By LADAPO ALANI
Men make history by mobilizing their natural and material assets to confront and overcome challenges. History is replete with narratives of the valour of courageous men and women, who, challenged by terminal circumstances, survived by bringing their skill and enterprise to defeat their adversaries, At personal and societal levels, challenges are bound to come. Indeed, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, undoubtedly of Nigeria’s most strategic administrators of public realm, once put it succinctly when he said, it is not life that matters but the courage you put into it.
Today, Nigeria faces the challenge of insecurity. In the North, valiant soldiers continue to repel the secessionist Boko Haram sect as it swoops on towns and villages, mows tens and hundreds of residents and impose tax regimes to assert control. From a plethora of sources, the BBC reported that Boko Haram killed 910 Nigerians in 2016 and 967 in 2017. According to the Global Conflict Tracker, since it broke out in 2011,the war has displaced over 2.5 million Nigerians and turned nearly 244,000 Nigerians to refugees. The body count among civilians is estimated to be 36,000. For the over 310, 900 brave Nigerian soldiers engaging the insurgents solely or as part of the multi-national defence force, the body bags count is distressing. According to Reuters, on April 26, this year, Islamic State West Africa, the break-away faction of Boko Haram killed over 30 soldiers at Mainok, less than 55 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
In the Middle Belt, clashes between herdsmen and farmers particularly in Benue and Niger states have left farmers dead and crops rotting on the farms. Kidnapping is a nationwide challenge, with the South West becoming its most notorious enclave. In the South East, policemen risk their lives by wearing uniforms as insurgents hunt them like game. Their stations are no longer safe because they are targets of willful destruction.
Because all of us are involved, the task of interrogating the challenges and proffering solutions becomes necessarily collective and indeed, communal. There is no doubt that the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, is trying his best to give fire for fire and rout the insurgents from the tiniest inch of Nigerian soil. The change of guards at the highest echelon of the armed forces, the support for the multi-national force and increased funding of supplies to the battle zones seemed to have increased morale and combat readiness.
This article gains its relevance from the perspectives its might offer in enriching the discourse over the management of insecurity notwithstanding the fact that the theatre is smaller, the engagements more sporadic and the personality has to rely more on strategic creativity than experience on the battle field.
It is too easy to forget today but as at 1996, you could not go to sleep in Lagos with your eyes closed. Residents took turns to participate in vigilante groups to keep the robbers, who had the effrontery to announce the time of their invasion, away. Although the tension was reduced with the introduction of Operation Sweep by Governor Buba Marwa, the deleterious disempowerment of the people by the neo-liberal Structural Adjustment Programme had created the mass of millions of dismissed labourers and unemployed graduates roaming the streets for work, Driven by want and hunger, crime soared.
For Bola Tinubu, the electoral campaigns of 1998, brought him 6 face to face with the faces of poverty, hunger and destitution and their flipside: violent crime. What was to be done? This task was the assignment of the committee on security set up as part of the transition programme by Tinubu as governor-elect. Its recommendations were spot on.
First, strengthen the apparatus for combating crime to respond to crime scenes expeditiously. The conversion of multi-force Operation Sweep to the solely police –oriented Rapid Response Squad civilianized its image and operations to gain the confidence of the citizenry.
Launching the squad on July 6, 1999, Governor Tinubu said the reformation was necessary because public support for Operation Sweep had weakened due to the spate of harassment, extortion and killing of innocent citizens, events which implied that it had abandoned its mandate.
In its stead, he established the RRS as a well-equipped rapid response force that would work with the grassroots Neighbourhood Watch to get security alerts and swing into at the shortest notice. Based on the needs list of the state police command, the RRS was fully equipped and boosted with efficient telecommunications gadgets, insurance package to boost their morale and ensure their dependents get benefits from the hazardous assignments and a whistle blower network that kept it ahead of the criminals.
In no time, the visibility of patrol vehicles at major junctions in the metropolis, the siren blares as the men chased to crime scenes and the quick apprehension of the men of the underworld enabled Lagosians to sleep soundly and wake up fresh. A legacy has been established. Improved security improved the confidence of the private sector and facilitated the decision of the Babatunde Fashola administration to set up the public-private collaboration known as the Lagos Security Trust fund. Its critical relevance and exemplary transparency made it the apple of corporate social responsibility budgets of industrial giants and conscientious philantropists.
Responding to the increasing cases of kidnapping along the state’s waterways, the Ambode administration extended its operations to the air by acquiring helicopters to conduct air surveillance and starting the first DNA and Forensic Centre of international repute in West Africa. Everyday, this centre closes the chances of a criminal to escape justice because every convict’s fingerprints and genetic information are stored on its servers. Today, in the waters, on the roads or in the air, combatting crime is easier for the RRS in Lagos State. It is gladdening that this proud legacy of the Tinubu administration has been adopted by the Buhari administration with the establishment of the Nigeria Police Trust Fund.
It must be noted that Lagos continues to build a vibrant support system for its crime prevention and crime combatting achievements. The reformation of the judicial system to facilitate speedy trial and conviction, the expansion of the whistle blower rewards system and increased detection of rape and property-related crimes are building the web of safety around the citizen and restoring confidence to business.
Second, the sharpening of the machinery of crime prevention also increased the capacity of the state to respond to inter-ethnic and socio-economic crises. 2002 will go down in history as a red letter year for the Tinubu administration. On January 27, bombs from the armoury at the Ikeja Cantonment exploded furiously all over the city causing residents to scamper to safety amidst rumours of coup and invasion by a foreign army. On February 2, a minor misunderstanding blew into murderous clash between the Yoruba and the Hausa in Idi-Araba, a vibrant community where both had lived in harmony.
Both events brought the crisis manager in Tinubu to the fore. The same man who had taken out the military from the RRS brought them to quell the clashes by cordoning the area and launching a nationwide strategy in collaboration with the security forces that ensured that similar military presence in Kano and Jigawa forestalled reprisal killings. Clinically, Tinubu de-ethnicised the Idi-Araba clash by defining the perpetrators of mayhem as area boys and hooligans certain to face the music if caught by the law.
His words: “We are in control of the situation in Idi-Araba. The crisis has nothing to do with OPC. It is the ‘Area Boys’. I have already ordered the combined team of military and police to patrol the area. Hausas and Yorubas in Idi-Araba have been living peacefully together for years. Any ‘Area Boys’ caught will be dealt with accordingly.”
Denied ethnic enclaves of refuge, the rampaging warlords disappeared from the streets making it easier for the restoration of peace.
Both events also highlighted the governor’s logistical expertise as an organizer of emergency services. Radio and television broadcasts were used to calm anxious citizens and allay fears of the Armagedon. Over 10,000 victims were accommodated at the Police College, Ikeja even as a final resting place, the Oke-Afa arcade, was prepared for residents who died in the canal while running to safety. Families were re-united and rehabilitated. Established in 2001 by the administration, the Lagos State Ambulance Service and the Lagos State Emergency Service were strengthened to cope with both crises. For the next 10 years, the Lagos State government continuously reached out to those affected and gave out financial support to get them on their feet.
Tinubu’s legacy in tackling insecurity in the Nigerian microcosm called Lagos State is an evidence based case for tapping his ingenuity, expertise and experience in strategizing the best way out of a 10-year nationwide security crises which the global tracking institution, Global Conflict Tracker, defines as war. At no other time is the need for a review of our containment strategy more urgent to ensure that the blight of an uncrushed insurgency does not mark our memories of the current dispensation.