By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Igbos say when a snake forgets how to use its venom, children will use it like rope and tie up firewood.President Buhari, are you there?
Criminals are dancing skelewu under the president’s nose, and the once-revered, no-nonsense man is dithering, churning out hackneyed cautions.
Bandits have invaded Government Girls Secondary School Jangebe, Zamfara. They carted away girl school children. Many girls were in school when the bandits visited. Some have estimated that 300 children may have been abducted.
The Zamfara banditry industry seems well known to the state government. Gov Mattawalle thinks many of the bandits are not criminals. That makes them wronged militants fighting for justice the way they know best. The country is now full of absurdities.
When Kankara students were abducted from Katsina some weeks ago, the bandits took them to Zamfara. Sheikh Gumi has become quite prominent. He believes the bandits are marginalized Fulani youths fighting for their rights and share of the national cake. He has asked us not t speak ill of the bandits.
The initial outrage against banditry has been doused by the ethnic defensiveness of the very people who should speak against it. Gumi consoled the bandits, reminded them that Christian soldiers were responsible for the cruelty the military might have visited on them. Nobody cautioned Gumi. Not even the military whose ranks he tried to divide.
The VIP treatment meted to the Zamfara bandits is yielding expected results. Violence on an industrial scale, now attractive and respectable, is mushrooming. Zamfara is where those who steal goats to eat can lose their limbs. But Zamfara is where the state arranges advance amnesty for kidnappers of children and mass murderers. The message is that crime and violence when taken to Olympic heights, attract the government’s respect.
We have succeeded in making petty crime comparatively prohibitive and organized crime lucrative and honorable. Left to Gumi and Gov Mattawale, they might bestow state honor on bandits. Gumi said that bandits do not set out to kill. They kill by accident. He said bandits do not collect ransoms. They only collect children and look after them for a while, perhaps. The normalization of crime and trivialization of abomination will haunt all of us for a long time.
The message has been received. Some folks have started roaming the South-east and South-south slaughtering policemen. In Aba, a few days ago, gunmen stormed a police station. They killed policemen, looted guns, and burnt the place. A day later, at Ekwulobia, some gunmen ran into a police patrol, killed the policemen, and stole their guns.
The next day it was Calabar. Gunmen again. They shot and killed police officers and took their guns. The next place to be visited was Aboh Mbaise. The gunmen sacked a police station, slew policemen, looted guns, and burnt the place. In this systematic liquidation cycle of poor police officers by a shadowy group, local politicians have been mute. The police have made incoherent noise. The presidency has not responded.
The governors’ forum has met. They want to dialogue with criminals and mischief-makers. That is their idea of maintaining peace. Zamfara and Katsina began the business of holding meetings with bandits two years ago. Having elevated the status of bandits, we must now nurse their demanding moods. The governors have learnt nothing. Or perhaps they won’t admit that the government is helpless and willing to share sovereignty with outlaws. That must be the truth.
Something tells me the president wishes all these would blow away. He has to fasten his seat belt and declare a fine-tuned state of emergency in some of the states. Zamfara in particular. How can anyone allow bandits to terrorize school children? How can anyone allow criminals to scare away children from schools in the north that is choking with out-of-school children?
The federal government appears laid back. The governor of Niger cried recently. With abducted Niger school children still in the bandits’ hands, the governor said the federal government had abandoned him. The presidency must show its agony in its actions.
Gumi knows where the bandits are. So why won’t the DSS and the Airforce know where these folks are.
The military is spread thin. Most of the trouble brewing all over can be curbed by diligent local politics. The opposition has for years engaged in poisonous divisive politics. The glee of the opposition, the delirium of mischief-makers, the joy of bigots must be punctured. The president must rise and set a deterrent tone with Zamfara and one other state.
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If he stays passive, he will invite an escalation of the situation. If he buys Gumi’s diabolical logic, he will set the nation aflame. Local political leaders must assume vicarious liability for the breakdown of law and order in their jurisdictions. A state of emergency in Zamfara with powers donated to the military to turn bandits’ enclaves upside down is imperative. If Abia has become a base for guerrillas, then Abia must be stitched up in time too.
But there is something else. We must allow the regions to own these problems in more fundamental ways. The time has come for the country to be restructured. Devolution of powers and resource control must begin immediately. Regions that allow troubles to fester will suffer alone. Local politicians will learn how to contain rather than incite. That way, peace is incentivized. Today, big trouble is lucrative.
A military solution won’t conquer all. But it will drive the fear of God into children toying with fire. A political solution is necessary. But frolicking with bandits and pampering their ego is no good politics.
We can not encourage the youths to diversify into criminality. Politics is tinkering with structure and processes to make banditry and terrorism the burden of local political leaders. There are too many people egging bad people on so that they can reap political dividends. But first things first; president must stamp his foot on the ground.