Walking the talk on fight against terrorism
Three times in a matter of days, three informed newspapers outside the country showed Nigeria its true colour. That’s assuming all the write-ups in the local media had been drowned in politics.
The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and The Guardian painted the right picture of the state of the Nigerian nation.
Rather than eat the humble pie, the government waxed combative. But the subject matter the publications addressed was clear to one and all.
Before then, the BBC and CNN had taken on the Muhammadu Buhari administration on the matter of the October 20, 2020, #EndSARS protests, insisting that the handling of that civil action was highhanded and did not have the grain of democracy in it.
The rising insecurity in the country has pitted Nigerians along ethnic and religious lines.
People now appear to view perpetrators of insecurity from their ethnic and religious prisms. This seems also to have complicated the matter, making the perpetrators of crime to have a field day.
Over time, there have been calls on the Federal Government to declare bandits as terrorists. In the last few years, some states in the northern part of the country have been overrun by bandits who have almost made some states almost ungovernable.
While the government and the citizens continue to argue on the right appellation for bandits, the country is fast slipping into almost a failed state.
While expressing his view on TVC programme recently, Babajide Otittoju, a Nigerian journalist, said: “My own argument is that by their (bandits) idiosyncrasies; by the things that they do, they are not driven by ideology, they are just driven by the need to make money and that’s not how terrorists are defined.”
“Nigerians will argue that because they shot down an aircraft; look, any riff-raff, if he got access to assault weapons like an AK-47 or AK-49 and the aircraft is flying low, he can shoot it and it will come down. It is the goal of the group that determines what the group is called. Those bandits in the North West, all they are after is your money and that is how the dictionary defines it,” he further said.
But Katch Ononuju, a political strategist, speaking on a programme on AIT, described the bandits as terrorists. He also blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for the escalating insecurity in the country.
“You actually have a president involving himself in treasonable acts; he is encouraging terrorism. When you refuse to act, you are in breach of the law. Today, we have people who shoot down aircraft, kill our soldiers, went to the market the other day in Goronyo (Sokoto), and killed over 149 persons. About one hour to market closure, they got there; it was an ethically-instigated action as they have confessed, but the President does not act in line with the law because of the ethnic affinity he has to those who committed this crime,” he said.
“So, the President has allowed a breakdown of law and order in Nigeria, to the extent that The Economist listed our country as the centre of a criminal enterprise at the heart of Africa. That’s why I am telling people there is a problem,” Ononuju lamented.
Today, none of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria is spared the pains of the violence from bandits in the quest to enrich their pockets.
Nextier SPD Violent Conflict Database from October 2020 to September 2021 revealed that there were about 890 violent attacks by bandits which resulted in 3,787 deaths, and 340 persons were injured, with 2,542 people kidnapped across the country.
Banditry, prevalent in Nigeria’s northwest started with communal tussle over access and control of land and resources mainly between farmers and herdsmen.
Moreover, years of unresolved conflicts, and land ownership laws that favoured farmers over herdsmen resulted in violent and bloody criminal activities.
Over the years, proliferation of small arms and light weapons from Libya and other politically unstable African nations, lack of education and opportunities for quality employment, Illegal business activities, Nigeria’s porous borders, and insufficient security personnel have worsened the crises.
Today, Kaduna, Zamfara, Niger, Katsina, and lately Sokoto have become hotbeds for bandits’ activities.
Some states in the North Central geo-political zone (Middle Belt), such as Benue and Plateau, have been reeling under the attack of herdsmen, whose unprovoked onslaught has led to the death of thousands of innocent citizens in the last six years.
Bandits’ activities have instilled so much fear and trepidation in society that interstate travels have become a high-risk venture.
There are lots of kidnapping, bloodshed, illegal mining, cattle rustling, among many other forms of criminality going on across the country by bandits. These have also frustrated efforts at attracting foreign investments into the country.
By the same token, the activities of herdsmen have scared farmers away from their farms.
Food production has hit an all-time low and food prices are skyrocketing as a result of low productivity occasioned by the murderous activities of herdsmen.
Although some people sympathetic with the bandits, like Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, Islamic cleric, who openly negotiates ransom for the bandits, insist they are not terrorist, some others who had held such position in the past are now backing down.
Gumi’s utterances have been considered caustic and irritating. If he is not calling for amnesty for bandits, he is making case for creation of a ministry of nomadic affairs to oversee all matters concerning herdsmen in the country. Shockingly, the government of the day does not see his utterances as divisive.
Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, recently urged the Federal Government to declare the bandits as terrorists.
“We in the Kaduna State government had always urged for the declaration of bandits as insurgents and terrorists. We have written letters to the Federal Government since 2017 asking for this declaration because it is this declaration that will allow the Nigerian military to attack and kill these bandits without any major consequences in the international law,” he said.
“So, we support the resolution by the National Assembly and we are going to follow up with a letter of support for the federal government to declare these bandits and insurgents as terrorists, so that, there will be fair game for our military,” he added.
Since 2010, Nigeria has been waging a low-grade war with the Islamist sect, Boko Haram. The group has inflicted mortal injuries on Nigeria, having killed many and also taken many citizens into perpetual captivity.
The group, though has equally suffered heavy casualties in the hands of the military, has continued to wreak havoc in communities in the North East.
The military has continued to solicit the cooperation of all citizens in the fight against the enemies of the state.
According to EnoughIsEnough (EiE) Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), “In October 2021, at least 75 people were killed in Imo, Sokoto, Niger, Kogi and Katsina States. This is beyond tragic! How many can we count? These are not just figures, they were once living people, with dreams and aspirations of a better tomorrow.”
It is believed that to counter banditry and other forms of terrorism in the country, there is the need to address the root causes of the violence by leveraging local intelligence from the communities, improve the capacity of security forces, and allied non-state outfits for coordinated attacks.
And government must be seen to be transparent in its actions.
EiE Nigeria wondered: “How long will our government keep quiet?”