COLUMN: Of banditry and a shared sovereignty (3), By Hassan Gimba
Last week, they attacked an estate within Abuja. Gunmen, bandits, Boko Haram, those who “drag” sovereignty with Nigeria, attacked Genuine Estate, within the vicinity of Gwarimpa, Nigeria’s (some accounts say south of the Sahara’s) largest housing estate. They did this undisturbed and calmly, between 1 and 4am on Sunday. The police said it was a robbery attack. Residents, however, said they kidnapped some of their people. Now, we all know that robbers hardly take prisoners. It is now left for people to believe who they want to believe.
But based on precedent, I will want to believe the residents because the police, in more cases than one, do not say what we know is the truth. Perhaps, for security reasons.
On Tuesday, May 17, an explosion rocked Winners, a nursery and primary school in the Sabon Gari area of Kano metropolis, in which buildings were destroyed and about nine people killed. The police told us it was a gas explosion. A week later, they changed the story: they said an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) caused it, and that they had arrested two people.
However, this doublespeak has become the norm with our government and its agencies while marauders keep terrorising the nation with unperturbed impunity.
We have always seized the opportunity to point out that apart from other parts of the country, “Abuja, the nation’s capital, is itself not exempt. Bandits operating in Niger State to the West, Kogi to the South, Kaduna to the North and Nasarawa to the East have sandwiched Abuja and there is a need for a clinical onslaught against them. The Fulani settlements in these areas have to be forensically combed. Quite a few of the rugas around Kuje, Lugbe, and close to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport are alleged to be used by bandits to store weapons.”
Within the town itself, you move at your own risk because hoodlums have taken over major spots. Robbery attacks are recurring decimals in dark places, especially on bridges, wooded spots and pedestrian crossings. The ever-busy Apo-Maitama expressway and pedestrian bridges and roundabouts at Area One and Wuse Market area to Zone 7 down to Berger and up to the Abuja-Kubwa-Kaduna expressway are some of the major areas frequented by criminal elements, and from City Gate to Gwagwalada is one dangerous habitat of these criminal elements.
The southern part of Nigeria, too, has its share of warlords. Just as the North is in the grip of terrorists wrongly addressed as bandits, the South West was on the verge of being made ungovernable by a man called Sunday Igboho. He determined who lives there or not.
While Sunday Igboho in the South West has been tamed, all thanks to Benin Republic authorities, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and its armed wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN) is still strong in the South East.
The South West, which is the most organised geopolitical zone in the country, is now tame, unlike most of the North and South East.
Apart from the killings of indigenes, termed Sabo (for saboteur) and non-indigenes, mostly from the North, there is a lot of propaganda – and insults – coming out from the South East. Some say that’s because they want “independence”, and others say it’s because they want the presidency. Whichever, their method is the wrong one. You can’t fight everyone and yet want them to consider you. Insults, blackmail and threats to life are their major weapons. I pity the judge handling the case of Nnamdi Kanu.
Well, all the happenings in the various regions of the country that have made the Nigerian state share sovereignty with non-state actors are because of the authorities’ inability to punish lawbreakers. Whoever committed whatever crime must not go unpunished.
The way it is now, anything can happen. The most abominable things can occur, at any time. While the security agencies are overwhelmed, crime news, too, overwhelms newsmen that a lot goes unreported for want of space or time. The sad narrative is becoming the norm. And whenever the President’s spokespersons deem it fit to make any comment, it is the usual “condemnation”. Perhaps they do not know that you condemn the actions of those who your condemnation will hurt, not those who are competing with you for sovereignty.
The president usually ends up with an infuriating, half-hearted, lukewarm order to the security forces to fish out the perpetrators or to move to “the theatre of war”. We have seen how, on more than one occasion, he gave that order to service chiefs. Without hearing a counter order, they would be back in Abuja, and it is business as usual, only for something to happen for him to renew the ineffective order.
Many security experts believe that the people have to take back their lands by themselves if such a government response to crime continues.
On January 3, 2022, writing on this page under the headline ‘Banditry and our quest for leadership’, we observed that: “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 whose people cringe in fear have known no respite from Boko Haram.”
This is also what happened in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Tired of being at the mercy of Boko Haram and being at the receiving end of soldiers’ mop-up operations, the youths, backed by elders and approved by the government and with support from the army, formed what came to be known as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) for short. They drove the insurgents, false jihadists, out of the towns and into the bushes.
I foresee this happening also in the South East. The people will rise to take back their lives. The hurtful sit-at-home orders and having the barbarous threat of IPOB/ESN hovering over them like the Sword of Damocles will push them to shake off the fear of their tormentors.
Fighting insecurity and the looming anarchy is too serious to be left in the hands of those who think they are safe and unassailable.