Our new hostage takers (I)

On the night that my friend, Dr Ibrahim Adam Mailafiya was killed I had a premonition of a certain tragedy but had no idea what it was. As I do on Fridays before retiring to bed I listened to the BBC Hausa discussion programme ‘Ra’ayi Riga’ but, very unusual, I could not concentrate. My mind refused to focus away from the thought that something dreadful was about to happen. I kept worrying about Nigeria, about my mum and even, for a brief moment, about myself, my own death.

I drifted to sleep only to wake in the middle of a terrible dream, about a certain powerful loafer trampling on a weaker one over some worthless ‘loaf of bread’. To the horror of onlookers, the powerful loafer flew, suddenly, into an uncontrollable rage and seized a hammer and struck the weaker one on the head, instantly killing him. Unable to do anything to stop the injustice and seeing that it was too late to do anything to help the victim, I began to sob and that was what woke me up.

The thoughts I was immersed in before I was overtaken by sleep must have influenced the dream, I tried to convince myself. But I managed to get out of bed to perform ablution and offer Nafl (voluntary prayer). I returned to bed and went for my phone to check how much time was left before Fajr and saw a message from a mutual friend, which started with ‘Inna Lil-Lahi wa inna Ilayhi raji’un’. I tried to resist the temptation to read the full message but I couldn’t. So, I found myself reading the tragic news of my good friend, Dr Ibrahim’s death at an odd hour. That ruined my entire day.

Dr Ibrahim Adam Mailafiya is just one of many Nigerians needlessly losing their lives on a daily in the hands of ruthless armed bandits across the country. In homes, in streets, in banks or on highways and everywhere criminals mustering alarming brazenness have taken over, causing untold misery. No one is spared, not even security personnel.

But this trend evolved over a certain period of time and was predictable.

In March 2017, as the Nigerian government began fixing a runaway in Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja, the airport was shut down for six weeks. The alternative airport for local and international passengers was the Kaduna Airport, about 190km (120 miles) away.

But the Abuja-Kaduna highway was in a state of serious disrepair and notorious for armed bandits. Preparatory to the closure, however, the government fixed the highway in a record time of 50 days and at a cost of N1 billion.

To put the menace of the armed bandits in check, the government also put in place an elaborate plan, including a round-the-clock surveillance. The minister of state for Aviation, Senator Sirika Hadi, while unveiling the security plan, stated: “The action is a testimony to our resolve to strengthen safety and security of our airspace…safeguarding the lives and property of our citizens is a constitutional responsibility of the government of which we have not been found wanting.”

Corroborating the minister’s statement, the executive director of Kaduna State Investment Agency, Gambo Hamzat, said in line with the plan the government of his state was taking every measure to tackle the security challenges on the highway and in and around the airport. Specifically, he stated: “We see this as a prime project for Nigeria and we have taken all the steps that the minister listed out…Today, if you are going to Kaduna at every 11 kilometres, there are 20 policemen.”

While it is true the governments at both the state and centre collaborated and meticulously worked to ensure the safety of the road users between the two major cities and airports during the time, it is also a fact that the meticulousness, efficiency and commitment disappeared as soon as the repairs in the Abuja airport were completed.

Notorious bandits and kidnappers have since returned with vengeance, unleashing a litany of unrivalled havoc in recent times.
The minister is right the security of lives and property is the governments’ primary responsibility. But a partial commitment, definitely, sends the wrong message. It shows, as some interesting debates at the time suggested, that by acting promptly and sufficiently to fix the Abuja-Kaduna highway and tackle the armed bandits headlong, our leaders are consistently and conscientiously committed to their own interests and those of groups directly connected to them.

It further suggests that there is little or no true commitment to the wellbeing of the ordinary Nigerian, who is not in any way connected to power or those in power. Otherwise the tempo seen during the time the repairs in Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport were going on would have been maintained, at best.

There’s no denying that the security challenges are numerous and each is monstrous and daunting in its own way. But by partially tackling or not tackling them at all we are only compounding the problem. If there had been similar commitment on other highways at the time or at a later time armed criminals would have had no hiding place and lives would have been saved.


To be concluded


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