Banditry: Things are falling apart, the centre is not holding



By Prof. Usman Yusuf

(28th, November 2021) A large swath of Northern Nigeria is now at the mercy of marauding bandits. From Adamawa to Zamfara, the region has become bandits’ killing fields. Images of massacres are too gruesome to watch and the stories from survivors too heartbreaking to hear but, hearing and watching we must, because this is the reality under which our people now live.

These bandits roll into our towns and villages in convoys of motorcycles riding three on each, brandishing AK47 rifles. They spend hours killing, burning, raping, carting away livestock, and abducting women as sex slaves. They put taxes on the people and keep coming back, again and again to attack because of the absence of law enforcement to protect the people. Security personnel oftentimes show up after the carnage to count the bodies.

It is not only tragic but shameful that these bunch of ragtag bandits on motorcycles wielding nothing more than rusty AK47 rifles can roam the land with impunity causing so many deaths and destruction in a nation with a standing Armed Forces and Police force.

Anytime President Muhammadu Buhari talks about the insecurity bedeviling this nation either at home or at his many international outings, he refers only to Boko Haram without even acknowledging banditry and kidnapping as major security problems.

The few times he talks about banditry, he admits he doesn’t “understand why people of the same religion and ethnicity are killing themselves”. Lately, he has jokingly added that he will speak to them “in the language they understand”. He usually concludes his remarks by saying that he has ordered the Military to be “ruthless” in dealing with them.

The things I find most depressing about the President’s pronouncements and body language are: {1}. He seems distant and disconnected from the realities of our people,. {2}. He sees banditry as a Military problem that requires a Military solution, {3}. He does not appear  properly briefed on the causes and the existential threat that banditry poses to the nation, {4}. His unwillingness to understand banditry beyond the Military prism {5}. His refusal to widen his cycle of consultations beyond the Military to involve community leaders, traditional rulers, clerics, victims and their families and academics that have done excellent research on banditry.

MEASURES THAT HAVE NOT WORKED

{1}. Border closure: Closure of Nigeria’s land borders for 16 months has not been effective in stemming the flow of illegal weapons into the country.

{2}. “Rejigging the security architecture”: Which included changing the Service Chiefs and the Presidential directive to them to bring peace to the land so that farmers could return to their farms during the rainy season.

{3}. Shoot on sight order: “The president has ordered security forces to go into the bushes and shoot whoever they see with sophisticated weapons like AK-47. He ordered that whoever is seen with terrible weapons at all should be shot immediately.”  – – Garba Shehu (Presidential Spokesman) 3, March 2021.

{4}. Ban on mining in Zamfara stare:

“ His Excellency the President has approved, based on our recommendations, the imposition and enforcement of all mining activities in Zamfara state with immediate effect until further notice.  – Gen. B. M. Monguno (NSA) 2, March 2021

{5}. Deployment of massive Military and Intelligence assets:  “The President has directed the Hon.Minister of Defence and the National Security Adviser to deploy massive Military and Intelligence assets to restore normalcy to that part of the country”  – – Gen. B. M. Monguno (NSA) 2, March 2021

{6}. No fly zone over Zamfara: “The President has also approved that Zamfara state be declared a no fly zone with immediate effect”.  – Gen. B. M. Monguno (NSA) 2, March 2021

{7}. Surveillance of non-state actors: “All non-state actors not only in the Northwest but the NE, SE and SS that have been causing problems have been placed under surveillance by the intelligence agencies”.  – Gen. B. M. Monguno (NSA) 2, March 2021

{8}. Directive to reclaim ungoverned spaces: “With effect from today (March 2, 2021), the new Service Chiefs have been given directives by the President to reclaim all areas dominated by bandits, kidnappers and other scoundrels and scallywags”.  – Gen. B. M. Monguno (NSA) 2, March 2021

{9}. Directive to trail and flush out: “The President has given directives to the Military and Intelligence organizations to trail and flush out all the people that have been on our watch list”.  – Gen. B. M. Monguno (NSA) 2, March 2021

{10}. Female soldiers deployed to KD-Abuja highway: Where are the 300 female soldiers deployed on 27th January 2021 to secure the Kaduna-Abuja highway?. .

