Having repeatedly been exposed as weak, Nigeria’s security system failed miserably again over the weekend after dozens of people were abducted from the Igeben railway station in Edo state in an attack linked to Fulani herdsmen. According to the Nigerian Railway Corporation, armed herdsmen kidnapped 32 people on Saturday afternoon. The Edo state government said many were injured in the ensuing scuffle. Barely 10 months after the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train in Kaduna state, it confirms the collapse of the country’s security system under the regime of the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (ret.).
In terms of insecurity, Nigeria is in a very bad place. Violent Islamism, banditry, ruthless separatism and robbery have combined with the rapine of Fulani herdsmen, leading to unprecedented violations under the command of Buhari, a retired general whose lack of authority over the past seven years it is extremely disconcerting. As the 2023 general election approaches, the country is likely to witness more of these attacks.
During the Igueben breach, an eyewitness recounted a well-planned operation by the herders. They reportedly selected the people they kidnapped after boarding the train. Both passengers –mainly heading to the Southeast and South-South– and non-passengers were victims. They included the station manager and the head of security. Although police, soldiers and vigilantes rescued six of the victims on Monday, according to the Edo government, the intelligence failure and lack of adequate security personnel on the ground are glaring.
There’s enough blame to go around. There was a significant failure in the collection and use of intelligence. Citing possible terror attacks, the NRC suspended train services at Ajaokuta station last August after gunmen fired on passengers disembarking there. Being on the same route as Igueben, Saturday’s gruesome attack exposes a failure to protect vital public assets from attackers. Therefore, it is inexcusable that security at Igeben and other stations has not been intensified after the Ajaokuta incident. It also means that Nigerians are not safe on the road, in the water and on the train again.
In the first place, the number of police officers attached to the station, described as remote, is inadequate. Nigeria currently operates with fewer than 400,000 police officers. This is grossly inadequate for a country of 216 million. It is compounded by the deployment of a high percentage of officers to VIPs. Police Inspector General Usman Baba, like his predecessors, has been unable to resolve this.
Regularly, bold attacks occur. Last June, terrorists massacred more than 40 worshipers just after Sunday service at St Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State. The following month, Islamists stormed the Kuje Correctional Center in Abuja, where they freed hundreds of inmates, including more than 60 hardcore terrorists, and ambushed the elite Guard Brigade corps.
Second, the herdsmen dictate the rhythm under Buhari. From the north-central to the south-west and from the south-east to the north-west, Fulani herdsmen, under the guise of open herding, have carried out bloodshed and murder with alarming regularity since Buhari became president in May 2015. Instead Rather than implement the pragmatic solution of ranching to curb their threat, Buhari and his government cohorts hide behind various programs such as the rural grazing areas scheme to appease roaming herders.
Last March, the terrorists attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train, killing 14 passengers and kidnapping more than 60. It took more than six months and more than N1 billion in ransom for all the victims to regain their freedom. Kaduna International Airport had been invaded by bandits just before the train attack in Kaduna. Bandits/terrorists are occupying territories in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger and probably other northern states.
Not only does Nigeria suffer significant economic loss due to the inability to implement animal husbandry, but Fulani herdsmen have turned the country upside down with their bloody escapades. After Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Burkina Faso and Syria, the Institute for Economics and Peace listed Nigeria as the sixth most terrified country in the world in 2021. Murders increased by 47% in 2020 to 10,366 worldwide. country in 2021, SBM Intelligence said. . Between January and August 2022, 5,222 innocent Nigerians were killed, the Nigerian Security Tracker said.
Economically, open grazing restricts Nigeria’s income. The LD4D, an online resource on livestock, says that livestock contributes almost 50% of agricultural GDP in high-income countries and about 25% in low- and middle-income countries. With open grazing, cattle account for 17 percent of agricultural GDP in Nigeria, says the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Statista says that livestock GDP was a paltry 1.55 percent of GDP in the third quarter of 2022. By contrast, the livestock industry generated 8.5 percent of Brazil’s GDP in 2020, according to the Agricultural Research Institute. from Brazil.
The strike in Igueben demands immediate action. The response of the security agencies will only resonate if the captives are quickly rescued, the suspects arrested and prosecuted.
Buhari should stop being indifferent to the threat from Fulani herdsmen, which he blames on climate change. It is more than that. Herders have weaponized livestock here; they persist in their campaign mainly because the law is soft on them.
The country is insecure because there is little security presence across the board. The IG must wake up, be strategic and implement their commitment to withdraw officers attached to VIPs for field work.
Edo and the other states that have laws against open grazing must rigorously implement them. Governor Godwin Obaseki should create a state security team strong in intelligence gathering and technology use to deal with the threat of Fulani herdsmen. Forests are an important government asset that should not be a platform for criminal operations, and complaints about how herders have displaced farmers have gone unheeded. Obaseki should launch a program to sanitize the state’s forests from all squatters.
Buhari and the National Assembly should go into emergency security mode and implement a swift ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ to amend the 1999 Constitution to allow state police to have strong bulwarks against abuses by governors.