By Olabisi Deji-Folutile
News of the release of the 27 kidnapped students of the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Kaduna State, no doubt, calls for celebration. These students spent 50 good days in the camp of their captors. We saw them being beaten and assaulted in a trending video released by their kidnappers. It doesn’t matter if two of the 29 students said to be in the bandits’ enclave after their abduction on March 11, 2021 are yet to be accounted for. As sad as this is, it seems to be of little relevance now. Apparently, the wave of euphoria around the release of the majority has overshadowed the despair of parents that may have yet to see their own children. These students could have been killed or maimed, no one knows. And even if we do, there is little or nothing anyone can do about it. In today’s Nigeria, bandits have become kings. They are in charge. The state has surrendered to their authority. It’s a case of everybody for himself and God for us all! While Nigerians are generally unsafe, students are fast becoming endangered species. They are kidnapped almost on daily basis. The latest occurred some hours ago, where an unspecified number of students of Abia State University Uturu, were abducted by gunmen.
As I write this, 17students of Greenfield University, a private university in Kaduna, are still with bandits. Twenty three of them were abducted from their school on April 20, 2021. The bodies of five of them were later found along some bush path. This was after the bandits had collected N55m from the parents of these students as confirmed by one of them, who spoke with the Hausa Service of Voice of America (VOA). The bandit, who identified himself as Sani Idris Jalingo, said the students were killed “to show government’s failure.” He also threatened that his gang would keep killing them until their demands are met. He further said 10 brand new Honda motorcycles and N100m ransom should be given to his gang to secure the release of the students. Very bold and audacious! This is the level of atrocity in a country that has democratically elected leaders.
There is nothing more devastating than for parents to send their children to school and for those children to be kidnapped and killed for fun by blood thirsty criminals that freely move around without any fear of being arrested. With a voice laden with emotions, the father of one of the victims of Greenfield University students, Mr Yohanna Meck, said he was bidding his daughter, Dorothy, farewell in pains because he never thought of burying his child. “I had a deal with my daughter. We did not conclude it because some people interrupted us and God, who knows the end from the beginning, approved the interruption so that Tirnom can go to His place,” he had said at the burial ceremony.
He also revealed how the bandits had asked him and his wife to pay N800m ransom which they couldn’t raise. He said the bandits asked them to tell Kaduna State Governor Nasir El’Rufai and the school management to pay the money. This is similar to the accounts of some parents of the just released Afaka students. One of them said they paid N800, 000 to a man introduced to them by Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, a prominent Islamic cleric, while negotiating the release of their children. However, after collecting the money, the bandits claimed it was just for transportation and insisted that an additional N500m must be paid before the students could be released. One of the parents said: “They (kidnappers) were after the government paying that money– N500 million. They kept telling me ‘Madam, go and talk to the government to pay the money.’ These parents disclosed this during a protest at the National Assembly on Tuesday before the “miraculous” release of their children on Wednesday.
By now everybody should know that bandits, kidnappers, insurgents and terrorists have not only become a parallel government in Nigeria, but more powerful than the legitimate government in power. This is in spite of the N10.2 trillion devoted to fighting insecurity in the country in the last six years. They have been killing, maiming and kidnapping for ransom with renewed strength, vigour and alacrity. Nigerians are being sent to early grave every day. To prove that Nigeria is overwhelmed, President Muhammadu Buhari has gone from issuing threats of crushing the criminals to begging them to soft-pedal on their activities. For example, while reacting to the abduction of Greenfield students on April 21, 2021, President Buhari threatened the bandits thus: “Stop pushing me, I can crush you all.” But as the bandits threatened to kill more students, we saw the President also changing tactics – moving from threat to appeal. Hence, on May 5, the President said: “I appeal for the release of the students of Greenfield University and all other citizens held in captivity.”
He had no choice. He knows that the state is weak. Imagine this: almost a month into the Greenfield students’ abduction, security forces, in the words of the President, are still doing their best “to ensure that good triumphs over evil, and that all of the bandits and criminals terrorizing innocent lives and communities are brought to book.” Despite granting radio interviews, Nigerian authorities are too weak to confront bandits. We have never had it so bad. I mean bandits in addition to granting interviews also having a public figure representing their interest and negotiating on their behalf?
I mean, what could have stopped our security forces from going after bandits that openly grant interviews and use registered telephone numbers to negotiate for ransom? It is either this government is deliberately condoning terrorism, or they just like to treat Nigerians with contempt! The authorities have been tough on Ibraheem El-Zakzaky, whose religious movement is not into crime; they sanction television and radio stations for airing interviews with IPOB representative but choose to turn the other eye when bandits and terrorists are interviewed. To add salt to injury, our minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, is telling us that banditry is not under the purview of the federal government, so it is not the president’s business to rescue abducted Nigerians.
We know the official representatives of bandits in Nigeria and nobody interrogates their activities. Sheikh Gumi even has the temerity to ask the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay kidnappers N100m ransom. According to him, “The money they are asking for is too much; if I give you that money, you cannot run away with it. Nobody can run. So, why not give them the money, they release the boys and then we pursue them and get our money back and do what is necessary; it is simple logic. So, bring the money from the central bank. How can they move that money? We should not be stupid.” As far as I am concerned, a personality like Sheikh Gumi is all our security agencies need if they are truly serious about fighting banditry. He knows them. It is either he helps the state in fishing these criminals out, or he is treated as an accomplice.
We can’t continue on this destructive path. Students are neither safe in schools nor at home. Even when they manage to graduate, their safety is not guaranteed. We can still remember the gruesome murder of 26-year-old Iniubong Umoren, a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Uyo, while trying to job- hunt in the state.
As the chief executive and commander in chief of the Nigerian armed forces, President Buhari has a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all Nigerians. A country that cannot fight internal enemies cannot combat external foes. He has to guarantee Nigeria’s internal security before he can defend its territorial integrity. It is high time the President took a leadership approach to his job. Charismatic leaders don’t beg criminals, they deal with them. The President should prove to Nigerians that he was an astute war commander, a general of global repute! I hate to see my President being perceived as weak and feeble. No, Nigeria’s President shouldn’t be afraid of bandits, he should “crush” them!
Olabisi Deji-Folutile is the Editor-in-Chief, Franktalknow.com and member, Nigerian Guild of Editors. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org