According to the 2021 Global Peace Index rankings, Nigeria is listed as the 6th least peaceful country in Africa and 10th in the world. In July, an article on Yahoo! Finance ranked Nigeria as the 12th most dangerous country in the world with a political stability score of –1.93 (on a scale of -2.5 to 2.5) and a crime rate of 63.27 (on a scale of 0 to 100). These rankings are evident in the high level of insecurity and continuous banditry which has plagued the sub-Saharan nation in 2021.
In the first half of 2021, 2371 people were abducted in the country; according to a report by research consultancy group SBM Intelligence. The Northern region of the country has been the most affected so far; as criminal gangs (with ties to Islamist groups in the Western African region) locally referred as bandits continually conduct raids on villages, kidnap people, kill and destroy properties in the geographic area. These gangs have reportedly been operational with these vices for over a decade but recently are being joined by members of terror organizations Jamaat Ahl as-Sunnah Iid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad, globally known as Boko Haram, and Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP). The additions have resulted in the increment of strength and weaponry sophistication of the bandit cells. Importing the ‘lucrative’ strategy of mass abductions for ransom from the Islamist terror groups, these cells have recently been targeting educational institutions in which a large number of students are taken hostage and a ransom payment demanded before their release. The timeline details of some of these abductions (focusing majorly on educational institutions) by bandits are given as follows;
• February 17: 41 persons (students, teachers, family members) are kidnapped from Government Science College, Kagara in Niger State. A student was shot dead during the abduction.
• February 26: At least 317 schoolgirls are kidnapped from Government Girls Science Secondary School, Jangebe in Zamfara State.
• March 11: 39 students are kidnapped from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Mando in Kaduna State.
• April 20: At least 22 persons (comprising of 20 students and 2 staff) are kidnapped from Greenfield University in Kaduna State.
• April 24: 2 students are kidnapped from the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi in Benue State.
• May 30: 136 students are kidnapped from an Islamic school in Tegina, Niger State.
• June 24: At least 50 students are kidnapped from the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri in Kebbi State.
• July 5: At least 140 students are kidnapped from Bethel Baptist High School in Kujuma, Chikun, Kaduna State.
• September 1: At least73 students are kidnapped from the Government Day Secondary School, Kaya in Maradun, Zamfara State.
The abducted students were released following various ransom payments. Although the government constantly denies these payments, relatives of the victim reveal to news platforms that they were made to effect release of the abducted. These abductions have constituted a very negative effect on the educational system in the affected areas. On September 1, following the latest mass abduction, the Zamfara State government imposed a curfew and ordered the closure of all schools across the state. Also, on September 3, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ordered the suspension of all telecommunications services in the northwest region; especially Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states. Recently, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) released its handbook in which participants of the one-year mandatory program were advised to avoid high risk roads such as Abuja-Kaduna, Abuja-Lokoja-Okene and Aba-Port Harcourt expressways. It also advised that participants should alert relatives, friends and colleagues to ready ransom payment in the event of abduction.
Similar to the Islamist terror groups, these bandits operate from hideouts in the region’s vast forests; which are characterized by rigid, mountainous topography. These hideouts are highly inaccessible to vehicles hence the bandits make use of foot and motorbikes for their operations. Asides their ‘funding’ strategy of mass abductions, the bandits have also been accused of conducting multiple raids on villages where the destroy properties, maim and kill people. Although the responsibility for these raids was initially allotted to herdsmen who carried out retaliatory attacks on communities that objected to open grazing, the blame has been shifted to bandits in recent times. In 2019, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State met with leaders of several bandit cells for peace negotiations. However, these negotiations have proven futile as the rate of kidnappings and bloodshed has rather increased tremendously. Recently, Islamic cleric Sheikh Ahmad Gumi (who has been acting as an arbitrator between the bandits and Federal Government) urged that the bandits be accorded amnesty benefits similar to the Niger Delta militants in order to bring an end to the violence.
