Public Safety: As Nigeria Gallops Towards the Tipping Point, By Jibrin Ibrahim
When those who run the state do not respond to our cries for help, they make self-help the only alternative… we cannot say that we have a state which has a social contract with us. In the political science narrative, we say the state has reached the tipping point and is failing or has failed. This is, therefore, a defining moment when our survival as a people is at stake.
Today is June 12, when we are supposed to be celebrating our “democracy-day”. To celebrate democracy, you need peace and tranquillity which we simply do not have. Once again, my column today is on the growing insecurity in Nigeria. I have written so many times on this theme that I suspect it must be affecting my mental health. Nonetheless, I cannot stop engaging with it because my column is about what is happening in Nigeria and its implication for democracy. In other words, I remain stuck with the theme. My focus today is on what happens to citizens when they realise that the state is unable to provide them a minimum of public safety and that their lives have become “nasty, brutish and short”.
Almost every week, the stories are worse than those of the previous one. This week, we are confronting the following: After the announcement by the Nigerian military of great success in the battle against Boko Harm last week, the story changed this week. Over eighty villagers were killed in Gubio, with their property burnt and their cattle stolen. In Katsina State, the toll from the president’s home state is over 60 people killed so far this week, pushing people to demonstrate and burn down billboards with photos of the president and governor. In Kaduna State, the killings in Kajuru have continued. In Taraba and Adamawa States also, it has been killings, killings and killings.
Also, this week, there have been multiple reports of rape and killing of numerous girls all over the country. There is a pandemic of rape and sexual violence afflicting the country and the stories have been emerging over the past two months. The recent killing of a 22-year old university student, Vera Uwaila Omozuwa, who was raped in a church and then killed in a horrific way by having her head smashed with a fire extinguisher, has led to many demonstrations by angry Nigerians. Shortly after, an 18-year-old young girl known as Jennifer, was attacked and raped by five men. In Jigawa State, a 12-year old girl, Farishina, was subjected to serial rape by eleven different men in Dutse. In Oyo State, a 19-year old student, Barakat Bello, was raped inside her father’s house and then killed. The Kano State Police Command has just arrested a man who raped 40 women. The stories are endless and every day the crime story pages of our newspapers carry them. What these pages report indicates a sharp rise in the level of depravity in society, with rising incest and the rape of babies and toddlers in a society that claims to be very religious.
The reality today is that people are not safe in their houses or in their places of worship. They are not safe on the roads, where so many are abducted for ransom. Girls are not safe in their own bedrooms, where their parents, relations or strangers, can attack and rape them. The problem is that Nigerians now know they have no institution to call on for help.
In this context, maybe the most frightening story is from Anambra State, where the director of child welfare services in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Children and Social Welfare, Mrs. Nkechi Anazodo, announced that 80 rape cases had been reported to the Ministry. She explained with anguish that: “Sexual violence has become the order of the day, especially during this period of lockdown. Even old men now rape children of 12 years and below. The problem we have is that people don’t report. Last week, a case was brought to us of a 70 year-old man that raped a four-year-old child. The case has gone to the police.” Many fathers have been raping their daughters regularly and threatening to kill them if they report the dastardly acts. Growing insecurity and social crisis is impacting negatively on core social values.
The reality today is that people are not safe in their houses or in their places of worship. They are not safe on the roads, where so many are abducted for ransom. Girls are not safe in their own bedrooms, where their parents, relations or strangers, can attack and rape them. The problem is that Nigerians now know they have no institution to call on for help. In the attacks on people’s villages in the North-East and North-West, there is vast documentation of villages calling security agencies to report that hundreds of armed insurgents were moving to attack them on motor cycles and that urgent help was needed. Invariably, the security agencies would turn up about twelve hours after the calls, when death and destruction had already occurred. In this week’s attack in Gubio, the attackers had the luxury of carting away hundreds of cattle, which means they had all the time in the world to do what they wanted.
For over one decade now, attackers would move in large numbers and kill, and there would be no response from the State while these were happening. It means that over this period, the State has not felt the need to develop the capacity for rapid intervention to attack on citizens. No one understands how people can steal cattle and drive them on foot for days, going through villages, and they are never caught! There are only two explanations to this situation that makes sense. The security agencies don’t care or they are complicit in the attacks.
The ordinary people are not stupid. If they know that they are not safe in their homes and villages, they too will procure arms to protect themselves. The reality in Nigeria today is that we are already in an arms race and all segments of the community are arming themselves in a regime of self-help and self-protection.
When states are unable to provide for public safety for prolonged periods of time, people come to realise that there are no sanctions for bad behaviour. This realisation creates a new dynamic in society. The worst elements in society, the thieves, the morally depraved, the rapists and the murderers come to the realisation that it is their turn to do as they please. They then impose their behaviour as the new normal and the descent towards the pits of hell accelerates. The reality, however, is that such people are a minority in society but they have been enabled to act because the State is unable to sanction bad behaviour. In such situation, the only option open to other members of the society is to engage in self-help.
The ordinary people are not stupid. If they know that they are not safe in their homes and villages, they too will procure arms to protect themselves. The reality in Nigeria today is that we are already in an arms race and all segments of the community are arming themselves in a regime of self-help and self-protection. The problem is that as more people purchase arms to defend themselves or commit atrocities against the other, the whole society sets out along the pathway leading to anarchy. Such situations do no favour the society in general, as there will be no winners in this growing war. The wicked will be willing to do more killing and destruction than good. This has always been well known in society and that was why states established security agencies in the first place. In this context where law enforcement agencies are not willing to face the bad guys, and indeed it appears that some of them are part of the bad guys, the future could be, or maybe is already, very bleak for us ordinary citizens.
We are supposed to be citizens living in a constitutional regime where our grand norm says that the state will guarantee our security and welfare. When those who run the state do not respond to our cries for help, they make self-help the only alternative. When we take the option of self-help, we join in undermining the cohesion in our society. We have seen the culture of self-help in Nigeria move from the mundane – providing water and electricity for our households; to the highest level of protecting ourselves from armed criminals and terrorists. The conclusion is clear, we cannot say that we have a state which has a social contract with us. In the political science narrative, we say the state has reached the tipping point and is failing or has failed. This is, therefore, a defining moment when our survival as a people is at stake.