Terrorists have turned Kaduna State into a war zone and made travelling between the state and Abuja a nightmare with impudent attacks on road, rail and air facilities. The growing infamy of Kaduna as the most terrorised state in Nigeria in recent times despite the heavy presence of the military and police in the state is raising concerns in the security community. Experts say the security situation does not reflect the fact that Kaduna has some of the most critical military and police establishments in the country.
While most states have one military base, a police command and a few other security outfits each, Kaduna has at least 15 military establishments.
These include the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Nigerian Army School of Artillery (NASA), Nigerian Air Force Institute of Technology, the Nigerian Army School of Military Police, a depot of the Nigerian Army and a training centre for soldiers. The existence of these establishments has earned the historical capital of Northern Nigeria the nickname – The Garrison City.
Yet, terrorists’ activities have wrapped the state in fear and anxiety.
In 2021, bandits killed 1,192 people in the state and kidnapped 3,348 others, according to a report by a Lagos-based geopolitical advisory outfit, SBM Intelligence. Deaths from insecurity in the state in 2020 were three times higher than those recorded in the Northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa battling terrorism.
Terrorists almost daily attack public and private institutions, schools and communities with impunity. In August 2021, they attacked the country’s foremost military training institution, the NDA in Kaduna city, five months after an attack on Kaduna Airport’s FAAN Quarters.
Insecurity in Kaduna reached a milestone on March 28 when bandits ambushed a train heading for the city from Nigeria’s capital Abuja after bombing the rail track.
At least eight passengers were killed in that incident, while 168 others were kidnapped and are still missing. This unprecedented attack, attributed to the failure of the authorities to act on intelligence reports, happened only a couple of days after PREMIUM TIMES reported that unidentified gunmen had invaded the Kaduna airport, killing an official on the runway. Soldiers reportedly repelled the attack, and the airport was shut down.
Within 24 hours, the terrorists carried out another assault on the same stretch of rail track, using improvised explosive devices, forcing the train travelling from Kaduna to Abuja to stop.
Terrorists first hit the rail line between the two cities in October 2021, when they destroyed a portion of the track with explosives. But the recent attacks were more severe, forcing the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to suspend operations on the route – one of the most popular in the country.
A week after they attacked the train, the bandits raided a military facility in Birnin Gwari, killing 10 soldiers and injuring an unconfirmed number of others.
These attacks have left many Nigerians wondering how a state with so many elite military agencies, with both intimidating artillery weapons and infantry personnel with global battlefield medals, is battered by bandits.
But security experts argue that the bandits are emboldened by government’s lack of political will to frontally engage them, weak engagement, and exclusionary or sluggish response to intelligence. They said the situation is compounded by the expansion of the security crisis across the North-west region and mismanagement of military equipment and personnel.
Lack of political will
As more people avoided the Abuja-Kaduna expressway due to the menace of kidnappers, and opted to travel by air or rail between Kaduna and Abuja, it was predictable that the bandits, starved of potential abductees by the development, would try to attack the airport and trains.
In his immediate reaction, President Muhammadu Buhari described the train attack of March 28 as ‘callous’ and a matter of ‘grave concern.’ He then directed the immediate conclusion of all the processes for the implementation of the integrated security surveillance and monitoring solution for the Abuja to Kaduna railway line, and that this be extended to cover the Lagos-Ibadan railway line.
He also directed the NRC management to speedily repair the damaged lines and resume normal service without delay.The president gave these directives a day after the attack, after receiving briefs from his service chiefs.
But security and policy experts have said the measures are not enough.
“It is startling that no known arrests have been made. No official has been sacked or resigned and we are just moving on with politicians focusing on the upcoming 2023 elections as if what happened is not unprecedented,” Chikwado Anyoku, a political analyst, fumed.
“It’s difficult to sack the terrorists because the government has simply refused to sack them,” Confidence MacHarry, a security analyst at SBM Intelligence, said. “A good counterinsurgency requires a whole state approach, which sporadic military operations alone cannot solve.”
“It’s not that the Nigerian security agencies and the military cannot wipe out these terrorist bandits in two months. But the political fallout is what is holding such full-scale operations”, a security expert and Chief Executive Officer of Agent-X Security Ltd., Timothy Avele, said. “As many are aware, most of these bandits are bad Fulani herders. What do you think will happen if the military should go full blast or think of also doing that to the Eastern Security Network in the Southeast or in the Niger Delta militants? But something must be done at whatever cost.”
For Mr MacHarry of the SBM, regime security takes precedence over national security in the Nigerian context. “And so, as far as they’re not threatening oil facilities or the heart of Abuja directly, they can go ahead.”
Families of those kidnapped during the train attack held protests last week in Abuja, decrying the scarce attention given to the plight of the victims by government. According to a report by Aljazeera, the families claimed an official called their protests “an embarrassment to the government.”
Ignored warnings, unfulfilled promises
After the first attack on the train in October, the government had promised to improve security along the route.
“What this has done to us will fasten the procurement of the digital security system that we are trying to put in place,” the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had said then. “The essence of the security system is to enable us to know if there is an impact on the censor. We will try to get the police involved before we install the security system.
