Nigerian Children as ‘Sacrificial Lambs’

      By Emmanuel Onwubiko 

Every blessed morning that I’m fortunate enough to be alive and to have arrived my office, the first thing that confronts my admiration and shines brightly on my face are portraits of my two little children.

As a father, these portraits of my beautiful children often reminds me of my undying duty to provide for them and to protect them, the best way I can.

As a father, my children are vulnerable and are entitled to all the protection and safety that any good parent can provide.

But these children go to their schools from Monday to Friday. It is therefore expected that when children are in their school environment just like when they are everywhere in the Nigerian environment, the duty to protect them lies strictly with the government.

The government owes every citizen the duty of care. But the right to life of the children is of the highest priority because of their vulnerability. And since children are so vulnerable, what this means is that their safety and security must be the top priority of both the government and the parents.

Although the very first line of protection in their schools is the school authority but by and large, the duty to protect all of the children as well as adults, is that of the state. Any state that fails to fulfill this fundamental legal duty of care is not worthy of being classified as a sovereignty. Sovereignty is attained when the government has the capacity to protect the citizens from the attacks of armed non-state actors.

So, I as I sat down this morning on my desk and carried out the natural and very usual rituals of looking around the beautiful faces of my very little children who were literally smiling back at me, my spirit was very low. It was low not because of anything connected to these amazing gifts from God to me as a parent. But my spirit became so low especially when it dawned on me that for over 4 days, over 285 school children who were violently kidnapped and taken away deeper into the deadly forests of Kaduna in North West Nigeria, are still with their abductors. And these kidnappers are the same terrorists that have tormented the North for over ten years.

This scenario of mass abduction of school children is one amongst the many that have occurred in the North of Nigeria and the governments both at the sub-national and national levels have displayed crass irresponsibility and incapacity to protect these vulnerable members of our society.

The most painful part of it is that these mass abductions of school children have become a recurring decimal and the good people of Nigeria seem to have perfectly come to an agreement that children should be classified as the sacrificial lambs of Nigeria. Why should the most vulnerable members of our society be left without any forms of safety and security? This is a cruel thing that government has allowed to grow wings.

This is so because most of the school children kidnapped many years ago in Borno and Yobe states by terrorists, are still missing. Annoyingly, Nigeria has no system of compelling officials to be accountable for their failures and inactions.

Those who were in public offices during the Goodluck Jonathan era and that of Muhammadu Buhari have yet to be made to give account of their irresponsibility that gave way to the kidnappings of hundreds of school children. Indeed, the man who was governor of Borno State when terrorists kidnapped hundreds of school girls in Chibok, Alhaji Kashim Shettima is currently the vice president of Nigeria and then it is under his watch as vice president that again school children were kidnapped. The ugly reality is that the children of Nigeria and especially the children of poor Nigerians are just like sacrificial lambs.

Otherwise, if it wasn’t the case, then the citizens in their millions would’ve poured out on the streets of Nigeria in peaceful protests to demand that the government does her most fundamental legal duty of care and whereby it has failed to protect the citizens and their property, the government has lost its legitimacy to exercise authority.

In his inaugural speech nine months ago, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu spoke about security as his most primary objective and emphasized as follows: “security shall be the top priority of our administration because neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity.”

Tinubu said too that: “To effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security DOCTRINE and its architecture. We shall invest more in our security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide, better trainings, equipment, pay and firepower.”

It would seem that President Tinubu has invested so much in procuring military hardware just as he promised. But why are the security agencies still not able to prevent these incessant and violent abductions of school children?

One can only state that there is definitely something inherently wrong with the procurement system within the defence sector that demands immediate, transparent and accountable financial forensic and equipment audits and thorough cleansing because it is only when there is in existence a tolerable criminal network within governmental system that a government can be said to have invested over N5 trillion in only the last quarter of the year 2023, and yet the rate of terrorist attacks and insecurity in Nigeria has become unbearably unprecedented. Nigerian state needs to weed out the internal saboteurs in the military and policing institutions.

The federal government must put to an end these frequent attacks on school children and the government needs to put in place a general forensic audit of the military hardwares and softwares to ascertain whether what have been reported as successfully imported are exactly the same with what are evidently on ground.

