There was apprehension and anxiety in many parts of the country last week when theFederal Government announced its intention to withdraw the military currently stationed in some volatile spots in the country.Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, who announced the plan soon after a National Security Council meeting in Abuja last Monday, said the troop withdrawals will begin from the first quarter of this year.
Deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country in recent years overwhelmed the police force and necessitated the deployment of military forces to help restore peace and order. The military then commenced specialised operations in various parts of the country. By far the biggest is Operation Lafiya Dole, which wages war against Boko Haram insurgents. Other notable military operations include Sharan Daji and Harbin Kunama in Zamfara and Katsina states, Operation Yaki in southern Kaduna State, and Safe Haven in Plateau State.
The military is also engaged in Operation Zenda in Benue and Kogi states, Whirl Stroke in Taraba State, Python Dance in the South Eastern states in order to contain IPOB secessionism, Crocodile Smileand Delta Safe in Niger Delta states, Tsare Teku against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and the Airforce Operation Ruwan Wuta in the Lake Chad region.
Even though some people criticized the many military operations as an incipient military take over of the country, there is no doubt that they have brought calm to many once volatile areas. Zamfara State, once a top killing field in the North West, is now improved due to a combination of military pressure and political reconciliation. Things also improved in Katsina State, though there was a recent slide back. Plateau State is much calmer now, and the terrible farmer/herder clashes in the North Central states have steadily diminished.
The security situation in southern Kaduna has improved noticeably. Militancy in the Niger Delta and attacks on oil installations and personnel have also abated, though there is still a lot of bunkering and oil theft. IPOB’s posturing in the South East has also reduced, while some calm is returning to the South West after the military intervened.
Yet, there are many areas of worry. These include Birnin Gwari of Kaduna State, where bandits are still unleashing mayhem, and southern Taraba State, where the on-and-off Tiv/Jukun mayhem is yet to be fully contained. In the North East states too, Boko Haram violence underwent some resurgence recently with many attacks on communities in northern Borno State and the recent attack on the Yobe State capital, Damaturu.
The Presidency took quick note of these worries when it clarified it position on Friday. President Muhammadu Buhari said through his spokesman Garba Shehu that the withdrawal of the military from areas where peace has been restored would be gradual and carefully planned, and not abrupt. He said it would not jeopardise the success already recorded and would not expose communities to more risks of attacks. Troop withdrawals would only be done after an “assessment” to determine areas where peace had returned and civil authorities can assume full control, Shehu also said.
This reassurance is very good. However, it leaves open the question as to whether the police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps could be up to the task of guarding communities and travelers from deadly bandits and communal warriors. At the minimum, police manpower has to be greatly augmented. Even more seriously, its weapons, mobility, communication, welfare and training must also be improved. While the police did record notable successes in the fight against kidnappers and other criminals, its capacity has to be greatly enhanced so that it could be a step ahead of the fast-changing crime scene. With the best resources and leadership, this process will take years. It is not the best, but for now the soldiers must remain around while the police retool and re-equip.