The seven ‘customized’ bags of rice

THE story of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) officials bribing bandits with bags of rice in exchange for their freedom is not only rankling, it exposes how low the country’s security situation has sunk and how helpless the state security system has been in putting paid to criminality in the country. According to reports, the Coordinator of Sector 4 Command of the Joint Border Patrol Team of the NCS in the North-West, Comptroller Aliyu Mohammed, said during a press briefing in Katsina that his men, while on the trail of smugglers, ran into some bandits who insisted on taking seven of the bags of rice seized from smugglers to secure their freedom.

This is a very unfortunate situation. That bandits reign as lords in a sovereign country is gravely saddening. The bandits were so sure of themselves that the presence of armed Customs officials failed to create fear in them. They were so confident that, rather than beat a retreat, they confronted the Customs officials and spewed out a condition for them to get away unhurt. As bad as this event was, the real tragedy is that the Coordinator of the Command, who should have buried his head in shame for this disgraceful act of his men, addressed a press conference to talk glibly about the heroics of his men and why members of the public should cooperate with them. How further low can things get in this country?

Perhaps the Sector Commander does not realise it, but the surrender of those seven bags of rice by his men to the bandits signifies the erosion of state power. One of the attributes of a state is the power of coercion; the power to enforce compliance. That is what the judicial system represents, that is what the law enforcement agencies represent, that is what the arms and ammunition at the disposal of the armed forces and paramilitary agencies represent. But when all of these do not deter criminality, it is a sign that the state has lost its power. The fact that the bandits in question were not cowed by the guns wielded by the Customs officials is a signal that the state has lost its power of coercion.

To stretch the failure of state power further, if the bandits had asked for the guns of the Customs officials, would they not have handed same over? Given that scenario, how can the country hope to win the war against banditry and other criminalities when its security operatives negotiate their own safety with criminals? If armed security operatives are unable to defend themselves, how can they defend Nigerians who bear no arms? If armed security operatives pay for their freedom with rice, how would the average citizens not pay tributes to criminals to guarantee their safety? A country that cannot guarantee the safety of its citizens is nothing but a failed state.

President Muhammadu Buhari has been issuing threats to criminals and giving orders to the security forces, but neither of these has reduced the spate of insecurity. This means that the president has to change his strategy to be able to birth peace in the country. He should remember that he was not voted into office to issue orders and threats; he was elected to protect the land and prosper the people. If he fails to achieve these, posterity may not be kind to his memory.

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