Azazi, South-South: Heal Yourselves By Garba Shehu

Until he weighed in by way of an outburst, blaming the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP of creating the environment for terrorism to foster, many Nigerians had looked at the National Security Adviser, NSA, as contractor who was more interested in profit making from the Boko Haram insurgency. Some among Nigerians didn’t give him the benefit of having the slightest of idea of how to deal with the enormous challenges providence has thrust on his large shoulders. 

Was he sick and tired of absorbing the attacks on his person and office that he felt it was necessary to bring the roof down on his bosses and employers? The jury is still out there whether he spoke flippantly or heroically.

Notwithstanding the efforts of the armed forces of the federation to deal with the menace of insurgent Boko Haram with the attendant plethora amounts going into defence and internal security, the situation of insecurity only seems to be getting worse by the day.

The above clearly indicates that our approach to security problem is flawed. As I watched the speech of the National Security Adviser, General Owoye Azazi at the South – South Integration Summit on Friday 27 at Asaba, I got a hint of why this is so.  

Transfixed to my TV on Friday, the second day of the summit focusing on the issue of security, I was struck by the bizarre fact of the focus of about every speaker being the Boko Haram. In the first place, why would the Boko Haram menace be the dominant issue for the South – South at that forum? I understand General Azazi to be saying that security issues are interrelated and that what affects a part, affects the whole. Equally instructive is also the fact that with the enormous oil and gas resources and  riches that abound in the region, the South – South is a prime terror target. But even with this, it is hard to convince anyone that terrorism, not piracy is their most immediate problem. The summit was itself convened so that local solutions can be found to local problems.

The issue of the hour in the South-south is kidnapping and piracy and for which there is the need for a concerted strategy. More than armed robbery, kidnapping has become the method of choice in the South-South and the South-East to extract millions in cash from state governments and business organizations. There, bandits spread across the states which makes effective coordination among governments in the region paramount. As they laboured to shove the issues of piracy and kidnapping under the carpet, the President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union, NUPENG, Iwe Aghesy was, through sheer coincidence lamenting at a different forum that trouble had made a full return to the Niger Delta. “No day,” he asserted, goes without “oil workers being kidnapped or blow-out of pipelines,” underscoring my earlier assertion that the South-South summiteers got their security bearing wrong. 

One of the fears many have been having about the abduction industry in that region is that the there is a great deal of ambiguity, even diffidence in dealing with the problem. As a policy, the police warn all the time that victim families should not accede to the demand for money. But the only way oil workers who are the most frequent objects of abduction are released, as we all know, is that oil companies and state governments pay. As a consequence, all of us Nigerians, not just our countrymen and women in the South-South may continue to pretend that we are modernizing but we are regressing into the Hobbesian state of nature in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” 

Considering the chaos and fatalities resulting from the activities of kidnappers, a matter that is the daily staple of the mass media, what the South-South needs, in my view, is a clear policy on hostage negotiations. Together with the Federal Government, they need to train these negotiators, and to raise an elite force specializing in search and rescue. If foreign missions will stop their citizens from venturing into the Niger Delta region for this summit, how can they permit the movement of investment in that direction? 

The ordinary citizens of this country can only pray for an atmosphere of peace, safety and relative comfort to prevail. There are many of our modern elite who will scoff at the idea of spirituality but the masses of our people largely believe that it is the only the country can address the rot into which we are sliding. As it is, there has been too much talk and no action. The long-term solution to both problems – terrorism and piracy-is a two-pronged strategy: good governance and effective security measures. And while we are still on this, Azazi can do something about the pot-bellied security enforcement agents who rejoice at bullying civilians and often fail when they are assigned to confront the insurgents. Last week in Kano, the commander of Hisbah Islamic guards claimed at a press conference that the police have surrendered 75 percent of civil and criminal cases to them. The police have in effect abdicated their duty to the public, as they seem to be preoccupied with measures of self-protection against Boko Haram.

Is Boko Haram the only security issue to dominate the Summit? Are attacks on economic targets or oil facilities by a rump of MEND militants less significant? Is kidnapping a lesser threat to foreign investment? Lest one is misunderstood, no rational person should support terrorism in any form and in any part of Nigeria. One is however, worried by the politicization of security challenges in which we pretend that other security challenges are less significant to please the sentiments of particular political environment. A PDP big gun was recently kidnapped at the party zonal congress and after collecting N30million from the family of the victim, the bandits released his corpse to them. 

As a country, we are a unity in diversity. The South-South and the other sub-regions have the right to flaunt their uniqueness. But it is good for the up and coming sub-regional structures to be jolted out self-generated euphoria before they forget where they are coming from and they are going. A Yoruba proverb says the moment a river forgets its source, that is the beginning of its troubles. It flounders. South-South needs to be reminded to keep one foot on the ground reality by staying on the issues of piracy and kidnapping.

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