There were unknown soldiers before there are unknown gunmen

Ogunsakin Mustapha
9 Min Read

By Owei Lakemfa

I PASSED in front of the University of Abuja, UNIABUJA Staff Quarters on Sunday, October 31, 2021 on my way from the Nigeria Media Merit Award programme in Lokoja. As I did, my mind raced back to the issue of insecurity I had raised three days earlier during my keynote address to the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Bauchi Zone Summit on the state of the nation.

I had paused to ask the audience at the Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa University, Bauchi venue what the university population was. “Thirty thousand” was the reply.

I had then said it was preposterous to me if a dozen or two dozen bandits were to arrive on the campus, and all we do is run away, allowing the gunmen to round up as many persons as possible and herd them like cows into the forest or the hills and then place hefty ransom demands on the captives.

In my address, I had argued that the on-going banditry, kidnapping and seizure of towns and villages in the country has become one of the most serious challenges in our history. I pointed out that these criminals focus on tertiary institutions, schools and school children as young as five for kidnap and ransom.

I told the audience that: “There is the need for self-defence by communities and able-bodied Nigerians. For instance I see no sense in allowing a handful of bandits on motorbikes invade tertiary institutions with hundreds or thousands of youths, without facing armed resistance.

The level of insecurity has reached the stage where the citizenry should be militarily trained for self-defence rather than whole villages and towns be put to flight each time they are attacked. There is no reason why students in tertiary institutions should not be trained to defend themselves, their institutions and their right to education.

Also, it is time the National Youth Service Corps scheme is transformed into a military scheme. There are no better persons to defend themselves against barbarity than those on whom it is visited.”

Two days after I passed in front of the UniAbuja staff gate, bandits struck, unchallenged. Some two dozen bandits, aware they had the monopoly of violence, were confident enough to attack a university campus with over 14,000 able-bodied youths. After roaming the quarters unchallenged for two hours and taking valuables, they also took along, eight members of staff and their families.

The victims were identified as Professor of Economics, Joseph Obansa and his two sons, Fidelis and John Obansa; Dr. Fergusson Tobin, a Deputy Registrar, Mallam Sambo, the wife, son and daughter of one of the most fervent patriots and defenders and of the down trodden, Professor Bassey Ubom.

After walking for some time, Mrs. Bassey Ubom and Fidelis Obansa were released while the rest were taken away with the bandits demanding N300 million ransom.

Professor Ubom, an Environmentalist and ASUU stalwart lamented the insecurity in the country: “Is it only when we are all dead that people will know that there is insecurity in the country?” Having known Professor Ubom over the years, I have no doubt that if he had access to a gun, he would have used it to defend his family. But the only people with access to guns in the country are the rampaging bandits and terrorists, the security forces and a handful of the powerful and the rich. The rest 200 million Nigerians are defenceless and hapless.

I tend to be a pacifist, but I hold dearly to the principle of one of my mentors, Malcolm X who advised: “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” The UNIABUJA captives spent three days in the forest before their rescue. But the situation in the country remains the same; we seem to be waiting for the next set of abductions.

The South-East, like many parts of the country is wracked by violence, but it is as if ghosts are behind the attacks. Just as we have “unknown bandits” roaming the country with some well-known politicians and clerics rationalising their criminality, so do we have “unknown gunmen” causing havoc in the South-East.

The phenomenon of ‘unknown gunmen’ had surfaced on Tuesday, August 7, 2018 at about 5.00 a.m, when hooded gunmen seized the parliament in what the Presidency was to later characterise as an “unauthorised take-over of the National Assembly Complex.” Since the gunmen were unknown, but they were identified as agents of the State Security Services, the Presidency picked up the courage to sack the head of the agency, Malam Lawal Musa Daura.

A case of ‘unknown security agents’ is playing out today following the failed invasion of the home of a Justice of the Supreme Court, Mary Odili on Friday, October 29, 2021. A combination of armed policemen and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, operatives operating under the Joint Panel Recovery Unit of the Ministry of Justice, stormed Justice Odili’s residence in Abuja.

They had a search warrant from Chief Magistrate Emmanuel Iyanna, to search the premises for observed suspicious activities. Under normal circumstances, there should be no issue searching the premises of a person who has no immunity. But Justice Odili was suspicious of the intent and resisted. It turned out that her hunch was correct.

All the parties concerned denied knowledge giving the impression that it was a rogue mission. First, the Chief Magistrate said he was misled, so he immediately rescinded the order. The EFCC announced it was unaware of such a raid by its operatives, and watched its hands off. The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, under whose authority the botched raid was purportedly conducted, denied involvement. The Ministry also made a public denunciation.

The Nigeria Police Force seemed enraged that its name was dragged into the affair and denied any knowledge. The Inspector-General, Usman Baba described: “the reported violation of the sanctity of the residence of the Justice of the Supreme Court as unfortunate and unacceptable.” He ordered an immediate investigation. But before the advent of ‘unknown bandits’ ‘unknown gunmen’ and ‘unknown security agents’ there have been ’unknown soldiers.’

On February 18, 1977 about 1,000 soldiers invaded the home of Afro Beat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and razed it. In the process they maimed and raped the residents and threw down Fela’s elderly mother, the famed anti-colonial nationalist, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti from the storey building. The subsequent Tribunal of Inquiry claimed the crimes were committed by “unknown soldiers”

Fela’s beautiful retort in his ‘Unknown Soldier’ album was: “If na unknown soldier; we get unknown police; we get unknown soldier; we get unknown civilian; All is equal to unknown government.”

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