By Femi Macaulay
It is alarming that bandits have compounded Nigeria’s security crisis by joining kidnappers and terrorists in fuelling insecurity, particularly in the northern part of the country.
Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello, whose state in the country’s North-Central geopolitical zone is faced with banditry and kidnapping problems, last week characterised the bandits troubling the state after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on security issues.
“We are having an influx of bandits from neighbouring states, especially Zamfara and Kaduna states,” the governor said. Then he introduced a more disturbing dimension, saying some of the bandits were sponsored foreigners recruited for subversive purposes.
Sani-Bello said: “In one particular case, we arrested bandits that are foreigners from as far as Sudan and Mali and they came on motorcycles. They are being recruited through social media, through Facebook in some cases. They confessed to this.”
Who is recruiting bandits? Why? The governor observed a new trend suggesting that banditry may well be a tool to achieve political aims. “They started burning farms and animals,” he noted. “So, this has given me some concerns and at the same time, it has kept me thinking. What is the motive?
“I can understand if you kidnap, you are looking for money. But, when you burn farms, then, there is something else happening. Or when you kill animals. They go to villages and kill animals. They don’t steal.
“So, if you stop people from going to farms, it means you are trying to deprive that nation of food security. Why will someone want to deprive people of food security?”
The governor’s observations are thought-provoking. It is a complicated matter. It is puzzling that he also accused community leaders of collaborating with bandits. According to him, “The bandits are being invited by some locals. In fact, we have arrested some village heads. Now, if a whole village head invites bandits or harbours bandits, then, where are we headed to? The village head is supposed to secure the village.”
Worsening insecurity has generated various narratives of blame. The mass abduction of students from Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, by suspected bandits last month, generated another story about who is responsible for heightened banditry in the Northwest region. Thankfully, the abductees have been released.
All Progressives Congress (APC) acting Deputy National Publicity Secretary Yekini Nabena said in a statement: “Our security agencies have intelligence reports linking one of the Northwest governors to collusion and sponsorship of violent and criminal activities of bandits. I won’t give details because of the sensitive and security nature of the issue.”
Five of the seven states in the Northwest are controlled by APC, the federal ruling party. The governors are: Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna); Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano); Aminu Masari (Katsina); Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa) and Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi).
The two other states in the geopolitical zone are controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party. The governors are Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara).
Though the APC spokesman did not name the governor allegedly sponsoring bandits in the region, he said enough to suggest the governor’s identity. He listed the PDP among “enemies of the country who seek political gains from issues of insecurity.”
By mentioning the PDP, he suggested that the alleged evil sponsor is a member of that party. It is understandable that he pointed in the direction of his party’s main rival. It is also understandable that he seemed to have ruled out the possibility that the alleged evil sponsor could be from his own party.
Is the allegation true? It should not be ignored. However, the claim that a Northwest governor is to blame for the increasing cases of banditry in the region cannot excuse the failure of the authorities to find a solution to insecurity.
Understandably, the Nigerian Army wants to be seen as not only fighting banditry but also winning the war against insecurity. But the army’s claims of success have been contradicted by locals in the affected areas who claim that the army has failed.
The acting Director, Defence Media Operations, Brigadier General Benard Onyeuku, represented by the Nigerian Army Operations Media Coordinator, Colonel Aminu Ilyasu, told journalists in Katsina State on January 6 that the army had killed 220 bandits and destroyed 197 bandits’ camps from June to December last year. He also said the army had rescued 642 kidnap victims, foiled 167 cases of attempted banditry and 81 kidnap attempts.
This picture was meant to reassure the public that the army had not failed in its effort to counter insecurity in the Northwest. The spokesman also stated that 73 AK-47 rifles, 194 Dane guns and 53,200 ammunition were recovered. Also recovered were 7,761 stolen cows and 1,876 sheep, he said.
He added that the army had arrested 335 suspected bandits, 326 illegal miners, 147 bandits’ informants and collaborators, 14 bandits’ arms suppliers, 24 rustled cattle sellers and 46 bandits’ logistics suppliers.
However, instead of applause and commendation, this narrative was greeted by complaints from some community leaders in Dansandau Emirate of Maru LGA, Zamfara State.
A community leader, Alhaji Nuhu Dansadau, for instance, was reported saying bandits were still terrorising the locals, flaunting AK-47 rifles even during the daytime. “The military operation did not make any meaningful impact, particularly in Kuyanbana forest,” he was quoted as saying.
People had deserted their villages because of persistent attacks from bandits, he claimed, naming some of the abandoned villages, including Jesa, Kalhu, Tasa, Gazamba, Yartsaba, Magamar-Danbata, Anguwar Doka, Kwangerawa and Maidoraiyi. He told a reporter: “As I am talking to you now, there are over 700 people who are waiting for vehicles to convey them to other places.”
Another community leader, Alhaji Ibrahim Tofa, lamented that “despite the deployment of the military, the bandits are still attacking us.”
Perhaps the army had exaggerated the result of its intervention in order to attract public praise. Maybe the mentioned community leaders had exaggerated the presence and activities of bandits in their areas in order to create a picture of increasing insecurity.
But there is no doubt that when insecurity is effectively tackled, there would be no such collision of narratives as the reality would be beyond dispute.
Obviously, banditry won’t end until the bandits are overpowered. It is now a major problem, and demands maximum attention from the authorities.