2023 Elections: Is Buhari Reading Warning Signals?

By Martins Oloja

THERE is a sense in which one can run away with some perception that government is fully aware of what ‘The Guardian’ contextually reported yesterday that ahead of the forthcoming general election, many Nigerians have been thrown into fear following the spate of kidnapping in the country between Thursday night and Friday press time.

Reports gathered by the newspaper from open source intelligence across the country indicated that no fewer than 19 persons were kidnapped in the last 36 hours, with relatives of the victims and residents of the communities where the incidents took place crying out to the security agencies for help. The victims of last Friday’s abductions included school children, traditional rulers, cleric and ordinary Nigerians.

Specifically, in Nasarawa State, gunmen abducted six school pupils in the early hours of Friday. According to an eyewitness, the gunmen stormed LGEA Primary School, Alwaza, in Doma Local Government Council of the state and abducted the children while they were at the morning assembly.

According to an eyewitness, “the children were on the assembly ground when the abductors showed up and ordered the pupils to follow them, while the staff conducting the assembly escaped. Other pupils were just shouting and crying for help, as the six victims were driven away on motorcycles”.

The state Police Public Relation Officer, Nasarawa State Command, DSP Rahman Nansel who confirmed the incident, disclosed that a joint security team comprising the police, military and vigilante had been mobilised and were on the trail of the abductors who hadn’t been found at the time of this commentary. In Taraba State, North East, Nigeria, gunmen kidnapped the traditional ruler of Mutum-Biyu in Gassol Local Government Council, Justice Sani Suleiman Duna (rtd.), his two wives and six children.

The incident, which occurred around 1.00a.m, on Friday night, expectedly  ignited  tension in the community and its environs.

One of the palace guards, who also confirmed the abduction of the king and his family members, said the kidnappers took the people of the community unawares.

Apart from calling on the state government to collaborate with the security agencies in ensuring the release of the monarch, he also stressed the need for the relevant authorities to ensure a watertight security in the Council.

He said: “We have not been going to bed with our two eyes closed in this local council. We want the government to come to our aid, by deploying more security men to this place. This has become necessary.”

Similarly, gunmen on Thursday night abducted Mr. Kefas Ishaya, the Catechist of St. Monica Catholic Church, Ikulu-Pari, in Chawai Chiefdom of Kauru Local Government Council in Kaduna State.

According to reports, the gunmen picked up the Catechist when they could not get his boss, Rev. Fr. Joseph Shekari, who was not in when his residence was attacked. Shekari, who was first abducted in February 2022, had travelled out of the village and was not available for a second ordeal in captivity. Chairman of Ikulu Zone of the Parish, Mr. Sunday Bage, said the abductors came “around 9.30 p.m.” last Thursday. “Thank God Father (Reverend) travelled.

They didn’t get him, but they picked our Catechist…they dragged the catechist to the bush. They took him with his phone. We have been calling the line but it keeps ringing out,” he said. He said that the gunmen were many and kept shooting sporadically, moving through the church, the school and the priest’s residence in search of the Reverend Father. Eyewitnesses said the gunmen broke into the residence of the priest after scaling through the fence. They were said to have broken the main door to the house with stones and bullets.

Bage’s words: “Immediately they broke into the house, they searched and ransacked everywhere. They checked under the beds, wardrobes, bathrooms and kitchen. They even checked the ceiling, but Father had travelled. So, they did not get him.

In anger, they took our catechist. As we speak, he is with them in the bush. It is a very sad situation. This is devastating. They dragged catechist on the ground like a dog,” a visibly fear-stricken woman said. She recalled that it was not long ago that Shekari was abducted and was rescued after “a huge ransom” was paid.

“They came again to take him. Luckily, he wasn’t in. This is really a dark period for us,” she said. Recall that gunmen kidnapped Shekari in February 2022. During the February attack, his cook, Sati Musa, was shot dead by the gunmen while trying to protect his master.

A church elder, Mr Yohanna Madaki, while speaking on the February incident, had noted that the abductors apparently targeted the more than N2 million realised from the annual thanksgiving service same day.

The money was taken along with the priest, while the murdered cook was a student of Government Secondary School, Kizakoro. This year, the Parish held its Annual Thanksgiving Service on Sunday, January 16, and the abductors struck on Thursday, January 19. In the same vein, gunmen also abducted the transition Chairman of Ideato North local Council of Imo State Chris Ohizu and two of his friends that same Friday.

