NIGERIA’S SECURITY SITUATION: THE FACTS, THE MYTHS & THE BULLSHIT




By Akin Ojumu

As a Nigerian in the diaspora, each time an opportunity to travel to Nigeria presents itself, I always look forward to the trip with restless eagerness, tingling anticipation, and childlike excitement. Months and weeks before the trip, my suitcases are already packed and repacked several times over. Like a Pavlov’s dog salivating at the sound of a bell, my mouth waters at the mere thought of treating myself to several helpings of pounded yam and egusi soup loaded with goatmeat, shaki (tripe), panla (stockfish), ponmo (cowskin), and bokoto (whatever that is called in English).

Some of my fellow Nigerians in the diaspora, for reasons best known to them, have sworn an oath to never step foot in the country ever again. These folks, as the Yorubas say, “Are holding the sand of Nigeria firmly in their hand.” Unlike them, however, Nigeria is on my mind all the time, and on a daily basis, the pull of home tugs strongly at my heart. That is until my recent trip to Nigeria.

Lately, Nigeria has found itself in the throes of an extraordinary collapse of law and order. All over the country, there is an unprecedented surge in violent crimes and acts of terror. Widespread incidence of assault, armed robbery, carjacking, and rape are being reported on a daily basis. Fulani herdsmen, possessed with demons of hate and destruction, run rampage all over the countryside turning farmlands into wastelands and sources of livelihood of poor Nigerians into barren places that have been invaded by locusts. More alarmingly, kidnapping for ransom, a tactic once deployed by militants to push a religious and political agenda, has now been co-opted by criminals of all stripes as the latest fad in a rapidly bourgeoning criminal enterprise.

Before now, kidnapping victims were limited to those in the society considered to be people of means, including their immediate families and close relatives. The bourgeois of the society, pop culture celebrities, wealthy business tycoons, and political figures with newly found wealth of questionable origin, all had a large target painted on their backs. Then all of a sudden, something changed. Kidnappers have now extended the dragnet to include Nigerians of modest means and even those who scrounge for sustenance and can barely make ends meet. Rich and poor, old or young, no one is safe. Everyone is now a potential target of opportunity.

Entire villages have been pillaged and turned desolate. Poor farmers have abandoned their farms for fear of getting kidnapped or killed or both. Roads that were once considered safe, and where potholes used to be the only sources of concern, are now traveled on only after much fasting and prayer, and with the utmost of care and great trepidation. Violent abduction has since overtaken automobile accidents as the primary thing that makes the hairs on the back of the neck of road travelers stand up.

For Nigerians, each day is now marked with the uncertainty of making it through the end of the day. As they leave home every morning in pursuit of their livelihood, Nigerians have come to accept the likelihood of an encounter with evil men lurking around the corner to do them harm. Consumed with a petrifying feeling of foreboding every time their children are out of the safety of their homes, parents no longer want to let their children out of their sights. As a heightened sense of insecurity fills the air, and putrid smell of danger pervades the whole atmosphere, the people are terrified and feel under siege. Hopeless and helpless like a cornered animal, Nigerians are trapped in their own homeland, and the walls of danger gradually seem close in on them and there is no way of escape.

Not only do the people in authority seem incapable and unwilling to come to the rescue, those who took an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” and the elected leaders who, under oath vowed to devote themselves, “to the service and well-being of the people of Nigeria,” have, by their utterances, actions, and inactions, told Nigerians they are on their own. Unable to provide a convincing explanation of what is going on, and ill-suited to offer a reassuring comfort that the siege will be over soon, the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has, literally, left the people of Nigeria to their lurch.

As a society that runs on falsehood and fabrication, and being a nation that is fueled by hearsay and innuendo, the Nigeria’s rumor mill is currently functioning in overdrive in light of the current security concerns. Ordinary Nigerians, hungry for answers to the state of insecurity in the country, are being satiated from deep wells of lies and guile. Concerned citizens seeking to figure out the root cause of the mayhem that has been unleashed on the nation, are being force-fed on malicious hoaxes and utter bullshit. The Vesuvius of mendacity that is at the heart of the country, has gone active and is spitting out hot lava of harmful deception that could potentially destroy the nation.

