Before hope dies, By Wole Olaoye

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Reading Time: 4 mins read

If I were President Tinubu, I would, without further delay, approve the contracting of search and rescue missions to private security firms. The deliverables would be simple: Track and locate the camps run by terrorists and hostage takers of whatever hue; neutralise the terrorists; and rescue the victims. 

If the above measure is taken, the Nigerian armed forces will be freed to pursue their ‘normal’ constitutional duties of safeguarding the territorial integrity of the country and the police can also concentrate on their traditional role of maintaining law and order.

The current challenges predate the Tinubu administration. There is no point splitting hairs over what, before our very eyes, has ballooned to become an industry with its own ecosystem. The way the Gordian knot has metastasised indicates that only a carefully executed programme of calculated ruthlessness will achieve the goal of ridding the country of the vermin.

Right now, terrorists are running rings round the security forces as they have done in the last 10 years. That is because we have been tilling the ground of the anti-terror campaign with the wrong implements. How do you prosecute an asymmetrical war with conventional tactics? Imagine, we have been deploying air force planes and helicopters to trace and bomb locations identified as terrorists’ dens when we could have achieved better results with a targeted, tech-assisted mission by crack professional counter-terror operatives.

The Financial Times recently made the following evaluation of the Nigerian situation: 

“Much of Nigeria is in effect ungoverned. Millions of children, especially girls in the North, are out of school and health provision is so dire that life expectancy is 53. In many parts of the country, law and order is non-existent. This month, in Borno State, at least 200 mainly women and children were kidnapped searching for firewood. A few days later, in Kaduna State, less than 300 kilometres from Aso Rock, armed men abducted nearly 300 schoolchildren.

“The incidents will rekindle memories of 2014, when Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in Chibok. Ninety-eight are still missing. Abductions have become hideously common, mostly carried out not by religious zealots, but by criminal gangs who have turned kidnapping into a racket. Last year, almost 4,000 people were abducted. What explains such prolific criminality? Part of the answer is economics. Ordinary people’s incomes have gone backwards for a decade. Former president Muhammadu Buhari oversaw eight years of economic self-harm, with clumsily executed state intervention that fuelled corruption.”

If, for national security concerns, we are reluctant to openly accept help from other nations with more experience in fighting terror, we can at least procure the services of companies specialised in neutralising the monster. Remember, oil theft in the Niger Delta was a free-for-all until the government introduced private security firms who have been making a huge difference. 

Outside Nigeria, let’s look at the example of one security company called Executive Outcomes. In March 1995, the company contained an insurrection of guerrillas known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, regained control of the diamond fields, and forced a negotiated peace.

According to Wikipedia,  “Executive Outcomes was directly involved militarily in Angola and Sierra Leone. The company was notable in its ability to provide all aspects of a highly trained modern army to the less professional government forces of Sierra Leone and Angola. For instance, in Sierra Leone, Executive Outcomes fielded not only professional fighting men, but armour and support aircraft such as one Mi-24 Hind and two Mi-8 Hip helicopters, the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle and T-72 main battle tank…”

To ensure proper control and coordination, I suggest that the National Security Adviser lead the recruitment, monitoring and periodic evaluation of the activities of such security firms when engaged. But there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that that is the route we should be headed for quick wins at this critical time. 

I will urge the government to be wary of self-appointed negotiators and pro-ransom clerics who offer to help negotiate between the authorities and the bandits. Anytime there are mass abductions, they show up at TV stations pontificating on the need to reach out to the terrorists using non-kinetic lollies. We have spent the last 10 years trying to pacify evil. It is time we simply apply the law and bring in competent professionals whose specialty is ridding the earth of these kinds of pests. 

I think that President Tinubu has already started well by declaring that the government under his watch will not pay any ransom to criminal gangs. The government should not be shy to declare a state of emergency in any specific area where such a measure will facilitate the interdiction of terrorists. This desperate disease requires a desperate cure.

My greatest fear is that if we don’t staunch this perennial haemorrhage decisively, Nigerians may begin to lose the only thing that has been tethering them to rationality — hope. The whole world knows that Nigerians, more than other Africans, live on a diet of hope. We are incurable optimists. We believe that tomorrow has no option but to be better than today. 

So, considering that hope is the greatest thing Nigerians have going for them, it will be nothing short of cataclysmic if anything were to happen to remove hope from the Nigerian equation. The society will simply regress into bottomless depression and medieval brutality. It is not for nothing that politicians have been milking the ‘H’ word for eons, some of the most recent coinages being ‘Hope Assured’ (President Buhari) and the ‘Renewed Hope’ of incumbent President Bola Tinubu.

To hope is to experience that magical mix of positive expectation and deep desire. And hope is necessary to get us through times of difficulty and suffering. Social scientists have asked over the years whether hope is intoxicating but detrimental, like a drug?

As a matter of fact, there is a drug called hope.  Hope 0.5 mg Tablet belongs to a class of medicines called benzodiazepines and is used to treat anxiety, stop seizures (fits) or relax tense muscles. This can also help relieve difficulty sleeping (insomnia), and is usually prescribed for a short period of time, if used to treat sleeping problems.

Hope is crucial in times of uncertainty, and in dealing with adversity.

Nigerians have been living on hope since Independence in 1960. We have always exuded the ‘Ogadinma’ spirit — “e go better”. Even when we repeat the same mistakes over and over again, we somehow hope that the outcomes will be different “by the grace of God”, or “insha Allah”. Psychologically attuned to not taking responsibility for our actions and inactions, we are free of any guilt feeling or emotional encumbrances. No wonder we wind up, by global acclaim, as the happiest people on the planet.

Boko Haram, terrorists, bandits, unknown gunmen and all the other criminal gangs terrorising Nigeria should not be allowed to continue dominating the game of coercion. When I was growing up, I was taught that no matter how great a hunter was, he could not be greater than the government because whereas he could only hunt animals, the government was the only hunter permitted to hunt men.

Let the government live up to its name. Outsource the ‘fumigation’ of our ungoverned spaces and restore normalcy so that we can return to relishing our diet of hope. If hope dies, then the people will no longer be able to mobilise for a common purpose; nor will they be in a position to appreciate whatever else the government is doing to make their lives better. It used to be said that when there’s life there’s hope; now we know better: When there’s security, there’s hope.

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