By Owei Lakemfa
THOSE who think the war against banditry is a joke, need to take a look at the statistics coming out of Kaduna State. The long suffering state continues to bleed. In the first 90 days of 2021, an average of four lives were lost daily to banditry while in every 24 hours, 11 persons were kidnapped.
Yet, excluding the states devastated by Boko Haram terrorists, Kaduna is not the most traumatised. At least the people still retain their villages and towns. Not so in Plateau State where bandits maim, kill, displace the people, take over their villages and towns, rename and settle in them.
The June 30, 2018 edition of the Vanguard Newspapers reported that the bandits had seized over 54 villages, renamed and occupied them. These include “Rotchun (Rafin Acha) Dankum, renamed Mahanga, Hywa, renamed Lugere, Fass rechristened Tafawa, and Maseh, renamed Lugel.
Three years ago, Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong who is now the Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum vowed that his administration will not allow this land grab to stay. He declared: “those fighting, killing people and destroying their settlements with the intention of taking ownership of such places would not be allowed to do so. If you think you can chase people out and grab their land, we as a government would not allow you to own the land. My administration is working out modalities for prosecuting land grabbers to discourage the act.”
But three years down the line, this has not come to pass. It appears Lalong and the Plateau elite are contented with the new status quo.
Perhaps they take the advise of the Presidency to accept the situation, because as the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina said on the African Independent Television: “If you are talking about ancestral attachment, if you are dead, how does the attachment matter? …What will the land be used for if those who own it are dead at the end of the day?”
Also, President Muhammadu Buhari as Commander-in Chief of the Armed Forces, has not sent the gallant Nigeria Army to retake those villages and communities and restore the people to their homes. Without Internally Displaced Peoples’ IDPs camps provided, the victims are simply melting away.
To be fair to President Buhari, he had alerted the country in his January, 2019 interview with Arise Television that these bandits are actually the remnants of the multinational forces recruited by former President Muammar Ghaddafi to fight in Libya. He identified them as Malians, Burkinabe, Nigeriens, Chadians and people from the Central African Republic.
However, Benue State would not agree to this forced changing face of demographics and continues to fight. The result is that the state became the killing field of Nigeria resulting in it experiencing what I call the Four Phases of Annihilation. First, there were conflicts euphemistically called ‘herder-farmers clashes.’ Then the victims were forced off their lands which were then occupied by the invading forces. The third stage was their becoming internally displaced persons with camps set up for them.
But having so many people in the camps means that in future, they can decide to retake their ancestral homes, so they are being attacked and killed. This is the fourth phase which may see them melting away, as was the case of the Plateau State victims.
Last Tuesday, April 27, 2021 after the IDP camp in Abagena was attacked, a furious Governor Samuel Ortom went there to express his anger that over 70 persons had been murdered within two weeks in the Makurdi Local Government area alone. Ortom fumed: “Go to Guma, the same killings are taking place, go to Gwer-West, the same killings are taking place. This is not fair.
The Federal Government has refused to take a proactive step to arrest this ugly situation we are witnessing here today. You recall that I alerted the entire nation when Fulanis from 14 countries met in Yola and declared that except we review the prohibition of open grazing law, Benue will not know peace.”
He said of the new attacks: “It means we don’t have a government. You can imagine, this is Abagena IDP camp. The adjoining villages are occupied by IDPs. What else do you want them to do? You send these people away from their villages, they came here to take refuge and today they are being killed in this manner… How do you wake up every day and see your people being killed?”
As usual, Ortom’s comments have led to a spat with the Presidency. The administration while as usual commiserating with the victims of banditry and terrorism said President Buhari takes exception to Ortom’s comments. He accused Ortom of: “making a litany of accusations against his person and his government …”
However, in the last six months, the Nigerian killing field has shifted from bloodied Benue State to Niger State, which by landmass, is the largest state in the country and is host to three hydro-power stations: Shiroro, Kainji and Jebba.
As it is in Plateau and Benue states, bandits are invading towns and villages and forcing the populace to flee. However, unlike those two states, the banditry and invasion has been worsened by the mix of Boko Haram terrorism.
As the land invasions, mass kidnapping including of school children, and killings escalate, Niger State governor, Sani Bello, warned that the bandits are primarily foreigners who enter the country from the Benin Republic border and come into Niger through Kaduna and Katsina states. He added that: “the bandits are Fulanis that have no one to control them even their parents.” Governor Bello who also revealed that the invaders were invited into the country said: “We arrested bandits from Sudan and Mali and they were recruited through social media.”
After the bandits recent attack of 14 communities in Rafi and Shiroro local government areas, Bello visited some of them in the IDPs camps in Kagara and Pandogari, assuring the victims of a quick return to their communities.
The governor also told the country that Boko Haram terrorists have taken over Kaure town, hoisted their flag and forcefully taken the wives of residents. He warned that this invasion threatens the country’s capital, Abuja which is some 140 kilometres away.
The Buhari government has always reacted to the worsening insecurity in the country by claiming that it is “on top” of the situation. However, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar last Tuesday declared: “It is time for us as a nation to face the reality that we have an emergency on our hands.
A catastrophe that must be decisively dealt with before it snowballs into an existential crisis.” But who is listening in the Buhari government?