Knowing Nigeria for what it is, a cesspool of rumors, inaccuracies, false information and mischief, I have chosen not to suspend commonsense and I have determined never to surrender my sound judgment. Call me what you wish, put on me whatever label your heart desires, I refuse to drink the intoxicating Kool-Aid of mass hysteria spreading like wildfire across the country.

For reasons yet to be revealed, the peddlers of falsehood would want Nigerians to believe the country is at war with itself. According to the narrative of these rumor mongers, the widespread kidnappings and the killings are perpetrated solely by a particular section of the country whose ultimate goal is to dominate Nigeria and establish an Islamic caliphate over our land. The violence we are witnessing is a subtext for the Fulanization and Islamization of Nigeria, they propound. The absurdity of this theory would have been laughable if not that it is dangerous and may result in more shedding of innocent blood.

Crime and criminality have no tribal affiliation. There is no tribe in Nigeria that does not have its own fair share of violent criminals. Yorubas are no more prone to becoming armed robbers than either the Ibos or the Ibibios. Kidnappings, killings, and other various criminal activities have been in existence in Nigeria long before the current wave of violent crimes sweeping the country. Armed robbers, kidnappers, and hired assassins have always operated amongst us and they’ve been part of our history. The Who is Who List of notorious criminals and armed robbers would include men like Ishola Oyenusi, Babatunde Folorunso, Shina Rambo, Inspector George Iyamu (a police officer turned armed robber), Lawrence Anini, Monday Osunbor, Okwudili Ndiwe (aka Derico), Chukwudi Ounamadike (aka Evans the billionaire kidnapper), to name a few.

These men, all of who were from Southern Nigeria, were as violent and brutal as they come. Their rein brought fear and terror upon the communities in which they operated. They robbed, maimed and killed without mercy. Lucky was anyone who encountered them and survived the ordeal. Yet, when these violent men of southern extracts perpetuated their terror on the nation, no cry was heard that a particular section of the south was scheming to dominate the entire country.

Long before the Fulani herdsmen became the pinata of all criminal acts in Nigeria, and the Fulanis are accused of every violent crime taking place in the country, criminals of southern extract have been raping, maiming, kidnapping, and killing our people. These criminals have not suddenly given up their machetes and guns in retirement and become outstanding citizens. On the contrary, they have since realized that kidnapping is a more lucrative venture than stealing cars or burgling homes. In their calculation, one human being will fetch more money in ransom than 10 stolen cars and it involves less risk. The Yoruba criminals continue to commit armed robbery, the Ibo hoodlums have not stopped kidnapping people, and the Edo bandits still terrorize our motorways. Together with their criminal minded accomplices in the Nigerian Police Force, they are all part of the criminal network that have turned Nigeria into an uninhabitable place.

Some reading this may think, this guy is an out of touch fake Nigerian who has no idea what he is talking about. True, I may not have a full understanding of the political dynamics in Nigeria, but I know enough to be able to offer an informed opinion on the issue at hand. Likewise, you’d be mistaken to think, like some good friends of mine have accused me of doing, that I’m scoffing at the alarm raised by well-meaning Nigerians about the menace of the Fulani herdsmen. This essay does not in any way downplay this clear and present danger.

At the beginning of this write-up, I mentioned the excitement I usually get whenever I’m preparing for a trip to Nigeria. Going back home always fills me with exhilaration. The thought of swimming in the sea of black skinned people, is an experience I find therapeutic. That was the case until this last time. It took much prayers, contemplation, and self-psyching to eventually convince myself to proceed on the journey. If not for the milestone nature of the event I was going to attend, I would never have embarked on the trip. For the first time since becoming a Nigerian emigrant, the thought of traveling to Nigeria filled me fear and trepidation. And for the fear of being kidnapped, my trip from Lagos to Akure was done by air, something I had never done before. If I were minimizing the savagery of Fulani herdsmen, I wouldn’t have been that scared. So, trust me, I know the threat is real.

