Each day is becoming a difficult threshold to cross because it is littered with anguish and pain. Yesterday was particularly difficult because I was watching Arise News when the breaking news came in that all the Kankara students abducted in Katsina State had been released and were being escorted to Government House to be received by the Governor. I felt so happy that at last there is very good news to gladden the heart and provide hope. The happiness was short lived. Shortly thereafter, I saw on twitter that it was fake news. Even worse, a clip emerged from the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau showing some kids, who he claimed were the boys under his control. One of the boys in the clip was begging the authorities to withdraw vigilantes and troops sent after them and close all schools in the country – typical Boko Haram propaganda we had seen before.
It was heart chilling especially because the Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari had assured Nigerians that the boys were not with the Boko Haram terrorists but with local bandits they knew and were negotiating with to secure their release. I believed him because I know he had negotiated with the bandits previously and therefore knew them. For now, we will skip the question about the results of the negotiations which we all know to have been negative.
The abduction of hundreds of boys from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State a week ago was another rude shock for the Nation coming just after a week after the Zabarmari massacre. Once again, there is no clarity in the numbers. After a couple of days, the State Governor said there were 333 boys missing. The Federal Government gave the ridiculous number of 10. It was Boko Haran that said they were 520. The number of students in the school must have been known, or maybe that is just my thinking. It should have been easy to at least say with clarity how many students are missing but that is too much to ask for in contemporary Nigeria. The most painful element is for so many students to be taken and marched on foot, according to reports from some that escaped and there was no surveillance from security forces, who had already been told about the possibility of an attack on the school as the zone has essentially been terrorized by bandits, kidnappers and terrorists for a long time.
It is distressing that in spite of the adoption of the Safe Schools Policy six years ago following the abduction of 276 female students from Government Secondary School, Chibok, students have continued to fall victim in so many schools. United Nations sources reveal that over 1,500 schools have been destroyed in Nigeria by terrorists over the past decade. The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) says 547 teachers have been targeted and killed in the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast region of Nigeria alone. Boko Haram has succeeded in its mission of closing down the education sector in many parts of Northern Nigeria. Current estimates from UNESCO indicate that Nigeria is home to 45 percent of the global school drop-out population and has 105 million children out of schools. The Boko Haram insurgency has been increasing these numbers in the North East and have now moved into the North West. This week, citing insecurity and the Covid-19 pandemic, schools have been shut in Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Kano and Zamfara States. We are enroute to mass illiteracy. Meanwhile, insecurity has severely restricted farming and we are headed to food insecurity. At the same time, Nigerians cannot travel because so many roads are under the control of kidnapers for ransom.
I am mentally exhausted as a columnist, virtually every week, I complain again and again about the same troubles afflicting our country and I proffer advice on how to move forward. No one in authority appears interested in listening to, not to talk of acting on any advice. Today, our vocation of critics of constituted authority is under threat.
Increasingly, those who point out the problems confronting the country are being called subversive elements and advocates of regime change and are being dealt with.
On Monday, the Coalition of Northern Groups called a seminar in Arewa House in Kaduna to discuss the way forward on the deteriorating security situation in Northern Nigeria. Armed thugs were sent to beat them up and break up the meeting. Yesterday, the Group tried to organise a march from Katsina to Daura to brief the President who is on vacation but were prevented from the action by the police. That was what happened to the EndSARS protesters who also suffered the fate of attacks by armed thugs and later, were attacked and some killed by security agents. The message is clear, Government and its friends are not ready to accept that Nigerian citizens have a right to criticize them or demonstrate against them. What we are seeing is concentration of the energy of security agencies against critics rather than against the terrorists and bandits creating the insecurity in the country. The kidnappers have not been engaged over the past week but those who have complained that Government should not have allowed the insecurity to grow are receiving a lot of attention from security agencies.
Nigeria is therefore entering a dangerous phase in the relationship between citizens and security agencies. Terrorists, bandits and kidnappers are making life for Nigerians “nasty, brutish and short”. Concerned about the inability of the State and its agencies to protect them from the situation, Nigerians complain and now they are being told to shut up or suffer the consequence of being declared “persons of interest”, the DSS euphemism for “enemies of the State”. Whenever a State directs it security agencies to focus on citizens complaining about what they are suffering rather than address the causes of the complaints, that State has lost its direction and is creating conditions for the worsening of the state of insecurity.
The agony of each day is that that you and your family are not safe, you cannot complain and the State and its agencies are adding to your insecurity. It simply cannot continue like this. Didn’t our Constitution say the State has responsibility for our welfare and security?