{11}. Reading the riot act to bandits: “You will meet your waterloo, you live on borrowed life. you are warned, you will be crushed, don’t try us, we have the capacity to finish you, you better change”, “we will speak to them in the language they understand”.

 – The Presidency

{12}. National Identity Number (NIN) registration: Contrary to claims by the Federal Government that “NIN registration has helped to drastically reduce the spate of kidnapping and banditry in the country”, bandits continue to use their SIM cards unchecked for their nefarious activities.

{13}. Telecommunications shutdown: The phone blackout meant to deter these outlaws by restricting their line of communication also ended up crippling the economy and increasing the vulnerability of civilians with little or no positive impact on banditry.

{14}. Other measures: Some northern state governors  also shut down markets, imposed night curfews, limited vehicular traffic, closed major roads, and banned motorcycles as they battled to restore order.

{15}. Dialogue and Amnesty Programs: These have failed largely due to mutual distrust, lack of sincerity, lack of coordination between the state governments and most importantly, lack of interest in the process by the federal government.

FRONTLINE STATES

{1}. ZAMFARA: HQ. of Bandits and  Blood Gold:  Chronic bad governance and corruption are the twin causes of banditry in the state.The situation will worsen as 2023 gets closer and selfish politicians are busy fighting for offices. Recent spike of violence across the region is directly related to the military operation in the state which gave temporary respite to locals but has stirred the hornet’s nest, dislocating the bandits to neighboring states.

{2}. KATSINA: Thirty eight percent (38%) of the President’s home state is under siege by bandits and the capital city is filling up with rural people displaced as IDPs. 

{3}. KADUNA: Abuja-Kaduna highway, a stretch of about 160km has become the highway to hell. Bandits have taken it over operating freely as shown in the last 4 consecutive days. The state has the unenviable record of the most school abductions; 4 schools in 4 months (March-July 2021) and five abducted students killed in cold blood. Bandits have been brazen enough to attack the elite military training academy NDA, killing two officers and abducting one that was later rescued.

{4}. NIGER: Is rapidly becoming a BH-ISWAP ANNEX, villages are pillaged, killing people and raping women. They have taken over many villages and levied taxes on the people.

{5}. SOKOTO: The home state of the Chief of Army Staff and the Minister of Police affairs has seen fatal upsurge of the carnage of these murderous bandits in Sabon Birni, Goronyo and Illela LGAs. These acts were committed by bandits that relocated from Zamfara following the Military operations there. They are reported to be taxing the people and replacing the village heads with their chosen ones.

{6}. KEBBI: On July 5, 2021, bandits rode into Birnin Yauri on hundreds of motorcycles and abducted 120 children from the Federal Govt. College and carted them into the forest like cattle. Fifty eight of these children are still held captive by the notorious bandit Dogo Gide.

{7}. The Federal Capital Territory: Even the seat of power has not been spared with recent abduction of University staff and their families in Gwagwalada at the outskirts of Abuja.

{8}. PLATEAU: The never ending cycle of violence in Plateau is flaring up again with recent killings and burning of houses in the volatile Bassa LGA

{9.} BENUE: Reputed as one of Nigeria’s food baskets, the state is held at its jugular by rampaging bandits. Reprisal killings by local militia is  exacerbate the bloodletting.

{10}.TARABA: The news is equally as depressing in Taraba state with bandits ransacking villages and killing people

ANARCHY LOOMS: If a government abdicates its primary responsibility of protecting people, mob rule and anarchy takes over. Reprisal killings reported all across the region exacerbate the crisis by providing ready recruits of young men who have lost loved ones. This endless cycle of violence puts the Police and Military in an impossible and unwinnable situation.

ECONOMIC IMPACT ON THE STATES

Bandits have plunged our rural folks deeper into poverty by cattle rustling, imposition of ransom, taxes and displacement from their homes and farms.

