Nigeria‘s problem is hydra-head just like Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 16 speaks to access to justice. Do we have justice in the land where a number four contestant at the governorship election becomes number one in Imo State? Goal 16 dwells on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies. Are we promoting peaceful societies in the spate of wonton killings and destruction of lives and property being experienced across the country? It also talks about building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. How inclusive are our institutions in the light of shrinking civic space and sacking of schools and security formations by bandits and boko haram?
How can Nigeria build an effective institutions going by the mindless decimation close to genocide and army of occupation by killer herdsmen as evident in Benue, Ogun, Oyo, Plateau, and Yobe States to mention but a few? The realization of almost the entire 17 SDGs is hinged on the full attainment of SDG 16 without which 2030 could be a mirage in Nigeria.
Perhaps at no other time in Nigeria‘s recent history than this political dispensation (May 2015 till date June 2021) since the civil war have there been wide-ranging calls for restructuring of the federation, self-determination, secession, among others. These calls have been from diverse groups including nationalists, separatists groups, Civil Society Organisations, human rights activists, regional leaders etc. Nigeria has been dividend on many fronts – political, economic, social, ethnic, tribal, among others. As a matter of fact, Nigerians have never been more divided under any regime than Buhari who never hides his ethnic jingoism to the Fulani herdsmen killing and maiming farmers in particular across the southern and nothcentral states.
Without being partisan, the feelings of a strongly divided country and unjust society fueled these calls and have been precipitated by the infamous remark of President Buhari in a 2015 interview which reads in part: ―The constituents, for example, that gave me 97% (of the votes) cannot in all honesty be treated on some issues with constituents that gave me 5%.‖ While this was seen merely as a public gaffe by a section of the populace back then, the turn of events shortly afterwards soon proved that the man knew what he was talking about; and it has been so till date! Heads of government especially political appointees from Ministries, Departments and Agencies were selected from one section of the country largely from the Northwest and the Northeast without necessary recourse to merit. Sensitive government positions such as those pertaining to the security architecture also wore a northern look yet insecurity continues unabated. Question on the lips of citizens is if there were no qualified and loyal persons from the southern part of the country to fill some of these positions especially in the spirit of federal character which is part of the oath the President has sworn to! These anomalies have taken place despite a much touted claim of massive anti-corruption drive which many have now truly believed is selective and vindictive. This is because politicians who join the ruling party are absolved of their ‗sins‘ (wrong doings) and given soft landings despite cases of huge fraud leveled against them.
The rave of ethnic militia, banditry, kidnappings, and unknown gunmen
Over the course of one year, for example between 2015 and 2016, attacks by Fulani herdsmen in Benue State had led to the killing of at least 1,269 persons (Isine, 2016). In reality, the spate of the unprovoked attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farmers has graduated into terrorism and they have thus been rightly labeled by the Global Terrorism Index as the fourth most deadly terrorists group in the world. Despite the high number of attacks, Nigerian and foreign journalists have rare access to first-hand testimonies and tend to report inaccurate figures (Vincent, 2019).
One of the ways in which the sensibilities of the Nigerian populace have been insulted the most is the wrong labeling of criminal cases to make them seem light. The prolonged unprovoked attacks on farmlands across the country stretching from the fertile regions in the middle belt especially the Benue-Plateau axis down to the Southern part by Fulani marauders wielding sophisticated weapons have been branded ―herders-farmers clash‖. This is a wrong caption as wading into the lands of farmers is in the first place an act of incursion fuelling provocation, and then a criminal offence because the losses incurred by farmers are not settled by the aggressor(s) who, with impunity, are on a mission to maim, rape, kill, destroy crops in the farms, and sack communities. It is surprising to note that of all these so called clashes, not one herdsman has been brought to book!
A particularly amusing case was when the Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom was told by the President upon paying the latter a courtesy call sometime in 2017 to reconcile with his brethren -Fulani militias otherwise called herdsmen. Shortly afterwards, the man decamped from All Progressives Congress (The President‘s party) to People‘s Democratic Party (the party where he once was a staunch member). This sitting governor was also the target of an assassination attempt by Fulani herdsmen on his farm in the last week of April 2021; he only escaped by the whiskers. Apart from Boko Haram that attacked Governor of Borno State Prof Babagana Zullum, Governor of Ondo State Arakunrin Akeredolu, and Chief Olu Falaye, were also attacked while Toyin Olakunrin and first class ruler of Ifon in Ondo State were not lucky. Kidnapping of traditional rulers seems to be a new trend now as the bandits and kidnappers do not have regard for culture and tradition. Just last Sunday July 11, the Emir of Kajuru, Alhaji Alhassan Adamu with members of his family and aides was abducted from his residence in Kajuru Local Government Area of Kaduna State. However it is in the news this morning that the 85-year old Emir has been released though 13 members of his family are still being held by the abductors.
