This week, of course after a long wait, President Muhammadu Buhari has set the ball rolling for a major military operation in Niger State which faces incessant attacks on its communities by bandits and remnants of Boko Haram terrorists fleeing from an equally incessant fire in the North-western and North-eastern parts of the country.
A statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity Mr Garba Shehu, said that the president asked the military to respond robustly and with force to the cases of killings and kidnappings in the state.
However, according to the statement, while expressing his sincere sympathies to the government and people of Niger State, the president said that “security is a responsibility of every member of the community and only through solidarity and cooperation with law enforcement agencies can we defeat the problems finally.”
The President said with the full cooperation of the citizens, “we will surely overcome this problem.” And, he is right. We all need to come together to fight all forms of armed criminality in North, especially banditry, which is on the increase in the region.
Regrettably, this is a region with many security problems, chief among them Boko Haram’s insurgency. In the North-central region, herdsmen militancy has become a key security concern. North-west Nigeria, which used to be the bastion of security and stability, has been hit hard by banditry.
Banditry, a form of armed violence driven principally by the criminal intent to steal and plunder, is motivated by the quest for economic accumulation. The victims are individuals and communities with material valuables. The most common examples of banditry in Nigeria are armed robbery, kidnapping, cattle rustling and village raids.
Banditry in Niger State has reached an alarming heights in recent years. Bandits terrorise villages with impunity. They have actually settled in the state, setting up fortified enclaves in the hinterland and on the frontiers, from where they plot and carry out their operations.
Crime thrives in contexts where there’s little deterrence. In most of Nigeria’s rural communities, there are many opportunities for criminal activity. For one thing, some of these communities are located in remote areas where there is little or no government presence. More importantly, households are, in some cases, separated by and interspersed with forest areas. This renders them vulnerable to banditry.
This situation is made worse by the absence of effective community policing mechanisms capable of addressing the hinterlands’ peculiar security challenges.
In effect, the prevalence of rural banditry in Niger State raises a fundamental question about the government’s ability to govern effectively. The security machinery has, until the latest order given by the President, failed to tackle the scourge of banditry in the state. This failure, obviously, stems from a lack of political will and operational challenges.
Essentially, the prevailing socio-existential conditions in Niger State have complicated the security situation. The rural pastoral sector is not well regulated and the proliferation of arms in the state, like in many other states of Nigeria, are also veritable factors.
Geography plays a role, too. Nigeria’s forestlands are vast, rugged and hazardous. They are also grossly under-policed. Some of the forests run alongside the diverse porous borderlines on the region’s frontiers. Borders are poorly delineated, under-policed and, thus, not well governed. The consequence of this is an abundance of nefarious activity, often facilitated by criminal syndicates.
Rural banditry in Nigeria also derives impetus from the poorly governed mining and small arms sector. Bandits have been drawn to the northern region by illicit and artisanal mining in states where bandits have been raiding mining sites for gold and cash.
Thankfully, the Buhari-led government has recognised the apparent linkage between rural banditry and illicit mining and suspended all forms of mining in Zamfara State in early April of 2019.
Again, transhumance – the movement of cattle – is poorly regulated. This has seen it being infiltrated by criminals, which has led to the intensification of cattle rustling in the region. In states such as Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Zamfara and Kebbi, there exists a clan of livestock bandits who specialise in mass cattle raids.
While some of these cattle rustling gangs are affiliated to local and transnational syndicates, a number of them are mercenaries of Boko Haram.
Cattle rustling constitutes a valuable source of funding for the terror group.
Regrettably, banditry and other causes of insecurity in northern Nigeria have been allowed to degenerate into a complex national emergency with dire territorial implications. This mirrors exactly what happened with the Boko Haram insurgency. From sporadic incidents, Boko Haram began launching systematic attacks targeted at individuals, communities and, eventually, the country.
Thus, it is heart-warming to observe that the President has now realised that there cannot be more effective solution to end banditry in Nigeria, particularly in Niger State, than the use of force. Such initiative must deal with the state’s peculiar circumstances of diverse borderlines, forestlands and hinterlands. This requires a tactical synergy between grassroots vigilantes and the security operatives.
The federal government’s current counter banditry effort, based on military reconnaissance and raids, is good and commendable. But it has failed to bring about the needed respite, owing largely to the operational challenges arising from insufficient knowledge of the terrain. This makes the involvement of local vigilantes and community watch groups, who have a better knowledge of the terrain, more important.
However, to guard against possible excesses and abuse, people in these structures must be properly trained, equipped and supervised. The way forward, then, is the development of grassroots policing, enriched by local personnel and intelligence.
The success of the Civilian Joint Task Force, comprising local vigilantes and volunteer neighbourhood watchers, in combating the Boko Haram insurgency in the lower Lake Chad Basin shows the possible value of this sort of community policing.
That approach can, however, be subjected to critical analysis by the authorities and, if there is need, modified and adapted for use together with the new approach to the problems of banditry recently initiated by the President with a view to ending the banditry menace in not only Niger State but in the entire country.
Stop corruption from hurting Nigeria’s image
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, has inaugurated the 23-member governing board of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), charging the members to combat the hydra-headed monster called corruption.
He, specifically, said that financial crimes are hurting the country’s image, globally, and robbing it of foreign direct investments.
Financial corruption “has created a doubt as to the sincerity of people doing business with us, outside the shores of our country, so we must do everything and you are the ones that are pivoted, assigned the responsibility of creating a new image for Nigeria, and your actions and activities will, in no small measure, help Nigeria redeem its image,” he said.
He, therefore, stressed the need for members of the board to ensure that economic and financial crimes are tackled. Thankfully, he said that the “commission is empowered to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes and is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes, as well as fight terrorism.”
However, fighting corruption in our country should not be left to the EFCC alone. Corruption and its dire consequences affect Nigeria and its people and, thus, ending it is the responsibility of every citizen. All hands should, therefore, be on deck to generate robust initiatives that will help our succeed in its fight against corruption and revamp the nation’s economy which is now in bad shape.
But, first, as Mustapha has observed, the EFCC and its board’s members must eschew corruption and refrain from using their position to aid and abate corruption. No doubt, if these people use their position to perpetrate corruption it will be sad. But such has happened on a number of times in the past, where some officials of the EFCC were accused of appropriating to themselves monies and property in custody of the EFCC.
Thankfully, the Chairman of the EFCC boss, Mr Abdulrashid Bawa, has said that the members of the board are “not unfamiliar with the daunting task before us.” And, if what he said that “the EFCC has managed to set a new record in terms of recoveries as well as, you know, convictions,” is anything to be considered, then, Nigeria is, finally, set to battle corruption.
Last year alone, said Bawa, 2,220 convictions, which is the highest ever recorded within one calendar year by the EFCC, were recorded by the commission with the closest to that being 1,280 convictions recorded in 2019.