The Kaduna-Zaria stretch of the Abuja-Kano highway used to be like a sanctuary, rarely witnessing highway banditry or kidnapping. An oasis of sanity in a gloomy, murderous wilderness. Alas, in recent weeks, the story has changed. The driver that took me to Kaduna yesterday narrated the chilling story of how he burst his toe on a stone as he abandoned his car and ran into the rocky bush by the roadside when they were waylaid by armed kidnappers last week. It was just a few kilometres to Zaria. He showed me the actual spot. Zaria metropolis itself has not been immune. Uncountable incidents of kidnapping with attendant loss of lives have occurred around the old city, Samaru, Shika and Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic.
One thing that cannot be denied is that kidnapping and banditry have not abated in the last three years. They have only got worse. The president, in his two recent interviews, has put to rest the debate about whether they have a plan to stop it or not. If you thought the government was doing anything about it, your doubt should have been cleared. Once in a while, you hear that some bandit hideouts have been bombed. And that’s all. It doesn’t stop anything. Bandits move about unfettered from one part of the country to another. Sometimes they do it with fanfare, on noisy bikes. Bikes that they often get as part of the ransom that they demand.
The blame and responsibility have been shifted elsewhere. We should not expect things to be better soon. The leader of the gang that kidnapped the Greenfield students recently promised in an interview that we should expect more kidnappings and killings. They just got a boost of about 200 million naira after all. And other unmentioned booty.
We see ministers, senators, reps, other big government people and their families using the train all the time. Which makes me to wonder – what if the Abuja-Kaduna rail didn’t exist? Would they have allowed the brazen insecurity on the Abuja-Kaduna to have festered for so long? Remember the heavy security on the highway when the Abuja runway was under repairs and air traffic had to be diverted to Kaduna?
Security is the first condition for the existence of a state. A government that cannot secure its territory from local bandits and other criminals, is that one even a government? A government that cannot assert its sovereignty over swathes of its own territory under the control of bandits and terrorists is busy flexing its muscle pronouncing ineffectual bans on social media to the applause of a people looking for something to cheer them, something to assuage the battered image of their country, something to salve their bruised nationalistic egos.
People are not even accounting for the ripple effects of the insecurity. Farmers cannot till the land. Farming, the major contributor to GDP. Schools have closed. People have been displaced. Livelihoods have been destroyed. Children have been traumatised, scarred for life. People cannot honor wedding invitations. Folks can no longer visit relatives. Meanwhile, the youths have been told to ensure security so that direct foreign investment can come in. Imagine.
He president said that you people should go and secure yourselves. His Minister of Defense has said the same thing before. As citizens of Nigeria, the people have surrendered their security to the state. They are not allowed to bear arms just like that. The government has the monopoly of the legal use of violence. The people have elected leaders and paid taxes. They have done their part. The State has the police, the army, the intelligence services, civil defence, air force, navy. The State has the resources and the authority. We don’t. Yet, the people go the extra mile to organize their own security, putting up neighbourhood gates, engaging guards and vigilantes and paying them.
Yet they are not secure. Kidnappers come and pick them up in their beds in the dead of night or as they move from one town to another. They abduct their children from their schools. They rape their women. The police are seldom of help. In fact, they have been shown to be part of the problem. People have to borrow or sell all they have to ransom kidnapped relatives; otherwise, they will be killed. Sometimes, they are still wantonly killed even after ransom has been paid. The government will neither pay to free them nor negotiate on their behalf. The governor, while he can’t prevent kidnappings, says he will not pay ransom. At the end, the people bear all the brunt.
The State has failed to protect the lives and property that it swore to protect. The State has failed. But you cannot utter this glaring truth. Only people who hate Nigeria and the president say things like this. Only unpatriotic say it as it is.
Meanwhile, the people are on their own.