Brandishing dangerous weapons is not new to youths in Nigeria, but the twin event of last Thursday in Lokoja, Kogi State and Lagos present fundamental social question to Nigeria, writes STEPHEN GBADAMOSI.
ONE of the major security challenges that have been facing Nigeria since 1999 when democracy returned to the country and at the moment is the insurgence of ethnic militia groups. The country contended with the problem of Niger Delta militants, right from the presidency of former President Olusegun Obasanjo till the period of his successor, Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua when solution was finally found for the problem.
It is noteworthy that preceding this were many other sectarian challenges like the Maitatsine crisis of the 1980s in Kaduna.
There was also the rise of the Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) which developed about the time that the defunct military regime of former Military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida annulled the June 12, 1993 preodential election won by the late business mogul, Chief MKO Abiola. OPC was to later become a menace for Nigeria, particularly in the South Western part of the country.
After President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s death which culminated in a controversial Goodluck Jonathan Presidency, a fresh sectarian crisis surfaced in the brand of Boko Haram. Initially, it was seen by many as an Islamic group seeking vengeance against the police which allegedly killed its (Boko Haramâ€™s) members extra-judicially. However, many Nigerians have reconsidered that stand, putting more in focus the suspicion that the group might be a tool in the hands of some Northern elements who are against a Southern Presidency on account of the fact that Yarâ€™Adua did not complete the Northâ€™s tenure. Jonathan, erstwhile Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s deputy, is a South Southerner.
According to some security experts, members of Boko Haram have, nevertheless, taken insurgency in Nigeria to another level. They rarely use guns; they deploy explosive devices, thus making more victims than the people are used to in such security challenges.
All these experiences were such that members of these militia groups operated discreetly; they struck when they wanted and withdrew into hiding, though security agencies, once in a while, made claims of arrest of some gang members.
Today, the notion in some quarters that Nigeria sits on a keg of gun powder security wise seems to be gaining potency. The separate events that occurred on Thursday, incidentally, one in the Northern part of the country and the other in the South, points towards the level to which ethnic militia groups would go in daring the authorities in broad day light or at any time.
Reports had it that some former Niger Delta militants, numbering about 1,600 laid siege to the Murtala Mohammed bridge in Lokoja, Kogi State capital. The bridge links the Southern part of the country with Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The former militants were reported to have come in a convoy of about 300 vehicles, among which were luxury buses, with which they blocked the expressway. They were said to have been blocked from entering Abuja by security agents at Jamata toll gate, a development that resulted in traffic gridlock that lasted over eight hours.
Though military men were later drafted to put everything under control, the deed had been done; many travelers were put under serious trauma and the development underscored the increasing audacity of ethnic militia youths in the country.
The same day the Lokoja drama was being enacted, members of the dreaded OPC took to the streets of Lagos, reportedly in protest against Boko Haram activities, brandishing guns of different shades and other dangerous weapons.
Those who saw the bizarre development as a negative commentary on the security situation in the country argued that all of the activities of the dreaded Islamic sect had been confined to the North, particularly, Yobe and Borno states as well as parts of the FCT. It is not until recently that attacks similar to those carried out by the sect were recorded in other parts of the North. An example is the one that occurred in Kaduna on Wednesday which security agencies said they were still investigating.
However, other opinion moulders have contended that the OPC might have taken a proactive step upon sensing that the continuous rumour that the Boko Haram was targeting parts of the South West had semblance of truth.
This school of thought also reminded Sunday Tribune that some youthful members of the OPC had, at a gathering of Yoruba stakeholders held recently, charged leaders of the race to give the kind of support enjoyed by Niger Delta militants and Boko Haram to the OPC.
â€œDo you think that those Niger Delta militants have no backing of their elders? They are not doing all that they are doing alone. Some citizens of their states are supporting them financially and equipping them.
â€œThe same thing is happening with this Boko Haram. They are being funded by some people. They should stay where they are and cause their problems in their domain. If they attempt to come here to wreck havoc, we will match them power for power. But we are appealing to Yoruba leaders to come to the aid of OPC. If we are well equipped, we can do and undo.
â€œRemember when the OPC was in charge, did you hear anything like armed robbers in Lagos. Even in Ogun State, when the vehicle of former President Obasanjo was stolen, we were the one, OPC members, who went outside the country to retrieve it for him. It is after the OPC withdrew that you now hear of robbery everywhere,â€ one of the leaders of the OPC was quoted to have said.
Those who spoke in tandem with the stand of the OPC members have, however, added another dimension to the discussion. They maintained that the audacity with which ethnic militia men now dare authorities reminds one of way daredevil youths mow down policemen in robery operations daily.
Only last Wednesday, a gang of robbers wasted four policemen in Lokoja. They were so daring that they went to the state police headquarters to carry out the act.
In all these, however, what some Nigerians found confounding was how brazenly the OPC members moved within the streets of Lagos brandishing guns. Others have even asked the question as to whether the guns that such militia groups like the OPC brandished in the open are legally obtained or not. Whether or not the answer is yes, it appears certain that the country is far from being extricated from the challenges posed by ethnic militant groups.
When gun-trotting youths besiege the streets in broad daylight, the action should rather be seen as a social problem that requires urgent attention. The daring display of gangsterism on the streets of Lokoja and Lagos is not merely a matter of security helplessness but a resultant effect of socio-economic problem in the country.