RECENT reports of attacks by terrorists euphemistically dubbed “bandits” on hospitals in Niger State have become a new source of worry regarding the state and direction of the country. The most recent attack was conducted by the outlaws at the Abdusalami Abubakar General Hospital, Gulu, in Lapai Local Government Area of the state during which they reportedly killed two workers and abducted several others, including a doctor and a pharmacist. According to eyewitnesses, the terrorists stormed the hospital at 2a.m, unleashing a barrage of gunshots as residents of the community scampered for safety. They raided the hospital, abducting as many people as they desired. Those kidnapped included doctors heading various departments in the hospital and their spouses, the head of nursing and his two daughters, the head of the medical laboratory department and many others.
Reacting to the incident, Governor Abubakar Bello, in a press statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Mary Noel-Berje, said: “The recent attack and killing of some persons at Gulu General Hospital and the abduction of unspecified numbers of innocent people, including medical personnel, are callous, inhuman and condemnable. We are deeply concerned about the recent rise in banditry and kidnapping in Gulu communities when we are rejoicing and consolidating the successes so far recorded in other affected areas, but as a responsible government, we will not rest on our oars until we triumph over evil.” The governor stressed the need for swift, intensified security operations in order not to hamper the smooth healthcare delivery in the area, calling on the Joint Security Taskforce in the state to urgently put an end to the incessant banditry, kidnapping and wanton attacks on communities.
To be sure, Niger State faces some of the most daunting security challenges in the country. Because of its massive land territory, the largest in the country, it has become customary for bandits to pitch their tents in the state, carve out illegal territories for themselves, and begin collecting taxes before the legitimate government is alerted to their unsavoury activities. Things are so bad that the terrorists operate on a permanent basis. They abduct, kill and maim with reckless abandon. Admittedly, across the country, Nigerians have come to accept the uncomfortable reality that nowhere is safe. Still, it is saddening that places like hospitals that are supposed to give respite to people suffering from various ailments have become sites of violence and bloodshed. How can patients recuperate from illnesses with terrorists on the prowl?
The situation in Niger State becomes even more distressing when the fact is considered that some of the patients in the hospitals may have been there in the first place as a result of the indignities they suffered at the hands of the outlaws. Such people suffer double jeopardy: they are attacked by terrorists and precluded from treatment and rehabilitation by the same terrorists. With terrorists mounting comprehensive surveillance to ensure that nobody gets up from their hospital beds hale and hearty, and with doctors and nurses kidnapped, tortured and killed while battling to save lives, it can be said without challenge that the country is on its way to becoming a banana republic.
The multiple attacks on hospitals in Niger State are not just symptomatic of the growing insecurity in the land; they represent the level of deadliness that the onslaught by terrorists could reach in the absence of effective countervailing action by the government. Indeed, is it not the end of the world as we know it when hospitals are now the locations for kidnapping and bandit attacks? What exactly has become of the country when citizens suffering from various ailments are attacked in the same place they have visited in search of medical relief and recuperation? Evidently, the situation suggests that Nigeria has almost reached the nadir of everything that defines an organised community with a functional government and governance.
Given the reality of the security situation in Niger State and other states in the country, the reluctance of the Federal Government to welcome the formation of state police forces as a potent solution to the pervasive insecurity is grossly unfortunate. The government has a duty to rise up to its responsibilities and justify its existence. Citizens are not likely to continue to reckon with having a functional government when they are at the mercy of terrorists. The government has to act with urgency to address the growing insecurity in the land if it is not to lose the remaining sense of legitimacy.