Image Credits: BBC/Getty Images.
FIRST, MY COMMISERATIONS to the families, friends and colleagues of Lieutenant Commander Wulah and Flight Lieutenant Commander Okoronkwo both of whom were killed by terrorists who invaded the Nigerian Defence Academy to the consternation of Nigerians. I pray for the safe return of Major Datong who was abducted by the daredevil terrorists. And the cheek of it — his kidnappers have demanded a N200 million ransom!
Between the bandits and Boko Haram and other terrorists of indeterminate pedigree, military installations have been violated in many parts of the North-East. Now the gale of daring raids on military targets has reached the very institution where our officers are incubated. In terror-lingo, this must be a ‘target of interest’, a very symbolic quarry in the warped worldview of terrorists.
It no longer matters what you call them: Bandits, gunmen, kidnappers, Boko Haram, armed hoodlums… The simple word that describes them is their occupation — terrorism. It is still one of the many wonders of these dangerous times that we manage to avoid calling a group of people who routinely kill security personnel and unarmed civilians, and shoot down military aircraft, by their very name — terrorists. Their activities are the very definition of terrorism. So, why the pussyfooting?
It is true that terrorists can always find a chink in the armour of protected targets, but the victim must first come to terms with the truth of the embarrassment before he is able to design countermeasures to prevent the calamity in future. As I’m writing this piece, the TV is flashing gory photographs of victims of the suicide bombing at the gate of Kabul Airport. Thirteen US service members had been confirmed killed, and 18 injured while about 70 Afghans lie dead— so far.
I was touched by the heart-wrenching scenes coming from Kabul. So were people of conscience all over the world. I particularly took note of Gloria Ogunbadejo’s social media post where she shared her reaction:
“When I saw that little baby hoisted over the towering gate by the American soldier, who held it with such tenderness and I saw its little legs dangling, I thought of the trauma, baby, mother, father, soldier would all feel later on from that experience. My tears flowed…”
Tragedy does happen, even unexpectedly. But it’s no use downplaying the significance of the Nigerian Defence Academy to Nigeria. The NDA is not a Wuse Market. It is a strategic institution. We should be worried that its security was successfully breached. It is only when we acknowledge the seriousness of the breach that we can design measures that will stultify any such attempt in the future. The NDA invasion may as well be a dress rehearsal for more daring ones in future.
The authorities have promised to dig out how the Kaduna fiasco happened. What we have in the public space is that the terrorists broke into five apartments at the NDA residential quarters and quickly escaped before the guards on duty could respond to the situation. Some security experts have pointed out that the successful abduction and swiftness of the operation suggested that the assailants might have collaborators within the NDA. The world eagerly awaits the result of the ongoing inquiry.
Looking back, I did warn that it was in our collective interest to back Kaduna’s Governor Nasir El Rufai when he advocated a scorched earth policy against bandits instead of paying huge ransoms which made hostage-taking attractive. I predicted that if the terrorists disgraced El Rufai, our collective humiliation was just around the corner. Perhaps the recent national embarrassment will needle us to rise up to the occasion as Chadian soldiers did when Boko Haram crossed Nigeria’s border to Chad.
In that incident, the Chadian troops killed scores of the terrorists, leaving only about 22 of them for the video shoot which they shared with the world. The lesson: You mess with us, we delete you!
In April last year, 44 suspected Boko Haram jihadists were found dead in a Chad prison where they were undergoing trial for terrorism. They were among 58 suspected jihadists arrested following the fighting around Lake Chad at which at least 1,000 terrorists were killed. Autopsies confirmed the suspicion of coroners that the prisoners ingested a “deadly substance” that induced heart and breathing complications in order to beat appearing at the criminal court the following Thursday. They must have reasoned that suicide was a better way to die than face the firing squad.
In Chad, the wages of terrorism is the firing squad. No quibbling. No prevarication. No messing about. You live by the gun, you die by the gun.
In 2015, 10 Boko Haram members were condemned to death in Chad’s first trial of members of the Islamist group. They were charged with criminal conspiracy, killings, wilful destruction with explosives, fraud, illegal possession of firearms, as well as using psychotropic substances. Among them was a Nigerian, Mahamat Mustapha, also known as Bana Fanaye, who according to Chadian authorities masterminded the June 15 suicide attacks that destroyed a school and a police building in N’Djamena, killing 38 people and injuring 101.
All ten were found guilty. A day after the verdict, they were all executed at a firing range north of the capital.
By contrast, Nigeria is yet to successfully prosecute and convict any high profile terrorist or sponsor of terror. The only segment of our operations that has enjoyed prominent attention is the rehabilitation of ‘repentant terrorists’ and their families — which has made many people wonder if there are different laws applicable to the terrorists. If that is the case, would it be right to release and rehabilitate all ‘repentant armed robbers’ and ‘repentant ritual killers’ all over the country? They ask.
That point was underlined by an independent rights organisation, Global Rights Nigeria, in its report published midyear which revealed that 1, 603 Nigerians were killed in the first quarter of 2021 and wondered why kidnappers and their ilk were being treated with kid’s gloves:
According to the report, there has been Harvest of Abductions, Insecurity of Security Officers, Ethnic/communal tensions, Unending Terrors, and others, which have worsened the insecurity situation across the country. The report also pointed that banditry alone claimed 906 lives, which made it the highest cause of killings in the country and followed by Boko Haram attacks claiming 207 lives in Nigeria while kidnapping recorded 1, 774 abductees within the period under review.
The report says, “In spite of its continued denial, several sources have documented attempts by some state governors to placate organized criminal groups — paying fat ransoms to kidnappers, and offering cash-back to bandits in exchange for their weapons and assurance of security.
“However, it is pertinent to state that huge ransoms paid to kidnappers by the government set a dangerous precedent that will encourage criminality rather than quell it. Organized criminal groups who maim people, rape women, destroy properties and cause severe humanitarian crises should be made to face the wrath of the law rather than be mollycoddled.”
This is not the time for division and name-calling. This terror binge could spell doom for the nation. We can borrow a leaf from Chad by going after the terrorists and making those who survive our military blitzkrieg face justice like any other Nigerian.
We also have to make up our minds on how to protect defenceless people, especially in areas such as Jos, southern Kaduna and parts of Katsina and Zamfara states, where attackers have killed and burnt down whole villages or kidnapped prominent personages. Some governors have advocated self-defence (which means that Nigerians should arm themselves, a prospect that the federal government does not find attractive). Others have said that if Nigerians won’t be allowed to carry arms to defend themselves, the security forces have to live up to their billing by showing up whenever they are called upon. The authorities will, in the coming days, have to dispassionately take another look at Thomas Jefferson’s informed commentary: “For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well-organized and armed militia is their best security.”
The mood on the streets is palpable: the proposition that we should all lie down and patriotically embrace violent death without the ability to defend ourselves will never fly.