That some Fulani herdsmen are involved in violent criminal activities is not a subject for debate. It is impossible to quantify the heavy toll the violent rampage and destruction these evil men have inflected on many communities around the country. Families have been devastated and sources of income have been decimated. That said, no one, who is honest enough, can say with all certainty the percentage of Fulani herdsmen involved in such crimes. Is it hundred percent or one percent? Should an entire tribe be tagged with the criminal label as a result of the bad apples amongst them? Would Nigerians in the diaspora want to be labeled fraudulent because of the few Nigerians engaged in fraudulent activities?

Explaining away the wave of violent crimes sweeping across the land as some grand design for the Fulanization and Islamization of Nigeria is the cheap answer mischievous politicians and those who follow them like to float when they are too lazy, and/or don't want, to think deeply about the social economic situation of the country. That is the go to gimmick of failed politicians who, as sore losers, can't get over their defeat at the polls. For those who care to give thoughtful consideration to the economic situation in Nigeria over the past many decades, they’ll find that the upsurge and evolution of criminal activities that exists in the country parallels the precipitous decline in economic opportunities available to Nigerians and the associated collapse of the economic wellbeing of the people.

By all the indicators of economic growth, development, and health of a nation, Nigeria is a wealthy nation. With an economic growth rate of 7.4 percent, the country is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Yet, the rising tide of economic growth has failed to lift up the poor masses of Nigeria into a higher standard of living. The enormous riches of the land have done little to enrich the lives of the people of Nigeria.

Despite its enormous wealth, Nigeria is a poor nation. If you aren’t sure what a poor nation looks like and you are curious to know how impoverished people live, just take a trip down to Nigeria, the poverty capital of the world.

Human capital is defined as the sum of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, experience, and habits, and forms the basis for individual and societal well-being. It enables people to realize their full potential, and is the primary factor driving nations’ economic growth. Nigeria, with a human capital index of 0.34, ranks 152 out of 157 countries. It is at the very bottom of the barrel of human capital, in the company of fellow rudderless nations with the poorest outcome measures for individual and societal well-being. 

From conception to the grave, the life of the average Nigerian is that of toil and misery. Right from the start of life, while still in the womb of his mother, the Nigerian child is at risk of never being born. The pregnant mother is fated to die of complications of pregnancy. Those that survive the dangers and perils of the mother’s womb and are born alive, may never live long enough to reach the age of 5. Those that live beyond 5 years old grow up to quickly realize they are confined to a life where there is never going to be enough food to eat and hunger is a constant companion.

If, by some divine intervention, they make it to adulthood, they are more than likely going to end up poor. Nigeria has more people living poverty than India – a nation 7 times the population of Nigeria. Nine out every 10 Nigerian is poor i.e. 90 percent. Nearly half of Nigerian population (87 million) live in extreme poverty.

Nigerians pride themselves, erroneously of course, as the most educated people in the entire African continent. But guess what? Wishful thinking does not equate reality.

Ten million school-aged children are not enrolled in any formal school. Over 90% of Nigeria’s out-of-school children are in the North. Only 20% of Nigerian adults between 18-37 years who completed primary school can read. To give a little of perspective, that number is 80% in Tanzania.

What about the schools themselves? Nigerian schools are mostly of horrendously substandard quality, characterized by inadequate infrastructure, and grossly insufficient teaching and learning materials. Many of the teachers do not have adequate content and pedagogy knowledge (i.e. the study of how knowledge and skills are imparted in an educational context, and it considers the interactions that take place during learning).

The Nigerian government spends less on health than any other government in the world. In 2016, as a percentage of GDP, public health spending was 0.6% of GDP. Spending on health is also very low as a share of government expenditure. Most of the spending is on tertiary and secondary hospitals leaving little for primary and preventive health care. Health care is mainly financed by household out-of-pocket health expenditures, which account to about 70%. Only 5.1 percent of Nigerians have health insurance coverage. This is one of the highest levels in the world placing the poor at a very high risk. The situation is worse in northern Nigeria.