Lately, various epithets such as ethnic militia, armed banditry, kidnappings, unknown gunmen attacks etcetera have been attributed to these public disturbances disrupting peaceful society (Goal16 Target 1). No one has denied that death and wanton killings have marked these nationwide attacks and it is for good reasons that accusing fingers have been pointed in the President‘s direction. Not only is he of the same ethnic stock with herders but he is also identified as the Grand Patron of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN). This is a group that threatened to visit attacks on communities in Benue and Taraba States respectively for legislating against open grazing; and they carried out these threats with nobody brought to book! The most recent reported case (as many go unreported) of such attacks is that of eleven people killed after ―unknown gunmen‖ attacked Igangan, a town in Oyo State, southwestern Nigeria on June 05, 2021. A number of buildings including a traditional ruler’s palace and vehicles were also burnt down. Unfortunately three of the Oodua Peoples Congress that arrested the kidnap kingpin Wakil were detained by the police – a case of arresters becoming the arrested.
Nigeria’s Conflict Trends
Nigeria in the past few years has been suffering from insurrection and attacks from non-state actors thus weakening its threshold. With the rise of non-state actors and the expanding acreage of ungoverned spaces like in parts of Borno, Benue, Niger and Ogun etc, Nigeria no longer retains the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence. The Nigeria Conflict Trends, a weekly publication by Nextier SPD, provides insights to support the development of pragmatic solutions. According to Nextier SPD Violent Conflicts Database, Nigeria is experiencing a spike in violent conflicts as indicated by the average weekly count of violent incidents (see the graph above. Banditry is the main contributor to conflict count and casualties. The Northwest geo-political zone had the highest number of incidents and casualties, with Kaduna and Katsina as the main centres of conflict.
One of the remote causes of these attacks across the country is the feeling on the part of citizens of an insincere, corrupt and inept government and this is not without evidence as the country was declared the Poverty Capital of the World in 2019, as 100 million of her citizens fell below the poverty line (living on less than 1 dollar per day). Indeed, the phenomenon of Boko Haram assumed a dangerous and violent dimension with the killing of its youthful leader, Mohammed Yusuf in 2009. This young man and his key men had been invited to participate in governance at some level but found out that corruption was perpetuated by officials and that Islam (which is prevalent in that part of the country) was merely touted as state religion to swing voters to the government‘s side. He thus believed true Islamism would mean abolishment of Western education which brought about corruption and less care for citizens. Either right or wrong, he had a massive following and was soon perceived to be a threat to government, leading to his eventual killing which irked his followers. In like fashion, followers of Sheikh El zakzaky, leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (Shiites) have been repressed as protests over the continued detention of their leader rage on.
It is obvious the federal government is overwhelmed with insecurity especially in the northeast because the destruction and killings of innocent citizens and our soldiers continue unabated. It is in the news early July 2021 that Boko Haram and Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) have appointed the Interim Council, a governor, a Chief Prosecutor, a Commander for parts of Borno and established two Caliphates at Lake Chad and Sambisa Forest. Is it not ridiculous that Boko Haram/ISWAP could appoint a governor over parts of Borno State despite the claim by government that Boko Haram has been decimated and defeated?
However, according to the report of the Nigerian Tribune newspaper of 13th July 2021, Governor Zulum of that State said he was ―yet to validate the authenticity of that report‖ as he could not speak on something that he did not ―have full knowledge of‖.
Government’s Despondency and Rising of the Separatist Groups
It needs to be pointed out unequivocally that persistent failure of government to address injustice, attacks by local and foreign Fulani militias, wonton killings, kidnapping, banditry, rape, armed robberies, and other vices occasioned the frustration and pain of the citizens call for the establishment of security outfits such as Western Nigerian Security Network code named ―Amotekun‖, Eastern Security Network (ESN), ―Ebube Agu‖ etc in order to protect the citizens from militias carrying AK-47 disguising as herders. Even separatists groups such as Odua Peoples Congress, Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign States of Biafra, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta and similar groupings have legitimate demands unlike terrorists Boko Haram and Fulani militias whose ideology is for expansionism and to Islamise Nigeria; the action that runs afoul of both the International and local laws and statutes.
