Submission to bandits’ authority

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On September 6, 2022 when I switched on my mobile data the first Whatsapp message that caught my attention was one from a long term friend. The professor of Business administration from a sister university forwarded a video clip seeking to know the veracity of its contents. Like others who have known me for a long time, he believes I would not deliberately say what is untrue just to vilify a person even if I have a personal problem with them. They have said it in my presence and in my absence. May be it is true. That is not the subject here anyway.

In the four minutes video, the popular Mallam Mahadi Shehu can be seen with two ladies and a man lamenting the security situation and poverty level in Katsina state. Luckily for me Mallam Mahadi did not talk about stolen money, at least he did not mention any figure. I do not have access to the account books of Katsina state; so I wouldn’t have been in a position to verify any income or expenditure. Again, Mahadi did not talk about a particular individual. I avoid talking about individuals unless it is absolutely necessary.

Most of what Mallam Mahadi mentioned about poverty and insecurity in our dear state are true. However, when he spoke of some LGAs, including mine, being under bandits’ control I wish he had explained. His Excellency, the Executive Governor also once spoke about nine LGAs being under bandits’ control. But what is the nature of this control?

In terms of bandits’ control, villages in the frontline LGAs are of two types. We have villages that have submitted to the authority of the bandits and others that are yet to submit. Villages and towns yet to submit to bandits’ authority are under constant threats of attacks by bandits. The criminals can attack at any time of the day or night. They can also do anything when they attack. Killing, kidnapping and raping are some of the major atrocities known to be daily committed by bandits in our rural areas. Villages in this category are under bandits’ control in the sense that the bandits decide when and where to attack and the victims are left to defend themselves, when they try to, with poorly made local weapons.

The uncertainty and frustrations attached to expecting Government protection has forced many villages to submit to the authority of bandits. To submit to bandits, a particular village would usually collect some money and send it via a delegation to the bandits’ commander in charge of the area. When the commander accepts, the community gets certain benefits in return and of course a number of obligations.

The immediate benefit a community gets is that it will no longer be attacked by the gang to which it is paying allegiance. In the event of an attack by another gang, the friendly gang will protect it. Another benefit is access to their farmlands without let or hindrance.

In return to protection, such villagers must allow unfettered access to their village by bandits. The villagers must not make phone calls to regular security operatives or vigilantes when they learn of an impending attack on another community by the gang. In fact, the attack may be planned in their midst and they have no right to report. Making a report can result in dire consequences for the villagers.

A community that has submitted to bandits’ authority will still have the village head appointed by the Emir or district head. However, such a head must recognize the supremacy of the bandits’ commander’s authority. This means that the commander who has no knowledge of Islamic or common law can wade into disputes between neighbours and between husband and wife and his decision is final.

Another condition for such communities is that they must not harbour any member of a vigilante group and none of them should belong to such groups. The punishment of harbouring a member of a vigilante group is death.

When the need arises, villagers under bandits’ authority would go to commander’s farm and work. Each household would send at least one person for such an undertaking. Some of such farms belong to people who migrated from the area due to violence.

Of course, any villager under bandits’ authority who wishes to participate in banditry has no restriction if he is interested and is accepted by the gang. It is also understood that an abductee kidnapped from another community can be kept in the village either temporarily or until negotiation has ended. Reporting such cases to regular authority by the villagers has dire consequences and no one would normally attempt it.

It is not so rosy. Even though they allow you to farm, bandits can send their cattle anytime to eat your crops. But this usually happens towards the end of the rainy season. Farmers who do not harvest their crops early are victims. Again, if you are a big farmer you have to donate part of your farm produce to the commander.

But are these commanders inaccessible? No. Major bandits’ commanders and their locations are known to the people and to Government. However, ordinary people like me believe that there is something we don’t know about the unwillingness of our security forces to take the fight to their doorsteps.

Are those bandits Nigerians? Yes. As far as I know, none of the bandits’ ring leaders known to everyone in the North West came from another country. In all cases, their parents, grandparents and communities of origin are known.

As for his comments about what the ruling party would tell the people during campaign, Mallam Mahadi missed one thing. The ordinary Katsina man and indeed Northern Nigerian has lost faith in any politician. His last hope has been Buhari, a person he has believed and supported for the past two decades the General has been in politics. With his current condition under his choice president, it doesn’t matter who wins the next election. APC, PDP, NNPP…… I don’t think these make much difference to our people. Our people have since resorted to prayers. With poverty, they will collect money and vote anyone including bandits.

Professor Jibia writes from the
Department of Mechatronics,
Bayero University, Kano

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