From bandits to terrorists: Will status change end insecurity?



‘…Court ruling shows FG’s resolve to crush banditry’

‘…It indicates govt remains with global standards’

…Mere declaration meaningless unless… – Gumi

‘…Re-naming bandits terrorists a political stunt’

…It’s better late than never – Northern youth

A Federal High Court in Abuja under trial Justice Taiwo Taiwo has ruled that the activities of bandits, as well as other similar groups, in any part of the country amounted to acts of terrorism and subsequently declared them terrorists. BENJAMIN SAMSON in this report examines the implications of the declaration on the war against banditry.

The order declaring bandits terrorists was sequel to an application filed on behalf of the federal government by the Director of Public Prosecution, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mohammed Abubakar, regarding the activities of Yan Bindiga, Yan Ta’adda and other groups of bandits in the country.

In the ex parte application, the federal government had prayed the court to outlaw the Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups, as well as other terrorist groups across the country.

The request, according to the federal government in a supporting affidavit, was to checkmate the activities of the groups, which the government said were responsible for killings, abductions, rapes, kidnappings, and other criminal acts in the North-east, North-central, and other parts of the country.

The federal government blamed the groups for “banditry, incessant kidnappings for ransom, kidnapping for marriage, mass abductions of school children and other citizens, cattle rustling, enslavement, imprisonment, severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, and other forms of sexual violence, attacks and killings in communities and commuters, and wanton destruction of lives and proper property.”

It went on to say that the Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups, as well as other similar groups, were responsible for the deaths of soldiers, police officers, and other security agents across the country.

“Commercial, educational, and farming activities in the North-west and North-central have been disrupted as a result of the groups’ activities,” the federal government noted.

“The activities of the Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups, as well as other similar groups, constitute acts of terrorism that can lead to a breakdown of public order and safety, as well as a threat to Nigeria’s national security and corporate existence,” the government in the supporting affidavit.

The DPP said President Muhammadu Buhari gave the approval for his action, which objective is the proscription of Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups and other terrorist groups.

The verdict

Specifically, the court declared the activities of the “Yan Bindiga Group” and the “Yan Ta’adda Group,” as well as other similar groups, in any part of the country, particularly in the North-west and North-central geopolitical zones, to be “acts of terrorism and illegality.”

The judge ruled that “similar groups, either in groups or as individuals by whatever names they are called, in any part of Nigeria, particularly in the North-west and North-central geopolitical zones” are terrorists and banned.”

Justice Taiwo said in the light of the nefarious activities of bandits and their effects on the people and the nation’s economy, he was convinced that such orders were required.

He extended the proscription order to all other groups in the country, regardless of their names, whose activities and goals are similar to those of the Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups.

According to the ruling, terror activities “include, but not limited to banditry, kidnappings for ransom, kidnapping for marriage, mass abductions of school children and other citizens, cattle rustling, enslavement, imprisonment, severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, other forms of sexual violence, attacks and killings in communities and commuters and wanton destruction of lives and properties in Nigeria.”

The judge held further that the federal government must publish the prosecution order in the official Gazette and two national dailies in the country.

FG’s reaction

Similarly, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, has said the declaration of bandit groups as terrorist organisations by a Federal High Court shows that the Nigerian government was determined to crush banditry in the country.

Reacting to the development through his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, Malami, he said the court ruling proved that the federal government was taking the necessary steps to end banditry.

The minister, who said the development followed an application filed by his office, said the declaration of bandit groups as terrorist organisations “shows that the federal government was acting in accordance with the rule of law.”

“The development is a pointer to the commitment of the federal government to adhere to the international standards in respecting the rules of engagement in the fight against terrorism, separatists’ organisations, insurgency and banditry in the country.

“By this declaration, the Federal Government of Nigeria has taken bold steps to deal ruthlessly with all terrorist groups and their sponsors in efforts to bring a lasting solution to the myriad of insecurity challenges in the country,” the AGF said.

Northern youth’s take

Also, the Northern Youths Council of Nigeria in its reaction to the declaration in a statement jointly signed by its president, Comrade Isah Abubakar, and the director-general, media and publicity, Samuel Kure, noted that though it almost took the federal government ‘forever’ to act on the calls made by various interest groups in the country, including the Northern Youth Council, to declare bandits as terrorists, it was better late than never.

“We will welcome full military operation in the North-west and North-central parts of the country as in the North-east against Boko Haram and ISWAP elements which have drastically reduced their activities. The Council hereby urges our Armed Forces and other sister security agencies, to arrest and prosecute anybody seen giving the terrorists moral support be it materially, morally or otherwise no matter how highly or lowly placed. The Northern Youths will stand with you in your quest to stamp out terrorism in the North and Nigeria at large,” the youth said in the statement.

Criticisms

However, an Islamic cleric, Ahmad Gumi, has dismissed the declaration of bandits as terrorists as mere political expediency, saying “it will come to no effect.”

Gumi said the declaration will have no effect as a similar pronouncement by the federal government on the South-east secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

The Islamic cleric noted that although the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation was also backed by a court order, the international community did not accord it recognition.

Gumi in a statement by his media aide, Tukur Mamu, said declaring the herdsmen bandits as terrorists is a decision taken for political expediency.

“The federal government has succumbed to media blackmail by a section of the country. The decision by the government will not have any practical value because even before the declaration, they are being fought and treated as terrorists. So, it is just a nomenclature which I believe will not change the dynamics on the ground.

“If you can remember, IPOB was also declared a terrorist organisation. The declaration was even backed by the order of the court. But as you can see even the international community did not recognise FG’s declaration of IPOB.

