Dare Babarinsa

NOW TROUBLE IS AWAKE IN THE NEIGBOURHOOD, By Dare BABARINSA

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THE GUARDIAN, March 28, 2024

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Two weeks ago, Thursday March 14, 2024, soldiers of the 181 Amphibious Battalion of the Nigerian Army went on patrol in the land of Okuama community of Delta State where the people had been pitched in a communal conflict with their neighbours of Okoloba. Okuama belongs to Ughelli South and Okoloba belongs to Bamadi local government area. The struggle is not just over a piece of barren estate. It is a struggle over money for whoever controls the land would also have access to the largess from the oil companies and both the state and the Federal Governments. So, the soldiers were there to maintain peace between the two communities so that they can find a less belligerent way to settle their dispute. They did not know that death itself was laying in ambush.

Because it was a peace mission, the troops were not in an offensive mode. They were there to show the flag and reveal themselves fully so that anyone thinking of conflict may change his or her mind. It was a fatal error. The soldiers and their commander were conspicuous in their movement and that was how they fell into an ambush laid by suspected hoodlums. Yesterday, Wednesday March 27, the military authorities buried the gallant soldiers at the National Cemetery in Abuja, with full honours. They were laid to rest to join the company of other heroes who had lost their lives in mostly internal operations in the last few years. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in a statement after the soldiers were killed, vowed that the perpetrators would be caught to face the wrath of the law. Nigerians are waiting to see justice takes its course.

In recent years, Nigeria has become the Land of the Unsafe. No longer was travelling on Nigerian roads fun. Night travelling is now a journey into the unknown. Robbers, kidnappers, ritualists have made movement across our country, a dangerous adventure. In the past parents send their children to far places to attend the various Federal Government colleges. The Airforce Secondary School in Jos was home to pupils from all over Nigeria. The Federal Government College, Sokoto was attractive to parents from Lagos who willingly surrender their children to travel to that edge of Nigeria. During holiday period, the children would travel by road, train or by air to Lagos. Today, we are no longer at ease. Everywhere, danger lurks in the dark or even in broad daylight, ready to sprint on the unsuspected.

It was a thing of joy for Governor Uba Sani of Kaduna State what he was able to score one significant victory against terrorist recently. Last week, he announced to his joyful compatriots that 187 children had been rescued from the den of terrorists. Few weeks ago, terrorists had invaded the LGEA Teachers Primary School, Kuriga, Chikun Local Government Area of the State and seized the children and their teachers. “While the school children were in captivity, I spoke with Mr President several times,” said Governor Sani. “He shared our pains, comforted us and worked round the clock with us to ensure the safe return of the children.”

What His Excellency did not reveal to us is whether any ransom money was paid to the kidnappers. He however declared, while commending the military: “The Nigerian Army also deserves special commendation for showing that with courage, determination and commitment, criminal elements can be degraded and security restored in our communities.”

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the new warfare facing our military and the police may no longer be prosecuted on the familiar terrain of hardware and materiel. Perhaps, if the military had possessed the correct intelligence assets in the Delta, the massacre of the soldiers in the Delta creeks may have been avoided. With the success rate of kidnapping, especially in the North, where scores or even hundreds of people are carted away at once, it is clear that intelligence assets are not working well. How can you transport 187 unwilling hostages across the community and yet manage to escape? Those in charge of Nigerian security needs to spend more resources on intelligence and modern method of policing and military warfare.

The business of kidnapping has become a multi-billion-naira empire across our land. The huge profit and minimal risk involved may also have attracted international investors in the business working as supporters of Boko Haram, ISIS and other affiliates of international terrorism. They are putting in money to train terrorists, suicide bombers and others in their trade. Working with them are bankers, runners, food vendors, drug dealers, gun-runners, agents of safe houses, power brokers, money bags and influence peddlers. We cannot afford this war to continue on the society. When they say food is scarce, it is because the terrorists also concentrate on driving the farmers from their farms. In the end, we are all paying for this laxity in the security network.

Last week, a car was stollen from Ado-Ekiti. Within four days, a member of the gang who stole the car was arrested. The Ekiti State Police Command under Adeniran Akinwale, the commissioner, was able to pull in the suspected because he made a phone call. In this modern era, a strong investment in science, phone tracking (used by Akinwale and his men), drones, face-recognition computer, face-reading gadget, voice-print, finger-print, laser-weapons and others, would help to protect life and property.

How can we say we are living in the modern world and yet kidnappers would make phone calls many times and they would never be tracked? The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has directed that no one would be allowed to withdraw more than 20,000.00 naira from the Automated Teller Machine, ATM, per day, and yet millions are paid to kidnappers without trace! What are the uses of the BVN and the National Identity Card if these criminals operate openly in defiance of all these?

Some people think other methods may help national security more than science. One of these people is Sheik Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, a retired army captain and medical officer who is now a high-profile Islamic cleric. He is advocating that the Federal Government should negotiate with suspected kidnappers and bandits in order to woo them over from their profitable trade. Gumi too had taken personal risks in negotiating with bandits to free hostages in the past. “If the country could pardon coup plotters who committed treasonable offences in the era of military administration, the bandits can as well enjoy similar forgiveness even better under democratic rule,” he advocated.

Well, the Federal Government has invited Gumi to teach its officials some tricks on how to handle kidnappers and their kinsmen, the bandits. It may not have been an entirely pastoral visit as the Department of State Security is said to be seriously interested in Gumi’s bag of tricks. Explaining the visit, Mohammed Idris Malagi, the Minister of Information said Gumi was invited because “Nobody is above the law.”

No one too should be hampered by the law. The Constitution of Nigeria vests most of the power of coercion in the Federal Government and the President is the Commander-in-Chief. Every soldier bear arms on his behest. However, the reality is that every Governor is actually also expected to maintain security within his state. Every governor, as the chief security officer of the state, should be able to account for the residents of his state, including the loafers on the street. The governors need to empower the security agencies with necessary equipment, including voice recognition computers. This is necessary because no neighbourhood or family is safe from the new epidemic of crimes and criminality.

Last week, Lagos State police command arrested two youngsters in their early twenties. They had planned their own kidnap and demanded 100,000 dollars ransom from their parents. They then checked into a cosy hotel room, expecting their windfall. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. Trouble is in the neighbourhood and it is wearing the seductive apparel of innocence.

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