2019 polls: Katsina battles security challenges

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In Katsina state of northwestern Nigeria, insecurity has emerged as the major threat to next month’s general election. Unless something drastic is done to stem the growing tide of violent attacks across the state, the 2019 general election may be badly affected, reports Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor and Augustine Okezie in Katsina.

CURRENTLY, not less than eight local government areas of Katsina state are at the mercy of bandits, kidnappers and other criminals that have been threatening the security of life and properties in the northwestern state for months now. Sources across the state says the situation is so bad today that residents of the affected areas rarely leave the confines of their homes for fear of being bobbed, abducted or killed.

The Nation further learnt that concerns are already being expressed in many quarters across the state over the possible effect of the worrisome state of security on the forthcoming general election. According to reliable sources, chieftains of both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been speaking about the security challenges as the elections approach.

“Even the state government and traditional rulers are expressing concerns over the development. It is left to be seen how a peaceful election can be held in an atmosphere of utter insecurity. This is not about politics, it is about ensuring that the people feel safe before asking them to go and vote. Across party divides, the people of Katsina are calling for urgent help in this regard,” a source said.

Speaking on the frightening security situation in the state, Dr. Mustapha Inuwa, Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and Chairman of a 10 man Security Committee set up last week by Governor Aminu Bello Masariafter an an extra-ordinary security meeting with security chiefs and other stakeholders, told newsmen at a briefing in his office that movement of personnel and materials to especially the affected frontline state s will be hampered by insecurity.

He further listed the affected Local Government Areas to include Jibia, Batsari, Safana, Dandume, Faskari, Sabwa and Kafur. He said “certainly the security situation will threaten the general elections especially in those affected local government areas because if you post personnel to the affected area, they may refuse to go there out of fear of their safety.’’

He explained that most of the affected local government areas are locoed along the state’s border with Zamfara state. “We all know that Zamfara has been battling banditry and other vices for a while now. Many of these criminals being smoked out of Zamfara by the military and police operations going on therein are finding their ways into Katsina state through these border towns.

“It is as a result of the failure of government to pre-empt this situation and prepare ahead that we now have this crisis on our hands. Katsina is a peaceful place and the current state government places a lot of emphasis on security of lives and properties. But the situation today requires help from higher quarters and it has to be urgently done so that the elections are not hampered by insecurity,” Abdulkadir Tsiga, state co-ordinator of Voters’ Right Agenda (VRA) told The Nation.


Helpless govt

Unable to keep quiet over the serious nature of the security challenges confronting it across the state, the Katsina State Government admitted that the present state of insecurity which has gripped the state may affect the conduct of a peaceful general election in the state if not properly tackled by a combined synergy of actions involving security agencies in the state through ground and air operations.

Explaining the magnitude of the crisis on the government’s hand, Inuwa outlined several emergency measures already taken by the Masari-led administration to include reaching out for cooperation with neighboring states like Kaduna, Zamfara and Kano states, clearing the forests located especially within the urban centers which he said have become hide-outs for criminals, embarking on awareness campaign amongst inhabitants of the rural areas through traditional rulers and district heads as well as equipping security agencies.

He said the state government also requested that the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Idris should make available Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and related equipment to police personnel in the state to enable them deal with the rising cases of kidnappings, banditry and cattle rustling in some parts of the state. “We discovered that the lack of synergy between the police, military and other security agencies in the state was responsible for the rise in cases of kidnappings, banditry and cattle rustling especially in council areas sharing border with the Rugu forest,” he added.

The Nation recalled that Governor Masari had during an extra-ordinary security meeting that comprised of security chiefs and other stakeholders lamented the rise in insecurity, adding that security reports showed that one or more of the mentioned crimes were perpetuated in some parts of the state on a daily basis.    On the issue of Cattle rustling, Inuwa said government was considering the possibility of carrying out an enumeration of cattles and their owner in the affected areas.

Earleir, citing increasing cases of armed banditry, kidnapping and cattle rustling committed in parts of the state by suspected gunmen, Governor Masari had raised alarm that the state was under siege. The governor, speaking during a crucial meeting of security chiefs, traditional rulers and acting chairmen of local governments among others critical stakeholders, revealed that intelligence reports  available indicated growing cases of the menace of suspected bandits.

