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Police and army no deterrent to Nigerian kidnappers

By Eromo Egbejule, in Lagos
Posted on Friday, 29 March 2019 17:24

Police deployment to manage elections and protect VIPs has allowed banditry to flourish. REUTERS/Nyancho NwaNri

A spate of kidnappings in south-east, north-west and central Nigeria raises questions about the government's security priorities.

Three Catholic priests have been kidnapped in Nigeria the past fortnight – two in the south-east state of Enugu and one in Kaduna in the north-west.

This latest spate follows a series of similar abductions and killings of priests in central Nigeria over the past two years. Pastoralists and farmers have been engaged in a decades-long conflict for diminishing resources in the face of climate change and population explosion in the Middle Belt.

Christians not the only targets

Also in the news this week was the release of six Islamic clerics who had been held captive for two weeks after being abducted in Katsina state. The Katsina-Sokoto-Zamfara axis has emerged as perhaps the most unsafe place outside north-east Nigeria for the past three years, due to large forests in the area serving as home to an influx of cattle-rustling bandits and kidnapping syndicates from across the porous borders with Niger Republic.

The kidnapping of clergy is a touchy subject, given that the country is almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Though the kidnappers’ motivations appear to be financial it is easy for politicians or groups from either religion to weaponise the news.

Conflict and terrorism reporter Ahmad Salkida also tweeted this week about a recent surge of kidnappings in Jos, capital of Plateau State.

In his thread, Salkida specified that 90% of the targets are children, adding that: “Unlike Zamfara state where the abductions occur mostly in the rural communities, these incidents in Jos are right under the noses of the elite formations of the Armed Forces – Army, Air Force, Navy, Secret Service, Police and paramilitary arms in the metropolis.”

Deployment priorities

Nigeria’s security forces are infamously understaffed and underfunded. As of 2018, there were 334,000 policemen in the force, resulting in an approximate ratio of one policeman to 590 people. To make matters worse, the available manpower has been rerouted and deployed for reasons secondary to their fundamental purpose of enforcing law and order.

  • At least one-fifth of the police are attached to politically exposed persons and wealthy businesspeople.

The army, stretched thin by tackling the 10-year-old insurgency in the north-east and manning checkpoints across the Niger Delta and Middle Belt, has now been redeployed to cover elections. It lacks the range to tackle the sophisticated banditry in the north-west.

Since February, when the electoral cycle began, the army has focused its energies on the elections, providing security on the one hand and being used to intimidate voters on the other: in oil-rich Rivers State, the polls had to be suspended after the deaths of voters and staff of the electoral commission.

Bandits stockpiling weapons

Earlier this month, Abdulazeez Yari, governor of Zamfara, told President Muhammadu Buhari that he had visited an armory in an attempt to negotiate with the bandits terrorising his state and found they were better equipped than the army. What started as herder/farmer clashes has escalated into full-scale banditry, with 3,000 people killed and 500 kidnapped in the past few years. Only 1,000 troops were sent to Zamfara last year to deal with the bandits and their deployment has been largely ineffective.

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