Edo train attack shows security system’s failure

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HAVING been repeatedly exposed as weak, Nigeria’s security system failed woefully again at the weekend after scores of persons were kidnapped at the Igueben train station in Edo State in an attack linked to Fulani herdsmen. According to the Nigerian Railway Corporation, armed herders abducted 32 persons on Saturday afternoon. The Edo State Government said many were injured in the ensuing mêlée. Coming just 10 months after the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train in Kaduna State, it confirms the collapse of the country’s security system under the regime of the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).

Concerning insecurity, Nigeria is in a very bad place. Violent Islamism, banditry, vicious separatism, and robbery have conflated with Fulani herdsmen rapine, leading to unprecedented breaches under Buhari, a retired general whose lack of authority in the past seven years is most confounding. As the 2023 general elections draw close, the country is likely to witness more of these attacks.

During the Igueben breach, eyewitness recounted a well-planned operation by the herders. They reportedly selected the persons they kidnapped after boarding the train. Both passengers – mainly heading for the South-East and South-South – and non-passengers fell victim. Numbered among them were the station manager, and the head of security. Although the police, soldiers and vigilantes rescued six of the victims on Monday, according to the Edo government, the failure of intelligence and lack of adequate security personnel on ground are glaring.

There is enough blame to go round. There was a significant failure in intelligence gathering and use. Citing likely terrorist attacks, the NRC suspended train services at the Ajaokuta station last August after gunmen shot at disembarking passengers there. Being on the same route with Igueben, Saturday’s ghastly attack exposes the failure to secure vital public assets from attackers. It is therefore inexcusable that security was not intensified at Igueben and other stations after the Ajaokuta incident. It also means Nigerians are not safe on the road, on water and on the train again.

First, the number of police officers attached to the station, described as remote, is inadequate. Currently, Nigeria operates with less than 400,000 police officers. This is grossly inadequate for a country of 216 million. It is compounded by the deployment of a high percentage of officers to VIPs. The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, like his predecessors, has been unable to sort this out.

Regularly, audacious attacks occur. Last June, terrorists slaughtered over 40 worshippers just after Sunday service at the St Xavier Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State. The following month, the Islamists breached the Kuje Correctional Centre in the Abuja, where they freed hundreds of inmates, including over 60 hardened terrorists, and ambushed the elite Brigade of Guard corps.

Second, herders’ dictate the pace under Buhari. From the North-Central to the South-West and South-East to North-West, Fulani herdsmen, on the pretext of open grazing, have perpetrated bloodshed and murder with alarming regularity since Buhari became President in May 2015. Instead of implementing the pragmatic solution of ranching to curb their menace, Buhari and his cohorts in government hide behind several programmes like the rural grazing area scheme to appease the itinerant herders.

Last March, the terrorists attacked the Abuja-Kaduna train, killing 14 passengers, and abducting over 60. It took more than six months and over N1 billion in ransom for all the victims to regain their freedom. The Kaduna International Airport had suffered an invasion from bandits just before the train attack in Kaduna. Bandits/terrorists are holding territories in Zamfara, Kaduna, Niger, and probably other states in the North.

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Not only does Nigeria suffer significant economic loss because of the inability to implement ranching, the Fulani herders have turned the country upside down with their bloody escapades. After Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Burkina Faso, and Syria, the Institute for Economics and Peace listed Nigeria as the sixth most terrorised country in the world in 2021. Killings rose by 47 per cent in 2020 to 10,366 nationwide in 2021, SBM Intelligence stated. Between January and August 2022, 5,222 innocent Nigerians were killed, the Nigerian Security Tracker said.

Economically, open grazing constrains Nigeria’s income. The LD4D, an online resource on livestock, says livestock contributes nearly 50 per cent of agricultural GDP in high income countries, and about 25 per cent in low and middle-income countries. With open herding, livestock is 17 per cent of agricultural GDP in Nigeria, says the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Statista says livestock GDP was a paltry 1.55 per cent of GDP in third quarter 2022. Conversely, the livestock industry delivered 8.5 per cent of Brazil’s GDP in 2020, per the Agricultural Research Institute of Brazil.

The strike in Igueben demands instant action. The response of the security agencies will only resonate if the captives are swiftly rescued, the suspects arrested, and prosecuted.

Buhari should stop being indifferent to the Fulani herdsmen menace, which he blames on climate change. It is more than that. The herders have weaponised livestock farming here; they persist in their campaign primarily because the law is soft on them.

The country is insecure because there is little security presence across board. The IG should wake up, be strategic and implement his pledge to withdraw officers attached to VIPs for field work.

Edo and the other states that have laws against open grazing should rigorously implement them. Governor Godwin Obaseki should create a state security outfit strong on intelligence gathering, and use of technology to confront the Fulani herders’ menace. The forests are an important asset of government that should not be a platform for criminal operations and complaints have gone unheeded on how herders have displaced farmers. Obaseki should launch a programme to disinfest the state’s forests of all illegal occupiers.

Buhari and the National Assembly should enter an emergency security mode and implement a quick ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ to amend the 1999 Constitution to allow state police with strong bulwarks against abuse by governors.

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