a scramble for train tickets from Abuja to Kaduna as most travellers concede the highway to armed kidnappers. If there was a similar railway line from Abuja to Makurdi, there is no doubt what commuters’ preference would be.
Inspector General of Police Adamu Abubakar claims to be on top of the situation. The military also assure us that they have figured out how to crack the security kernel. Operation Puff-Adder, a full scale security offensive against the bandits, has been launched to reclaim “every public space under the control of the bandits, arrest and bring to book all perpetrators of violence in the area and their collaborators, achieve a total destruction of all criminal camps and hideouts, mop up all illicit weapons fuelling the violence and attain a full restoration of law and order in the affected communities”.
Perhaps, it is just as well that the security agencies are now throwing technology into the fray.
I hear that the current cerebral police leadership is already taking the technological path. The Nigerian police now have a Crime Management Center at its headquarters which tracks every crime reported anywhere in Nigeria, meaning that even where the state command is slow to react, the police headquarters now has the capability to dispatch help to any part of the country. The patented 3-part iPolice-Hawk eye Crime Reporter provides the police with some of the most advanced crime management tools. Developed by a Nigerian in the Diaspora, Kayode Aladesuyi, the system can be integrated with CCTV and drone technology to cast a coverage net over the country unobtrusively. It is patented in both Nigeria and the US.
I wish the police well in this welcome deployment of technology to secure the nation. That is the way to go. Nigerians can’t wait to consign these savage killings in Zamfara and other states to the dustbin of history. And what a welcome feat that would be if it happens during the tenure of the current (outgoing) service chiefs and police IG. Whatever be the ploy of assassins and bandits and cattle rustlers and dealers in blood-stained gold, it’s time to use technology to halt them in their tracks.