By Owei Lakemfa
Adigun Agbaje is as good as they come. A Professor of Political Science and former Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Ibadan, UI, he bestrides multiple worlds. Even as a veteran journalist, when he speaks on the media, I listen. It is not just because after earning a First Class degree in Political Science from UI he went on to take a Masters degree in Mass Communications with distinctions from the University of Lagos. It is more because he was so good as a practising journalist that we young reporters in the Guardian Newspapers were told to emulate him. Then, he was gone; to the academics where he became celebrated internationally.
On Friday, October 28, 2022, he was returning to Ibadan at about 6pm when on the outskirts of the academic city, he was stopped by people who neither value knowledge nor human life. It is unclear what happened. But what is known is that four cars with their doors flung open were found on the expressway. Professor Agbaje was one of the victims taken by the bandits who operate openly in our villages, towns and cities with no fear of being apprehended or made to pay for their crimes. It is not known how many victims were taken along with the Professor, but two students of the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, MAPOLY, are also known to be with the kidnappers.
Having assessed Professor Agbaje, his abductors demanded a ransom of N50 million from his family. The family is thus a victim of the bandits, a victim of an absent government and a victim of a vindictive administration that has refused to pay the Prof and his academic colleagues for nine months now despite a subsisting agreement to do so immediately they resume from strike.
Immediately the UI Political Science Department authenticated the demands of the abductors, it swung into action to raise funds for his release. This was also the reaction of the MAPOLY Students Union which is soliciting prayers and funds to pay N10 million for each of its two abducted members. That is the state of helplessness Nigerians find themselves. This is the country we live in; nobody, not even those in government, have confidence in the ability of the state to rescue victims. No debate about the propriety or otherwise of paying ransom to criminals who are mainly foreigners.
The reality is that the Buhari administration has largely yielded governance to these inhuman gangs with some of its functionaries rationalising their existence. When the Governors of the South-West states sought to uproot many of these gangs by banning people from living in or occupying government reservation forests, and establishing a self-protection regional security outfit, the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, saw injustice in the twin moves and declared them illegal. So, the people are faced with the reality that while the government in power is incapable of protecting the citizenry, it would not encourage those who strive to do so.
In Enugu State, students of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka returning after the lecturers strike, are being abducted for ransom along the Enugu-Ugwuogo Nike-Nsukka Road. What is most unsettling about this case is the pattern and regularity. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council Worldwide asserts that these kidnappings are an almost a daily occurrence on that same road.
After the cries against students kidnapped a week ago on the road, the abductors were back four days later in the same area to cart another set of Nigerians into captivity and uncertainty. In September 2022, the bandits blocked the same road to abduct people.
There are few reports of these abductions in the northern parts of the country, perhaps, because it is becoming a way of life. Then there are the usual killing fields in Benue and Plateau states which still bleed with the bandits occupying towns and villages, renaming them and living there as conquered territories. Until this day, Muhammadu Buhari, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, has not ordered troops to retake such places and resettle the victims who have become internally displaced persons. Yet, as the President himself admitted, many of these criminals are foreigners.
In his January 2019, interview with Arise Television, President Buhari in dismissing claims that the genocide in the Benue Basin is a result of farmers-herders conflict, said: “The Nigerian cattle herder used to carry nothing more than a stick, but these are people with AK-47 and people refuse to reflect on the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi for 43 years in Libya, at some stage, he decided to recruit people from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, from Central African Republic and these young chaps were not taught to be bricklayers, electricians, plumbers or any trade but to shoot and kill. So, when the opposition in Libya succeeded in killing him, they arrested some and they did what they did to them. The rest escaped with their orphans and we encounter some of them in the North-East and they are all over the place now organising attacks.”
Yet, we have a country to rebuild. So, as we highlight the acts of life-takers who rob, abduct and kill, we should also encourage those who in their little way, are engaged in building community life, one brick at a time, as a way of taking back the country and restoring it back to normal human existence.
The Community Life Project, CLP, began on this journey 30 years ago, refusing to be corrupted, diverted, becoming disillusioned or giving up. Some visionary Nigerians in 1992, led by Mrs Ngozi Iwere, a perceptive journalist and former Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, analysed that the country was on a downward slope.
At that time, the Babangida military regime was running riot. It had imposed a debilitating structural adjustment programme, continuous devaluation of the currency, mass sack, privatisation of public wealth, detention without trial, de-emphasis on education, periodic bloodletting in the military in the name of aborting coups, imposed political parties and an endless transition programme.
This group of Nigerians were certain that the military would end up dragging the country into the pit hell of poverty, insecurity and uncertainty. To prepare the country and ensure it is able to recover, they established the CLP to transform lives across the country, strengthen institutions and their leaders, and enable them to do more in community engagement and nation-building.
The CLP, with its primary aim to ‘Reclaim Naija,’ is a unique promoter of equity and social inclusion; a mobiliser of community development agencies, faith-based communities and the informal economy. It is like a lifeguard ensuring we don’t drown. We need to encourage these type of life savers.