There seems to be no let-up in the massacre that has taken over a sizeable part of the northern part of Nigeria. It is daily assuming a frightening dimension in spite of efforts by security agents to bring the ugly situation under control. And the casualty figure among the security agents themselves, particularly policemen, is on a fearful ascendancy. In actual fact, at no point in the last three years or more of the orgy of violence, arson and brigandage have we witnessed the type of ‘genocidal’ attacks on security agents as happened last week.
First, it was at about 5a.m on Monday, May 6, 2013, in Bama, a sleepy border town in Borno State. That day, suspected insurgents popularly called Boko Haram attacked Bama at dawn. Fifty-five people, mostly security personnel – 20 policemen, two soldiers and 13 prison officials – were among the casualties. By the time the dust settled, a number of dangerous weapons, including improvised explosive devices (IEDs), assorted ammunition, rapid propelled grenades (RPG), general purpose machine guns, bombs and others were recovered from the ‘theatre of war’.
The whole nation was still gripped in the throes of grief and mourning, when less than 24 hours later, precisely, at 12 midnight the same Monday, tragedy struck again. This time, in Alakyo Village, about 10 kilometres to Lafia, the Nassarawa State capital. A contingent of policemen who were on their way to a notorious shrine at Alakyo to effect arrest were ambushed at a point on their route by deadly, blood-thirsty cultists, simply known as the Ombatse – meaning ‘Enough’ – militia group. In the ensuing gunfight, 23 policemen were mowed down. By the last count, the casualty figure of the security agents may have risen to 47. This includes policemen and State Security Service, SSS, officials. Among the dead is an Assistant Commissioner of Police.
Shortly after the bloody confrontation, a thoroughly frightened Tanko Al-Makura, the governor of the state, dashed to Aso Rock, the seat of government. There, he held a closed-door meeting with Namadi Sambo, the Vice-President who was holding fort for his principal, President Goodluck Jonathan, who was out on official visit to Southern Africa. He later told State House reporters that, prior to the Alakyo massacre, it was discovered that the militia group was holding arms and carrying out cult activities in the state. “Members of the group usually moved from one place to another, including mosques and churches, to attack helpless citizens, taking people from a particular ethnic group to come and take portions that are meant to empower them to do what they want to do. We took a decision to go to the shrine and pick on the cult leader so that the problem will be solved once and for all. As security operatives were approaching the shrine, unknown to them that ambush had been laid, these people attacked them,” Al-Makura said.
‘The way things are going, we may wake up one day to discover that Aso Rock is under heavy shelling, both aerial and land bombardments, by terrorists’
Al-Makura was not alone. Gabriel Suswan, the governor of Benue State, was also in Abuja to report the clash in Agatu Local Government Area of his state. The clash also claimed the lives of people, including women and children, who were attacked in their sleep. He told State House correspondents: “I came to brief the Vice-President on the security situation in Benue… there are serious altercations between the Fulanis and the local farmers in Agatu Local Government… and they almost overran the local government. There were a lot of killings, a lot of property destroyed.”
The three incidents above are as disturbing and confusing as they are worrisome. Bama to Alakyo is a distance of about 700 kilometres and nothing less than six hours’ drive. Besides, Nassarawa is a contiguous state to Abuja, the seat of government. And there is a common thread that ran through both the Bama and Alakyo attacks – ‘sorrow, tears and blood’ – as scores of security agents were callously hacked down.
One disturbing scenario here is that criminals seem to have become more emboldened to confront security agents and slaughter them mercilessly at will. Last week alone, if you add the figure in Alakyo (47), Bama (33) – policemen, soldiers and prison officials – you will get 80. If you add that to the 11 policemen who were posted on guard duties in Bayelsa, but were recently attacked on the high seas, it gives a staggering figure of 91. The bulk of this figure, about 68, are policemen. Considering the rate these killings are going, the numerical strength of the police is being rapidly depleted. And come to think of it, how many policemen does the nation have? About 370,000, and this insufficient number is being further run down in the orgy of massacre that has gripped the nation. I am quite sure that most of the arms and ammunition of the slain security agents may have also found their way to wrong hands. This will certainly enrich the terrorists’ ‘war’ arsenal to the detriment of the nation’s security.
A friend and a very senior police officer in Abuja agreed with me that there might have been a possible operational error in the attack in Alakyo. According to him, “I suspect there was either a failure of intelligence or that the movement of the security agents was leaked to the cultists, or they had a mole within who gave them advance tips. Otherwise, it was a moving force that was mercilessly dealt such a big blow.” When I told him that the police should have deployed helicopters for surveillance or reconnaissance duties before storming the notorious shrine, he agreed. He then emphasised that modern-day crime fighting should evolve the use of hi-tech equipments so as to be far ahead of the criminals.
The escalation of violence against security agents may be a fall-out of the kid’s glove approach the nation has been adopting in tackling growing insurgency and banditry across the country. It is high time we rose to the growing challenge and check the rising impunity with which the criminals have been carrying out their deadly exploits.
My police officer friend believes that those who attacked Bama were not Boko Haram insurgents, but a certain group of bandits who operate along Birnin-Gwari axis. His argument is that the real Boko Haram agents have somehow gone a bit cold because of effective security coordination in the northern part of the country, especially in recent times. But then the rise of different militias or gangsters all over the place is a sign that things are really snowballing out of control. We have heard about Oodua People’s Congress, OPC, in the South-West; Egbesu Boys and a surfeit of others in the Niger Delta; Massob in the East; and now the Ombatse in Nassarawa State. Yet there are more than a thousand and one such criminally-minded groups mushrooming on a daily basis all over the country.
Al-Makura said that the Ombatse group had been identified since January this year, when their satanic exploits escalated. But what did he do to immediately clip their wings? That was how Boko Haram grew to become the monster it has assumed. Lack of decisiveness and political will to crush these groups must have been providing the oxygen needed to fester and become a malignant tumour to the nation.
A foreign journal captured it succinctly in a headline last week: “From motorcycle fighters to grenade throwers”. Now, those who attacked Bama had RPG and anti-aircraft guns mounted on 4×4 wheel vehicles. Perhaps, we are moving to the era where these terrorists will involve the use of fighter jets for bombing raids. The way things are going, we may wake up one day to discover that Aso Rock is under heavy shelling, both aerial and land bombardments, by terrorists.
This is the time for our security agencies to sit down and decisively address this growing insurgency and violence all over the place. There is also the need to create employment and put food on the table of Nigerians. There are far too many idle hands and hungry mouths which are fertile grounds for easy recruitment to all forms of banditry now plaguing the country. God help Nigeria!
No tags for this post.