July 10, 2024

Bandits and Arewanistan agenda? By Ochereome Nnanna

Bandits and Arewanistan agenda? By Ochereome Nnanna

Ochereome Nnanna

FOR sure, banditry, especially kidnapping for ransom, is one of the three security challenges in Northern Nigeria. The others are Boko Haram/ISWA terrorism in the North-East, and Fulani herdsmen militia, a nationwide terror network.

In the South, kidnapping for ransom is in the hands of local criminal gangs. Even our battered Nigeria Police Force, NPF, are still largely on top of their game. The recent rescue of the Fouani brothers kidnapped while jollificating on the waterways of Lagos, was achieved by the Police. When was the last time you heard the Police doing much about the rage of banditry in the North?

Indeed, in July 2022, the Emir of Sabon Birni Yandoton Daji in Tsafe Local Government Area, Garba Aliyu Marafa, conferred chieftaincy title on a notorious bandit and Fulani chieftain, Ado Aliero. The Police had a bounty on the bandit king’s head, yet the same Police provided security during the turbaning ceremony! It was only when the outrage spread throughout the country into the international community that the then Governor, Bello Matawalle, who was fond of offering “amnesty” to the bandit gangs, suspended the emir.

There are several reasons why banditry has never taken firm root in any part of the South. They are seen as purely criminals, and that is why the days of every upstart gang are numbered from the moment they sprout. The Osisikankwu episode in Aba and Ngwa areas of Abia State was special because the gang leader, Obioma Nwankwo, nearly succeeded in his effort to transform into a political force. His brutal gang primarily targeted non-indigenes in Aba and environs.

It took the no-nonsense determination of Governor T. A. Orji and the cooperation of right-thinking Ngwa people working with the military and security agencies for Osisikankwu to be exterminated. His corpse was displayed for public viewing.

This is how a true government handles security matters, not “negotiation” or offering of “amnesty” to “repentant” criminals who had spilled blood. Since then, the sporadic kidnappings for ransom in the state are being chiefly done by armed “herdsmen” camping in the bushes.

The worst thing a government can do when faced with armed criminals is to show fear and incapacity. In the North, governance has lost its bite and charisma. People no longer feel the welfare and law enforcement ambience of government. They feel abandoned. Criminals have taken up ungoverned spaces and are strongly driving to take over the governed spaces. Northern leaders and their people are paying the price of handling Boko Haram, armed herdsmen and bandit terrorism the same way as the Niger Delta militancy which was solved through negotiation and the Presidential Amnesty Programme, PAP.

The difference is clear. While the PAP ended militancy in the creeks, amnesty, negotiation and pampering of “repentant” jihadists and criminal gangs merely add fuel to the raging fire. No matter the names they go by, they are all terrorists and insurgents. They are not asking to be given a piece of the pie as the Niger Delta militants did. They want to replace the current failed order created by the expiring Sokoto Caliphate establishment.

These were mainly nomads of Fulani extraction abandoned in the wilderness since 1804. While their privileged kinsmen ruled the North (and later Nigeria) as presidents, governors, legislators, bureaucrats, judges, academics, clerics, diplomats, etc, they were encouraged to stay in the wilderness to tend the livestock of their oppressive kinsmen. They are downtrodden by their own privileged kinsmen.

These hardened rejects of society now have uncontrolled access to arms and the internet communication and telephone, ICT, technology. The ransoms from kidnapping are helping them to build up their asymmetrical armies and arsenals, with the ultimate aim of snatching the governed spaces from their wicked mandarin kinsmen. Unless the government understands this problem from this perspective, they will sit there till they are overwhelmed.

Having successfully established varieties of fiefdoms across the North, the bandits are baiting the loyalties of the local populaces. They are collecting taxes and ransoms and administering justice in their domains. They are able to win more loyalists by demonstrating effective control. The bandits are not yet openly pursuing jihadism like Boko Haram, but it is the same ingrained culture that drives their rule of areas under their control. Sheikh Ahmad Gumi has been lobbying them to declare open jihadist agenda and thus rally other faithful to join.

The bandits cannot yet declare open Islamic agenda because they still operate in small autonomous units. If they are able to create broad-based coalitions under a central charismatic demagogic leadership, the road to “Arewanistan” could be a piece of cake.

In the Sahel region, such as Chad, Niger Republic, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea, military interventions were accepted by the people because the jihadists were not strong enough to prove they were better than the discredited pro-France ruling class. In Northern Nigeria, the choice is strictly between the discredited ruling class and the burgeoning bandits which might morph to jihadism to gain political legitimacy as Osisikankwu tried and failed to do in Abia State.

If care is not taken, what is happening in Sudan will come to Northern Nigeria. The Janjaweed forces were supported by the Omar Al Bashir dictatorship and eventually absorbed into the defence architecture of Sudan. They became so powerful that after al Bashir was overthrown, war broke out between the Sudanese Army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the Janjaweed forces leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, over disagreements on the way forward for Sudan.

The Federal Government must create an alliance with the states and local structures and take emergency security sweeps to eliminate the bandits, armed herdsmen and Boko Haram. These groups have already broken the state’s monopoly of violence.

Only this coalition can save the North – and Nigeria as we know it.