Banditry: Whither Nigeria?

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Sani Danaudi Mohammed

Since the inauguration of the fourth Republic in 1999, Nigeria has been battling with the challenge of insecurity from the North to the South. Like Boko Haram insurgency, banditry is becoming ‘a multi-billion naira industry’ that continues to attract youngsters. What started as a conflict between the farmers and herders in the north-western states of Nigeria has burgeoned to a serious menace which appears to be defying all known interventions.

Banditry is a type of organised crime committed by outlaws, typically involving the threat or use of violence. A person who engages in banditry is known as a bandit and primarily commits crimes such as extortion, robbery and murder, either as an individual or with others in a group. Banditry is a vague concept of criminality and, in modern usage, it can be used synonymously with gangsterism, brigandage, marauding and thievery.

There is no disputing the fact that the extreme dimension to which this banditry is getting currently has resulted in the crippling of the economic activities of many states within the north-west and north-central axes of the nation. We recall how farmers from these regions raised concerns for their inability to access their pieces of farmland in the wake of hurricane activities of these terror groups. Nigerians, the writer included, have sounded the note of warning that, should this evil continue unchecked, the possibility of famine in those affected areas is inevitable.

This scenario describes the current situation in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kebbi (in some parts) and Sokoto states within the north-western region of the country. In the north central region, such states as Niger, Nasarawa and Kwara have similar experience. The story is the same in some parts of Plateau and Bauchi (particularly in the mountainous Lame Forest of Toro local government area) states in the North East. Banditry and kidnapping in the northern part of the country has become a serious calamity to all and sundry.

Meanwhile, banditry is as old as the world itself. According to reliable statistics, about  5,000 bandits were executed by Pope Sixtus V within five years before his death in 1590. At the same time, 27,000 bandits were reportedly were at large throughout Central Italy. In Nazi Germany, the doctrine of Bandenbekämpfung, translated as bandit fighting, meant that opponents of the Nazi party were portrayed as bandits (dangerous criminals) who did not deserve any consideration as human beings. In Ming China (1368–1644), banditry was seen by the Ming government as robbery by force which was punishable by death.

It is instructive for us to align ourselves with history so that we can correct our current mistakes as well as plan towards confronting our future challenges. Nigeria is suffering in the hands of these mindless criminals because we have ignored numerous calls to learn from the dreaded Boko Haram kingpins in the North East.While we celebrate the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government’s efforts towards combating Boko Haram insurgency in the North East , we rue over the pathetic plight of North West which is now in the unwieldy grip of armed bandits.

The ugly incident that led to the mass kidnapping of the Chibok students will go down in history as one of the great pains Nigerians will hardly forget. It is obvious that as we are always a step forward but a step backward, an ugly development which further deepens the fear of not only the common Nigerian, but also that of the high and mighty. Today, banditry is wreaking, on Nigeria and Nigerians, havocs of the same magnitude as that of the menace of Boko Haram insurgency. And there seems to be no time for the government to nip the re-emergence of another criminal gang in the North and the country at large in the bud.

The coordinated abduction of students and Nigerians either on the high ways or in their homes in the North West by these bandits parallels the operational footprints of the group of Boko Haram insurgents that has perfected the act through the previous abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok and Dapchi in north-eastern Nigeria. This incident gives credence to the Jihadists’ perpetual attempt to forge a criminal alliance with the splinter terror groups in the northwest. While Boko Haram terrorists maintain a coordinating center in the Lake Chad Basin, ISWAP operates from the South-western Niger. These two centres of Jihadism are separated by the north-western Nigeria, a situation which increases the likelihood of interaction and collaboration among these actors. This worrisome development should matter a lot to the Nigerian government, as there is increasing need for her to intensify proactive measures on our borders.

Many factors have been identified as the causes of the current insecurity problem in Nigeria, particularly in the North that has continued to be ravaged by the atrocious activities of these criminals elements. These factors include, but not limited to porous Nigeria’s borders, arms and weapons trafficking, successive governments’ inability to create jobs for the teeming jobless youths (who are willingly recruited by these extremists), amnesty and negotiation policy, poverty, inequality and illiteracy. 

The decision of some north-western states to completely shut down weekly markets, schools and other activities that have direct bearing on the social lives of the people is coming at the time when these communities are being faced with humanitarian disasters. It is a known fact that these mindless groups have no access to either western or Islamic education. It is very true, as this could be deduced from the open confessions of some of the arrested members of this splinter group called bandits, that they can neither read nor memorise the Holy Qur’an. 

The largest part of the population of these bandits is made up of the Fulanis who have connections with other tribes. Our borders patrol system must be strengthened. Infrastructure development should be the priority of the affected state governments.

As a matter of fact, combating unemployment through poverty reduction and huge investment in the agricultural sector are urgently needed.

The Federal Government in collaboration with the State Governments must return to abandoned nomadic Education system that is central to educatiing the Fulanis with western Education to serve as agents of change and National rebirth.

The young Fulanis must be made to understands that they are citizens who’s responsibility is work towards building and sustaining the Government efforts in ensuring Peace in their domains. Some of us are product of the abandoned nomadic Education system and here we today on this plight championing greatly the course of nation building even though it doesn’t change our status from been described as Fulanis.

Sincerely speaking,the moves by the Bauchi State Commissioner of Education Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde to focus on remodeling and rebuilding the abandoned nomadic Education in the State is a step in a right direction and hope other States will urgently follow suits. 

The challenges are to many but enlightenment and  reorientation are key of returning the North and the country on the Parth of Peace and Unity. Injustice on the part of the Political elites in the early 2000 has also been identified as some of the factors that prompted some of these Fulanis to take armed because of the havoc melted on them by some their host communities causing them their live time investment and love ones. No matter what, this should not be an excuse for anyone to confront the government.

We must learn to be united in confronting our national challenges. This is the area which these criminals appear smarter than we seem to be.

The narrative of exclusion, being spread along both ethnic and religious lines, to the effect that people within the north-central axis of the nation are being killed because they are Christians, has been proven to be a wrong and misleading insinuation. This is because Muslims are also being killed in Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina States by their fellow brothers. One  thing that is important for us to note is the course which all these crimes have taken.

In the early part of 2000, there were ethnic and religious confrontations which snowballed to Boko Haram insurgency. Later, this development paved way for secessionist agitations in the southern part of the country. Today, it is banditry which has taken its toll on the nation’s journey to greatness. The implication is that the destination of Nigeria is not known to anyone. This is sad.  Unless and until we are able to deal very decisively with the current situation, the future promises to be bleak for everyone.

Mohammed, the National President, Arewa Youths Advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi.

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