He disclosed that urgent steps had to be taken at the meeting on the way out of the dangerous security threats facing the state which borders troubled communities in Zamfara State. He maintained that the prevailing situation was a serious threat to survival of the people of the state, adding that it is the responsibility of government and those steering the security apparatus to protect the lives and property of all.

Masari stressed the need for collective efforts in addressing the challenges for the improved socio-economic activities in the state, while calling on Katsina citizens to assist security agencies with useful information to effectively tackle the situation. He equally solicited continuous prayers for God‘s intervention to overcome the security challenges facing the state and the nation.

“No one, not even myself, is safe. So, this is the situation and that is why we are here to find a way out, which is a must. There is no option because we are thinking of the survival of our people and state. It is now a daily occurrence as no day passes without a case recorded. It is not even rustling of cows but now kidnapping of people. “Our state is currently under serious siege by armed robbers, kidnappers and armed bandits who arrest rural people at the grassroots at will and demand ransom, which if not paid, they kill their victims.

“The Permanent Secretary was just informing me that his close relative was kidnapped and a ransom of N5 million was demanded and the person who took the money to them was shot. Some people visited me, and as they left, they were trailed and robbed of their belongings. The armed robbers could not go away with the vehicle because it has security lock on it. In the past, they carried out their activities in the middle of the night, but now, they operate at midnight, 10pm and gradually in broad day light.

“It is not up to a month, right here in front of  Government House, five electricity poles were carted away. It is getting out of hand that we should not fold our arms. Let’s return to God, let’s pray to Him to salvage the situation.  So we must reach a lasting solution at this meeting to curtail this ugly trend.

“The citizens are on daily basis being harassed by bandits and kidnappers that are on rampage in the state. The Katsina government organised this one-day joint security and stakeholders meeting to proffer solutions to the state’s current insecurity challenge. The people of Katsina in the 34 local governments now sleep with one eye closed and the other opened,” the Governor lamented.


Help coming?

As the government and other stakeholders continue to cry for help in tackling the insecurity challenges currently suffocating the state, Tsiga says Katsina state should be specially considered by the military “as it plans its strategic involvement in the security of the nation during the general election.” The pro-democracy activists says there can be no free and fair election without adequate security of lives during elections.

It would be recalled that last December, the Nigerian Army says it will conduct exercise “Egwu Eke III – Python Dance” nationwide, to tackle already “observed upsurge’’ in security challenges as the 2019 general elections draw nearer. According to the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, who announced this at a news conference in Maiduguri, the exercise will be conducted from January 1 to February 28, 2019.

Represented by Lamidi Adeosun, the Chief of Training and Operations, Mr. Buratai, a Lt.-Gen., identified those threats as stockpiling of arms by criminal groups, the formation of ethnic militia and violence induced by political activities. The army had in 2016 and 2017 conducted exercise Egwu Eke I and II to address peculiar security challenges in the South- East geo-political zone.

“These challenges coupled with other security threats across the country such as terrorism, militancy, kidnapping and banditry portend that dissident groups and criminal elements could cash in on the situation to perpetrate large-scale violence before, during and after the 2019 general elections,’’ he said. According to the army chief, Nigerian troops need to be prepared and equipped with requisite skills in order to professionally and effectively respond to these challenges and security threats in collaboration with the Nigerian Police and other para-military oganisations.

Responding to a question on why Egwu Eke III is being conducted nationwide and not restricted to the South-East in line with its code name, Mr Buratai’s representative said there is python everywhere. “Even in the desert of Borno, don’t forget, the Lake Chad basin is there, python can also dance within the desert.

“In fact, we have desert python, so python will dance all over the country this time around,’’ he said.

The army chief explained that the success of the exercise Egwu Eke I and II in checkmating security threats in the South- East informed its implementation across the country now. Buratai called on Nigerians to provide the army and other security agencies with useful and timely information to enable them to deliver on the mandate of the planned exercise. He reaffirmed the commitment of the army to fight against terrorism and insurgency in the country.

Thus, concerned stakeholders are hoping that the exercise will promptly take off in Katsina and help end the security worries of the government and residents of the state in good time before the general elections. “It is important to note that unless people are assured of safety long before the election, the entire exercise may suffer voters’ apathy, thereby reducing the credibility of the polls,” Tsiga said.

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