We are just two weeks into 2022 and already, there are hundreds, if not thousands of Nigerians mourning, due to one of the biggest failings of government – its inability to protect the lives of its own citizens or secure their property. Although this is one of the cardinal principles enshrined in the constitution, successive governments have not been able to achieve this with the situation sadly degenerating under each administration. Of course, even before the country embarked on its 4th democratic journey in 1999, it was not as if violent crimes were not taking place under the military.
I recall that things were really getting out of control in Lagos security wise, so much so that when Brigadier General Mohammed Buba Marwa (rtd) became military governor in 1996 many Lagosians breathed a sigh of relief when he decided to tackle the scourge head on. Those old enough will recall his “Operation Sweep”, a joint police and military venture that helped reduce Lagos’ notorious crime rate. He flooded the metropolis with brand new Peugeot station wagons, which crisscrossed the city with fit looking guys inside them keeping a look out for “bad boys”.
He did not only stop with this, the 60-year-old former Governor of Borno State also took the battle on crime to the skies with the deployment of a number of helicopters which also crisscrossed the city ready to call in “ground troops” as soon as they spotted any crime being committed.
Of course his efforts did not completely stamp out crime (which no city or state can), but it still went a very long way in drastically reducing the scourge so much so that night life that hitherto had disappeared returned as people felt safe enough to wind down at night after going through a hard day’s job. Incidentally, Marwa’s drive, which made him a terror to the ‘bad boys’ in Lagos some 23 years ago, has been transferred to the war on drugs, where as the new Chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), he is also tackling the scourge head on.
Before Marwa’s arrival in Lagos, in response to the rising cases of violent crimes in the country, the Federal Military Government abrogated the section of the Criminal Code dealing with “aggravated robbery” and replaced it with the Armed Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree 1970 no 47.3 as a general deterrent. Government then followed up with an even stronger law in 1984, the ‘Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree’ which proscribed the death sentence for armed robbery offences. But even the draconian law was not enough to deter the criminals with the rise of such notorious bandits like Lawrence Anini, Monday Osunbor and Shina Rambo amongst others.
While this was bad, the security situation in the country began to unravel further with the return of democracy, when just six months into the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, an armed gang killed 12 Nigerian policemen in the community of Odi in Bayelsa State.
In response, the military reportedly invaded the town and in the process, every building except the bank, the Anglican Church and the health centre were allegedly burned to the ground with the loss of life of a number of civilians and some military personnel.
However, insecurity in the country was to take a new dimension when Mohammed Yusuf founded Boko Haram in 2002, after which its increasing radicalisation led to the suppression operation by the Nigerian military and the killing of its leader in July 2009. Its unexpected resurgence, following a mass prison break in September 2010 in Bauchi, was accompanied by increasingly sophisticated attacks, initially against soft targets, but progressing in 2011 to include suicide bombings of police buildings and the United Nations office in Abuja and later spectacular mass abductions including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014.
At the height of its powers, the militant group held large swaths of territory in Borno State estimated at 50,000 square kilometres (20,000 sq. mi) in January 2015; with more than 2.5 million people displaced. Gradually, the militants spread their terror to other parts of the North East, with attacks in Yobe and Adamawa states, and even carried out high profile assaults in the nation’s capital, Abuja, with suicide bombings of police buildings, a number of motor parks and the United Nations office. And if this was not enough, what the nation faces now is the rise and spread of banditry and other non-state actors, who have unleashed their terror in virtually all parts of the country.
Just in the first few weeks of 2022, we have already witnessed mass murders in Nasarawa, Kaduna and Plateau states with those in power mouthing the ageworn utterances of “we will bring the perpetuators to book!” Reacting to the latest attacks in Nasarawa in which over 200 people reportedly lost their lives, President Muhammadu Buhari said: “The latest attacks on innocent people by the bandits is an act of desperation by mass murderers, now under relentless pressure from our military forces.”
The President added that his government would not relent in its military operations to get rid of the bandits. Buhari said in a statement last weekend the military had acquired more equipment to track down and eliminate criminal gangs that have been subjecting people to a reign of terror, including through the illegal imposition of taxes on communities under siege. However, it is clearly obvious that so far all attempts by the government to get on top of the situation have had little results as the daily carnage figures show. Like I said earlier, while there is no country in the world that is completely crime free, however, until government security forces are able to take out the big players, who often move around in large numbers to carry out their dastardly acts, we will continue to record alarming casualty figures on an almost daily basis.
This can only be achieved by changing tact and turning more to technology. For instance, there are gadgets out there which can trace calls to within a few metres of the person making it. It also enables the callers’ chit chat to be picked up, so that whatever is being said can be analysed and determined if the person is up to no good. Once this has been established, then security operatives can move in and either capture him/her, so that they can be led to other members of the gang or can even be taken out if so needed.
Equally, there are “killer drones” which can be deployed to scout a suspected bandits’ area and launch missiles to take them out if it is confirmed that they are up to no good. Of course, there are many other gadgets, devices and technologies available. The onus is on government to have the will to embrace them. Should this happen, then, we are bound to see a marked improvement in the security situation in the country, especially when the ‘bad boys’ realise that they have nowhere to hide!