YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria, has called on his country’s new government to take urgent action to combat violence and insecurity in Africa’s most populous nation.

Kaigama was speaking in an exclusive interview with Crux following multiple reports of killings in a country long battered by terrorism, crime, ethnic tensions, corruption and extremism.

In June, more than 800 people were killed in attacks across Nigeria, according to Beacon Consulting, a security risk management and intelligence organization. The report also said there were 239 abductions, including several cases involving Catholic priests.

In April, at least 545 people were killed and 269 people were abducted, according to another report carried out by Global Rights.

These killings have persisted, despite new President Bola Tinubu’s promise to make the fight against insecurity a top priority. Tinubu took office on May 29.

Kaigama said he believes it would “not be fair to predict doom and gloom for the [Tinubu] administration at this initial stage,” even as he challenged the new government to hit the ground running in the fight against insecurity.

“The new administration must get up and take action to ensure that terrorists are neutralized, criminals are apprehended, bandits are defeated, and kidnappers are driven out of business,” the archbishop told Crux.

“This is the very least the citizens expect from their leaders,” he said, adding concern that Nigeria’s police and security forces sometimes seem more concerned with controlling political dissidents than attacking the widespread violence.

Kaigama, who will turn 65 on July 31, was appointed to Nigeria’s capital city in 2019, and is widely considered one of the most outspoken and charismatic Catholic prelates in Africa.

The following are excerpts of Crux’s exclusive interview:

Crux:  Beacon Consulting, a security risk management and intelligence organization, has reported that more than 800 people were killed in attacks in June across Nigeria. President Tinubu came to power promising to deal decisively with insecurity in the country. Would you consider these killings as the first signs that the new president will fail?

Kaigama: Right now, insecurity is the greatest challenge facing the nation. The level of incidents and the apparent impunity have become unacceptable and cannot be excused, for whatever reason. It has to be observed that this level of insecurity can only be found in countries that are either at war, or are experiencing some kind of social instability.

It is intriguing that the Department of State Services [a domestic security agency] and the police appear to be very dutiful in combating civil protests and arresting dissidents, while the nation is taken up in galling insecurity. The failure to protect the people is put squarely at the doorstep of the federal government, which has lost the capacity to rein in sundry cartels of gunmen who now terrorize different places.

The new president has just come on board and should be given the benefit of the doubt, and some time to unravel his policies and programs. It would, therefore, not be fair to predict doom and gloom for the administration at this initial stage.

So far, from all indications, the president has hit the ground running, judging from some of his key pronouncements and initial policies and appointments. But the new administration must get up and take action to ensure that terrorists are neutralized, criminals are apprehended, bandits are defeated, and kidnappers are driven out of business. This is the very least the citizens expect from their leaders.

What do you think is driving so much insecurity in Nigeria?

Nigeria has tremendous potential for greatness as a nation because of its sizable population, which consists of a productive workforce, a developing economy, and a wealth of natural and human resources. Despite all these, Nigeria continues to be a developing country struggling frantically to find its feet among the committee of nations.

Among other factors, the prevalence of insurgency and insecurity have continued to pose a debilitating challenge to its development and growth. Some of the causes of insecurity in Nigeria include [the following].

Firstly, the menace of unemployment and poverty. Unemployment causes poverty, and extreme poverty leads to crime which gives rise to insecurity.

Second, there is also the elite exploitation of ethnicity and religious differences. The country’s diverse ethnic make-up or configuration is not itself a cause of insecurity, but political and religious leaders across the nation sometimes use ethnic sentiments to further their selfish and self-serving ambitions.

Third, corruption is largely responsible for the ineptitude in governance and systemic infrastructural collapse, resulting in large-scale insecurity.

Fourth, Nigeria’s security system has virtually collapsed in terms of competent personnel and equipment. Security officers are poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly remunerated. As a result, the requisite expertise is not available to meet modern security challenges.

Fifth, the country’s unstable frontiers, where human movements are essentially untracked, have led to some degree of insecurity in the country. There is an unregulated inflow of arms and ammunition into the country as a result of the porous borders which has enabled militancy and crime in the country.

Finally, leadership deficit or bad governance remains Nigeria’s fundamental cause of insecurity. The government has the primary function of providing basic services such as water, electricity, good road network, quality education, and general infrastructure. Where these are lacking, the people inevitably get frustrated and demoralized.

Demoralization and anger are apparently a breeding ground for aggression and general insecurity. The scarcity of these basic amenities is, unfortunately, not due to shortage of funds but rather corruption at the different levels of government.

What, in your opinion, must be done to restore sustainable peace to a troubled nation?

Insecurity in the country poses a threat to life and property, hinders socio-economic activities and discourages local and foreign investors, all of which serve as a push-back to the social and economic growth and development of the nation. Since the nation gained political independence in 1960, we have been experiencing rising insecurity. The recent upsurge in insecurity has assumed a dimension that could be said to be threatening the Nigerian state.

Frontally addressing the causes of insecurity enumerated above should be Nigeria’s top-most priority at all levels, because the nation cannot achieve any significant growth and development with mounting insecurity and terrorism. The following practical measures should go a long way in scotching the trend of insecurity in Nigeria.

First and foremost, our security officers must be proactive in addressing and resolving security issues by utilizing contemporary techniques for gathering and sharing intelligence as well as the application of cutting-edge technology.

There is also a need for our security personnel to be better or more thoroughly formed and trained through the adoption of adequate training in contemporary security techniques, the provision of cutting-edge equipment, appropriate remuneration and service conditions, and practical after-service arrangements.

Recently, there has been widespread call for the formation of community policing in order to manage insecurity effectively.  I believe that now is the right time for every community to get involved in seeking answers to the problem of insecurity.

The government must immediately establish or support a thriving economy with the necessary social, economic, and physical infrastructure to foster socioeconomic growth and development.

Our nation’s teeming youth, who are qualified and capable, should have access to greater job opportunities. This will deter them from engaging in illegal activity, which would purportedly lead to insecurity in the long run.

It is important to dissuade politicians and other powerful individuals from using thugs, or to hold them accountable.