The week ahead – Human resources

15th March 2024

Gunmen kidnapped at least 15 students from a school in Sokoto State in a dawn raid, days after some 300 students were abducted in Kaduna State. In Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, terrorists attacked a public primary school, abducting over 200 pupils and teachers. Residents said the gunmen invaded the school immediately after the morning assembly. In Borno State, Boko Haram abducted about 50 to 300 displaced women who lived in a camp in Gamboru Ngala. This comes as Borno’s government reports that 95% of Boko Haram fighters are dead or have surrendered.

According to media reports compiled by The National Security Tracker (NST) and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), there were an estimated 4,243 kidnappings reported in Nigeria in 2023 and by March 2024, Nigeria has had almost a thousand people kidnapped in Northern Nigeria alone as terrorist groups have gone on a spree of industrial scale kidnapping with some demanding ransoms as high as ₦40 trillion ($25 billion, 14/2/2023). Mass kidnappings, especially of women and children, are heinous acts that require a dehumanised mindset to be carried out. Poverty, suffering and lack of opportunity in the North and Sahel region, combined with religious extremism, create an environment conducive to dehumanisation and large-scale kidnappings and killings absent in a sane society. The extent to which large spaces remain ungoverned and the absence of consequences from security agencies and the justice system has made it easier for these dastardly elements to obey their inhuman impulses. Groups like Boko Haram also use kidnappings to fund their terrorist activities and stir fear in people’s hearts; and while ransom payment is said to be discouraged because it motivates criminals, it is difficult to expect people to leave their loved ones to be killed instead of paying for their release. The 2014 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping was a watershed moment in the history of terrorism in Nigeria. For the first time, a terrorist group deliberately targeted a group of vulnerable civilians—young schoolgirls—to instil fear and achieve its political goals. This attack signalled a new level of brutality that had not been seen before and established Boko Haram as a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps the only other jihadist group which has adopted similar tactics is the Islamic State. It is also very likely that its Nigerian franchise, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), may very well have had a hand in the abduction of the students in the Northwest, a region where it has gradually expanded since 2019. Although the group may be fighting a protracted civil war in the Northeast, the abduction of the female IDPs was most likely carried out by its enemy, the JAS faction. ISWAP, with established territories under its control, has less incentive for mass abductions compared to JAS, which relies on raids for survival. However, in the Northwest, both factions have no problems collaborating with bandit kingpins for reasons ranging from ransom value to the release of jailed jihadist fighters, as seen in the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train two years ago. These unfortunate occurrences highlight the stark reality that Nigeria has hardly learnt from its problems. 2024 marks the 10-year anniversary of such an attack on educational facilities. Ten years have passed, and approximately 98 Chibok students remain missing. Multiple armed groups are now using the same modus operandi with alarming success, resulting in thousands of individuals being kidnapped across the Borno-Yobe area and the two other regions that comprise Northern Nigeria. For the 20 million out-of-school kids, this is another blow to the prospect of improving early childhood education enrollment in Nigeria. The government’s inconsistent policies may lead to further setbacks, potentially burying any hope of improvement.

Protesters on Tuesday attacked a police station and set some cars on fire at Wuse Market in Abuja after policemen shot a hawker dead. Witnesses said the hawker, who the police identified as 27-year-old Ibrahim Yahaya, was shot when he was trying to escape from custody after he was arrested by some “task force officers” and the police. The killing was said to have triggered angry reactions from some youths in the market. The police fired teargas to disperse the mob, and about ten shops caught fire, according to eyewitnesses.

