Sunday Magazine

Politics of banditry, terrorism: Toying with Cobra’s head

• Declare bandits as terrorists to embolden military operate with rules of war – Gen. Ayoola, (rtd)

• Declaration’ll be added impetus for security personnel to redouble their efforts –NASS

• ‘FG playing double standard game, has soft spot for bandits’

 

Bandits are the newest addition to Nigeria’s growing list of violent non-state actors and have become a convenient troop for framing the on-going devastation in the North-West and Middle Belt. They’ve reportedly killed more Nigerians than Boko Haram, robbers, kidnappers and cultists combined, allegedly responsible for 47.5 per cent of all violent deaths in 2019. Sequel to this, policymakers, security agencies, media agencies and citizens have called on Federal Government to declare bandits as terrorists but the government’s prevarication is denying the military the leeway to deal with the former as criminals. BIYI ADEGOROYE and CHIJIOKE IREMEKA report

 

 

They possess the trappings of terrorists, taking territories, controlling villages, imposing tax on residents and shooting down military aircraft. At will, they have forced state governments to close down schools following their penchant for raking millions as ransom from kidnapping in the North-West.

 

In Zamfara State alone, the epicentre of their operation, the bandits, as government chose to refer to them, have killed over 6,319 persons, kidnapped 3, 672 and over N2.8billion has been paid as ransom to bandits in the last 10 years, making it a huge business. Government officials have even been indicted for short-changing bandits through sharp practices in the payment of ransom.

 

In one particular case, a local government chairman allegedly paid N30 million to bandits instead of N300 million. Armed with sophisticated weapons, the rampaging criminals have unleashed terror in Niger, Kaduna, Sokoto, Zamfara and the president’s home state, Katsina, raking millions in weekly operations. Today, the North- West is teetering on the precipice.

 

According to a report by the former IGP Mohammed Abubakar-led Zamfara State Committee for finding solution to armed banditry, over 6,483 women have been widowed by the bandits, 250,060 children orphaned, 141,400 sheep, 20,600 other animals rustled.

 

Worse still, there is the destruction of 3,587 houses and 1,487 motorcycles. The year 2019 was perhaps, the deadliest in the history of Zamfara. On April 11, armed bandits reportedly sacked three communities of Kabaro, Danmani Hausawa and Danmani Dakarkari villages all in Dansadau emirate of Maru Local Government Area of the state and killed over 34 people.

On April 20, a similar incident had occurred at Kuru-Kuru and Jarkuka villages in the same Anka Local Government Area (LGA), killing, at least, 26 people. Jarkuka community was not the initial target of the bandits but were affected because they mobilized support for Kuru-Kuru to attack the bandits.

 

On Wednesday, May 22, residents of Malitawa village in Gidan Goga district of Maradun Local Government of Zamfara State were holding a funeral for 27 farmers, who were killed by the 30 bandits, who rode on bikes to carry out the attacks.

 

The farmers were clearing bushes for the planting season when the bloody incident occurred. As they lined up the corpses for burial, again, the dare-devil armed bandits compounded the villagers’ woes, as they ambushed the funeral procession and reigned bullets sporadically into it.

 

Another 25 people were killed in the process, putting the figure at 52. As if that was not enough, on May 23, over 63 people were killed in Zamfara in two separate attacks launched by unidentified gunmen in Bawar Daji village in LGA of the state.

 

Upon his election in 2019, a highly audacious Governor Bello Matawale inaugurated the Abubakar Committee saddled with unravelling the masterminds, determine the enormity of the carnage and finding solution.

 

But two years after that October 2019 submission of the report, the same government has been tepid in executing the recommendations. The report also said two former governors and 15 emirs were complicit in the various attacks which ravaged about 10 of the 14 local governments in the state.

In Maru LGA, villages affected are Lingyado, Tungar Baush, Yar Galadima, Dansadau,

Bindin, Sangeku, Daqaga and Dankurmi. Others are Kizara, Yanwaren Daji, Keta and Kwarin Ganuwa in Tsafe LGA, the birthplace of Ibrahim Chafe, a retired Deputy Inspector- General of Police. In Maradun LGA, villages and towns like Gora Namaye, Magami, Tubali and Kayawere were attacked, while in Shinkafi LGA villages and towns like Tubali, Shanawa,

 

Dolen Moriki, Jangeru and Katuru were not spared of attacks. Less than 10 days after the bandits raided Kagara, gunmen kidnapped 317 schoolgirls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School Jangebe in Jangebe, Zamfara State. The incident happened on Friday, February 26, 2021.

