On Wednesday, October 20, 2021, reports emerged in the Nigerian media, alleging that the Nigerian Armed Forces are yet to fully deplore the A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets procured from the United States against bandits in the North-West because of an agreement, which require Nigeria to only use the jets on terrorists and insurgents. Interestingly, the next day, Thursday, October 21, 2021, so-called bandits planted explosives on the Abuja-Kaduna rail line and attacked a passenger train, which led to the suspension of the Abuja-Kaduna train services for almost 48 hours.
On Saturday, October 23, 2021, ‘The Economist’ magazine of London published a damning report captioned ‘Insurgency, secessionism and banditry threaten Nigeria.’ The report by ‘The Economist’, which is basically editorial opinion is that Nigerian army is over stretched and only ‘mighty on paper’, officers stole weapons and ‘sold to insurgents’, police are understaffed, demoralised and poorly trained’, and they ‘supplement their low pay by robbing the public.’ It concluded with the recommendation that Nigeria need ‘to beef up its police’ with the call to recruit more police by pointing out that Niger State ‘has just 4,000 officers to protect 24m people.’
The population of Niger State is about 4 million. This error, however, may not invalidate the fact that Nigeria is under policed. The wool gathering disposition of ‘The Economist’ might have been responsible for such avoidable error. It is not only the error in presenting the population of Niger State, but the fact that the magazine lost almost every sense of objectivity in analysing challenges of insecurity facing the country.
It (‘The Economist’) reduced the so-called report to arguing that the procurement of the A-29 Super Tucano jets is wasteful spending because “Local cops would be better at stopping kidnappings and solving crimes than the current federal force, which is often sent charging from one trouble spot to another. Money could come from cutting wasteful spending by the armed forces on jet fighters, which are not much use for guarding schools. Britain and America, which help train Nigeria’s army, could also train detectives. Better policing could let the army withdraw from areas where it is pouring fuel on secessionist fires.”
As far as ‘The Economist’ is concerned, what is required to end banditry and protect schools in the North-West is recruitment of more police and not ‘wasteful’ spending in the procurement of jets. In his weekly article, titled ‘Mighty Armies on Paper’, Mallam Mahmud Jega, on Monday, October 25, 2021, reminded ‘The Economist’ magazine how the ‘mighty’ US army spent over $6 trillion in 20 years fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan only to lose the battle. Similarly, the ‘mighty’ British army were unable to defeat the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and end “The Troubles” until “the signing of the Good Friday Accord in 1992”.
Mallam Jega highlighted the point that all “conventional armies in this world have difficulty fighting asymmetric warfare, essentially because they are not trained for it.” This is perhaps one of the most important elements about the problem of insecurity in Nigeria, which is that to resolve it requires unconventional strategies.
It is very shocking that the speculation about whether Nigerian Armed Forces should deploy the newly procured A-29 Tucano jets to fight insecurity in the country against bandits, insurgents or terrorists was given much attention. Isn’t it true that already the jets have been deployed in the North-West, in Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina States and have produced some significant successes against the bandits? Is it even true that there is any agreement with the US Government prohibiting Nigeria from using the jets against bandits?
Will the US government really take steps to block an initiative by the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Nigerian government to use the newly acquired A-29 Super Tucano jets against bandits in the North-West? The whole speculation about the so-called agreement between Nigeria and US Government on the use of the A-29 Super Tucano jets is insulting to both the Nigeria and US governments. There are so many interesting coincidences from the speculation about the so-called agreement between Nigeria and US governments on how the A-29 Super Tucano jets will be used, the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train and the report in ‘The Economist’.
It is as if somebody, somewhere wants to discourage Nigerian Armed Forces from fighting bandits in the North- West and therefore want to halt any progress that is being achieved. Recent public debate in the country would seem to be targeted at demoralising the Nigerian Armed Forces from fighting the bandits in the North-West and the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train is being used to emphasise the sophistication of the bandits. If there is anything that truly confirms that bandits are terrorists, the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train is it.
After all, are terrorists not people who threaten the lives of innocent citizens? What is more threatening than the activities of these bandits in the North-West? Interestingly, apologists and self-appointed counsels to the bandits, such as Sheikh Ahmed Gumi are becoming more confident, and are irresponsibly mobilising opposition against declaring bandits’ terrorists. All the studies about insecurity and banditry in Nigeria only confirmed that the bandits operating in the North-West and North- Central have all the characteristics of terrorist groups.
For instance, a study by Dr. Murtala Ahmed Rufa’i, presented at the 15th Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto Seminar Series, on Thursday, September 9, 2021, titled: “I am a Bandit – A Decade of Research in Zamfara State Bandit’s Den’, reported that bandits are armed groups with “contacts across the Sahel, particularly Libya and Mali”, having “huge capital”, “in possession of more than 500 AK 47 guns”, and “own sophisticated weapons like RPGS and anti-aircraft”.
The report indicated that “there are over 60,000 weapons in circulation” in the North-West alone. Any debate about the challenges of insecurity and banditry in Nigeria, which misses this reality is simply uninformed and therefore unhelpful. The arrogance of ‘The Economist’, which made them to imagine that they can condemn Nigerian Armed Forces and Government based on some uninformed sentiments reflects the old ideological mind-set that was used in the 1980s to impose the Structural Adjustment Programme, leading to the destruction of education and health sectors in most African countries, including Nigeria. In fact, the current problems of insecurity and banditry in Nigeria is partly a direct consequence of the collapse of the country’s educational system, which is why there are estimated over 12 million Nigerian children out of school.
There are many recent studies, which have highlighted the objective reality about Nigeria’s security challenges, based on which good recommendations towards addressing the challenges were made. One of such studies was also the presentation by an international consulting firm, Nextier SPD (Security, Peace, and Development) to the 27th Nigerian Economic Summit of October 2021, titled ‘Stemming the Tears – A Pragmatic Approach to Solving Nigeria’s Security Challenge’. The study highlighted that “in the twelve months to September 2021, Nigeria recorded 890 violent incidents resulting in 3,787 deaths, 340 injured persons, and 2,542 kidnapped persons…A further breakdown of the figures shows that banditry is currently the leading conflict type in Nigeria in terms of number of incidents (606 or 68.1 percent) and number of deaths (2,470 or 65.2 percent), number of injured (211 or 62.1 percent) and number of persons kidnapped (2,487 or 97.8 percent)”.