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Banditry and our quest for leadership, by Hassan Gimba



I wanted to continue with my treatise on the Rule of Law as our only panacea for survival when a clarion call by the governor of Katsina State, Alhaji Aminu Masari, caught my attention.

It might have come as a shock to many when Masari called on people of his state to arm themselves, rise, and confront bandits to defend themselves. He lamented that security officials alone cannot tackle insecurity in the state.

Masari’s state, like other northwest and north-central states of Zamfara, Kaduna, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kaduna and Kogi, has witnessed incessant attacks by bandits linked to the dreaded Boko Haram groups. They have killed thousands of people, kidnapped hundreds and displaced some thousands from their homes in these states.

The governor preached to his people that “it is allowed Islamically for one to defend himself against attacks. One must rise to defend himself, his family, and his assets. If you die while trying to defend yourself, you’ll be considered a martyr.”

He expressed displeasure that bandits have arms, while good men do not have guns to defend themselves and their families. He then declared his government’s readiness to help those who desired to own arms as a way of pushing back against banditry.

This will not be the first time that a high-ranking member in this government will exhort the people to take up arms in defence of themselves. In February last year, the minister of defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (retd) told a dumbfounded nation to rise and defend themselves against bandits and “stop being cowardly”.

Said he: “In our younger days, we stand (sic) to fight any aggression coming for us…I don’t know why people are running from minor things like that. They should stand and let these people know that even the villagers have the competency and capabilities to defend themselves.”

But before them, the Emir of Muri in Taraba State, Alhaji Abbas Tafida, had taken the bull by the horns and thrown down the gauntlet. He threatened bandits with death if they did not leave his forests in 30 days. He said: “Our brothers, the nomadic herdsmen (Bororo) from neighbouring countries, you came to us to allow you to stay in our forest. We allowed you because you are our brothers. When you came, we welcomed you. We regarded you as fellow Muslims. But the question you must answer is, are you Muslims?

“This is a question we are waiting for you to answer. We deserve to know if you are Muslims. If you are one of us (Muslims) and you decide to stay in the forest, only to kidnap us one by one for ransom, stop it because your attitude is not acceptable to Allah. But if you are not Muslims, I want to tell you, like we fought the infidels before, we are ready to fight you with all our strength. So I have given you (Bororo) 30 days to leave my emirate. If we see any of you after the expiration of my ultimatum, we will kill him.”

Before him, in December 2020, the Emir of Anka and Chairman, Zamfara State Council of Chiefs, Alhaji Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad Anka, had said that they were tired of appeals and that if nothing was done to stop banditry and attacks on traditional rulers, they should be allowed to carry weapons to protect themselves.

He made the comment when he condoled the Emir of Kaura Namoda in Zamfara State, HRH Alhaji Sanusi Muhammad Anka, who lost eight people to an ambush on his convoy by bandits.

He told journalists: “This was the second in line. Last year, the Emir of Pataskum was attacked; here in Zamfara, the Emir of Bukkuyum was also attacked and his orderly killed. I can also remember even Emir of Yauri was some time ago attacked.”

However, before them all, in March 2018, Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd.), former chief of army staff and minister of defence, had urged Nigerians to defend themselves against killers in the country. He made the call while speaking at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, Taraba State.

He said: “I am not a politician and politics is one profession I don’t want to belong to because if I am a politician, I would not say what I am going to say to you now…When I arrived at this arena, I saw a rich cultural display, and I was amazed at the rich cultural heritage of our people. Taraba is a mini-Nigeria with diverse ethnic groups living together peacefully, but the peace in this state is under assault…There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in the state and, of course, some rural states in Nigeria…We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise.”

He was vehemently attacked, though, but mostly based on sentiment. Now those who attacked him are mostly those crying for help.

Incidents of banditry and kidnapping have become an everyday affair. Within the first six months of last year alone, the Kajuru community, just 30 kilometres from Kaduna, was attacked and its emir and 13 members of his family abducted. A first-class traditional ruler in Kogi State, the Adogu of Eganyi in the Ajaokuta Local Government Area of the state, Alhaji Mohammed Adembe was also kidnapped by bandits along Okene-Adogo road.

Government Secondary School, Kagara in Niger State, was also a target, with 50 of the students abducted. Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, in Katsina state, was attacked and 300 students were kidnapped. Female schools were not spared as Girls’ Secondary School, Jengebe in Zamfara State had about 100 of its girls kidnapped. Some have already been “married” by the bandits. Salihu Tanko Islamiya School in Tegina, Niger State was also invaded, and about 136 pupils were whisked away. Greenfield University and the College of Forestry Mechanisation, both in Kaduna and Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic in Zaria, were violated as well. In all these abductions, some students and staff died. There were, of course, many more cases of kidnapping that never got reported in the media.

According to Nigeria Security Tracker, there have been 5,800 deaths and 2,943 kidnappings between January and June 2021. The reported cases are: North-West -1,405; North Central – 942; North East – 210; South-South – 140; South West- 169; South East – 77; Northern Nigeria – 2,557; Southern Nigeria – 386. There were 2,943 kidnap victims in 181 days, an average of 16 per day. The 12 states with the most number of deaths are – Borno: 1,137; Zamfara: 862; Kaduna: 715; Benue: 449; Niger: 407; Ebonyi: 210; Katsina: 164; Imo: 153; Kebbi: 144; Yobe: 137; Oyo: 114 and Anambra: 109, while the states with most kidnap victims were Niger, 795; Zamfara, 523; Kaduna: 479; Katsina, 289; Borno, 115; Kebbi: 103; Oyo: 63; Delta, 55; Taraba, 55; FCT, 52; and Edo, 37.

Therefore, while government officials proffering solutions outside the constitution may shock some people, many people were not surprised. These officials were not talking in private but to the media, so they were deliberate. It may be a confirmation of what the thinking is in the corridors of power. And what this tells us is that the government is increasingly getting into despair and the security agencies are at their wit’s end.

But that is okay. I mean, if the government will accept that bandits and insurgents are overwhelming the nation’s security forces, then that is being transparent and we can easily arrive at a solution.

One solution is for the government to organise a people’s militia that will flush out all those marauders. It can encourage each local government to muster at least 5,000 of its youth that will be trained to confront the bandits. The Nigerian government should transform the war against the bandits into a people’s war for self-defence by training and arming these youths. We must take the battle to every inch of the space occupied by the bandits. Possibly, all settlements in the bush should be cleared and moved to the main roads.

That strategy proved successful in both Iraq and Syria. But it is not only in Iraq or Somalia alone. Here in Nigeria, some communities have stood eyeball to eyeball with bandits and insurgents and, as a result, found themselves some peace. Biu in Borno State and Azare in Bauchi State readily come to mind.

When Boko Haram members set the people of Biu in their sights, killing them arbitrarily, the elders met and decided to “kill the enemy within”. Known community members who aided the terrorists were arrested in a sting operation and summarily executed. Extrajudicial, of course, but it was a period of war and self-survival was paramount. Putting sentiment aside, parents gave up their sons, friends pointed at friends, and all culprits were dealt with. Boko Haram chiefs had to send a delegation to the town seeking a truce. Since then, Biu found peace as Boko Haram never attacked them again, leaving them in peace while other northeastern towns have known no respite from Boko Haram.

Next week we shall resume with our treatise on rule of law, the culmination of which is on the sort of leadership and leader we should look for in 2023. This is because even this issue discussed in this piece can be solved with good leadership.

Hassan Gimba