It can also be suggested that there may as well be in existence, a formidable criminal gang members in the defence institutions that funnel some of the military hardwares to the terrorists, bandits and kidnappers because from abundance of evidence, terrorism and kidnappings have seemingly become multi billion dollars franchises in Nigeria which must be dismantled for peace and stability to be achieved. There is therefore the need to examine critically some of these possibilities to see if there is any truth in any or all of them.

It is indeed a thing of bewilderment to know that the country is in such a spectacular security mess that have attracted global opprobrium to the international image of Nigeria especially because of the twin incidents of mass abductions by terrorists in Borno and Kaduna and Sokoto states in the North East and North West of Nigeria even when officially, Nigeria’s imports expenditure on armoured vehicles have significantly surpassed that on fuel in the final quarter of 2023, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

I want to cite a media Statement by HURIWA on the possible cause of the incapacity of the security agencies to carry out their duties.

The media statement by the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA issued few days back affirmed as follows: “HURIWA which regretted the alleged large scale procurement corruption or diversion of these military hardwares to terrorists by some unscrupulous elements embedded within the Nigerian military institutions, said experts had concluded that the high expenditures on military weapons is a development that has likely happened due to the worsening security situation in the country. But the Rights group said the heightened state of insecurity and the inability of the armed forces to subdue these forces of evil and negativity, does not show us as a nation that has spent such a humongous amount of funds on military weapons in only a quarter.

“HURIWA quoted the official report of the NBS as follows: “The latest foreign trade report by the NBS noted that Nigeria spent over N5.06 trillion on the importation of armoured vehicles, dwarfing the N1.81 trillion spent on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol.
This is a difference of N3.25 trillion in Q4 2023.

“Armoured vehicles cover 35.87% of Nigeria’s total import
The total import bill for Nigeria in Q4 2023 reached N14.108 trillion, marking a 56.04% increase from the previous quarter and a substantial 163.08% surge from the same quarter in 2022. This significant uptick in imports is largely attributed to the massive investment in armoured vehicles during the period”.

“In fact, armoured vehicles emerged as the predominant category of imports, accounting for 35.87% of the total import value, followed by ordinary motor spirit and gas oil, which accounted for 12.81% and 8.48%, respectively.”

In the face of this reality, HURIWA has stated that it is an intolerable crime for a nation to spend so much on buying military grade weapons that should be deployed to eliminate terrorists, yet the records show that Nigeria’s insecurity has never been this bad in over many years and is about the same unprecedented insecurity climate under which the immediate past government of Muhammadu Buhari spent eight years but rather than combat terrorism, created the atmosphere that nurtured terrorists.

“HURIWA is therefore calling on the President, His Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu to carry out a professional and non-partisan equipment audits of the defence institutions to ascertain the fundamental causes of the declining capacity of the military and police to combat terrorists, kidnappers, bandits and armed Fulani herders in the country inspite of massive investment.”

Whilst we await action from the office of the President as adumbrated above, we need to be worried why our children should be so neglected and reduced to this low level as mere sacrificial LAMBS? This is certainly not the reason why we have a government in place. The gunmen who kidnapped the school children recently in Kaduna were actually acting as the alternative government and are now busy giving ultimatums.

The gunmen/terrorists , who kidnapped 287 students and teachers from the LEA Primary School and the Government Secondary School, Kuriga, Kaduna State last week have demanded N1bn for their release.

The hoodlums, who made the demand also gave a deadline that would elapse on March 27, 2024, for the payment of the ransom.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that the bandits contacted a spokesman for the families of the hostages on Tuesday and demanded the ransom.

On March 7, 2024, the schoolchildren were abducted by the hoodlums who took them into the forest.

Reuters reported that a community leader, Jubril Aminu, who acted as a spokesman for the families of the hostages, said he received a call on his phone from the kidnappers on Tuesday.

Aminu stated, “They made a total of N1bn ransom demand for all the pupils, students, and staff of the school.

“They gave an ultimatum to pay the ransom within 20 days, effective from the date of the kidnap (March 7). They said they would kill all the students and the staff if the ransom demand is not met.”

These terrorists are acting with impunity because apparently, they are sure that the state has consistently failed to come up with the best strategic approach to deal with such breach of the law by such outlaws. The terrorists were actually talking back on the Nigerian President who was heard in the media stating that government would not be blackmailed into paying ransom to terrorists. These terrorists may actually be taunting the Nigerian President and the state governors for failing in their most primary constitutional duty as leaders which is clearly provided for in the constitution of Nigeria.

Section 14 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

(1) The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.