Nigerians now appear to be more aware of their religious or ethnic affiliations than ever before While there is such a separatist group like MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign States of Biafra) that sprang up in 1999, upon Nigeria‘s return to democracy, a more potent one known as Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) was set up in 2012 with its main aim to restore an independent state of Biafra in the Southeast of Nigeria through an independent referendum. It has gained significant media attention for becoming a frequent target of political crackdowns by the Nigerian government. It also has numerous sites and communication channels serving as the only trusted social apparatus educating and inculcating first-hand information and news to its citizens (A. I. 2020). On December 12, 2020, the group‘s leader, Nnamdi Kanu announced the formation of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a regional security force (Kanu is rumored to have been kidnapped by the agents of Nigerian government from Kenya). ESN is a measure aimed at safeguarding the South Eastern region from the onslaught of Fulani militias which was an imitation of the Western Security Network codenamed Amotekun, established by the Southwest Governors on January 09, 2020. This was the first regional security outfit initiated by a geopolitical zone in Nigeria, though frowned at by the Federal Government, it was given legislative approval by each of the respective states and has been said to be the precursor to state police demanded by the southwest.
The Oodua Peoples‘ Congress was formed as an organization to actualize the annulled mandate of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the presidential election of June 12, 1993, which was subsequently annulled by the military government. The group‘s former national co-ordinator, Otunba Gani Adams has since assumed a more central role in Yorubaland, having been conferred with the title, Aare Ona Kakanfo of Youbaland by the Alaafin of Oyo in October 2017. He has also called for actualisation of a Yoruba sovereign nation along with people like Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho, an Oyo State indigene who has lately stirred public sentiments in that direction and Prof. Banji Akintoye a former Nigerian Senator, Emeritus Professor of History and former Leader of Yoruba World Congress, and currently the head of Ilana Omo Odua.
Indeed, the Governors of the 16 South States have jointly declared a ban on open grazing, and called for restructuring and creation of state police among others. To furthermore show how insensitive the Federal Government is to the yearnings of the people, this action by legitimate sub-national governments was termed unconstitutional by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; a clear case of undermining these Governors‘ authorities over their territories. Unfortunately too, the president of the country had given order to his Attorney General to go dig a non-existent statute barred colonial gazette on grazing routes in order to counter the Nigerians‘ call for a ban on open grazing; an act suggesting that he is satisfied with the killings, destruction and army of occupation by his Fulani kinsmen in those communities especially in Nasarawa, Benue, Plateau and parts of the southern states. While Nigerian president is anachronistically digging down for vengeance, presidents of developed climes are prospectively soaring higher into Mars, Moon, and even Sun and other planetary systems for exploits.
Education under attacks – Nigeria missing Goal 4
A very serious and unfortunate case that has metastasized is kidnap of students beginning with the infamous Chibok Girls scenario in Borno State in 2014 wherein 276 mostly Christian secondary school girls were whisked away in the middle of the night by Boko Haram fighters. This happened in the twilight of Goodluck Jonathan administration and as there had been no precedent, there was an initial denial of its occurrence by government as it was said to have a political undertone. Till date, 100 of the school girls are yet to be found! Some four years afterwards, another school kidnap case was reported, this time 110 girls aged 10-19 in Dapchi, Yobe State. Five schoolgirls died on the same day of their kidnap while most of the girls were rescued a month afterwards. Till date, one of them, Leah Sharibu, a Christian has not been released as she refused to abandon her faith to convert to Islam. Amnesty International estimated that at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by the Islamic terrorist group since 2014, many of whom have been forced into sexual slavery (BBC, 2017).
More recent school-type kidnaps in Nigeria have been suspected to be carried out by criminal gangs called bandits who are nothing but terrorists. This is because some negotiations involving payment of ransoms have been held with these gangs by such persons as the Zamfara State Governor, Sheihk Abubakar Gumi and others. On March 11, 2021 gunmen attacked Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Igabi LGA, in Kaduna State where 39 students were kidnapped and in May 2021, 150 students were kidnapped at Tegina, Niger State. On the 12th of July, 2021, gunmen attacked the Bethel Baptist High School in Marmara, Chikun LGA of Kaduna state and kidnapped about 140 students. This recent kidnaping at Bethel Baptist High School in the suburb of Kaduna brings the number to nine of high profile school kidnaps in Northwestern Nigeria, with four of these incidences, that is 45%, in Kaduna State. This was at least the fourth mass school kidnapping in Kaduna state since December 2020.
A Summary of Incidences of School Kidnappings in the Northwest
From December last year, 2020 to date, 8th July, 2021, seven-month period; there have been nine incidences of school kidnappings in the Northwest region of the country. These include:
On the 11th December 2020, gunmen kidnapped over 300 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State.
On the 27th of February, 2021, gunmen entered Government Secondary School, Kagara, Niger State and abducted about 50 students.
On the 2nd March, 2021, gun men also attacked Government Girls Secondary School, Jangebe town in Zamfara state and kidnapped about 300 female students.
On March 11, 2021 gunmen attacked Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Igabi LGA, in Kaduna State and 39 students were kidnapped.
On Thursday 22 April 2021, Greenfield University along Kaduna /Abuja Road, Kaduna State was invaded in the dead of the night and 14 female students, six male students, and two female staff members were kidnaped out of which five were killed.
