By Rotimi Fasan
Between the time I am writing this on the morning of Saturday, February 27, and Wednesday, March 3, when you will be reading it, nobody knows how many more Nigerian school children, boys and girls, would have become additional victims of the marauding bands of terrorists that are overrunning many parts of Northern Nigeria. From the North East, the North West to the North Central, Nigerians are under siege even in their own homes.
For now, though, the epicentre of the booming kidnapping business has moved from the North East to the North West and North Central. As negotiation for the release of scores of boys, their teachers and other family members of the Government Science Secondary School in Kagara, Niger State, entered its second week, leaving nerves frayed and the chief negotiator, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, frustrated, perhaps due to his failed promise to secure the release of the boys in a matter of days, news broke in the early hours of Friday, February 26, that about 317 girls of the Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara State, had been abducted.
Later that same day, nine people were reported killed by so-called bandits in a different part of the state. These are only the reported cases. As things go in Nigeria, there are probably more unreported cases as there are those that were reported. Some accounts which should now be dismissed put the figure of the abducted school girls of Jangebe at over 500, which would have been more than the number of the still-missing Chibok school girls, the first in the series of highly-publicised abductions that preceded the Dapchi abduction, and lately the Kankara abduction that happened in December. All leading to the epidemic of kidnappings that is now plaguing Northern Nigeria.
Late afternoon on Saturday, February 27, exactly a year from the day that Nigeria’s index case for COVID-19 was reported, the Kagara school boys, their teachers and some of their family members, were released. But what was the point of releasing 27 abduction victims that had been replaced by 317 others, not minding that Sheik Gumi was careful to say the abductors of Kagara are different from those of Jangebe?
How different are they? Given their style of operation, their anti-education and probably anti-women stance, can anyone, especially those too frightened to call these terrorists by their real name, tell us the difference between the “bandits” in Northern Nigeria from the Boko Haram terrorists that erstwhile operated from the North East? Whether home-grown or displaced Sahelian marauders, how are these not terrorists? How are the “bandits” different from the herdsmen that are gradually exporting their macabre trade to other parts of Southern Nigeria, operating from the highways while making the forests, including those owned by state governments their hideout, after taking ransom for their abducted victims, sacking communities, raping women and killing people?
How are the bandits different, I ask, from the so-called cattle herders that Garba Shehu, while simultaneously ignoring the point at issue and chopping logic, said are Nigerians that should be free to live wherever they want, or that Bala Muhammed, the governor of Bauchi, initially said should be allowed to bear AK-47 that they need to protect themselves in clear violation of extant laws?
Rather than we all coming together to condemn these evil beasts, some members of the Northern political elite are content to see the evil of terrorism masquerading as banditry overtake every part of Nigeria while pretending to be fighting for their people.
Yes, no Nigerian should be profiled, especially when they are living within the bounds of the law. But such Nigerians must not be lumped together with the terrorists that are stealthily running a ring around the country and are bent on turning our forests into lawless territories run by criminal militias. This is the time to take up these evil terrorists head-on, not appease them.
It is an admission of failure and their complicity in the creation of the monster of terrorism that has overtaken the North, that the Northern political elite is quick to offer carrot to the terrorists in the face of their abominable activities. It is the children of the talakawa that they have for long ignored and excluded from the gains of the Northern commonwealth that are today denying their people sleep from the forests. What is happening now proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the appeasement policy of Abuja and most of the Northern states in the throes of the relocated Boko-Haram terrorists and their new recruits called bandits, has totally failed.
Sheik Gumi who initially postured as one who has the ears of the terrorists as he went about his self-appointed role of negotiator, offering all kinds of excuses on behalf of the terrorists and is now looking for people of other faith to scapegoat, was a radicalising figure who spewed some of the most hateful rhetoric that probably influenced the so-called bandits he has been visiting and negotiating with in the forests. His evil seed has blossomed into the trees that populate the Northern forests. His former students are today’s lords of the forests. It is well, then, that he is one of those spearheading the negotiation with yesterday’s scorned almajirai. But he should not further contaminate the air with evil rhetoric in the guise of chasing peace. It does appear he is prepared to say anything just to appease the terrorists. The rest of Nigerians, however, have no obligation to be nice to people who have decided to rape, maim and kill. They have no responsibility to beasts that make their lives unbearable by the minute.
It is good that President Muhammadu Buhari is beginning to repudiate any idea of amnesty to terrorists that have neither renounced their violent activities to say nothing of making restitution for their anti-human crimes. But the president has to be seen to be walking the talk. While nobody expects him to personally lead the charge into the forests, he won’t clear the forest from behind the blind walls of Aso Rock Villa. He should take personal charge of the fight against terrorism. So far, it is still “the presidency” that has been speaking in his name. It’s Garba Shehu who told us the president is committed to fighting terrorism and won’t accept the amnesty malarkey. Nobody can truly or accurately gauge the president’s mind or his personal take of the ongoing tragedy of rising terrorism.
We have been reminded time and again by Femi Adesina, though, that the president need not become talkative just because he has to show Nigerians that he is working. This, even when nobody has for months seen Buhari do anything beyond receiving dignitaries or presiding at NEC meetings via zoomdom in the safe confines of Aso Villa.