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Empty Presidential Directives, Daily Trust Editorial of April 03, 2022

Here we are all over again. Exhausted by the pain, suffering and helplessness of having to mourn fellow citizens cut down in their prime in yet another set of needless attacks by murderous bandits on the prowl in our neighbourhoods and homes, at our airports, and on our highways and rail tracks. Where else can we be safe?

On Saturday 26th March, bandits stormed the Kaduna International Airport in an attack in which they killed one Shehu Na’Allah, a security guard with the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). Two days later, they doubled down on this with a horrific attack on the Abuja-Kaduna bound train, killing at least 9 persons and abducting an unknown number. This was in spite of repeated security alerts on the impending attack which were however ignored by the responsible agencies.

The ticket racketeering in the Nigeria Railways Corporation which made it impossible to even know the actual number of Nigerians on that train on that day is itself condemnable. We also strongly condemn the remorseless attempt to trade blames and score cheap political points by the Ministry of Transport and its Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, the National Assembly, and other officials in the presidency leaking government memoranda on the case. Government is a unity and all officials must accept responsibility for their inactions and resultant avoidable loss of lives. We also commend Nigerians who trooped to the 44 Military Hospital in Kaduna to donate blood to the victims of the train-attacks. When it comes to security of our own lives, hearts and mouths should be in one place.

Sadly, the same cannot be said of the federal government. Kaduna has in fact lately become the hotbed of senseless slaughter by bandits in recent months. In just the past one week (25th -31 March), terror groups have killed 82 and abducted many more in Kaduna and Zamfara states alone, according to news report data compiled by Daily Trust. Moreover, in the past three months alone (1 January – 31st March 2022), according to data published 2nd April by The Punch, some 927 Nigerians have been killed and 907 persons kidnapped in various banditry attacks in the three states of Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara alone. That’s over 10 people dead and 10 kidnapped every day, a casualty figure that maybe worse than in some actual wars.

There is only one explanation left for how we got here in three short years or so: the federal government lacks the political will to protect Nigerians, or at least, does not demonstrate it enough. And this has added to the problem by itself. Because bandit-terror groups have sensed a lack of political will to engage them, they now roam freely in broad daylight across several states, sometimes for hundreds of kilometres on hordes of motor-cycles, in daring and chest-thumping show of power against the federal government and military forces, as the Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El- Rufai put it, correctly, last weekend.

The government also scarcely has any proactive strategy for engaging the bandits head-on with boots on the ground. As El-Rufai again said, everyone knows where the bandits are located, at least in the main; and the security agencies even know some of their plans. Why has no one thought to take the war to them in their camps and enclaves? How come bandits freely demand for ransom payments and taxation using cell phones to communicate, despite mass registration for the National Identity Number (NIN)? Moreover, reports from independent sources indicate little presence of a Nigerian fighting force on the ground in the affected states, leaving some Governors with only the dangerous choice of calling citizens to arms.

Furthermore, even when attacks do occur, the government’s attitude leaves much to be desired. If the presidency bothers at all, the only response is usually to issue directives to heads of security agencies to bring culprits to book. But the next day, or the next week, there will be yet more attacks, often deadlier than the last. Then more directives from the presidency and meetings with the service chiefs, in a merry-go-round that, were it not so tragic, amounts to playing second fiddle with the lives of ordinary Nigerians killed again and again in those attacks.

Nigerians are tired of those directives because they only mean that the President does not hold his security appointees to account nearly enough for the positions they hold, or the monetary budgets expended on them, or yet, the confidence and respect Nigerians repose in them. Only the person who appointed the service chiefs can realistically and effectively hold them accountable: President Buhari himself.

We are convinced, and concerned that the government’s approach to his security appointees also demonstrate a lack of political will to deal with banditry. Notably, the presidency has been very reluctant to fire any appointees, even as the number of dead Nigerians continues to pile up weekly, as if loyalty to appointees matters more for a president than loyalty to the voters. This only creates the impression that under this government, even rock-bottom performance can pass.

We urge Mr President to rise up to the moment and show better that he has the will to tackle banditry actively from the front. A first step is to breathe new life into the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). The second will be to mobilize actual fighting boots on the ground. A third is to roll-out, simultaneously as the on-the-ground offensive, an all-inclusive approach for dialogue and understanding among all the groups involved. Empty directives do not save lives.

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