Sometime last year, unarmed Nigerians alleged to be ex-militants from the Niger Delta region blocked the strategic River Niger Bridge in Lokoja reportedly because they were prevented by the police from marching on Abuja to protest their exclusion from participating in the skills acquisition programme of the Federal Government Amnesty Programme. These people were alleged to have come from various states of the Niger Delta loaded in as many as 50 long buses. They traversed many towns and cities and villages and hamlets and passed through many checkpoints manned by soldiers and the police unnoticed by the intelligence community until they reached Lokoja which proved to be their waterloo.
For days, social and economic intercourse between the north and south regions of the country was effectively cut off. Many Nigerians suffered not a little from this unplanned but largely effective act of improvised sabotage. There was no intelligent or professional response from our security and intelligence forces. In fact, it is charitable to say they were caught flat footed.
A few days ago, as a result of the fact that the River Niger overflowed her banks and submerged the strategic Lokoja-Abuja road, thousands of Nigerians were again stranded at both ends of that road. For days commuters going south and those coming up north had to stay put in Lokoja, this time around by an act of natural sabotage. Yet again, there was no intelligent or professional response from the institutions and agencies of government which ought to have done something quickly and meaningfully to save the situation.
These two incidents with very serious security implications for the country which happened almost on the same spot after several months of each other, show very clearly that our intelligence community exists only in name and that they have not built themselves up to respond intelligently and professionally when anything, whether man-made or acts of fate, happens to threaten the security and well being of the country.
The incidents also show that our institutions and agencies charged with thinking and strategising for the nation and safeguarding its integrity do not stage any scenarios and prepare themselves to meet with any potential challenge should such an eventuality pose a serious threat to the corporate existence of the country.
In other serious-minded nations of the world, when natural or man-made calamities such as earthquakes, flooding, collapse or blockage of strategic bridges, fire, hurricane, etc happen, soldiers and other trained forces immediately come to the scene and quickly help the civilian authorities to restore order and help those who are affected. But in our country, there were no soldiers or other forces seen in Lokoja using barges or pontoons to ferry stranded commuters to the other side. Commuters were left on their own at the complete mercy of sharp-minded compatriots who had no milk of human kindness but who cashed in on the situation and started charging extortionate fees to ferry people across. It was a very sorry situation which exposed the nakedness or the complete lack of preparedness on the part of our so-called security forces and the vulnerability of our country to both internal and external threats.
If Nigeria can so easily capitulate to a simple harmless force like water or unarmed ex-militants, what will happen if well trained and well armed mercenaries hired by an enemy force invade any part of the country especially at its jugular such as Lokoja? Before those who paid to defend and protect us wake up to what is happening a terrible havoc would already have been done.
What are institutions like the Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Jos doing? What is the National War College in Abuja doing? Where is the Department of State Security? Are they on leave or in deep slumber? Where are the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic? What is the Doctrine and Training School teaching them? In other places, it is part of the army’s duty to help in emergency situations. Are our own trained differently? Where is the Nigerian Police? Since the creation of the DSS, do they not have an ‘E’ Department, the intelligence arm anymore?
If Nigeria were a country where those in-charge were alive to their responsibilities, important heads would have rolled following the disgraceful performance, or rather non-performance, of critical agencies in the Lokoja tragedy. Incidents such as the two cited above which all took place in Lokoja makes me feel ashamed of a country I love so much.
But apart from these Lokoja incidents, there are many security threats to this nation that have almost become routine or accepted because the authorities do not seem to see them as such and adopt appropriate responses. Several times in this country, PENGASSAN and NUPENG, two very powerful labour unions in the oil industry, will just wake up one morning and decide that tanker drivers should not load and deliver fuel to filling stations may be because a tanker driver was either harassed or killed by a drunken soldier or police at a checkpoint in Nguru. Lo and behold the order will be obeyed. And the nation will be completely paralysed. For years, this type of nonsense has been going on yet there is no evidence of intelligent strategic thinking to provide answer to such acts of deliberate sabotage. And you wonder: what is the intelligence community doing?
As far as my humble thinking can avail me, ASUU has clearly become a serious security threat to this God’s own country. For over twenty years now, these politicians and trade unionists in the academia have been sabotaging our educational goals in the name of fighting to improve things, yet our governments appear pathetically helpless in the face of their relentless assault on the nation through frivolous and completely unwarranted strikes. What wise Nigerian parents are doing now is that they either save or steal money and send their children to other saner places to study.
During major celebrations like Christmas and Sallah, major road arteries in the country such as, again Lokoja, Kilometre 46 of the Lagos-Benin road and many other places, are blocked because of the sheer number of commuters who travel to their villages to be with their loved ones. For years now, many travellers from the north go down south or those from Lagos going to the east and south- south, end up spending nights in Lokoja and Kilometre 46 respectively. No intelligent response has come from anywhere to address these challenges that have become yearly or seasonal occurrences.
The one that taxes my small mental faculty the most is the fact that during these yearly or seasonal celebrations, transporters make a kill; they charge travellers sometimes three times the fares normally paid. We have governments manning various territories but none of them has evolved any creative strategy to save travellers from the anguish they suffer in a bid to celebrate God’s blessings.
I wish to recall once again an interview which T.Y. Danjuma granted the defunct (or is it merely rested?) Newswatch magazine several years ago. He said that sometime in the 60s, he had led a platoon of cadets from the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna for a military exercise somewhere in present day Adamawa state where Adamu Chiroma was then a District Officer. The intelligence reported their presence to the D.O. who summoned them and wondered why they will be in a place and not first report their presence to ‘’constituted authorities’’. I always recall this because if it were in today’s Nigeria, you can lead a battalion of troops in full combat gear, with armoured tanks, artillery weapons and other weapons of war and enter a place and no ‘’constituted authorities’’ will notice your presence, much less ask you your mission.
Why have we sunken so low? Why do governments never bother about anything anymore? Why are today’s ‘’constituted authorities’’ so nonchalant about some of the very things that are the reasons for the institution of government among men? If a government cannot defend or protect people against possible harm, why then should government continue to exist? Perhaps the time has come for us to dissolve the government and elect the people as one anarchic German philosopher and activist once famously suggested?
The next time the Americans release a report of their scenario-building predicting that Nigeria will break up soon, let us learn to be humble enough to keep quiet because we are not building up any scenario of our own that could help us to contain any serious challenge to our corporate existence.