The circumstances surrounding the abduction and release of Rev. Samuel Kanu-Uche, Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria have hamstrung conversations around Nigeria’s teething and seemingly intractable security issues. Attacked in Umunneochi LGA in Abia State about two weeks ago, he was taken together with his chaplain, Very Rev. Abidemi Shittu, and the Bishop of Owerri, Rt. Rev. Dennis Mark on their way to the airport in Owerri.
Ever since his release twenty-four hours later, the conversations about his predicament stayed on the headlines for a mere twenty-four hours and disappeared, which is not a good sign. The Prelate is the head of the Methodist faith in Nigeria. This is a high office that fits him among the country’s religious elites. For his statements to fizzle out of the media just hours after he uttered them, is a sickening symptom of a very unhealthy nation used to a variety of illnesses and as such, is looking forward to the next round of big illnesses that may just take its breath away, and that is not asthma.
Talking to the press, he mentioned that his abductors were not members of the outlawed separatist group the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra who have been accused of fomenting violence in the region to force the government to hold a referendum to confirm their exit from the Nigerian federation. Kanu-Uche said his abductors neither understood nor spoke English. They communicated with each other in Fulfude, the language of the Fulanis.
This is important not merely for the reason that it somehow creates a path to vindication for IPOB who created the Eastern Security Network in late 2020 to end what it described as Fulani terrorism in the Igbo country, but because it adds several layers to the insecurity facing the region and the country as a whole. Each geopolitical zone has its major security challenge, with minor issues adding to the flavor. In the South East, most commentaries have focused on the viciousness of attacks attributed to IPOB although the group has never claimed responsibility for any attack. The presence of armed Fulani groups fuels the existing problem in a number of ways. In the first place, attacks attributed to Fulanis in the South East have been a recurring problem since at least 2016 when the Nimbo Massacre in the Uzo-Uwani local government area of Enugu state took place.
They have also had a presence in Ebonyi and parts of Imo. What many felt was that the heightened activities of IPOB’s ESN militia before the Nigerian army’s operations in the southeast would have significantly dented their activities. That expectation, with Rev Kanu-Uche’s abduction, has been dented. They never went away, but expanded. Furthermore, it also adds to the retinue of problems state security services in the region have to deal with–if they are interested in dealing with the said issues in the first place.
Perhaps, the most challenging part of Kanu-Uche’s statements to the media revolves around comments about possible military collusion. The prelate said he observed that military men were around the place where the kidnappers operated, while their cows were also around the vicinity. The military has swiftly denied complicity in his abduction and very frankly, no surprises here, and it must be taken with a pinch of salt.
In a speech at Taraba State University’s convocation in March 2017, a former chief of defense staff, Retd Gen Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma called out the military, saying they collude with terrorists attacking residents of riverine Benue and Taraba states. Both states have witnessed clashes between Tiv and Jukun militias, as well as Fulanis and other ethnicities, including the previous two. The military’s rebuttal of the prelate’s claim is a textbook example of state-empowered gaslighting and intimidation.
Brigadier General Onyema Nwachukwu, the army’s director of Public relations said that Rev Kanu-Uche would be contacted on his allegation that its personnel was complicit in his recent kidnap.
Beyond such intimidation tactics which were not brought to bear on Gen Danjuma, it does not do the military any good for its inability to not only exorcise its internal demons but be truthful about the existence of such demons. Per SBM Intelligence, In May, a lance corporal who was arrested and detained after being accused of collaborating with a confirmed terrorist informant known as Babagana Kura in Bama LGA in Borno allegedly committed suicide.
Reacting to this, Chief of Defence Staff General Leo Irabor wrote a letter to the field and operational commanders on the “need to educate personnel on the implications of collaborating with the enemy”. In the letter, Mr. Irabor urged the commanders of operational units to take appropriate actions that would forestall such incidents. The security services’ major problem has been a historic refusal to acknowledge that this problem exists. In the South East where the security services are not fondly remembered, this behavior has not, and does not improve its standing.
Nigeria’s security crisis is unique for the fact that compared with developed countries experiencing troubling levels of violence, the Nigerian state, and its armed forces have lost the monopoly of violence which naturally takes out the use of conventional force as a workable solution. Even more dreary is the fact that the umbrella of the state will act to protect its elites has been torn to near shreds to the point that it is not even enough to shield its security officials and elites from the rain or sun.
The prelate’s release was facilitated by church members who gathered together to raise N100 million within hours, despite the police promising that it is on top of the matter (to get him and his colleagues released). Alwan Ali-Hassan, the chairman of the Bank of Agriculture who was kidnapped in the Kaduna Train Attack was also released days after a humongous fee was paid. In both cases, the Nigerian security architecture which is heavily designed to work only for regime security was not on hand to play the hero. Both victims among thousands of others were left to their own devices. This is a state failure. All failure first and foremost, is state failure, in this context, and not necessarily a failure to adapt.
It does not need the genius to eke out the path where this is headed, and no amount of calls for self-defense can reverse this ugly trend. It is a ship that has long sailed and which enforces the reality that Nigerians are on their own, and will not be shocked if a sitting governor’s release from abduction is facilitated by the payment of ransom. We are not getting there. The point of this treatise is this: we are already there.