 

The Afaka kidnapping took place on March 11, 2021, when gunmen attacked Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi LGA,

 

Kaduna State, and kidnapped 39 students just weeks after a similar attack in Jangebe, Zamfara State. The abducted comprised 23 females along with 16 males. Security forces were able to rescue 180 staff and students the next day.

Niger State

Niger is one of the states that are worst hit by the bandits who are allegedly controlling over 50 communities.

 

In recent past, scores of school children in the state have been kidnapped. Gunmen invaded a school in Niger on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 kidnapping 41 persons.

 

The gunmen raided the Government Science College Kagara, Shiroro LGA of Niger State, capturing students, teachers, and their family members from the school. In total, 27 students were among the abductees.

 

On May 30, 2021, an armed gang abducted dozens of students from an Islamiyya School in Niger State.

 

One of the school’s officials disclosed that the attackers initially took more than 100 children “but later sent back those they considered too small for them, those between four and 12 years old.”

 

Borno State

 

In April 14, 2014, about 276 mostly Christian female students aged from 16 to 18 were kidnapped by Boko Haram from the Government Girls Secondary School at Chibok in Borno State.

 

About 57 of the schoolgirls escaped immediately by jumping from the trucks on which they were being transported, while others were rescued by the Nigerian Armed Forces on various occasions.

 

Hope was raised that the 219 remaining girls might be released; however, some girls are believed to be dead. Amina Ali, one of the missing girls, was found in May 2016.

 

Yobe State

Barely four years after the attack on Chibok, insurgents took their onslaught to Yobe.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed confirmed that 110 students were kidnapped after Boko Haram invaded the Government Girls Science Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi, on Monday, February 19, 2018.

 

Although most of the students have reunited with their families after they were released on March 21, 2018 by their abductors, Leah Sharibu is yet to be freed by the gunmen for her refusal to convert to Islam.

Katsina State

On Friday, December 11, 2020, bandits took 303 students of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State into captivity and a week after, their abductors released them. Less than two days after the kidnapped Kankara students’ release, some gunmen abducted over 80 Islamic school students in the same Katsina.

 

The pupils were quickly rescued by security forces after a fierce gun battle, according to the police. This took place in Dandume, about 64 ki-

 

lometres from Kankara, the town where the earlier kidnapping of schoolboys occurred.

Kaduna State

 

On April 5, 2021, the government of Kaduna State announced that five of the 39 people abducted from the Afaka School have been released. On April 8, 2021, another five students were released, leaving 29 still in captivity.

 

On May 5, 2021, the state government announced that the remaining 29 students have been released after spending 55 days in captivity. Next in line was the Greenfield University kidnapping, which took place on April 20, 2021, when, at least, 20 students and two staff were kidnapped in Kasarami village, Chikun LGA, Kaduna.

 

The kidnappers demanded N800 million ransom. Unfortunately, on April 23, 2021, the kidnappers killed three of the students. On May 29, 2021, after 40 days in captivity, the remaining 14 students were freed.

 

Their parents also said they paid a ransom of N150 million and eight brand new motorcycles to the bandits. Bethel Baptist School’s pupils were also abducted and released 56 days later.

Kebbi State

The latest was Thursday, June 17, when a mass of heavily armed bandits struck at Federal Government College, Birnin Yauri, Yauri Local Government Area of Kebbi State.

 

Sokoto

 

Kidnapping for ransom has become commonplace in Sokoto and many other states in Nigeria.

 

The attacks in Sokoto and other states in Northwest Nigeria are carried out by armed bandits whose aim is to terrorise residents and make money. Apart from the kidnappings, the bandits also kill residents of communities at will. A group of bandits recently shot down an alpha jet the military was using to attack the bandits in neighbouring Zamfara State. Also, emboldened notorious bandits’ gang attacked soldiers in Sokoto.