With 47% of the population being poor, Nigeria has the highest poverty rate amongst its peers. Yet it has the lowest public spending, 0.3% as percentage of GDP, on social protection. The coverage of programs specifically targeted to poor and vulnerable households is limited, meeting only a small fraction of national needs.

Four out of every 10 people in the Nigeria's workforce are either unemployed or underemployed. Nigeria has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. The combined unemployment and underemployment rate is 40 percent of the total labor force. The Nigerian youth (15-35 years) make up 60% of the Nigerian population. Youth unemployment stands at an eye-popping 53 percent. In the north, the unemployment rate is upwards of 70 percent.

Nigerian tertiary education institutions are estimated to produce up to 500,000 graduates every year. The unemployment situation is even worse among this segment of our population. As secondary and tertiary institutions graduate more young people annually with poor skills, the new flow of entrants worsen the stock of the unemployed. The economic future and social stability of Nigeria is definitely vulnerable to the existential risk of having about 2.5 – 3 million young Nigerians annually enter the labor market without the prospect of jobs for about 40% of them.

About sixty percent (i.e. 3 out of 5) of Nigerian graduates earn less than N50,000 ($139) as their first job monthly salary. Upon getting a later job, that number falls to 2 out of 5 (a little above 40%). Overall, most recent graduates earn between N20,000 to N49,999 ($56 to $139) in their first job after graduation while for their later job salary, most earn between N50,000 to N99,999 ($139 - $278) in monthly salary.

Access to clean water and improved sanitation facilities is a daily challenge for many Nigerians. This problem is particularly acute in northern Nigeria, where only 30 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. 

Nigeria has an estimated 24.4 million homeless people. In 2018, 613,000 people were displaced due to natural disasters, and a further 541,000 due to violence and conflict.

Declining rainfall in already desert-prone areas in Northern Nigeria is causing increasing desertification. The Northern part of Nigeria is endowed with a large expanse of arable land that has over the years provided a vital resource for agriculture and other economic activities, but the Sahara Desert is advancing Southward at the rate of 0.6km every year 1. Consequently, Nigeria loses about 350,000 hectares of land every year to desert encroachment. This has led to demographic displacements in villages across 11 states in the North. It is estimated that Nigeria loses about $5 billion every year due to rapid desert encroachment and drought. About 5 million livestock are being threatened by desertification according to estimate from states Ministry of Environment. The Fulani population is known to be mostly affected as their herdsmen are constantly seeking new grazing lands and water as a result of the desert encroachment.

These are the facts. The frightening statistics were culled from several national and international agencies. They illustrate the hopelessness and wretchedness that awaits any child born a Nigerian.

The combination of the above economic woes together with the ineptitude of those in government makes for the toxic brew of the current security breakdown in the country. When a people, after years of hoping, come to the realization that the hope for a better future is a dream that will never become a reality, they are bound to snap and take to violence. This turn to the basal violent natural instincts is what is happening in Nigeria today.

Failure to correctly diagnose a disease will almost always result in the wrong treatment being prescribed. Treating the wrong malady with the wrong medication will not only fail to produce a cure, it’ll lead to the worsening of the condition and might even turn a curable ailment into a fatal one. To find the right answers for Nigeria’s security challenges, we must identify the true cause of the problems. Those who prescribe secession and tribal war as the cure for Nigeria’s problem are nothing but ill-informed quacks who have arrived at an erroneous diagnosis of the problem. And as all quacks are wont to do, they peddle in myth and trade in bullshit. It is wise to ignore them and whatever it is they are selling.



Sources:

1.      African Population and Health Research Center, 2017 Fact Sheet
2.     Council on Foreign Relations, 2018
3.     Internal Displacement, 2019
4.     Integrated Drought Management Programme, 2014
5.     International Monetary Fund
6.     Leadership, 2012
7.     Nigeria Bureau of Statistics
8.     Quartz Africa, 2016
9.     Stutern’s Nigerian Graduate Report 2016
10.   Stutern’s Nigerian Graduate Report 2018
11.    The World Bank
12.   The Nigeria Biannual Economic Update, World Bank Group
13.   United Nations Dispatch
14.   United Nations Population Fund
15.   United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
16.   World Health Organization

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