By Dakuku Peterside
That terrorists and bandits are getting bolder, more daring, and more sophisticated are not debatable. After a period of relative peace, the nation has entered a new phase of terrorist attacks that frontally challenge state power. It needs no further evidence after last Wednesday’s Kuje Correctional Facility attack. That the nation is in a state of war is no more contentious when non-state actors target, with utmost audacity and recklessness, the convoy of our President (the commander in chief of the armed forces) to disrupt our chain of command and control.
These two events happening a few dayss apart speak volumes about our foes’ intent and coordination. The choreographed attacks are evidence of the sophistication and astuteness of the terrorists in challenging our power structures with no regard or respect for the sanctity of symbols of power – the presidency and prisons. These are a determined group of terrorists and not opportunistic bandits.
This latest upsurge of terrorist attacks and banditry is symbolic of the failure of intelligence, aversion to planning, compromise of law enforcement, and lack of operational capacity of security and law enforcement apparatus. It is indicative of the rot in the system that must be dealt with decisively for our collective good. The success rate of these attacks is becoming alarming. The ability of bandits and terrorists to graduate from attacking soft targets to boldly and ambitiously attacking symbols of state power speaks volumes about their shifting of modus operandi.
Previously, they were busy capturing, maiming, and killing villagers at the remote boundaries and ungoverned spaces without border controls. Now, they boldly attack trains and airports in Kaduna, shoot at planes with land-to-surface missiles, attack military barracks and kill soldiers at will, attack a correctional centre at the centre of power ,and attack the President’s convoy with temerity.
This recent attack marks an epoch in Nigeria’s struggle for its heart and soul. Where we go from here is significant and must shape our collective future. How we match this shifting paradigm by bandits and terrorists will define our collective future. The audacity with which terrorists and bandits challenge the state’s authority and the ordinary functioning of its coercive apparatus is unimaginable. This disaster is a symptom of danger looming around, which we must collectively tackle in a nonpartisan, multidimensional manner devoid of any sentiments.
Last week’s unusual security breaches highlighted how exposed and vulnerable we are. Enough is enough. A feeling of insecurity in the country is now pervasive. And the high and low in the country are victims of their shadows. As it is now, terrorism and banditry are winning. Both have altered our way of life and are pushing us to the edges where people resort to self-help to protect themselves and their loved ones.
Travelling to some parts of the country by road is usually risky and going to churches and mosques is dangerous and a suicide mission in some areas. Going to the farm is a sure trip to yonder for some farmers in some parts of Nigeria. Living in Nigeria has become an existential crisis, and we are still treating the situation with nonchalance. Everyday activities, existence, and survival have become a mirage for some Nigerians, and there appears to be no hope.
Combining insecurity of these sorts with the crushing economic hardship in Nigeria occasioned by both local and international factors is devastating. Most Nigerians have never got it this bad, and never have we felt so insecure and uncertain of our future as today. Imagine how residents of Abuja would be feeling now. It is unbelievable that terrorists could lay siege and destroy Kuje prison in an operation that lasted almost 3 hours without a corresponding repelling force from our security operatives. What would be the fate of residents had these terrorists and bandits decided to operate in estates or residential areas of the metropolis? We cannot even imagine the carnage. This is the reality of the Nigeria of today.
The breach of National Security Act 1990, as amended, seen in this week’s events, requires an effective response from the government, security ecosystem, and citizens of Nigeria. The details of the incidents are still unfolding, but existing reports are heartrending and disturbing. The attack on Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS); was a development that left at least 879 inmates fleeing from custody. Besides, at least five persons died when attacked by terrorists, numbering over two hundred on motorcycles , who did not only bomb the Kuje Medium Security Custodial Centre in Abuja but also threw the facility open for inmates, including incarcerated terrorists, to flee .
Among the injured casualties of the attack was an officer of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) attached to the facility, and three personnel of the Nigerian Correctional Service. At the same time, terrorists killed four inmates said to have attempted an escape. Meanwhile, as shock and apprehension trail the attack, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has owned up to the attack, claiming responsibility for same.