In recent months, Abuja has been the site of several instances of unrest related to the food crisis, including mob violence that followed a looting event at Dei-Dei, which we talked about in last week’s editorial. At the same time, residents of the federal capital have been living in a state of anxiety as issues such as police brutality and kidnapping have become all too common. These issues and the ongoing food crisis have created a tense and unstable situation in the FCT. Nigeria is walking on a blade edge at this point because Nigerians, particularly those already struggling with poverty, feel very frustrated at unchecked government spending and have become much more likely to erupt in violence if they are constantly prodded. Residents of the Wuse area where the incident happened alleged that the late Ibrahim Yahaya had a criminal record, and an attempt to escape prosecution led the police to use maximum force. The reaction was sadly predictable. The government should pay close attention to this reaction because it is drawn from the simmering anger and desperation in the community. We also have to consider that the harsh response to the #EndSARS protests in 2020, which resulted in the deaths of peaceful protesters, has set a dangerous precedent for future demonstrations. Protesters now have a genuine fear of being met with violence, and it is unlikely that future protests will be peaceful and restrained. This cycle of fear, violent police repression and violent mob response will be difficult to break. The government must address the underlying issues that led to the protests in the first place. The incident also highlights the need for better training of police officers in the use of firearms, as well as crowd control measures that go beyond the use of tear gas. There is a need for a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to managing protests and riots, one that considers each situation’s unique circumstances and needs. Simply relying on tear gas is insufficient to manage crowds and ensure public safety effectively. Policing strategies in Nigeria have not evolved with the times, and the consistent use of outdated policing techniques is serving to fuel anti-law enforcement sentiments that increase the possibility of mob violence after every police infraction.

The bodies of six police officers, drafted to rescue three missing officers in Ohoror, Ughelli LGA of Delta State, but allegedly killed by herdsmen, have been discovered by security agents and local vigilantes. The officers went missing on 24 January 2024 after responding to a distress call by one Moses Progress, who was attacked when performing a sacrifice. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Commander of 63 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Brig. Gen. Ugochukwu Unachukwu said the army uncovered an illegal gun factory in Onicha Olona community, Aniocha North LGA of Delta State, arresting the mastermind and others involved in the family business.

The realisation that there are perhaps as many ungoverned spaces in Delta State as in other places is concerning. The herder menace in the state has been a crisis since at least 2018, with herdsmen regularly ambushing travellers using the region as a transit hub to get to the Northcentral, and has been discussed in the state’s House of Assembly. The conflict and violence are partly driven by competition over scarce resources, environmental degradation and historical grievances. The cycle of inter-communal violence, clashes with farming communities, and clashes with law enforcement agencies underscores the urgent need for a paradigm shift in the way Nigeria’s pastoralist communities interact with their surroundings. The lack of urgency in addressing this issue allowed the problem to fester, leading to the tragic events in Ohoror, where a group of underprepared and under-equipped police officers were overwhelmed by the insurgents. The police also erred in not giving the problem the attention it deserved because it continued to send in small companies of police officers. Subsequent commissioners of police have barely sustained whatever anti-crime momentum they initiate, so it is easier for the police to run out of steam, thereby contributing to the growth of the local crime industry. The illegal weapons manufacturing industry is thriving in many states, despite regular military raids. One reason is the high demand for weapons, fuelled by the forex crisis and the difficulty of importing weapons through approved channels. As a result, local armed groups have set up weapons manufacturing hubs to meet the demand, despite the risks involved. In a 2020 report tagged Small Arms, Mass Atrocities and Migration in Nigeria, SBM Intelligence found that an AK-47 rifle could be obtained for ₦300,000 ($187.26, 14/3/24). We have reason to believe that increased demand has led to a rise in the prices of weapons. According to the Small Arms Survey, in 2020, Nigeria had an estimated 6.2 million arms in the hands of civilians, excluding those of the military and law enforcement agencies, with government agencies accounting for only 586,600 firearms. In the final analysis, the failure of the National Centre for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons created in May 2021 to achieve its raison d’etre means that the burden of mopping up illicit weapons lies on an overstretched and overburdened military and paramilitary agencies, the latter which has been accused of fuelling the problem by not accounting for its missing, stolen weapons. Delta State’s killings also highlight the need to address the challenges associated with nomadic herding. While the grievances and conflicts associated with nomadic cattle herding have deep historical roots, there is growing recognition that a combination of ranching and legal restrictions on the nomadic carrying of cattle could offer a pathway towards reconciliation and sustainable coexistence. Ranching, as an alternative to nomadic herding, holds immense potential for transforming Nigeria’s pastoralist communities and fostering greater harmony with other groups. In parallel with promoting ranching as a viable alternative, legal restrictions on the nomadic carrying of cattle are essential for ensuring the effective management of Nigeria’s natural resources and preventing conflicts between pastoralist and sedentary communities. The tragic loss of lives in Delta State serves as a sobering reminder of the urgency of tackling the root causes of conflict and violence associated with nomadic herding.

