Kankara And The Postponed Dawn, by Hassan Gimba

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – Martin Luther King

Kankara. A Hausa word for ice. This uncountable noun is a name that reminds me of youth in two ways: One natural, the other artificial. When we were young, we entered the rain to collect “kankara” and ground them with our teeth. Another way of getting it was through the artificiality of the electric freezer. But instead of representing coldness, Kankara last week was hot. Its heat seared through the nation’s abnormal atmosphere of crime infestation and dominated national discourse. It relegated every other crime due to its magnitude and the audacity of its perpetration. It promised to dwarf Chibok and Dapchi put together.

The headline of this write-up was to be “Passed The Darkness Before The Dawn” or something similar. I played around the wordings a few minutes after the kidnap of the boys of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina State, the home state of our president. I was extremely confident our security forces would free the schoolboys before the day was over.

What informed my confidence? Well, the most important was that it was similar to the abduction of Chibok girls. Then again, it would be the second time it will be happening for this regime, one in each tenure. The government would want to avoid a rallying point for the opposition.

Being a government that rode to power on the crest of the “inefficiency” and “cluelessness” of an incumbent administration, one will expect it to be the antithesis of lack in good governance. I told myself that since it had happened once in Dapchi (and we were told our schools would not witness abductions again). Therefore it would not be allowed to happen again in Kankara.

Kankara, a local government in Katsina State, is surrounded by Faskari, Bakori, Malumfashi, Musawa and Dan Musa local governments in the state. On its southern border is Zamfara State.

Yes, Zamfara. Zamfara State had, in 2017, got a unit of the Nigerian Air force, named 207 Quick Response group, established in Gusau, its state capital. The Federal Government said, “as part of measures to check the rising insurgency, cattle rustling and other emerging security challenges in the North-West geopolitical zone”.

It was “to consolidate on the fight against insurgency, leaving no gap in the nation’s security architecture” according to a statement by the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali. His exact words while laying the foundation stone for its establishment. The Quick Response Group was to be under a Special Operations Command with headquarters in Bauchi.

On the minister’s request, a statement said, the president “in the new Order of Battle, OBAT” has approved the “operationalisation” of a newly-established 8 Division of the Nigerian Army in Sokoto. To complete it, Special Forces got stationed in Zamfara.

Around that time, a statement by the presidency said the president had approved the “deployment of fighter aircrafts to Katsina, the airport with the closest proximity to Zamfara for immediate and effective response to the menace of bandits”. The same statement also told us that the president had authorised the engagement by NAF of advanced satellite surveillance technology to help in accurate detection of movements and locations of the bandits”.

All these came on the heels of the federal government’s deployment of a thousand-man strong fighting force comprising the army, air force, police and civil defence to launch “fierce attacks on the bandits terrorising the villages of Zamfara State”.

To complement all these, Nigeria received four Chinese-made Wing Loong II combat drones out of eight purchased from the country just last month. They reportedly “arrived in Nigeria to take part in ongoing counter-insurgency and anti-banditry operations in the country’s restive north-west region”.

With all these, it is just sad that a gang of marauders can stroll into a secondary school and take with them almost 600 students virtually unchallenged. They came to Katsina in droves unnoticed. They took hundreds of students and trekked back to Zamfara with them unseen. God! They were unchallenged because no one detected them. Either that or those tasked with monitoring the NAF’s advanced satellite surveillance technology “to help in accurate detection of movements and locations of the bandits” are complicit.

One would think that with drones and air force surveillance, such episodes cannot occur. And if they did happen by any chance, then they would not go far. The logical military strategy is to form a ring of rescuers around them. Drop soldiers in the bushes of the local governments surrounding Kankara. The various forces stationed in Zamfara then move in, and others pursue them from the point of crime. They will negotiate surrender rather than harm anyone.

None of the above tactics played out, and as it is, the perpetrators of the dastard Kankara kidnapping are roaming around free. People may generally assume so because the Katsina State Governor, as well as his Zamfara State counterpart, had said the boys gained freedom as a result of negotiations. The military countered that and said it was as a result of its rescue operation, but is yet to show us any of the abductors, dead or alive.

Had the boys regained freedom through military action, as many have thought, then that was when my headline “Passed The Darkness Before The Dawn” would make sense. Because if it had happened that way, the men who fought for that would be high in morale, the same for their colleagues elsewhere. In contrast, every evil mind would begin to jitter. Most importantly, it would be a turning point in our fight against all renegades. And there will be hope for the multitude currently held hostages by various groups of kidnappers. The break of a new dawn, sort of, after the heavy cloak of darkness.

Have we postponed that dawn? Chibok abductors were “negotiated” with, same with those of Dapchi. And now the Kankara hostage-takers. For how long shall we continue with such a vicious circle? Are we not breeding and sustaining Frankenstein monsters?

The unfortunate kids have all breathed the air of freedom, and they know how valuable life is. Their parents are over the moon with happiness. And which parent would not be? Lovers of the nation have sighed a deep breath of relief. Those against the government may be sad because an opportunity to trounce it has vapourised. The government has gotten another lifeline; tension, fear and uncertainty have been doused all over the nation.

Credit to the government that despite conflicting statements over figures, it did not deny that it happened. Raising hopes and dashing them, perhaps, like when the minister of defence said the kids would be released within a few hours only for it to take days. Or when overzealous citizens engage in misinformation by posting on social media videos of smugglers and saying “the kidnappers of the boys arrested”. Some even added “kudos to our SARS” in their bid to serve their interests, forgetting that SARS is no more.

All said and done, something serious needs to be done regarding how our security and intelligence gathering work. We seem to be a people long on talk and short on action.

In October this year, a 27-year old unknown American, Philip Walton, was abducted in the Niger Republic and brought into Nigeria – despite our border closure. American Special Forces jumped out of a US air force transport plane a few miles from their target. They stalked the culprits, killing all seven of them save one. The dead didn’t even know what hit them. It was after the Americans had secured their compatriot that they announced the rescue operation to the world.

We need to become more proactive security-wise now because our present is at risk and our future if things continue this way, will be unfortunate. Travelling anywhere in the country is done with the heart in the mouth. Sleeping at night is done with trepidation. Since it is not an isolated case, you have yourself to think of, family members, and friends down to everyone you know. The lawless have grabbed us by the jugular. A social media commentator, Comrade Abubakar Mohammed Kareto, captured it succinctly when he lamented thus: “The swelling tide of lawlessness on the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway is sprawling alarmingly by the day; attacks have become so frequent in recent months that some are no longer even reported. Travelling by road into Maiduguri has become one of the most dangerous journeys on earth. The government needs to act quickly to save commuters plying the road. Terrorists must not be allowed to rule the road!”

I have always insisted that Boko Haram and the North West pillagers are the same but wearing different togas. I still maintain that though the world faces security challenges and killings, there is none like ours anywhere on the globe. We need to take back our once beautiful, safe and hospitable country, for the sake of our children.

I want to stop with this quote from Confucius: “Excessive wealth creates haughtiness (arrogance). Excessive poverty leads to envy. Envy leads to robbery. Haughtiness leads to lawlessness. This is the nature of the mass of the people. Therefore, the wise rulers institute humane government so that the rich be restrained and not become too greedy, and the poor will then have enough sustenance and not worry about their daily food. In this way, there is a balance between the poor and the rich. Therefore, it is easy to govern and maintain order.”

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