It is disturbing that attacks on prisons by terrorists and bandits have been increasing in recent times. The security at the Kuje Correctional Centre was found wanting and caught unawares, which is lamentable. The recurring attempts and attacks are enough signals to intimate the government to beef up security across the Correctional facilities in the country. The fact that terrorists took the attack to the capital city within the central government’s jurisdiction of authority is a spit on its face.
The second incident is even more daring. First, news broke that the ubiquitous ‘bandits,’ by design or by accident, had laid siege into an advance convoy of the President. The convoy was travelling to the President’s village to lay the groundwork for him to spend Salah in Daura, his hometown . The bandits opened fire, and the President’s men returned fire and defended the convoy. Some personnel were injured, and others died. I sympathise with the victims and families of both incidents.
The symbolism of these attacks is obvious to contemplate. First, these criminals can attack anywhere and anytime they choose and are brazenly audacious. Besides, no one is off-limits to them. By attacking the number one citizen’s convoy, they have sent a clear message they can strike anyone.
Furthermore, they have declared conventional war on Nigeria using asymmetrical methods. This is guerrilla warfare, for want of words to describe it. And they have struck terror in our collective consciousness. If they can reach the Kuje Correctional facility and the convoy of the President, they can get anyone. The gradual boldness and audacity signal a shift in approach that requires a corresponding response. Finally, they have raped the sense of security of Nigerians and created a perversive cloak of insecurity in cities and remote villages in Nigeria.
There is a need to create counter symbolism and narrative to reduce the impact of these symbols and bolster our collective psyche to confront, obstruct and defeat terrorism and banditry in all their ramifications. These new symbolisms must be created from the actions and reactions of the government and security community to confront existing terror-inspired symbols that dominate our consciousness.
The onus lies on the government to protect citizens’ lives and property and create an atmosphere of tranquillity and security in the country. The lessons of the Kuje terror attack and bandits’ attack on the presidential convoy are glaring for all to see. We must stop treating insecurity with sentimentality and as business as usual. The hydra-headed monster breeding may consume us all if we do nothing now. This is “a swim or drown situation”, and Nigeria has no choice but to swim at all costs.
Beyond the collective shame, the sensations that these attacks throw up go beyond mass hysteria and feelings of insecurity but also bear instigating substances to further embolden terrorists and bandits in Nigeria. We are now amidst the turbulence of insecurity and mayhem, demanding nothing but the full attention of the government. Such a response requires a radical security strategy and emergency operations to deform Nigeria’s insecurity and terror networks. The threats before us have grown beyond maintaining a docile posture. Government and security agents must rise from slumber and become vehemently driven by concerted firmness to clamp down on security threats.
There seems to have been no severe consequences for bandits and terrorists’ minor transgressions, so they have graduated to major ones. Civilians’ homes, police officers’ stations, and soldiers’ bases were all attacked without clear consequences for the attackers. The rhetoric should go beyond repelling theattacks to preventing such attacks. government and security architecture celebrate repelling attacks on presidential convoys, prisons, and military bases. What would ordinary Nigerians who have no protection do or celebrate when attacked?
It now sounds pusillanimous to the hearing of tired and frightened Nigerians when the government and its security agencies talk about gallantry in repelling terror and bandit attacks. Nigerians want permanent solutions to prevent and end attacks on the Nigerian state and its citizens.
With fear in the air and a sense of hopelessness in dealing with insecurity, calls are coming from usual places, especially among governors asking for a license to arm citizens to defend themselves. As unbelievable as this sounds, it is a call for survival and a testament to the fact that people are beginning to lose faith in the government to tackle insecurity. A vigilante-style protection system may emerge from the seeming collapse of security when it becomes a Hobbesian natural state of every man to himself, and life becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” because individuals are in a “war of all against all”. We must avoid this state because Nigeria cannot afford to fail, and it will be too expensive.