THESE are indeed terrible times. Across the country, non-state actors have been shedding blood at will. From the North-East to the South-West and the South-East, a climate of fear and palpitation pervades the country. Appalled by the ceaseless reign of bandits and terrorists of all hues and the seeming impotence of the Nigerian state in arresting the drift, many concerned citizens in different states of the North trooped into the streets last week, calling for a change in the state of affairs. The protests tagged #NorthIsBleeding were specifically marked by demands for an end to incessant killings, abductions and other crimes in the region.
Indeed, the spokesman of the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), the umbrella group behind the protests, Sulaiman Abudulazeez, asked the Federal Government to impose emergency rule on five states. According to him, if President Muhammadu Buhari must succeed, he must improve the number of boots on the ground in the region. This, he said, should be followed by the Federal Government availing itself of available legal windows to impose emergency rule on Niger, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna states. Prior to this declaration, the governor of Katsina State, Honourable Aminu Bello Masari, had in fact called for the arming of citizens with weapons to enable them to contain the threats posed by the outlaws. According to him, it was morally wrong for people to submit cheaply to bandits without attempting to defend themselves. On his part, President Buhari held a meeting with the governors of Katsina and Sokoto states over the rising insecurity, with the Katsina governor seeking collaboration among the states in the North-West as a solution to the security challenges.
To say the very least, the ongoing protests over widespread killings in the North, a largely conservative zone, confirm the fact that the situation has become completely intolerable. Sadly, members of the Department of State Services (DSS) and the police chose to go after aggrieved citizens who were ventilating their frustrations in the belief that their government would listen to them. We believe that this is not the way to go in a democracy. Nigeria is not a police state and there is no reason citizens peacefully protesting against threats to their very existence should be harassed, arrested or detained. Rather than going after critics as usual, what the Federal Government needs to do is to assert the legitimacy of the Nigerian state by stopping the outlaws in their tracks.
It is disturbing that the Presidency needs any prodding before bringing to justice, the so-called bandits who have made life a nightmare across the states of the North and in the South. Defying the Nigerian state, these outlaws seize buses on the roads and set the occupants and the buses ablaze. Any of the hapless passengers who tries to escape from the melee is either gunned down or mutilated with a machete. Till today, millions of people remain displaced from their ancestral homesteads, having been uprooted from them by terrorists, and it is nothing short of an outrage that having secured a court order mandating it to do so, the Federal Government is yet to formally declare the so-called bandits who have brought down military aircraft, sacked villages and schools and sent untold numbers of people to their untimely graves as terrorists. What that suggests is that the government is complicit in the endless trail of blood in the land.
To be sure, the tide of bloodshed is a national affair. In the South-East, for instance, the atrocities attributed to members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) euphemistically dubbed Unknown Gunmen (UGM) are horrendous. Beheading and mutilation of people is routine, as is arson and brigandage. Working with the state governors and re-jigging the security architecture that has enabled these horrors, President Buhari and his men must stop the tide of bloodshed. They must shelve their centralist predilection and embrace state policing. They cannot hope to achieve anything concrete when the loss of human life is as routine as breathing. Barring the civil war, at no time has the country ever witnessed the kind of bloodshed experienced these days.