Time to temper the headlines on Nigeria's security challenges


Nigerian Troops

By Bayo Onanuga

I woke up Tuesday to read some hair-raising headlines about kidnapping and killings in our country. “Over 17,000 Nigerians abducted under Buhari and Tinubu”, screamed one newspaper that described the incidents an epidemic.

Another newspaper wrote ”2,423 people killed, 1,872 kidnapped in eight months of Tinubu”. There was yet another scary headline, that will truly scare any outsider away from my state of Ogun. It says “From Rising industrial hub to den of cultists, criminals.” The impressionistic outsider will, at first blush, think every inch of Ogun is under the siege of cultists and criminals.

Of course, this sweeping generalisation conveyed by the newspaper does not match the reality lived by the people in the state.

As a newspaper man myself for over 40 years, I understand the game the media play. To sell our newspapers or clickbait, we tend to exaggerate and embellish, sometimes forgetting the social responsibility of the media, not to give the impression that our country is under siege by criminals or that every nook and cranny of our country is under their stranglehold.

One of our newspapers took this responsibility to heart in its report on the same Tuesday, making its major headline, the efforts by security agents to rein in the minority vagabonds in our midst. “Security dmen raise bar in battle against kidnappers”, the paper reported, as it listed the bombing of terrorists den, the rescue of captives by the army and police, simultaneously as it also reported the unfortunate killing of two monarchs in Ekiti, a policeman in Imo and mother and daughter in the FCT.

The frightening headlines on Tuesday were based on the report by the Civil Society Joint Action Group that calls for an emergency on the security situation, surprisingly oblivious that our security agencies have been working in that spirit for a long time, since 2009.

Our security agencies deserve society’s appreciation for their efforts so far, in trying to nip in the bud the evils of kidnapping, banditry, communal killings and terrorism in our country. Their efforts, most often understated, have made our country safer at least than South Africa or the United States, where 44,310 people were killed last year in gun violence.

South Africa faces a worsening insecurity than Nigeria. In 2023, 15,343 people were kidnapped, with Gauteng Province, where the City of Johannesburg, the commercial capital, is located recording 7,818 cases of kidnapping for ransom. Ten years ago in 2013, there were only 3,822 cases of kidnapping. They jumped to 11,000 in 2021 and have been on the upward curve since then.

Gun related killings or murders are also high in South Africa. They increased by 35 percent between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023. In the fourth quarter of 2023, 6,289 people were killed in South Africa. An average of 70 killings occurred per day between January and March 2023. Within a more extended period, April 2022 and March 2023, the killings were 75 per day. According to official statistics, 27,272 people were killed during this period, with 11,347 shot dead.

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South Africa also leads the world in car jacking, with 18,000 cases reported in 2020 and 22,742 cases reported last year, an increase of eight percent over 2022 figure.

Nigerians will appreciate our security agencies better with the comparative figures about our country. Between July 2022 and and June 2023, Nigeria recorded 3,620 people kidnapped for ransom, in 582 kidnapping incidents. In 2022, 4,616 people were kidnapped. The same year, 4,545 people were killed by criminals in our midst.

In a report by the World Population Review, Nigeria is not among the top 10 countries in the world, with kidnapping “epidemic“. Turkey leads with 42 people kidnapped out of 100,000 people. Lebanon is second with 15 people out of 100,000 and Kuwait third with 12 out of 100,000 held in captivity. Canada, Belgium, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, Eswatini and United Kingdom make up the remaining top 10. Kidnapping in Nigeria is 0.334 per 100,000.

Surely, every life matters. Surely, any of our compatriots kidnapped by the criminals must be a matter of concern to the government as it has always been a matter of concern to our security agencies and the leadership, whose job is to keep all of us safe.

In my view, they have all been playing a salutary role. Contrary to the uncharitable comment that President Tinubu has been fiddling while incidents of kidnapping or killings occur, as commander-in-chief, he has been providing material support to security agencies to discharge their duties. In recent weeks, we have seen the police setting up a Special Intervention Squad, equipped with drones. The DSS has stepped up its anti-kidnapping act, rescuing 154 abducted people in the last few days.

Last week President Tinubu approved N50billion as Special Fund to address some of the lingering security challenges in North East. He also approved special funds to the FCT, for the acquisition of equipment to track criminals.

Media reporting about cases of kidnapping, communal killings and isolated terrorism acts must show some moderation by not giving the impression that all Nigerians no longer sleep with two eyes closed or are not safe in going about their day-to-day business.

The relative peace we used to enjoy in our country was broken in the 90s by cases of kidnapping in Niger-Delta. Then followed insurgency in the North-East in 2009, which morphed into banditry and kidnapping in North-West and some parts of North Central. Kidnapping, which appears to be developing into an industry, has also spread to South-West and South-East. It will definitely take some time to put the broken pieces back into the whole.

While we do not have a crime-free country yet, there is no denying that some efforts are being made countrywide to fight the emerging scourge. Last December Lagos State celebrated four years of near zero robbery in the state, with only one incident recorded in Epe in 2023. The South-West states have set up Amotekun, a local police of sort, that is working alongside the police. Such efforts must be encouraged all over the country, to give our people security cover at all times. Amotekun and other local police set up by the states must be strengthened to work with our existing security structure for intelligence gathering and covert operation. Citizens and the media must also, as a matter of duty, compliment the efforts of government to completely stamp out violent crimes.

-Onanuga is Special Adviser to the President on Information & Strategy

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