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Banditry and Buhari’s pledge of containment

Lately, President Muhammadu Buhari did something remarkable: In three days, he put down three markers, as regards the intractable security situation in Nigeria that’s tugging at the nation’s peace and unity. Buhari pledges that his government will hunt down all criminal elements; it will not succumb to blackmail by bandits targeting students for ransoms; and the Zamfara schoolgirls’ abduction on Friday, February 26, will be the last in the country.

These are Buhari’s strongest statements yet, which he started delivering on Thursday, February 25 when he restated his government’s determination to combat insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals terrorising Nigerians. “The government shall continue to deal with insurgents, bandits, kidnappers and other criminals who constitute a threat to innocent citizens across the country,” Buhari said.

Buhari said he has tasked the new service chiefs “to devise new strategies that will end this ugly situation where the lives of our people continue to be threatened by hoodlums and criminals.” The next day, Buhari dismissed ransom payments to bandits for kidnaping, and stressed that security operatives could defeat any criminal group, but that they only observe the rules of engagement to minimise collateral damage while taking out the bandits. And on Sunday, February 28, Buhari gave the assurance that the abduction of 317 students of Government Girls’ Science Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State, would be the last to happen. We hope this is a turning moment for President Buhari and his government, which critics have accused of not sufficiently engaged or nonchalant towards frontally confronting insurgency, banditry and kidnapping, especially in Northern Nigeria.

Had the government drawn a redline, and sent strong warnings to criminals, in whatever guise, that their days were numbered, and would not be treated with kid glove, the insurgents, bandits and kidnappers would rethink their bloody incursions. But that’s the bane of our governments. They hardly take proactive actions to prevent untoward happenings. They are also cynically lethargic to nip in the bud such occurrences. And they only react when it is too little too late, as things have gotten out of hand.

The herders-farmers’ clashes have festered for years, taking a dangerous turn in Benue State in the last few years. Because the government was perceptively noncommittal, took halfmeasures or encouraged the armed herders’ atrocities, the attacks culminated in regular bloodletting and publicised mass burial of victims. With deescalation of bandits’ activities in Benue, the nation thought it had seen the worst of the herders-farmers’ clashes.

But the low-level banditry in the North-West morphed into kidnappings the barbarians have spread to Southern Nigeria. The upsurge could be attributable to government’s body language resembling acquiescence or support of criminality, which the dare-devils took notice of, and escalated and expanded their operations that threaten the peace and unity of the nation. But while there is a convergence to root out the bandits from communities and forests in the South, Northern state authorities seem to prefer appeasing to combating the criminals that have no appetite for honouring agreements for a return to normalcy.

Time and again, the bandits have negotiated peace with state governments in the North-West, but still returned to their evil ways on flimsy excuses lacking convincing evidential proofs. If the bandits uphold a return to peace in the breach, why should state governments continue to negotiate appeasement or amnesty for the criminals? It smacks of bad faith! Nonetheless, we assume that the implications of heightened insecurity have been sufficiently telegraphed and transmitted to Buhari, which has informed his assurances of “no let-up” in government’s resolve to deal with the terrorising criminals. It is welcoming to hear the president emphasising that “criminals are criminals,” and whoever committed any crime, in wherever part of the country, would be subjected to the laws of the land and the rules of engagement thus violated.

Buhari expected the recent Kaduna meeting – the calibre of its attendees indicating the import of and importance they attach to the security situation in the North – to discuss and devise ways of building a stronger collaboration with the security architecture and the people in defeating criminality across the region and the nation. Unfortunately, divergent voices have ruled Northern officialdom, as the governors could not agree on a common approach to tackling the widening insecurity in the region.

While some have voted for taking the war to the bandits, others have canvassed appeasing and granting amnesty to the criminals. Perhaps, the recurrent kidnappings of school children in Niger and Zamfara states, and the pockets of kidnapping and killing thereafter in the same areas, could sway the governors to arrive at a consensus on dealing with the matter. Yet, the proponents of appeasing the bandits may have to rethink their strategy, as the more the criminals are appeased, the hungrier they appear to wanting to kidnap more innocent citizens for ransom or other forms of compensation from the state governments.

For how long will the governments continue with this unholy settlement of different groups of the brigands scattered in the countrysides and forests in Northern Nigeria? The governors must take a stand now, to answer this thorny question, as the insatiable demands of the criminals have the potential to affect the governments’ finances, and hinder the needed and urgent development of their states. Of special concern, though, is how these kidnappings for ransom would impact on education in the North, which is categorised as educationally-disadvantaged in the country.

The aim of the bandits is not in doubt: To discourage people from going to school, and as such disrupts, and possibly stops the education of children, particularly the girl-child. The Northern governors should not allow such an eventuality that would retard the modest progress made to bridge the educational gap between the South and North of the country. They must prevent the bandits’ plot against their children and their states in general.

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