Until recently, terrorists, kidnappers, and bandits of all colourations held large swathes of territory in the Northern part of the country. They killed, maimed, abducted and indecently assaulted their victims with abandon and wicked glee.
In some states, they ran parallel governments, hoisting their miserable flags, collecting taxes by brute force and subjecting their helpless victims to forced labour. In other states, they made farming, which is the mainstay of the people, impossible. As if these were not bad enough, they rendered the Abuja-Kaduna road a highway of death.
They hijacked a train and abducted some of its passengers. They stopped an aircraft from taking off. They ambushed a presidential caravan of vehicles. They attacked correctional centres. And they threatened to abduct a governor and the President and the Commander in chief of the Nigerian Army.
This was the sordid pass we had reached until the armed forces were finally given the carte Blanche to decimate the terrorists. The security situation had so deteriorated that distraught Nigerians feared for the worst. Stakeholders in the electoral process looked with trepidation at the heightened insecurity in the country. They wondered plaintively if the crucially important 2023 general elections could be conducted under such dire circumstances.
Against this hitherto uncertain background, it is heartwarming to hear of assurances being issued by some of our security chiefs and government officials that the challenge of insecurity will be overcome ahead of the conduct of the 2023 general elections. The Director-General of the Department of State Services, Yusuf Bichi, told a delegation of the Inter-party Advisory Council, IPAC, some two weeks ago that terrorists, armed groups and other violent criminals menacing the country will be wiped out before the 2023 general elections.
He predicated his statement on the increased tempo and progress made by the security agencies in the fight against terror, armed banditry and kidnapping, and the fact that the DSS has upped its game in surveillance, intelligence gathering, detection, prevention and arrest of persons whose actions constitute threats to national security.
Also speaking last week at the United Nations Chiefs of Police Summit, UNCOPS, the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Usman Alkali Baba, said there was no threat to the 2023 general elections. He premised his conviction on what he referred to as the robust security threat analysis carried out by the Nigeria Police Force using global best standards to gauge the trend of expectations for the electioneering process.
Furthermore, in a joint press conference addressed at Abuja last week Monday, the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, declared: ”Nigerians have the assurance of all of us that their security is guaranteed. So we’re here to assure you that you are safe, and that each day going to December, our safety and security will be better”.
True, we have recently seen actions by our armed forces which lend credence to the optimism of the D-G DSS, the IGP and the Minister of Interior. Following the recent order by President Muhammadu Buhari to the armed forces to decimate the terrorists and bandits, the Nigeria Airforce has made many daring sorties, strafing terrorist enclaves in the North-West and North-East. Last week, in a joint operation in Bama, Borno State, not less than 200 terrorists were killed, including five commanders of the Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP.
These actions, under the auspices of “Operation Show No Mercy To Terrorists”, are a radical departure from the lethargy of the past. It was this inertia and coddling which emboldened the terrorists to the extent that they threatened to abduct the President. Also, the accuracy of these strafings by the Nigeria Airforce, devoid of collateral damage, speaks eloquently to martial professionalism and credible intelligence.
While it is right for our security chiefs and government officials to express optimism and manifest a gung-ho spirit on the war on terror, they should not bask in the glow of these initial successes or rest on their oars. Rather, they should sustain these attacks, and with ferocity, until the terrorists are decimated or until they surrender in droves. Studies have shown that the terrorists number not less than 120,000 in the North West alone.
Yet those who have been neutralised thus far, since the armed forces received their last marching order, are not in excess of 500 both in the North-East and North-West. If we are to assume that we have similar number of terrorists in the North-East and the North-Central, then it means only an insignificant number has been neutralised so far.
Those who have conducted, monitored or observed elections in the last two election cycles in which insecurity reared its ugly head and became hydra-headed, cannot doubt the capacity of our security agencies to secure the environment for elections, especially off season ones. Under the aegis of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Elections Security, ICCES, co-chaired by the INEC Chairman and the National Security Adviser, the security agencies have brought to the table their unique talents and capabilities.
They have also worked seamlessly and with synergy in support of the conduct of elections. The Police, which is the lead agency in securing elections, has continued to demonstrate remarkable professionalism in its carriage and conduct as witnessed in the recent off season Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
But general elections are a different matter all together. They offer different challenges. Whereas in an off cycle election, the Police can draw troops from adjoining states and deploy them massively in the state where the election is holding, this luxury does not present itself in a general election. In a general election, the security agents are usually thinly spread across the board. Their few number can be taken advantage of by miscreants and nefarious Persons.
It is in view of this that one must express cautious optimism about the initial successes recorded in the war on terror as well as reiterate the fact that the war has to be sustained to such an extent that we see massive decimation of the terrorists; that we witness their total dislodgement from the unsecured spaces they now occupy; that we no longer witness willful attacks on soft targets; and that Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, who scampered from their beleaguered villages to huddle in camps have returned peacefully.
It is when calm and normalcy have been restored to all parts of the country and the surrendered terrorists are decommissioned of their arms and rehabilitated that we can heave a sigh of relief and rest, assured of a peaceful environment for the conduct of the 2023 general elections. For now, it is only healthy to have misgivings.
I commend these civil society organizations for outing these tainted nominees. They have acted as true patriots and in concert with the time-honored saying that the price of Liberty is eternal vigilance.“But beyond this eagle-eyed vigilance, we must begin to interrogate the process of appointing Commissioners to the Commission.
Should the president be the sole appointee to these very sensitive positions or should they be advertised so that deserving Nigerians are invited to apply as is done in other jurisdictions? This discussion may appear preposterous given our many concerns and pre-occupations with the conduct of the 2023 General Elections. But this discourse appears inevitable post -2023 general elections given the propensity of the Executive Branch to smuggle in partisans and frauds into the Commission and at whim.
Dazang, a public affairs analyst, wrote via: [email protected]