By Doreen Nwoke
On April 19, 2019, a group of gunmen invaded the popular Kajuru Castle in Kaduna, killing two people including a British expatriate and kidnapping three others. That incident further cemented
already existent worries about the safety of tourists in Nigeria. Since then Kajuru Castle has become a near-desolate area as a result of the pervading fears that the attack created.
Prior to that, the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi State had suffered an extremely low influx of tourists following various Boko Haram attacks in the state. These social conflicts have negatively affected some other major states in Nigeria, especially the northeast areas such as Borno, Yobe,
Gombe, Adamawa and Taraba States, paralysing businesses, banks, schools, market, transportation, hospitality and tourism activities.
Over the years, these problems have taken a more recurrent shape and have created an atmosphere of unrest, fear and anxiety among Nigerians. One of the most disturbing recurrences in recent times is the herdsmen crises as well as the harassment, brutalisation and killing of citizens by policemen and SARS officials, in whose hands the safety of Nigerians should otherwise be entrusted. All these events have drastically affected business activities, human and economic developments, wounded the image of Nigeria and have had a negative impact on the tourism industry, both for locals and for foreigners. By international standards, only about 10 out of the 36 states in Nigeria are deemed safe for travel and even at that, the unpredictability of these circumstances is still a huge concern.
It does not help that in the international media, Nigeria is being projected as one of the areas in
the “country”, Africa, that has been marred by an undying Boko Haram crises with many trails of
bombings and attacks, or that there are reports that it has officially become the poverty capital of the world. It also doesn’t help that despite the promises made by previous and incumbent governments to create a better and secure environment for the citizens, the security situation in the country seems to be getting worse by the day. For a country that claims to be the giant of the continent, this is not a good look.
Nigerians in diaspora are scared of travelling home for fear of being kidnapped or hijacked by security forces and Nigerians in Nigeria no longer feel so safe in their own homes. These wild perceptions and – I dare say – realities have turned people away from being a part of the Nigerian story, because they are not certain how the story would end.
Even though the tourism industry still manages to generate billions of naira in revenue for Nigeria, it could still be more, and we could do better. The government needs to take a quantum leap to ensure that a safer and peaceful society is created and that this reflects on the image of the country. We have to adopt a more proactive and practical means of solving our security problems.
The military expenditure in Nigeria reached an all-time high in 2018 and somehow, this is not reflective on the security of the country. It makes absolutely no sense that in 11 years, the federal government has spent billions of dollars to combat these issues and yet the citizens cannot feel or see any results. The Nigerian Senate in April 2019 hiked the national budget with a special focus on security, in a bid to combat rising militancy and kidnapping across the country. Such news is not strange to us; every year, there always seems to be a “special focus on security” and in the end, we have almost nothing to show for it. The Nigerian government must strengthen and tighten its resolve to be responsible to the people it serves.
With special consideration to the north east, the government must recognize that to a very large degree, the insurgency, political unrest, herdsmen killings and other security concerns, are deeply rooted in the extreme levels of poverty and illiteracy. It is almost impossible to separate these two groups of problems from one another; they must be tackled hand in hand.
One necessary truth we must not ignore is the fact that the Nigerian police force needs a total overhaul. The rate of lawlessness and corruption upon which they thrive is becoming increasingly disturbing by the day. The vast of them are poorly educated about their duties and they project their gross lack of a sense of responsibility on vulnerable citizens, sometimes at the expense of the lives of the people they are supposed to protect. They operate on a strong hierarchy of bribery and corruption upon and that explains why it is difficult to get rid of the bad eggs. This means that the government must live up to its claims and promises of “integrity”.
Summarily, the authorities must acknowledge that they lead the people by serving them; that they first have a responsibility to serve, and that that is where their authority as leaders is validated. The rising level of poverty in the country only spells greater doom for the people. Currently, 98 million Nigerians are living in multidimensional poverty as reported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). That means that about half the population of Nigeria are living in poverty; that is more than the number of poor people in India and China in total (both nations have a combined population of 2.6 billion).
It is a nobrainer that societies with higher levels of poverty often have matching levels of crime, insecurity and instability. If we are truly serious about taking measures to combat these issues, we must acknowledge that they are interrelated and take strong measures to address them adequately. We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder and we do not seem to know it yet. Nigeria is the largest black nation in the world and with all its riches and resources, it is unfortunate that our image does not match our supposed height. Certainly, this story can change. It has to.
Muse: Nikki Anyansi
Photographer: Emmanuel Oyeleke