The chairman was kidnapped in the wee hours of Friday at his residence in Imoko community in Arondizuogu area of the Council. The gunmen, who shot the Council Chairman first on the leg, bundled him into a waiting car before setting his house ablaze.

A source close to the family said: “The sole administrator of Ideato North was kidnapped last night together with two others after burning his house at Imoko community in Arondizuogu. They shot him on his leg before taking him away. This is a man who came back from a hospital recently. I am devastated now.”

Another source who confirmed the development, decried the spate of insecurity in the area. He said: “The house of Ideato North Sole Administrator was burnt down and he was kidnapped with bullet wounds on his leg as I heard….I have been making reports on killings in the area since last year and early this year, till now, no single presence of the police anywhere in Arondizuogu and no single arrest. We are now at the mercy of God.”

The black Thursday and Friday also re-echoed in one of the theatres of human tragedy in the North Central, Plateau State where His Royal Highness, Agwom Izere of Jos East Local Council, Dr. Isaac Wakili, was also kidnapped last Thursday night in his palace, but was lucky as the police rescued him in good time.

The First Class Monarch was abducted at his palace situated in Shere District of Jos East. The Chairman of Jos East, Mr. Ezekiel Izang, who first confirmed the incident, said the gunmen invaded the community and started shooting sporadically before gaining access to the palace of the monarch. An eyewitness, who asked to remain anonymous, said a policeman on duty at the palace was shot, while a private security guard attached to the monarch was instantly killed.

In EDO STATE, barely 72 hours after the release of the 20 kidnapped victims of the Igueben train station in Igueben Local Council, gunmen struck again and abducted 15 persons. The 15 persons were kidnapped at Emokpae community in Ovia North East Local Council of the state. Residents of the community, who protested to the Government House in Benin City on Friday said out of 15 abducted persons, three persons had been killed.

‘The Guardian’ on Saturday also reported that spokespersons of the protesters, Commander Egua, said the incident took place on Wednesday, saying that a bus conveying children returning from school and market women were accosted by suspected herdsmen and were taken into the forest.

He explained that the suspected herdsmen came from the bush, killing three persons while others were still being held captive.  Egua, who said he was the commander in-charge of Agor Emokpae environs under the Edo State Security Network, added that the abductors have contacted the victims’ families and demanded N20 million worth of ransom.

He said: “On Wednesday as at 3.00p.m, when our children were returning from school from the neighbouring community, gunmen invaded the road, took our children. Even the bike men that went to take them from the school were also kidnapped in the process…One minibus that was also taking passengers to the nearby community was stopped and the passengers were also kidnapped…as we speak, 15 persons have already been kidnapped and three of them have been killed by the gunmen.” Egua said they have decided to take the protest to the Government House having heard about how the governor mobilised all the security agencies in the state to rescue the over 20 train passengers kidnapped by gunmen recently at Igueben.

The details of the weekend stories are frightening enough and if the trend is allowed to continue, nationwide, there will be enough alarms that the next month’s elections may not hold after all, as some election management top officials and civil society activists have been warning. If the spate of insecurity becomes uncontrollable and the election timetable is tampered with, that will be some blight upon the hope of Nigerians that there will be a new lease of life from May 29, 2023.

That is why the out-going President Muhammadu Buhari should note that sooner than later he will be reminded that at this time in 2015, the then President Goodluck Jonathan took bold steps, mobilised the armed forces and liberated 14 Local Government Areas in Borno State where elections took place then. It is beyond dispute that our leader was the main beneficiary as he defeated the same President Jonathan in the election. This is the way Buhari’s predecessor, Jonathan recorded the episode in his book, ‘My Transition Hours’:   

“Anyhow, the six weeks served us well, we received the military equipment we were expecting within that period and our Armed Forces commendably, dealt a deserving blow on the terrorists and repossessed all territorial areas of Nigeria previously occupied by terrorists. Boko Haram was deflated up to the point of handing over to my successor on 29th May 2015. We concluded the elections peacefully, even if there were issues raised about the fairness, at least the nation was relieved that the election held peacefully and that there was no post-election violence….”

The conclusion of the whole matter is that Nigerians would not like to tolerate any excuses to postpone next month’s elections. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces should not allow anybody to begin to insinuate that he isn’t ready to go on May 29, 2023 and that is why he can’t enable a safe environment for #Elections 2023 as President Jonathan did in 2015.

Oloja is former editor of The Guardian newspaper and his column, Inside Stuff, runs on the back page of the newspaper on Sundays.

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