On the 30th of May 2021, over 150 students including some as young as 3 years old were kidnapped in Salihu Tanko Islamic School in Tegina town, Niger State.
On the 11th of June 2021, gunmen attacked Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic in Zaria, Kaduna State, killed one student and adducted 8 others including 3 lecturers.
On Thursday, 17th of June, 2021, about 70 students and four teachers of the Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State were kidnapped by bandits in broad day light.
On the 12th of July, 2021, gunmen attacked the Bethel Baptist High School in Marmara, Chikun LGA of Kaduna State and kidnapped about 140 students.
Is it not ridiculous that kidnappers of the Bethel Baptist High School students have been calling to inform their parents that they would not kill any of the students but that the students would die of hunger unless parents deliver to the abductors food items such as beans, rice, palm oil, condiments etc at a designated location?
Lately, the school system has been so interrupted with the advent of COVID-19 when schools had to close down nationwide. And even when the schools reopened elsewhere in the country, those in the Northwest region could not because of insecurity challenges and increasing kidnap cases. Nigeria is gradually failing in the attainment of SDGs. Goal 4 of the SDGs addresses the issue of quality education but the activities of the kidnappers and bandits indeed not only threaten education (let alone quality education) but also strengthen the rate of out-of-school children and thus achieving the aim of boko haram which is western education is forbidden.
SDG 16 emphasizes peace, justice and strong institutions including peaceful societies for sustainable development. Sadly, the Nigerian state has allowed a privileged few to dominate its society in several spheres especially in the aspect of governance thus leaving critical masses of the people behind. This has made several youths, the maginalised, the vulnerable including unemployed, professionals, urban residents, rural dwellers to question their continued allegiance to such as a badly shaped society where little or no sense of belonging exists. To better drive home this point, one of the major political parties announced ridiculously her new youth leader a man aged over 50 years! This was a clear slap in the face of young, agile, creative, well-educated and able-bodied youths brimming with fresh, workable ideas that could do the nation proud. The creative energy of this crucial youthful demography which accounts for about 60% of the population is what government needs to tap into as well as those of women who are renowned all over the world as good nation builders.
If all the figures and data presented from the foregoing are something to go by, then this is lamentable! It is unacceptable! How can Nigeria achieve SDGs by 2030 in the face of all these damning figures? Achieving the SDGs is dependent on the political will of our leadership. Governments at all levels only need to walk the talk and stop paying lip service to development issues. Although all the 17 Goals of 2030 Agenda are important, they however do not have equal weight. Cherry-picking or prioritising the goals may be necessary because it is obvious government may feign not having enough resources to bring about the realisation of the 17 Goals by 2030. Whereas Nigeria has the resources, it has all it takes to attain SDGs but self-centeredness coupled with endemic corruption has been the bane of its development over time.
Governments at all levels should take concrete steps to reverse trends of shrinking and closing civic spaces in development, to protect and enable space for civil society, including enabling laws and regulations, democratic accountability based on human rights norms and human rights standards, and the full protection of civil society under attack – such as social leaders, human rights defenders and gender rights activists. They should repeal and halt all obnoxious laws, policies, and bills stifling operations of civil society including social media bill including Hate Speech Bill, NPC and NBC (Media Bills) that mete out stiff penalty on the violator especially the press. On Monday 12th July 2021, the front page covers of Nigerian major traditional newspapers including The Punch, The Guardian, The Nation, Daily Sun and Vanguard were adorned with bold banners “Information Blackout” to ostensibly protest the National Assembly‘s gang up against the media and the society through their infamous NPC and NBC (Media) Act amendment Bills which if passed into law would stifle citizens‘ right to know and the right to be heard negating the spirit and letters of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Nigeria is a signatory.
Government should also respect democratic country ownership of national development plans, and recognize the importance of the inter-connected themes in achieving Agenda 2030 –civil society voice, eradicating poverty, women‘s empowerment, fighting inequality, decent work, climate action and environmental justice –without which the realisation of the SDGs would be a mirage in Nigeria. They should also hold effective, inclusive and transparent consultations with CSOs regarding national development priorities and guarantee meaningful inclusive CSO participation in decision-making and creation of public policies all in tandem with the UN Agenda 2030 mantra of ―Leave no one behind‖; and implement public policies to promote and strengthen CSOs.
Paramount is the need to uphold the rule of law, shun impunity, respect human rights, promote the right to initiative of citizens, and uphold all fundamental rights and freedoms including, but not limited to, freedom of association, and expression, political participation, the rights to peaceful assembly and information, and release unconditionally all the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience including the activists and journalists kept behind bars despite court injunction to release them on bail.
David Tola Winjobi (PhD) National Coordinator, CSCSD