The former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Professor Usman Yusuf, has lamented worsening insecurity in Nigeria, saying the country risked becoming like Somalia where the Al-Shabaab militant group had waged war on the nation.
Yusuf specifically bewailed the activities of bandits in Northern Nigeria, where he said residents were now living in fear and uncertainty, while some “have literally become orphans with a living father,” due to daily attacks by bandits coupled with alleged silence from the leaders.
The former NHIS boss alleged that the plight of northern residents was compounded by “deafening silence” from both the state and federal government, whom he said were now on the, “defensive, dismissive and oftentimes trivialisation of people’s sufferings.”
Yusuf, in an opinion piece titled ‘Our Hearts Are Heavy With Grief And Our Eyes Full Of Tears’, enumerated some recent reports of attacks that show that insecurity in the north was getting worse by the day.
He said, “When I write about insecurity in the north, I write from the vantage point of one whose close friends and relatives have been victims to these marauding bandits. They roll into our villages in large numbers, three on each motorcycle, high on Tramadol and Cannabis, carrying nothing more than machetes and rusty AK-47s. They spend hours maiming, killing, burning, looting, raping, rustling cattle and kidnapping villagers for ransom.
“These bandits are now literally the law in some of the rural areas in north western Nigeria simply because of the absence of any form of government in these villages. They roam the local markets with impunity carrying AK47 rifles slung over their shoulders.
Listing some of the incidents, Yusuf said: “On Friday 13th November 2020, BBC Hausa Service reported how farmers in some parts of Northern Nigeria now pay bandits tax and harvest fees before they can have access to their farms or avoid being abducted. This is exactly the same tactics used by Al-Shabaab in Somalia which is now a failed state.
“On Tuesday 17th November 2020, BBC Hausa Service again aired the story of the kidnapping of twelve Police Officers who were on their way for special duty from Borno to Zamfara state. It was distressing to hear the voice of the wife of one of the officers recounting how the bandits called her demanding ransom payment.
“On Tuesday 16th November 2020, Radio France International Hausa Service also aired an interview with a Member of the House of Representatives from Niger state on the state of constant fear, frustrations, terror and hopelessness that his constituents are in due to repeated attacks by bandits.
“Abuja-Kaduna highway, a 200km stretch of federal highway has now become the highway to hell because of repeated kidnappings by bandits. This highway is the most important artery in northern Nigeria connecting nine northern states to the federal capital and southern part of the country. Those that can afford to, are avoiding the highway by traveling by train with all it’s limitations.
“On Saturday 14th November 2020, armed men invaded the official staff quarters of Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria, Kaduna state, where they kidnapped a lecturer and two children.
“On Sunday 15th November 2020, armed men kidnapped nine students of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria returning from an excursion on the same Kaduna-Abuja highway. These bandits demanded a ransom of N270 million. The students were freed after seven days in captivity.
“In a village called Kanoma in Zamfara state on Friday 20th November 2020, armed bandits stormed the village on motorcycles in broad daylight killing five worshippers and kidnapping the Imam and 40 worshippers during Juma’at prayers at the main mosque. Kanoma is a community kidnappers target due to the number of relatively rich sugarcane farmers,” he said.
Yusuf noted that some of attacks do not make it to the media. He also slammed the Nigerian Army and the Minister of Police Affairs for allegedly downplay the daily attacks.
Yusuf said, “The Government’s response to these tragedies have largely been defensive, dismissive and oftentimes trivialisation of people’s sufferings. How else can one explain the Hon. Minister of Police Affairs’ statement that bandits have been “degraded” or the Military leadership visiting the Abuja-Kaduna highway to disprove the news that the highway is deserted due to the activities of bandits?
“Whereas six weeks ago Nigeria’s insecurity was predominantly in the three geopolitical zones of the north, the aftermath of #ENDSARS protests have stirred the hornet’s nest and opened up new theatres of insecurity in all the three geopolitical zones in the south resulting in the whole nation being consumed by this national tragedy,” he said.
The former NHIS boss predicted that there would be an upsurge of insecurity in Southern Nigeria due to the recent #ENDSARS protests, freeing of inmates during attacks on prisons, and the carting away of weapons by hoodlums during attacks on police stations.
He recommended, amongst others, that the government should urgently re-strategise the tactics being used to combat insecurity.
Yusuf said the government should involve all stakeholders, including traditional rulers, clerics, community leaders, youths, political leaders and security agents in the fight against insecurity.
His other recommendations include, “Forest Rangers should be created using the youths in the affected communities who would be trained and supervised by the Military to be the boots on the ground in our unprotected forests where the bandits use as their hideouts.
“Unregistered SIM Cards: Should as a matter of urgency be blocked because bandits use them to communicate for ransom. There are numerous of them still in circulation, and appropriate sanctions should be meted to mobile operators for non-compliance.
“NDLEA, Customs and Pharmaceutical regulators should clamp down on illegal importation, sales, distribution and use of Tramadol which is the drug of choice of bandits, Boko haram insurgents, Armed Robbers, kidnappers and Cultists.
“Sale of Petrol: Bandits use motorcycles that use petrol, so Petrol Stations should be mandated to stop the sale of products in Jerry Cans in affected areas or face stiff sanctions.
“Cattle markets: Bandits sell cattle they rustle in local markets, so the sale of cattle should be monitored and certificate of origin provided by local traditional rulers and the Police or DSS.
“Local Intelligence must be cultivated as a vital tool in this fight. Political thuggery and Cultism should be banned and made illegal by the federal government,” he said, adding that, “ Youths unemployment needs to be addressed urgently.”