(2) It is hereby, accordingly, declared that:

(a) sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority;

(b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government: and

(c) the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.

So this is exactly a perfect example of a failed state if we will continue to witness these levels of aggressive attacks on the most vulnerable members of the society and the much that those trained and maintained to protect us can offer us are mere ludicrous excuses in the media.

I say the above because the defence headquarters has added to the comedy of errors by also issuing a very ludicrous media statement in response to these dastardly attacks on schools by terrorists in which it tries to justify its inability to prevent these incessant and violent abductions.

The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) attributed the delay in the rescue of abducted school children in Kaduna and Sokoto states to a late report of the incident to the response team in the affected communities.

The director, Defence Media Operations, Major General Edward Buba, stated this when he briefed journalists on troops’ operations in the last one week.

He said troops during the period neutralised 213 terrorists, arrested 216 others and rescued 26 kidnapped persons

Buba said the troops also arrested 67 suspected oil thieves and recovered 1,227,470 litres of stolen crude oil, 313,780 litres of illegally refined AGO and 13,000 litres of PMS worth N1,558,665,080.00.

He said troops recovered 189 assorted weapons and 4,003 assorted ammunition within the week.

On the abduction of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Gamboru Ngala local government area of Borno State, he said troops on March 3, 2024, received information from the coordinator of Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) about suspected abduction of unknown number of IDPs by suspected terrorists.

He said preliminary investigation revealed later that the IDPs left the camp to an undisclosed location to fetch firewood beyond the “permissible distance”.

Buba said, “They reportedly did not notify the camp authorities of their movement. It was later at about 2030hrs at night when the IDPs did not return to the camp that the alarm was raised as to their possible abduction by terrorists.

“It was at that stage that the troops were notified of the incident. The standard practice is for troops to be notified prior to any movement of IDPs beyond the permissible distance of 5-7 kms from their camp.

“The IDPs reportedly went beyond the permissible distance to get firewood as a result of deforestation around their camp. The terrorist abducted 112 IDPs in the process. Nevertheless, effort is ongoing to get back the hostages” he said

He said the military had eliminated key terrorist leaders and would stop at nothing to end the menace of terrorism across the country.

The director said the terrorists were using the abducted children as human shields for their survival following troops’ onslaught.

“The hostage situation is an extremely sensitive one which unfortunately is not unprecedented in the history of the ongoing war. These hostages are being held in locations that are difficult to get to, but not out of reach. The situation is however indicative of the desperation of these terrorists to avoid troops’ onslaught by all means.

These were the exact words of the Nigerian Defence headquarters and for any rational mind reading this statement, what comes immediately to the subconscious is the fact that Nigeria has become a country whose public officials lack shame.

In civilised climes, when a government is incapable of protecting the citizens and especially the most vulnerable people in the society, what needs to be done is for such officials whose failures resulted in the heightened insecurity are dismissed from their duties so that more efficient replacement is found. This constant demands for accountability becomes a necessity because government naturally exists to safeguard security of lives and property.

On February 13th, 2017, Anne-Marie Slaughter reflected on the responsibilities of government and emphasized that the oldest and simplest justification for government is as protector: protecting citizens from violence.

She recalled that one of the earliest philosophers offered this same response to the meaning of government. She wrote that Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and from foreign foes. The horrors of little or no government to provide that function are on global display in the world’s many fragile states and essentially ungoverned regions. And indeed, when the chaos of war and disorder mounts too high, citizens will choose even despotic and fanatic governments, such as the Taliban and ISIS, over the depredations of warring bands.

The idea of government as protector, she said, requires taxes to fund, train and equip an army and a police force; to build courts and jails; and to elect or appoint the officials to pass and implement the laws citizens must not break. Regarding foreign threats, government as protector requires the ability to meet and treat with other governments as well as to fight them. This minimalist view of government is clearly on display in the early days of the American Republic, comprised of the President, Congress, Supreme Court and departments of Treasury, War, State and Justice.

According to the writer, the concept of government as provider comes next: government as provider of goods and services that individuals cannot provide individually for themselves. Government in this conception is the solution to collective action problems, the medium through which citizens create public goods that benefit everyone, but that are also subject to free-rider problems without some collective compulsion.

Can we therefore ask the president of Nigeria when exactly is his administration reforming the military DOCTRINE and its architecture so that the armed forces can very well work effectively to prevent constant violent attacks targeting school children in Nigeria?

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

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