The local sources said the soldiers were attacked in a primary school where they were camped. They described an attack on a military camp in Sabon Birni Local Government area of the state by a gang of bandits allegedly led by the notorious Bello Turji as well-coordinated.

 

Turji, 27, is a ruthless bandit operating in Sokoto and Zamfara states and had on different occasions, rejected peace dialogue initiated by both state governments.

 

The only time he said he was open to dialogue was when Kadunabased Islamic cleric, Ahmed Gumi, visited his camp in Zurmi (Zamfara State). Usman Tara said the audacity with which bandits operate in the villages, killing, maiming and taking people hostage, including security personnel, leaves people cold, saying,

 

“If these terrorists can exhibit this shameless boldness of taking away the entire team of soldiers, go away with their arms and vehicle, what else remains to assure citizens there of the possibility of return of normalcy?”

Basharu Altine said the attack on the soldiers at the primary school in Dama was to neutralise their threat against the bandits. Also, at least, 50 travellers have been abducted in Sokoto State by armed bandits, accord-

 

ing to an eye witness. An official of the Sokoto State government confirmed the abductions but did not state the number of victims.

 

Prevarications

 

Unlike other groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) and other secessionist agitators with less gory disposition which were summarily declared terrorists, the governments at both state and federal levels have vacillated in dealing with the bandits.

 

These governments have reportedly paid ransom to the bandits. In another instance, Islamic Cleric and retired Major in the Nigerian Army, Shiek Abubakar Gumi, expressed a soft spot for the bandits, claiming the motif for embarking in these terrorists activities was deprivation and poverty.

 

Strange enough, he advocated that these bandits be granted amnesty without propitiation. In the meantime, the over 400 suspected bandits arrested are yet to be prosecuted, as even government officials said unabashedly they would not name sponsors of the banditry and Boko Haram, unlike the UAE which published names of sponsors of terrorism.

 

As a corollary to this, over three years after Ali Wadume along with an indicted soldier were arrested for supplying weapons to terrorists who gruesomely killed five policemen in Taraba, these cases have been kept in the cooler, as government’s slip-shop action and inaction makes its commitment suspect.

 

In the interim, pauperised locals serve as informants to the bandits for a fee; others assist them with provision like fuel, ammunition which further embolden them in the forest to unleash more terror on the populations, even attacking military formations, killings soldiers and policemen.

 

Enormity of banditry

 

Normal life has been destroyed in many parts of many states due to activities of the bandits. Neither farming, schooling nor regular communication could be carried out, as more recently, the states have been cut off from communication with their counterparts as part of security measures to address the menace.

 

Over 350 pupils of Kankara in Katsina State were kidnapped last year and later released and the abduction of the 73 students of Government Day Secondary School, Kaya, in Zamfara State is still fresh in mind.

 

Their release is often draped in applause, as the children are dressed in sparkling uniform, driven in air-conditioned vehicles into conference halls in Government Houses. A direct consequence of this is that education in the North, which has been on the sickbed is ebbing dangerously into the precipice.

 

Schools in remote areas which were soft target of the criminals have either been closed or are merged with other in the city centres.

 

Governors’ fury

The recent charge by Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State and his counterpart in Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle to vulnerable residents of their respective states to arm and defend themselves against the murderous bandits and terrorists came as a rude shock, and a reversal of the nation to Stone Age. Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai has closed schools for several months in protest against kidnap of students and promised never to pay ransom.

 

A few days after, the armed bandits carried out another dastardly act kidnapping 38 students, three staff and some members of their families from the Government Science Secondary School Kagara, headquarters of Rafi Local Government Area of Niger State. Stoppage of telecommunication in Kaduna, and Zamfara whittled down activities of bandits, including ransom negotiation and facilitated military operations and bombardment of their hideouts.

 

Missed opportunity

 

The just-concluded 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was an opportunity for President Muhammadu Buhari to seek international assistance once again in addressing the security situation in the country. But he merely said the terrorists have been degraded.

 

The minority caucus in the House of Representatives, in a statement by the minority leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, faulted the president’s claims on many issues, stating they were at variance with the reality on ground. “Our caucus holds that President Buhari’s speech is a great disservice to our nation by not presenting the true picture of affairs in our country; the human rights violations, corruption and incompetence in his administration; the excruciating hardship, escalated insecurity, national divisiveness and infrastructural decay under his watch, thereby blocking avenues for desired intervention in our various ailing sectors.