Nigeria’s government has revealed that the country now has only 55,000 licensed doctors to serve its growing population of more than 200 million. During an interview on Channels TV’s ‘Politics Today,’ Muhammad Pate, the country’s health minister, also said that about 16,000 doctors left the country in the last five years, and about 17,000 have been transferred. “Nigeria has about 300,000 health professionals, including doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, laboratory scientists, and others. We have 85,000 to 90,000 registered Nigerian doctors but not all of them are in the country,” he said.

Mr Pate is not the first minister to raise these laments. Firstly, the fact that Nigeria, a country reported to have a population of about 200 million, has only ever produced 90,000 doctors is disappointing. Secondly, the rhetoric of the last administration that suggested that protesting doctors who wanted to leave the country could do so rather than address the issues raised has been a contributing factor to this mass emigration. Past leaders have consistently attributed the exodus of doctors to unpatriotic motives rather than addressing the real causes of this exodus. By deflecting responsibility and failing to address the root causes of this issue, they have only served to perpetuate the problem. By failing to address the concerns of doctors, past administrations have only exacerbated the problem. Nigerian doctors and health workers are poorly paid, work under unsavoury conditions and are consistently unable to access the best equipment. Additionally, much of their patient pool has gotten even poorer, reducing the pool of viable patrons of the industry. While Mr Pate has the qualifications to lead Nigeria’s healthcare sector, it is important to understand that the issues facing the sector go beyond simple lamentations. Years of failed policies have resulted in a crisis of infrastructure and personnel, leading to a mass exodus of doctors from the country. According to some researchers, up to 90% of doctors in Nigeria would prefer to leave the country to practise elsewhere. This is a clear indication of the dire situation facing the sector. However, the problem of medical professionals emigrating is not peculiar to Nigeria or Africa alone. Countries like India are also dealing with their fair share of the problem. This is why geopolitics matters: what happens in each country will have a ripple effect on other countries. The ageing population in developed countries like the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) means they need medical personnel to care for their senior citizens. The National Health Service (NHS) has an estimated shortage of 126,000 workers in the UK. And because the birth rate is falling in these countries, the working population is not being replaced as people retire. On the other hand, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and India have huge populations that are constantly seeking better working conditions, given the poor living standards. Hence, people will naturally migrate towards places that offer them a better shot at life. The present situation in Nigeria means that the doctor-to-patient ratio is about 1:3,636, a far cry from the WHO recommendation of one doctor to 600 patients. That definitely is not an ideal situation. While it is encouraging to see that steps are being taken to increase the number of doctors in the country, it is clear that these efforts will not be enough to address the systemic problems that have plagued the healthcare sector for years. The sector’s challenges require a holistic and long-term approach rather than a short-term or piecemeal solution. Mr Pate must recognise this and take decisive action to address the root causes of the crisis. This includes investing in infrastructure, increasing the number of residency training slots, raising salaries, improving working conditions, encouraging private sector inflow into the healthcare sector and providing incentives for doctors to stay in the country. Only then will Nigeria be able to retain and attract the talent needed to improve the quality of healthcare for its citizens. It is important to state that this intervention does not mean passing draconian laws to prevent the exit of health workers.