In the Southern part of the country, a different insecurity paradigm can be seen; especially in the southeast region. The capture and detention of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the secessionist group Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), has resulted in the increment of violence with the militia offshoot Eastern Security Network (ESN) being involved in multiple battles with members of the Nigerian security forces. In pursuance for the release of the secessionist group leader, the security outfit has instituted a sit-at-home order every Monday. Several individuals, businesses and institutions which flouted the order have been attacked as they have been tagged as saboteurs of the secessionist group’s primary goal; the splitting of Nigeria and reformation of the Republic of Biafra. These developments have led to several murders and assassinations; majority of them which have been alleged to be politically motivated. The most recent among these murders is that of Dr. Chike Akunyili; a renowned surgeon and the husband to late Minister of Information Prof. Dora Akunyili. The doctor was shot alongside a relative, his driver and police escort; while returning from a tribute lecture to his late wife.
The southwest region has also been riddled with kidnappings; especially the Lagos-Ibadan-Benin highway. Passenger buses and private vehicles are waylaid and the occupants held hostage until a ransom is paid. On several occasions, the hostages are killed even when ransom has been paid. Responsibility for these kidnappings has been allotted to armed herdsmen who roam the forests in the region with their cattle. The herdsmen have also been alleged to attack villages and kill community members who object to their open grazing method. These vices led to the formation of the Western Nigeria Security Network popularly referred to as Amotekun in order to curb insecurity in the region. This has been a bit effective as several arrests and rescue of hostages have been effected since its launch. However, there have also been multiple reports of impunity against officials of the security.
Unemployment has been a scourging factor in Nigeria; resulting in mass exodus from the country. Between December 2020 and March 2021, the unemployment rate in the country rose from 27.1% to 33.3%; according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This placed the country as second highest unemployment rate in the world; behind Namibia which has a rate of 33.4%. Business analysts have forecasted a rise in the unemployment rate proportional to the rapid population growth. The lack of jobs has led a large percentage of Nigerians to migrate or begin making migration plans. Another leading factor which has contributed to rapid mass exodus from the country is the poor employment benefits. In 2019, the national monthly minimum wage was increased from 18,000 (an equivalent of $) to 30,000 (an equivalent of about $77). However, with the continual depreciation of the Nigerian currency Naira in the global exchange market, the cost of living keeps rising rapidly beyond the capability of the average citizen; as the country is dependent on importations. This has made it almost impossible for the average Nigerian to be able to feed daily.
The hardship has made multiple Nigerians to risk the illegal, tedious journey through the deserts of Libya in search of greener pastures in Europe. The professionals (medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, tech aficionados, etc) have resorted to applying for jobs in countries with better employment benefits such as the UK, U.S., UAE, Saudi Arabia, etc. Currently, the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has been on an almost two-month strike in demand for payment of their salaries and allowances. Several countries have taken advantage of this situation in recruiting these professionals. Recently, Saudi Arabia conducted a recruitment process in Abuja which attracted the applications of hundreds of experienced medical doctors. The Federal Government has continually displayed nonchalance towards employee demands with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, being quoted as saying he thought the striking doctors were playing a prank when they embarked on the industrial action. A previous interview by Channels Television in 2019 shows him saying he was not bothered on the migration of doctors from the country as according to him “we have surplus and if you have surplus, you export”. Majority involved in the exodus are young adults who want to ensure a better environment for their (born and unborn) kids with a functioning system which can provide them with the basic amenities and give a better assurance of security. In recent times, several persons have taken to social media platforms to celebrate their migration from Nigeria.
With these current happenings, it is only imperative to ask the following questions;
i) Will Nigeria be able to totally tackle the insecurity in the country?
ii) Will the Nigerian government be able to tackle the unemployment problem?
iii) Will the Nigerian government institute and implement policies to provide genuine solutions to employee issues?
iv) Is there any hope for the survival of the average Nigerian?
Only time can and will tell.
Happy Independence Day/New Month to all Nigerians nationwide and in diaspora.
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
By Agwah Michael
(Founder 247NewsUpdate Blog, Researcher, Human Rights Activist, Social Critic and Political Analyst)