Beyond the crossroads at Òwò

By Olukayode Oyeleye

Stories and documented accounts from elsewhere in the world have proved some things about certain events with high level of validity. Terrorism all over the world follows some patterns: it begins insidiously, it infiltrates into public discourse in obfuscated ways, especially as politics mix with the discourse. Potential victims tend to ward off existential threats as inconsequential and unreal until it becomes too late to contain them.

Because money is involved one way or another, terrorism begins innocuously, finds local sentiments that justifies it in the form it takes at the points and periods of entry and local supporters and promoters coalesce around the common sentiments. The weapons businesses are lucrative, although mostly done clandestinely except in transactions involving states. The trade soon finds local collaborators who don’t think beyond immediate gains, but are rather unconcerned about the possible future threats to themselves. Many, if not all, of these stages have been enacted in Nigeria. A contender for the foremost position in Nigeria once rose in defence of the Boko Haram terrorist group, claiming that any attack on the group was an attack on a region of the country. More than one governor had openly defended the invasions by bandits and marauding herdsmen on the claims that their movement ought not to be restricted or regulated. It became an official central government policy that old cattle grazing routes and previously non-existent routes be opened up all across the country.

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While the communities are not expected to bear arms, the bandits and herdsmen are deemed free to, and nothing was expected to be done in response to their attacks by the victims. Those holding the reins of power in trust for the people do not see the need to call terrorists by their appropriate names. Those caught at some points in certain places were to be released based on superior orders. The victims of the first major mass abductions (the school girls) seem to have been abandoned and lost in the gale of persistent and regular mass abductions thereafter. The countryside becomes more unsafe. The military that is legally permitted to bear arms has been infiltrated and the whole security architecture compromised. The weaknesses had been tested up to the level of attacking the number one military training institution without any resistance. If the northern part of the country that has almost all the military fortresses have become so vulnerable, what national security then is there to claim in other parts of the country?

The level of complacency has been such that parts of the country that were not immediately affected outwardly lived in denial. Few politicians that raised alarm were heckled and ridiculed, especially when they made laws to restrict the movement of undocumented immigrants and nomads. Many, including the credulous politicians from the South, kicked against the tough measures, supported by those with plans from the north. Although, the rhetoric of Nnamdi Kanu sometimes were on the extreme, he and and that brave Professor Banji Akintoye have been saying it that these terrorists and vicious herdsmen were inside the forest waiting for superior command. It could be that they were ignored because many thought they were making a mountain out of a molehill, or crying wolf where there was none. But the Igángán attacks showed clear forebodings. It was possible that the backers of these attackers tried to silence (or possibly eliminate) Sunday Igboho to send fears into anyone or groups of people attempting to stand in the way. What about the controversial Minister said to have had links with foreign terrorists in the past? And some believed the man has denounced his purported links? And to know that such a person oversees the ministry that registers the biodata of citizens when the unregulated influx of foreigners from the sub-region was covertly and overtly encouraged? These surely do not point to preparation for an onslaught on mandpeople, right?

Travelling through the Southwest in the past, I have expressed concerns over the historical access granted to settlers in the forests by Ekiti, Ondo, Akoko and Òwò people while the children of the natives live in urban areas in pursuit education or commerce. I have said repeatedly that much of such lands would soon be taken over by the settlers while the children of the original owners will not be able to regain them. The arguments of some then were that the settlers were producing foods. Alright! A settler on borrowed land now grows tree crops, which is directly in contravention of the Ekiti adage. Security analysts missed the fact that these were among the first set of hosts to the terrorists and deadly herdsmen. Even when. When their presence was first noticed, the reaction was too tepid or, at best, too cold. The southwest governors created an Àmòtékùn regional security outfit that soon became comatose shortly after coming on board.

Terrorists, especially the jihadists, have their signatures on any attack they carry out, whether or not they own up to it. The last Sunday attack might have been just to test the local preparedness and response system put in place by southwest. Some might say it is not good to pre-empt investigation: but that is where the investigation will yield anything meaningful. The attack (even without investigation yet) has the signature of the jihadist agenda. It sounds funny when you hear that Amotekun regional security outfit is bogged down by some local constraints. Our Southern politicians, especially those in power, are an embarrassment and making a mockery of serious existential issues. The Southwesterners in particular don’t inspire. The Amotekun regional security outfit does not have clear geopolitical reference point, intellectual department for research and intelligence gathering, sustainable funding, surveillance technologies and required weapons for operations. It is doubtful if it is backed up by legislation in all the states where they operate. For the lack of clear focus, the Amotekun now helps to settle scores among or between kinsmen instead of looking at the commonly shared bigger threat of invasion by foreigners and flushing out those who hide in forests, abducting and extorting ransom from victims.

We are already in a war situation. But it is disappointing and embarrassing that one of the Southwest governors flaunting PhD in war strategy is performing below expectation. Where is that knowledge of war strategy? Is he aware that wars (both conventioanal and non-conventional) are usually linked with ideology, economics and sociology? In what meaningful way has he engaged the people of his state on strategy for dealing with these marauders? These guys could mobilise and even import hooligans and miscreants from nearby states intimidate people and winning the elections of 2018, but they cannot do same to ward off foreign invaders. What a shame! Should someone like this man not be a brain behind a regional strategy for public safety, including the intellectual content and financial pathway for keeping such a force in place? It was Òwò in Ondo State last Sunday, but we must hope that the next target is not this erudite governor’s village next time.

These junketing governors (particularly the one nursing presidential ambition) want to convince us that they have allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, while they have weak and questionable commitment to their home base. But they hobnob with political colleagues from the north who openly claim allegiance to the north first and quite weakly to the Federal Republic. These their northern counterparts have national heads but regional hearts. Did anyone stop Zamfara and Kano states when they established Hisbah state police? Why are these lilly livered, superficial populists, afraid to make all-out moves to support this local security network in every way possible? We need to have strong interrogation on these as Òwò could be a test case and the beginning of long-drawn terrorist onslaught against the southwest. But time will tell.

Dr. Oyeleye is a senior journalist and policy analyst

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