 

“As representatives of the people, the minority caucus is depressed that President Buhari’s speech did not reflect on the kidnapping and killing of students and school children in Nigeria. “The speech did not reflect the closure of schools and crippling of education in many parts of our country, where normal life has been destroyed by terrorists, neither did it show any empathy towards the victims of terrorism attacks.

Declare them terrorists

 

Disturbed by the development, the National Assembly has raised the alarm. The Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, at plenary, moved a motion asking the Federal Government to urgently declare the bandits terrorists. Moving the motion, titled: “Declaration of bandits and their sponsors as terrorists,”

 

Benson said making such an order against the bandits and their sponsors would aide their prosecution.

 

He said such declaration, through a Proscription Order, can be done pursuant to the Section 2 of the Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 (As Amended), saying that he will echo the same sentiment and ask colleagues to join the Senate in urging Mr. President to declare bandits and their sponsors terrorists.

 

According to him, this will underline the determination of government to combat the wave of criminality and murders conducted by bandits all over the country.

 

Also, the House of Representatives followed the same order and the motion was adopted through voice vote by the whole House.

 

The Senate towed the same line, holding that the declaration will serve as added impetus for brave security personnel to redouble their efforts at dealing with this menace.

 

Following the same order, security experts have argued that the bandits possess all the signs of terrorists, having leadership, operating as cells, enjoying international collaboration and access to weapons against the Nigerian state.

 

By virtue of the Terrorism Act 2011 and 2013, a terrorists is anyone or group that does or “threatens to do an act preparatory to or in furtherance of an act of terrorism; (b) commits to do anything that is reasonably necessary to promote an act of terrorism; or (c) assists or facilitates the activities of persons engaged in an act of terrorism, commits an offence under this Act.

 

In the section, ‘act of terrorism’ means an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which: (a) may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation; (b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act, seriously intimidate a population, seriously destabilise, or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or (social structures of a country or an international organisation or otherwise influence such government or international organisation by intimidation or coercion.’

 

According to former Commander of Operation Safe Haven in the North-Central, Major –General Henry Ayoola (rtd), the bandits have all the trapping of terrorists.

 

“Declaring the bandits terrorist will bolster the morale of the troops, embolden operational commanders, to enable them to operate in compliance with laws of war in dealing with them, increase opportunities of international support in the areas of weapons and funds and strip the bandits of status of civilians deserving human rights protection.”

Ayoola, who once served as Chief of Defence Research and Development, lamented the festering war and government’s slipshod attitude in the face of scores of soldiers and thousands of civilians who have lost their lives in the battle. He said: “What we need to win that war and win it in the shortest time is overwhelming force.

 

When I say overwhelming force, it starts with the troops on the ground, the numbers. It goes on with the numbers in armaments, superior intelligence, superior psychological operations, superior information operations, superior propaganda. We have to beat them all round.

“If you are going to attack an enemy, it should be a minimum of ratio 3 to 1. You have a ratio of 3 to 1 of that enemy. But if you actually want to deploy overwhelming force, then you are talking of something greater than ratio 3 to 1.

 

That will cover all rounds in equipment, armament, information, intelligence. That is a tough task for the armed forces right now.” Corroborating him, a community leader, Nwimo Jonas, said: “FG would never and shall never brand bandits terrorising the North as terrorists because they government has sinister motive. Nobody forced the Federal Government to tag IPOB as terrorist because its composition is mainly of Igbo extraction, the forbidden tribe.

 

You can now see the national unity the president is preaching. “Now, the Senate, the House of Reps and all Nigerians are begging the Federal Government to declare them terrorists group, so that the army and police will fight gallantly, but the government has developed soft spot for the criminals that Nigeria is wasting money in in form of ransom on. “This is the deadly politics we find in Nigeria under Buhari’s administration.

 

The Federal Government, as we know, is neck deep into double standard game. We, also, want the Federal Government to unmask the unknown gunmen in the South East political zone and end the killings our prominent sons and youths.”

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