AMID continued lawlessness, a flurry of actions and declarations by government functionaries demonstrate the lack of a national consensus and the absence of an effective strategy to tackle the security challenges. The charge to security chiefs by the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to “devise new tactics,” the repudiation by the governors of two banditry-afflicted states of the disastrous policy of appeasement of the terrorists, and the continued brinksmanship of a noted cleric, Ahmad Gumi, should inspire a radically new, comprehensive strategy to defeat the raging reign of terror and prevent total state collapse.
Contrary to the false veneer of stability presented by federal authorities, Nigeria is in deep trouble. Insecurity is so palpable that analysts around the world are drawing parallels with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Undeniably, a larger part of the vast Northern region is collapsing, with the state having to contest for control with non-state actors in several states. Kidnapping, random acts of terror by marauders and attacks on schools, villages, palaces of traditional rulers, and military bases define the North-West and North-Central zones today. Rights groups count over 3,000 people killed this year by bandits and Fulani herdsmen/militants; over 1,000 children have been kidnapped in the North-Western states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Katsina and Kebbi and in Niger in the North-Central. Katsina Governor, Aminu Masari, lamented that 32 of the state’s 34 local government areas are afflicted by banditry-terrorism. Zamfara is in virtual lockdown. Its desperate governor, Bello Matawalle, cried out that the government had lost control, as bandits ruled over some areas, imposing levies and regulations.
The Organisation for World Peace describes kidnapping as “Northern Nigeria’s most lucrative industry.” A study uncovered about 120 bandit gangs embedded in the North’s forests and owning about 60,000 AK-47s. Reports say the number of villages sacked by bandits has increased from the 50 across five of the state’s 25 LGAs that Governor Sani Bello reported in April. The North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa are still beset with Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorist insurgency. Kaduna, despite its several military garrisons, witnesses kidnappings, bandit/terror attacks, killer-Fulani assaults and occasional reprisals, almost daily. The Emir of Bungudu, Hassan Attahiru, a first-class chief, was abducted along the dreadful Kaduna – Abuja highway on Tuesday evening.
Increasingly, the bloodletting is moving southwards. No part of the country is safe anymore. Despite the establishment of local security initiatives by many Southern states, killer herders are getting more entrenched in the forests, wreaking havoc on innocent commuters and farmers. Kidnapping and armed robbery have also made the Federal Capital Territory suburbs unsafe.
New realities are emerging. With the government losing control, the federal and northern state governments (save Kaduna’s), that had hitherto responded to the bandit/terrorist and the bloody Fulani campaign with denials, carelessness, complicity, and appeasement, have been jolted. Masari admitted that the bandits are overwhelmingly Fulani; and that open cattle grazing that provides them with the pretext to destroy others’ farmland, kill, rape, plunder, torch and forcibly seize land is archaic and should be banned. Like Matawalle, he also renounced the policy of negotiating with, and granting “amnesty” to bandits, including rewarding them with cash, vehicles, and cattle, as wrong and counterproductive.
Buhari’s repeated charge to security agencies to conceive new strategies suggests that he too may have finally realised that the current countermeasures have failed.
Going forward requires the Buhari regime to stop living in denial. The so-called bandits are terrorists and should be treated like one. Countries are combating terrorism in a variety of ways. For example, monitoring potential terrorists, promptly identifying individuals who may be becoming radicalised and providing at-risk people and buildings with additional security. It is also important to take measures to combat bandit-terrorist financing. For Nigeria, Nomadic herdsmen ‘armed’ with sticks to guide their cattle are different from the ruthless murderers and land grabbers toting AK-47 rifles. Fulani militants operating in Nigeria are considered the fourth-deadliest militant group in Africa behind Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and al-Shabaab. Treat them as such. Based on their methods and the body count, the Global Terrorism Index lists them among the world’s five most deadly terrorist groups. Terrorists, as Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna rightly asserts, must be eliminated, and not pampered. Open grazing should be banned as it has in the South.
Next, the current aerial bombardment and assaults by the Nigerian Air Force and Army units on bandit camps in Zamfara and Katsina states should be sustained simultaneously in all the North-West states to trap the terrorists as they flee through the interconnecting forests.
State of emergency should be declared immediately in Zamfara, Katsina and possibly Niger. This is no time for sentiments as lives are being lost, schools and businesses shut, and farming disrupted; the country’s existence is at stake. Matawalle, who once disclosed that over 30,000 bandits were in Zamfara, has supported this suggestion. The country is at war. Therefore, hard, lawful measures should be taken.
Recent positive actions that were taken recently, such as cutting off telecom services in Zamfara and Katsina, enforcing a ‘no-fly zone’ and closing schools, markets and petrol stations are emergency measures. There should be a massive security onslaught to ensure that they are temporary, as they impose much hardship on the local population. A study by Brookings Institution prescribes a three-pronged strategy of intelligence, integration, and development to defeat terrorism.
Banditry thrives in the North partly because of its large ungoverned territories: deprived of government presence, amenities and security, the alienated communities are vulnerable to the force, and enticement of terrorists offering them unaccustomed order and services. A strategy jointly worked out by the federal, states and LGs should extend permanent governance to hinterland communities– police presence, education, healthcare, economic support services. The democratisation of LGs, community associations and cooperatives will promote inclusion. Rural infrastructure provision should be given urgent attention.
Security must be intelligence-led, assisted by ICT tools. The security services need to shift from their obsession with separatist agitators and regime critics, and recognise the greater mortal danger terrorists, bandits and Fulani militants pose to lives and property, and the survival of Nigeria. Government should bring bandits, their sponsors, and their enablers to trial.
Crucially, the ambivalence, partisanship and brinkmanship by public officials and the Northern elite should stop. Mixing politics with criminality is destructive. The continued interjection into the bandit menace to advocate rewards for them by the Islamic cleric, Gumi, is unhelpful and provocative. Such elite games allowed Boko Haram to grow from a local irritant to a major global terror group. Buhari should drop his indulgence of Fulani marauders; crime is a crime no matter who perpetrates it.
Every state should have its police. Without decentralising policing, banditry cannot be defeated. The National Assembly, governors and state assemblies must urgently invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’ to rush through a constitution amendment to devolve policing to the states.
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