I believe of all the tales I heard in my stay in university, out of hundreds of banter about a whole range of topics, none came close to being as memorable and as gruesome as the one Nneka* told.
It was a few years into the start of a new millennium. The Boko Haram sect had become bolder and deadlier, the divisive line of religion was growing wider.
Reprisal attacks were brewing over anger at the government’s inability to handle the matter in a way that appeased Nigerians. Not that there are a lot of things that appease Nigerians, but in the wake of the bloodletting, the “on top of the situation” damage control phrase government officials were used to wasn’t cutting it anymore.
There had been a gruesome episode involving Christians up North. Despite desperate appeals by christian leaders to not avenge those attacks, the brethren in the South East and South South were no longer having it. They resumed what many termed to be nonviolent reprisal attacks, a harassment of some sort. I think the idea was that “if we rattled these people a bit, they would realize we aren’t as docile as they presume”.
A busy road in Trans-Ekulu where I grew up, which had a number of aboki shops, owned by Muslims and dotting its breath was left deserted during that period, their shops destroyed and goods looted, I would later hear. The thing about revenge and reprisal attacks is how devastatingly cyclic it can become and which was one of the major challenges the federal government faced in its attempt to suppress the bloodshed.
Back to Nneka’s story. When the extremist Muslims in these South-Eastern zones decided to retaliate, their “security guard”, a Muslim, who had served them for years, had led the religious machete-wielding miscreants into their home and attacked her mother on sight. As one strike of the machete followed the other in quick succession, her mother attempted to ward off the glittering weapon with her arms while trying to find an escape route, she’d told us. Hot blooded young male indigenes who had been riled by the violent reprisals who had begun an immediate intervention became her saving grace. Her mother spent over a year in the hospital afterwards, trying to recover use of her hands and possibly, her trust.
It wasn’t that we hadn’t heard similar tales prior to this one, but sitting and hearing it from someone who had been directly affected by it was a blood-curling experience.
But this is one extreme. The first robbery experience my family had was in the late 90s, early 2000s. This was the period when house robberies were becoming popular and gangs were sending notices ahead of their visits, to neighbourhoods and daring them to inform the police.
Ours wasn’t a gory experience. A petty theft more like. What was more significant was that the leaders of the robbery party were our “security guards”. Having followed and observed movement patterns of our family members over the months they had been with us, they literally just ushered mask-wearing petty thieves into the house one night and made away with a number of stuff.
I remember it was a Saturday night and the next morning, as we tried taking stock of what was gone and making sense of the eventful night, our dog had killed a brown patterned snake and left its slithering, pulpy mass right in front of the gate.
That was the last day a security guard ever assumed a post at our gate.
According to NBS data, in 2016 alone, crime statistics on reported offences reflected that a total of 125,790 cases were reported that year. Offences against property reported numbered 65,397 while offences against persons numbered 45,554 cases. Offences against lawful authority and local acts recorded the least with 12,144 and 2,695 cases recorded respectively. Lagos State unsurprisingly had the highest percentage share of total cases reported with 36.08% and 45,385 cases recorded.
The statistical body explains that offence against persons are those offences against human beings and include but is not restricted to murder, manslaughter, infanticide, concealment of birth, rape and other physical abuse. They explain offence against properties as those offences against human belonging and properties of any kind and include stealing, receiving stolen properties, obtaining property by false pretense, robbery, burglary and house breaking.
For every one of these cases, there were several others that went unreported. In 2018, with the rising population and the decline in employment and the country’s unstable economy, these numbers may have doubled. And so also has the need to be not only security conscious but to have the right kinds of security operatives in one’s employ for situations when there’s not a lot you can do by yourself.
In the recent past, security guards were always nomadic Northerners who, most times, you’ll find, have not even the slightest of basic education. A number of them Muslims and usually offered a home/work post by the gate, it was always only a matter of time before your security post became a family house for nameless faces including women and children, many of whom you were sometimes unsure if they belonged to your security guard or one of his “brothers”.
Security in Nigeria is like the Will O’ Wisp in Irish folklore. It’s a huge lump of falsehood. No one is safe. Literally. As obtainable in a lot of other aspects of this puzzling society of ours, there are no structured security systems, existing institutions don’t work and yet newer ones are unveiled every other year, while this gangrene continues to fester, from petty bag snatching to murderous farming activities. You can’t leave your car on a street without a gate because someone could take your tyres or unscrew your side mirrors in the middle of the night and no one would ever find the culprit. But even within the confines of your gated compound, there are no guarantees that you are safe. The Nigerian police who claims they are our friends won’t help you because they can’t and the seemingly advanced national security agencies have either become the ones we are running from or are serving a select elite class who have the power and the resources to exert their control.
But what is even more worse is not being concerned with who you’ve stationed at your gate to allow or deny access into it because like in every other area, the Nigerian citizen is responsible for his own security either at their home, their business or social event.
As the kind of stories I recounted earlier started to become more popular, people began to really consider the irony of these arrangements. How was it that we were turning over our lives and properties into the hands of these men that we had no inkling where they came from, what lives they had lived in their past, why they multiplied so quickly, and who physically seemed incapable of killing even an intruding reptile. In time, a lot of homes and estates turned to security agencies to provide protection for their homes, at their events and so on. But the staff some of these agencies deploy, I believe, are no different from the usual illiterate “security guards” most Nigerian homes were used to.
So let’s say you ditch the act of employing an aboki who has no background that you are aware of, cannot piece together even one sentence in English, can’t remember faces of even your most regular visitor and who pants profusely after carrying your 25 litre jerry can of fuel from your car to the generator house. If the guards being provided by your security outfit aren’t physically fit, alert, able to communicate properly, and able to keep your business private, then you still have no security guard, just a really ineffective gate man or men depending on what is applicable. They have a way of trying to sell numbers, like the presence of five ill-equipped and incapable security guards are any better than the presence of two of them.
By the way, I insist that anyone who does any of the above is just a gate man (not a very effective one) and has no business being referred to as a security guard. Language is important. It might be the one thing that helps you stay consciously aware that your security is in your hands, ultimately. And this is very important.
Not all the security outfits get it wrong. Some do provide their clients with well-trained and skilled personnel who know there are different security protocols to take during an abduction and a robbery, for instance. But even these have become premium services these days.
Sometimes, our overtly religious stance doesn’t surprise me. There are situations that everyday Nigerians face that are just too insurmountable without the protection of the law or its executioners. An all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful presence, therefore, isn’t an accessory. Have you had similar experiences with your “security guards”? Share with us in the comment section.
*Not real name.
Image Credits: Culture Trip