By Hassan Gimba
Bandits. Photo: BBC
First, they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
The above four stanzas, variations of which have been named “First they came…”, are the poetic rendition of a 1946 post-war confessional prose by the German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). He made it on 6 January, 1946, in his speech for the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. Even though it speaks about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy - including, by his admission, himself - to speak out following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group, one can relate it to Nigeria’s situation.
Let us take, for instance, when Boko Haram started their mayhem in Borno and Yobe States. A lot of the people were unconcerned because those being attacked were security agents. By the time they turned on the people, everyone knew something collectively should have been done earlier to nip the menace in the bud. But we didn’t because it was the security agents that were being targeted. And by the time they came for us, we knew we had goofed.
Some years back, when kidnappings, killings and general banditry started escalating, leading to the worsening in insecurity in the North West, many of us started sounding the alarm, but to no avail. Those who should have come down heavily on the recalcitrant undesirable elements to save the nation thought it didn’t affect them, but us. Now, nowhere is safe.
On December 24, 2018, under the topic Insecurity: North Under Siege, on this page, I wrote: “The North Central has become a traveler’s nightmare from Rijau to Birnin Gwari and Gwanin Gora to Rijana through Kaduna and down to the suburbs of the Plateau. One travels at one’s own risk as even four-star generals are being killed at will. Herdsmen kill every moving object and sack villages, burning everything down to ashes. Kidnappers are also having a field day. Are some of them, especially the herdsmen and kidnappers, another face of Boko Haram getting the much-needed cash for their operations?
“Hardly can one confidently travel from one town or village to the next once it is 7pm. Travelling by road even in broad daylight is embarked upon with trepidation. Journeying by plane is no longer for luxury as for safety.
“Our security apparatuses possibly need a total overhaul and help from elsewhere. There has to be a synergy among the different actors, imbibe modern policing methods and revive community policing. Those who could overhaul our security system and make it more proactive didn’t give a hoot because they thought it didn’t affect them, but us. Now, nowhere is safe.”
Also on this page, on 15 June, 2020, writing on the topic The North and Insecurity: What has changed? I said: “Our leaders and, of course, all men and women of goodwill must be concerned. We all need to help find a solution; Frankenstein-like monsters have been reared and peace is threatening to elude us. We live in fear of what fate awaits our children and our children’s children.
“Just recently, the South West established a security outfit named ‘Amotekun’, ostensibly to protect its people. But truth be told, Amotekun has been with us for quite some time. People hire private security guards for protection. That is Amotekun. We barricade streets at both ends and the inhabitants hire private security guards to patrol them. That is also Amotekun. Soon, the private security business will be the most flourishing, because more and more Nigerians will call for their services. It may well be that, soon, regions, states and local governments will all be setting up their own Amotekun because the centre can no longer hold.
“Crime will become pervasive and entrenched in our society if we cannot do something about it now. Already, there are illiterate, semi-literate and even literate but hungry people who are ready to kill for a phone or a few thousands of naira. In the future, if this is not checked, they will kill for an earpiece or a few hundreds of naira or a morsel of food. The law-abiding can no longer sleep with even eyes closed and the rich will not find a haven anywhere, even with all their wealth. All shall be consumed. Wake up, we must.” Those who could protect us didn’t wake up because they believed they were safe, even if we weren’t. Now, nowhere is safe.
On March 1, 2021, still on this page, while making a comment under The North and the Effect of Janus, I wrote: “Since kidnapping for ransom became a fad on the Abuja-Kaduna Road and in the bushes of the northwestern and central states of Nigeria, I started shouting here that it is a financial drive by Boko Haram. The kidnappers belong to their economic arm. They are only ignorant foot-soldiers being used as cannon fodder.” Those who should listen didn’t, and now nowhere is safe.
Yet still on this page, On December 24, 2018, I wrote:
“In the North West, armed bandits, perhaps Boko Haram with a different face, are threatening to take over with Zamfara State almost under their control… they ransack communities at will, kill, maim and take as many as they can with them for ransom. The bandits can come to a marriage gathering and just demand the bride, who would be handed over to them, with thanks.
“Farmers and voiceless Nigerians are being abducted by those who have declared war on Nigeria, but we have allowed them to play the music while we dance to the tunes.
“What has happened to our intelligence-gathering ability...? It is quite a wonder how scores of marauders riding motorcycles with sawed-off silencers can leave the bushes, come to towns, operate for hours and pick hundreds of students and return to the bushes unchallenged. In the not-so-distant past, our security agencies used to have operatives called “stool pigeons”.
They were the backbone of human intelligence (HUMINT) gathering… Now, we can scatter such HUMINT operatives across the towns such that the moment insurgents or their economic arm, the bandits, come out, the operational headquarters of our security agencies will be aware. They could be farmers, hunters, villagers and even herders who are all over the place.
“The way the innocent child sees its father as a superhero who will give it protection is the way the innocent citizen should consider his country. Unfortunately, we are learning the hard way that in Nigeria, no matter what happens, life goes on. The people’s innocence has been deflowered, and sadly, their confidence in their country has been shot to pieces. We should fear the day when the citizens will no longer have respect for a government or society that cannot protect its own.
“As long as criminals will not be brought to justice, as long as we continue treating them with kid gloves, so long shall we continue to play into their hands. They see how others were given “amnesty” and “deradicalised” for taking up arms against the state, wreaking havoc on communities and letting blood flow. They see that the worst that can happen to them is “condemnation”.
But condemnations, like rebukes, are meant for those who recognise your authority over them. This class of criminals does not recognise the condemning authorities.” However, those who mattered kept condemning, and now nowhere is safe.