Apart from Nigeria, can you think of any other country in the whole world where brothers kidnap brothers for ransom? Or where kinsmen visit raw, crude death on their kinsmen in the name of banditry? Or where parents let loose their own pre-teen children to the wild world of terrorism in the name of something they cannot define? I cannot think of any – even in history. The slave raiding upheavals of the 19th century were not homegrown like what we are seeing in Northern Nigeria. Slavery and slave trade with all their barbarities were induced from outside. The sponsors and barons of those 19th century tragedies were very well known ‘European destroyers and Arab predators’ – assisted by local agents. But these ones here today have no parallels in history.
The Sultan of Sokoto was reported yesterday as expressing worries about the future of Nigeria. Given his position as the Caliph and his pedigree as a battle-tested general of the Nigerian Army, he should be worried. We should all be worried too no matter the depth and I wish those in government share in these worries. Every sensible person knows the country is exactly in a pre-crash state, except God takes absolute control of the cockpit. Dying has a process. Doctors would look at this patient called Nigeria and plausibly describe its present state as terminal restlessness. The country has flown into a turbulence and what everyone, including the pilot, is thinking of is the life vest. If the last elections were about choosing another country, and not about electing a president, I am sure the turnout would have been above 90 per cent – not the miserable 30-something per cent which INEC recorded.
The terminal signs should worry all sensible persons. Boko Haram’s blood-curdling campaigns no longer excite newspaper makers and readers. I do not think anyone buys newspapers again because of terrorists who did something spectacular. Even the government has long lost the pretense for condolence messages. The template for press statements hitherto used daily to mourn the dead and commiserate with victims has become rancid, uninteresting. We have become inured to terrorism in its crudest and worst form. What cannot be cured must be endured, Robert Burton wrote four centuries ago in his The Anatomy of Melancholy – a survey of sadness “in all its myriad forms.” Without admitting it to ourselves, we all silently know that there is no cure for our tragedy and so, the nation groans in unending violation.
The country is in perpetual presence of malevolent forces. It is right here in the air. After the baleful staleness of Boko Haram, new bloody tasks have been invented. The reigning crimes in the country now are the noxious identical twins -kidnapping and banditry. They are so democratized that even imperial governors and military generals feel very vulnerable. They now fight for space in dirty, creaky trains in Kaduna and Abuja. They feel mortally unsafe, very captive; they wail silently at the insecurity eating furiously into their comfort and privilege.
I do not think there has been a period darker than now in our national history. Not even the civil war gave as much hopelessness as these times. Nothing saddens elders as oracular verdicts of remedial voidness. There is no solution to the tragedy peering into Nigeria’s sad eyes.
President Muhammadu Buhari is probably the only Nigerian that is safe today. He is from Katsina State. But before his very eyes, the state has spinned out of control. There are reports of terrified persons working in that state during the day and crossing the border at dusk to sleep in Niger Republic. That is their local solution to kidnapping at night which has been their own dividend of democracy. Nothing explains the frustration of the ordinary people with the Nigerian state than the fact that there is, today, a mad rush for bullet proof charms in that Sharia state. Nineteen persons died and 38 were injured in an accident some days ago on Funtua road. They were coming from a young man in Tsaunni village who has grown to be very popular selling protective charms against the bullets of bandits. A survivor of the crash told the media: “We were told his charm is good. People have used the charm and they claim it has worked for them.” President Buhari would have very close relations and friends who give him unofficial intelligence daily about the home front. His state governor, Aminu Masari told the acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Muhammed Adamu last Thursday that “parts of Katsina State have been taken over by bandits and kidnappers. These bandits strike at will, maim at will, destroy lives and property at will.” The governor is personally qualified to speak on this Armageddon. He is a direct beneficiary of the deregulation of insecurity in the country. Governor Masari’s mother-in-law was kidnapped in her house in Katsina some weeks ago. Ransom was paid for her release.
From the northern North, words of exasperation, scarlet words on security and the wellness of the land keep pouring in: “We can’t travel to Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and parts of Taraba by road – not to mention Jos. You can’t travel to Lagos from Kaduna through Birnin Gwari. Travelers have to pass through Kogi State in prayer mode until they get to Akure,” a friend who lives there told me. Another friend in Lagos sent a more frantic message wondering whether the country had not collapsed. He said the pastor in charge of an ECWA Church in Ijumu local government area of Kogi State “was kidnapped on his farm around 9.00am yesterday by suspected herdsmen. They have started talking to his family members. The kidnappers are asking for N7 million.” He followed the message up with an equally desperate addition: “As I was telling my wife now, she just interrupted me by saying her colleague’s wife was kidnapped yesterday by 3 pm around Canaan land, Otta. As I was relating the story to my son in Benue State, he said ‘dad, somebody was kidnapped today in this town. It is an everyday occurrence’.”
Yet another wrote that the family of a former military chief who was kidnapped on 15 February, 2019 paid N20 million to get him released. He said a big man “contributed N10 million while the family raised N10 million.” He was kidnapped while traveling from Kaduna to Abuja.
The poor pay too. An artisan leading his workmen at a building site was kidnapped in Delta State two weeks ago. He was mistaken for the owner of the house because he is a fat man. His abductors had taken him far into the forest before they realised their mistake. His very poor family paid a negotiated fee of N1m before they let him go. The man said his abductors were ‘foreigners’ – from their tongue, he could guess they were from either the far North or from Niger Republic.
Kidnapping, banditry and general acts of criminality have put Nigeria on a canvass of blood. But the Northern political elite may not be exactly concerned as outsiders are as long as they are personally safe and secure. The strange spirit spinning things out of control there is the same demon pushing them to politicise everything and ignore the security and well-being of their masses. They are more interested in conjuring oil in the North, do deadly gold rushes and hold Federal power in perpetuity. Now, shall we pray for them to know that having oil, gold, the presidency, the security forces and the whole of the other two arms of government forever would not translate to success and peace for their region and their people? The defence minister is from Zamfara, it is in turmoil. The National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Chief of Army Staff are from Borno which is the capital of terrorism in the subregion. These men have power and influence and money but they can’t help their homes. Years of power kidnap for Northern elite enjoyment birthed the grinding poverty and insecurity of today. Using the same power to unleash billions of dollars to prospect for oil up North won’t end in praise and joy. That the North sees its deliverance in a frantic search for crude oil at a time the industrialized world is phasing out fossil-fuel powered vehicles should explain why the down would always remain on the floor.
Now, like Emperor Nero and Rome on fire, ‘they’ have revved up politics while the nation boils in the hands of bandits, terrorists and kidnappers.