Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari has come under mounting pressure from critics and allies alike as the country reels from multiple security crises that have claimed hundreds of lives in recent weeks.
An alarming wave of violence has left millions in Africa’s most populous country in uproar at the collapse in security. Attacks by jihadist groups in the north-east have been compounded by a sharp rise in abductions targeting civilians in schools and at interstate links across Nigeria. Mass killings by bandit groups in rural towns, a reported rise in armed robberies in urban areas and increasingly daring attacks on security forces by pro-Biafran militants in the south-east have also all risen.
In April alone, almost 600 civilians were killed across the country and at least 406 abducted by armed groups, according to analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations. The violence has left much of the country on edge and Buhari facing the fiercest criticism since he took office.
Governors, politicians – including those in the president’s own All Progressives Congress (APC) party – Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and civil society groups have all called for urgent measures, and criticised the 78-year-old president.
Among the most scathing criticisms in recent weeks have come from allies. “This is the worst instability we are facing. Our security system has collapsed, it has failed,” APC senator Smart Adeyemi said on the senate floor last week. “The security infrastructure that we have today cannot cope with what we are facing. From the north to the south nobody is safe, nobody can travel 50km in our nation,” he added before breaking down in tears.
Soyinka, who in recent years has been an ardent critic of Buhari’s government, has bemoaned a lack of leadership. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a government. It was quite apparent, even before the end of Buhari’s first term that he is not capable of the task of being president,” he told the Guardian in a recent interview. “Human lives have become expendable and the president has shown he is not able to protect.”
The former military general returned to power in 2015, promising to tackle Boko Haram and corruption. Yet some of the gains made in fighting the jihadist group have come undone, with multiple groups now active. Elsewhere in the country, insecurity has soared as the president has cut a muted and remote figure.
Life for millions in Africa’s largest economy has become increasingly hard, with Nigeria suffering two recessions in the last five years. The number of unemployed people has more than doubled since 2015 to 23 million.
As the economy has suffered, crime and insecurity has grown and the failings of Nigeria’s underfunded and under-equipped security forces have grown more glaring.
On Tuesday, distraught parents of 17 university students, among 22 people kidnapped from Greenfield University in Kaduna in the north-west last month, protested in the streets of the capital, Abuja, accusing the government of abandoning them and pleading with authorities to secure their children’s release.
Serial kidnappings this year by armed groups targeting students in the north have sparked outrage and despair.
The Greenfield University kidnappers have killed five of the students after parents were only able to raise half of the $263,000 ransom demanded. On Monday, an assailant who claimed to have carried out the abduction told Voice of America radio that the 17 remaining students would be killed if the rest of the ransom was not paid on Tuesday.
The policy of the Kaduna government is not to pay ransoms, which it says fuel a kidnap “industry”. But families have been left bereft, with many critical that the policy has not been supported by an increase in local security measures.
Shehu Sani, a senator for the opposition People’s Democratic party in Kaduna, said on Tuesday: “We must not wait for bandits to throw the corpses of our 17 children on our doorsteps … If the government has a better solution to freeing the kidnapped students other than the one embarked upon by the parents of the students, let it be put to work immediately.”
Reforms to restructure and better fund the police were urgently needed, Sani said. “The government has just failed to live up to its responsibilities and expectations. Corrupt security officers feeding on the defence budget must be dealt with and the welfare of troops must be upgraded. The military and the police must be better armed to match the bandits and terrorists.”