With declining allocation from the centre, dwindling internal revenue in many of these states, there is hardly anything left for vital developmental projects after paying salaries. Consequently, hospitals and schools are in terrible conditions resulting in massive increase in out of school children, youth unemployment, drug abuse, crimes and temptation to become bandits or their informant.

Deployment of security personnel to any state adds a huge financial burden to the state which shoulders a substantial cost of the personnel and their logistical support at the detriment of vital social development projects to the people.

EDUCATION IN THE NORTH: Education in Northern Nigeria has never been more imperiled than now. Over a period of seven months (Dec. 2020 – July 2021), one thousand one hundred and nine (1,109) students have been abducted with eight (8) fatalities from eight (8) schools in the four (4) northern states of Katsina, Kaduna, Niger and Zamfara. Over six hundred and thirty eight (638) schools have been closed in six (6) northern states over the same period as precaution. Over 200 students are still in captivity with the bandits.

AGRICULTURE: The rainy season is over and bandits have scared farmers off their farms or put taxes on their farm products. There are reports from Zamfara of bandits burning farm products raising concerns of inflation and food shortages.

POLITICIANS: At a time when the nation is facing the worst insecurity of our lifetime, our politicians are preoccupied with the scramble for offices in 2023. The deployment of over thirty thousand security personnel to Anambra state for the recently concluded gubernatorial election is a confirmation that securing the ballot box is more important to this government than securing the lives of citizens suffering the ravages of bandits.

MILITARY: I have always believed that banditry is a social problem not a military problem and that though there is a role for the Military, there is not going to be a military solution to banditry in Nigeria. I have also seen that all these problems and their causes are local and the solutions must be found locally. Big plans from Abuja without consulting local stakeholders will never work.

The Military is overstretched, deployed to 34 out of 36 states performing essentially internal policing functions that it is not trained for. It does not have enough boots on the ground to perform the 2 most important functions we ask of it: {1}. Securing and protecting the population from bandits and {2}. Militarily engaging the bandits and dominating the vast ungoverned spaces they use as hideouts.

POLICE: This crucial arm of law enforcement has been tragically made an orphan because of the over militarization of security by this government. It is the police that are closer to the people, not the military that comes and goes. The Police force is dangerously under resourced and under personelled and poorly motivated.

DECLARATION OF BANDITS AS TERRORISTS

What difference will declaring bandits as terrorists make? I wondered aloud. People falsely believe that the use of the newly acquired Super Tucano jets will magically defeat bandits. The Chief of Air Staff at a press conference on September 29, 2021, cautioned that “Super Tucano aircraft alone can’t fight insecurity” .

Boko Haram have been declared a terrorist group a long time ago but they have not been defeated after 13 yrs of fighting. I am actually glad that bandits have now been so declared so that no one gives Nigerians that as an excuse for failure to defeat them.

Ask the people in the 38% of my state Katsina that is under siege by these bandits if they care about this declaration. All they care about is for the military to make it possible for them to go back home and live in peace.

RECOMMENDATIONS: 

{1}.  ThePresident needs to widen his cycle of consultations to involve local stakeholders on the causes and solutions to this plague of banditry

{2}. Mass mobilization: The nation needs to be mobilised for this war, there should be urgent, mass mobilization of our youth into the military and the police to augment the numbers of these services.

{3}. Dead or alive: Just like former President IBB in 1988 asked the IGP “where is Anini” and in two weeks Anini, the notorious armed robber terrorizing Benin City was captured, President Muhammadu Buhari should direct the military to capture and bring to him all the known leaders of these bandits who are hiding in plain sight.

{4}. The President should concurrently explore all opportunities for non military solutions by reaching out personally to traditional rulers, clerics, local community leaders and elders in the region.

{5}. Now is the time for the President to act decisively because he does not have the luxury of time. The NSA recently reported after one of the security meetings that the President told his security chiefs that “I don’t want to leave office a failure”. Nobody wants or prays for that but, His Excellency Sir, if things continue this way, this outcome is inevitable.

May God Almighty bring peace to our land, Amin

Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation