By Dan Agbese
A typical day and a typical news bulletin in northern Nigeria: “Bandits kill 21, burn houses in Katsina communities invasion;” “Bandits hold 348 students, UNESCO sounds warning;” “83 FGC students held;” “Bandits: we are holding 121 Kaduna school pupils.”
In its issue of July 7, The Punch reported that “the total number of students being held by bandits has increased to 348 with the abduction of 121 students in Kaduna State. Out of the 348 students,” the newspaper further reported, “227 are still languishing in bandits’ dens many weeks after they were abducted from their schools in Niger, Kebbi and Kaduna states.”
Spare a thought for what their parents are going through, wondering if indeed their children are alive. No one knows in what condition the children are being held. But there is some indication they are sleeping on the ground in the bush subjected to the harsh elements in the open. It is no way to bring up our future leaders.
We do not know how and if they are fed but they are likely from the dens emaciated. It should worry our leaders who tend to lean towards power without responsibility. The responsibility of power does not begin and end with building roads. It is more importantly about the welfare and the protection of the majority of the people. As Churchill once said, power without responsibility is the province of the harlot.
The bandits holding the Kaduna students had the temerity to ask for rice to feed their captives. Still, northern political leaders, the great men of the moment, cannot be counted on the side of the children and their parents. None of us can pretend not to be affected by what is happening to the region and its people. And let us not pretend about this. Northern Nigeria has surrendered to the reign of bandits in the full view and with the full knowledge of those who have the constitutional responsibility to make the region and indeed, the entire country safe. It is a huge shame on northern Nigerian leaders.
The region bleeds and has been bleeding from Boko Haram, bandits, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers and sundry criminal elements. Still, the Nigerian state and its constituent units in northern Nigeria feel overwhelmed and weakened by their inability to find answers to the tragedy. Our political leaders, great winners of paid awards for good governance, must have some problems with the sacred responsibilities of governance. Resplendent in choice baban riguna, they strut the political stage, uttering inane political sound bites but ignoring the plight of their own people. They object to power shifting to the south in 2023 and conveniently forget that their people are losers even as they hold the reins of power.
I can find no reason and I can find no rhyme in the impossible situation and the existential threat we face. I can find no reason or rhyme for their cynical attitude towards the safety of the lives and the property of the people. There are many things we do not understand in and about our country but the current situation must rank as the worst case of a riddle wrapped in a puzzle. It befuddles the mind; it passeth all understanding. Those who believe they have the right to be listened to are never tired of preaching the gospel of patriotism to the people. They forget that patriotism is reciprocal. A country that neglects its people has no moral right to expect the people to be patriotic.
When ISWAP captured one American not too long ago, the country deployed its forces and rescued him from his captors in Niger Republic. It is a typical example of a government that fully understands that the life of one citizen lost to a state or non-state actors takes something away from its constitutional obligation to protect all Americans wherever they might be. The U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists but then it does not create room for such negotiation. It rescues its citizens and send their captors to hell.
Perhaps in the near future, sociologists would study these times and tell future generations of northerners why governments instituted by the people for the people abandoned the people to their fate in the hands of criminals. Here is part of the tragedy. We are told that the federal and state governments do not negotiate with terrorists, including bandits; yet the same governments allow the poor, helpless parents of the kidnapped children to negotiate with the bandits. It just does not add up.
Does that not undermine the so-called policy of non-negotiation? It is hypocrisy at its lowest level. It should not be the business of the parents to negotiate with the terrorists. If the governments are not willing to negotiate with them and secure the release of the children in safety, then they must have an alternative strategy that would achieve the same purpose and effect the release of the children.
President Buhari has said it a good number of times that the Federal Government has massive power it could deploy to defeat the bandits and other terrorists but despite his repeated warning to them not to take his non-action against them as a sign of weakness, he has refused to deploy this massive power. I thought the state funded the purchase of the arms and ammunitions and the training of the security personnel for times like these. I wonder if the bandits are not laughing, knowing all too well that while the governments would not negotiate with them, the harried parents will and they will achieve the same purpose by collecting huge ransom from the parents.
It is impossible for anyone who sees these parents scraping for a kobo here and a kobo there to raise money to meet the demands of the bandits not to be affected by the tragedy that befell them and their children.
They sent their children to school to give them a better future. They cannot understand why that path to their better future is either blocked or threatened by criminals. They cannot understand why their children have been turned into a means of making quick and illegal money while the governments dither, biting their nails in a typical display of weakness. They certainly cannot understand why the governments they instituted to make their lives and those of their children better are making things worse, much worse for them and their children. Nor can they understand why federal and state governments would choose to subject them to this trauma that deepens their helplessness and hopelessness and turn the rainbow of hope in the horizon into the dark clouds of an arrested future. Shame.
There is no way one can put it less indelicately: it is a shame on our governments and our political leaders who sought the mandate of the people, not to lead them into the gutter or abandon them there but to make their lives meaningful to them. But here we are: while the good times roll for our political leaders, the rough times roll for the people; while the leaders are protected by a phalanx of security men and women, the people are at the mercy of criminals who profit from the cynical attitude of our leaders towards us. The people are unsafe anywhere and everywhere – at home, in offices and on the roads. It could not be worse for the giant of Africa.
Perhaps, the federal and the state governments in northern Nigeria should pause now and give some serious thoughts to their gallant development efforts and re-examine their objectives. What is the use of modern highways the people cannot make use of because they are dangerous and unsafe? What is the use of building primary and secondary schools and planting universities if the federal and state governments cannot guarantee the safety of the pupils and the students?
Development is about making lives better for the people. As I said earlier, governance and its enormous responsibilities are about what is best for the people. It is not about mouthing slogans and ignoring the full protection of the rights of the people to live in safety and carry on with their legitimate businesses in their country. It was good to storm Sunday Igboho’s residence; it was good to arrest Nnamdi Kanu. Why does the same determination appear to be absent in saving our children from bandits? Since the actions against them for putting their fingers in the eyes of the Nigerian state, the roads in northern Nigeria have not become safer nor have schools in northern Nigeria become safer.
Civilisation may follow the roads, as the Romans contended, but human development follows security of lives and property. It was no accident that the framers of our constitution made this as the number one responsibility the state must discharge towards its citizens. The failure to do so delegitimises the government. Let the northerners rise now and save their region, its future and the future of their young people. And end the shame of weakness.
*Dan Agbese, veteran journalist and one of the founders of Newswatch Plus, wrote this piece originally for (and was published) by The Guardian.