“So, it has failed to be effective or to achieve the desired results. They have not been banned from travelling to other countries while their citizenship remains intact, it has not been denounced. So, what type of declaration is that?

“I sincerely hope that Nigerians will not take the herdsmen as terrorists, but should regard the criminality of the few among them against innocent people as acts of terrorism just as we see IPOB and their attacks on security agencies and other northern citizens as acts of terrorism,” the statement read in part.

He argued that very few herdsmen were bandits.

“I hope this declaration will not give the license to people to be profiling herdsmen in general as terrorists and taking laws into their hands against them. It will cause more mayhem.

“The declaration will not change anything; it will not change the dynamics. Already the military is engaging them. It didn’t stop them from kidnappings and killings. The declaration will not end their aggression against the society.

“The Fulani banditry is a socio-economic problem. We have seen it, we interacted widely with them. We told the federal government the way out. It can only be won through engagement, dialogue, and justice.

“That is why today there is relative peace in the Niger Delta because the government has accepted the painful reality of rehabilitating and empowering them. There has to be equitable distribution of wealth in Nigeria and justice for everyone.

“People don’t want to accept it, before the issue of banditry that now affects all of us; the Fulani have suffered so much. They have lost their legitimate means of livelihood; I mean their cows through cattle rustling and extortion by security agencies.

“That has to be addressed as a means of genuine reconciliation and integration. They should have (a) sense of belonging.”

Also, in a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a security analyst, Odafe Christopher, said the declaration could make the bandits declare allegiance to local and international terrorist groups, thereby scaling the nature of their attacks.

He said, “Terrorist is a generic term for those, who react with high velocity violence during criminal action. The court is in order. They are not agitating for anything, rather than to kill, destroy and rob people. Bandits come in 50’s and their attack is always devastating.

“They leave traces of blood, tears and sorrow. They kill, rape, maim and can totally exterminate entire community. They are presently contributing to food scarcity, as farmers are taxed before they can either plant or harvest their farm produce. This is causing serious food scarcity.

“The approach is likely to be the same and format in use with attacks on Boko Haram. My fear is the pronouncements could make them upgrade and declare allegiance with existing Islamic notorious groups like Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP).”

Beyond the declaration

Likewise, speaking with this reporter, a lawyer and lecturer at Baze University Abuja, Mustapha Iliya, said it is unrealistic to expect that banditry will be ended simply because bandits have been re-labelled.

Iliya said, “The public debate about the aptness of re-naming bandits, and calling them terrorists, has ended in favour of those who favoured a re-naming. But the re-classification does not mean that banditry is about to become a thing of the past.

“It is a new beginning for the old bandits as they struggle to understand their new category. It may well be that re-classifying bandits was based on a misperception. Banditry is not terrorism just because it looks like terrorism.

“Under pressure from sections of the public, including federal lawmakers, the federal government needed to demonstrate greater seriousness in the fight against banditry. What is the difference between bandits and Boko Haram terrorists, for instance? Bandits are focused on sustenance, but terrorists seek political, religious or ideological results. The two are not the same thing, although they are similar because they terrorise the people.

“Will bandits become terrorists because they have been categorised as terrorists? Will they add political, religious or ideological objectives to their sustenance goals? It is noteworthy that the federal government is still fighting a war against terrorism that has gone on for more than a decade. This looks like the beginning of another war against terrorism.”

He said further, “Obviously, the country has not won the anti-terrorism war. The war continues because terrorist groups in the country are still active. Indeed, the insurgency has been compounded by the involvement of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP). The insurgents are no longer only Boko Haram members.

“The implication of the re-classification is that the war against terrorism will now include bandits. It will amount to the government fighting on two fronts. Fighting terrorists and fighting bandits who have been declared terrorists at the same time will further complicate the war against terrorism.

“Re-naming bandits as terrorists is a political stunt. It is yet another move by the federal government to make the public believe that it is serious about tackling the country’s security crisis.

“It is easy to change labels, and tag bandits as terrorists. But that does not change banditry, and it does not change terrorism. Perhaps, the government can afford to play word games, which is what this re-classification suggests, but the victims of bandits and terrorists know and feel the hell of insecurity. They need more than word games.”

Military action

Blueprint Weekend gathered that following the declaration, the military is set to deploy Super Tucano aircraft and other sophisticated equipment in the North-west and North-central regions of the country against the bandits.

The military had been reluctant to deploy the aircraft outside the North-east because of the conditions attached to the sale of the aircraft by the United States, which was anchored on human rights.

A source in the military also told a sister newspaper that the coast had become clear to deploy the Super Tucano aircraft against bandits in the North-west and North-central, following the court order declaring them as terrorists.

He said, “We are waiting for instructions from the government for the next line of action. This was one of the things the Service Chiefs discussed with the President on Thursday morning. So, we await further instructions.”

In the same vein, a security expert, Christopher Oji, told this reporter that the court pronouncement will give the military impetus to deploy all their arsenal against the bandits.

He said: “The pronouncement gives definite combat approvals to security forces and a clear direction for international intelligence and security community in support against them. The pronunciation will make both positive and negative impacts.

“Remember the military had told the National Assembly it could not deploy the newly acquired Super Tucano jets and other military hardware to the North-west against bandits due to the agreement signed with the United States Government regarding human rights.

“Let me tell you the truth. I once asked a top officer in the Armed Forces why they had not deployed the Tucano in the fight against the bandits and he said that their hands are tied due to the human rights regulations regarding the aircraft.

“He told us that the equipment is meant for the war against terrorists and insurgents and since these are bandits, they cannot be deployed.

“He actually told me that once the bandits have been designated as terrorists, they would be wiped out. Don’t forget that the bandits today are not different from Boko Haram, looking at their activities and the gravity of attacks by them.”