But five months later, after the March 28 attack, the minister said the security system he proposed had not been procured, blaming this on a sluggish federal government procurement system.
A recent investigation by Daily Trust detailed how Nigeria’s security forces “failed to act” despite repeated warnings by the intelligence service about the plan of bandits to attack trains and other facilities.
The newspaper also reported that the Kaduna State Security Council and the 1 Division Nigerian Army headquarters had also separately requested the NRC to suspend the late-hour shuttle between Kaduna and Abuja, but they were ignored.
Attacks in Kaduna corridors could have been averted if Nigeria has an active intelligence response network and there is collaboration, rather than rivalry, among the intelligence and security agencies, experts said.
“The truth is that if the obvious lack of actionable intelligence is properly addressed among all the security and intelligence agencies and the military, then insecurity would have been solved 50 per cent,” Mr Avele said.
Overstretched security forces: poor funding and equipment
The response to the crisis in Kaduna has been impeded by rising insecurity in virtually all parts of Nigeria.
The state security response to the rising insecurity in the region is compromised by the decade-long war with Boko Haram in the north-east, deteriorating security in the Niger Delta, farmer-herder conflicts in north-central and southern Nigeria, and the secessionist activities among other forms of criminality across the south-east.
In fact, the Nigerian military services are on active deployment in no fewer than 30 states of the federation, tackling internal security threats that ordinarily should have been left to the police to contain.
With security forces stretched, terror groups have been able to operate with little resistance in the northwest – Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto and the neighbouring Niger. The area’s porosity and large land mass makes room for easy penetration, security experts sa.
“Kaduna continued to be a hotbed for insecurity despite heavy military presence partly due to the ease to attack and escape to other equally hotbed states of Niger, Kastina or Zamfara”, said Mr Avele. “It has to do withthe terrain, lack of needed equipment like attack helicopters for quick response to attacks. Nigeria has only 15 attack helicopters of the total 52 in service.”
“Again, both local and foreign weapon merchantsbenefit from war and insecurity like we’re experiencing,and it is also fueling rising security issues.”
Weak engagement strategy
A couple of days ago, the U.S. government announced it has approved the sale of attack aircraft and other equipment to Nigeria for the fight against terrorists.
According to a statement by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the equipments are to cost Nigeria about $997 million.
The acquisition of the aircraft and other equipment comes less than a year after the U.S. government supplied the country with 12 units of super tucano aircrafts paid for by Nigeria in 2018 for about $1bn.
PREMIUM TIMES had last year reported that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) had taken delivery of the second batch of six A-29 Super Tucano aircraft from the United States. The first batch also comprising six aircraft was delivered in July 2021.
The Tucanos have not been of much use as security deteriorates since they arrived. Meanwhile, the rampant crashes of NAF aircrafts have raised concerns on whether the super fighter jets would be put to good use.
Within six months, from January to July 2021, the NAF lost at least four of its aircraft and several personnel in air mishaps.
At least 20 officers also died during these tragic incidents, including senior army personnel. The most notable of the crashes was the one involving the late Chief of Army Staff, Ibrahim Attahiru, and 10 others.
For Mr Avele, beyond the fact that efforts in acquiring weapons and increasing budgetary allocations is good but not enough, the right type of weapons and strategy needed are not being prioritised.
“Are the available weapons suitable to do the task at hand?’ he queried. “For example, if you buy drones, can they work at night or can it fly for at least 10 hours monitoring, what distance can it cover or can it penetrate dense forests?
“Secondly, without actionable and timely Intelligence no amount of weapons will do to solve the problem of insecurity”, he said.
For Mr Avele, there is no easy way forward. “First, there must be a political will from the federal government to end this once and for all but there could be political consequences in doing so.
“Secondly, modern equipment is urgently needed. Thirdly, there must be actionable Intelligence. For example the sources of weapons and funding must be found and blocked, and sponsors found and brought to justice, is vital.
“Fourthly, the security agencies must change their current reactive methods of battling this insecurity and terrorism to a proactive one by incorporating stealth, surprise and speed (SSS) to all of their engagement.
“The issues of partiality to one side only by those in authority should be avoided and justice to the wronged must be done swiftly.
“Lastly, all of us must play our individual part if we hope to see improvement in security nationwide.”
Mr MacHarry said any plan to address the Kaduna crisis should factor in the geography of Northern Nigeria.
“The whole of the Southeast is not as big as Borno. The military is fighting multiple insurgencies at the same time. The expansive forests in the Northwest do not make for easy operations unlike the Southeast that is mostly urban. Conventionally, urban warfare is the more difficult between the two, but you must remember within the Nigerian context that the military is too stretched to cover the expansive forests of the northwest.”
The security expert said there is also an ethnic connotation to the crisis that needs to be addressed.
“Kaduna’s socio-politics creates opportunities for terrorism. It has decades old ethnic strife that is now being taken advantage of by armed groups. The presence of military installations does not automatically translate into better security because the military was not designed for national security.”