Nigeria: Rage of Bandits

FILE Photo: Gunmen

By Richard Elesho

It has been a pandemic. It started from the far north, swept through the middle belt region before berthing in the south. Some call them bandits. Some kidnappers. Others for want of better words, simply call them gunmen.

Irrespective of their epithet, the keyword in their operation is insecurity, through which they dispense sorrows, tears and death. Although some areas may be more vulnerable, no part of the country is completely free from conflicts and the attendant danger to lives and property. The year 2021 has witnessed much domestication of anarchy struggling with economic problems..

Gun conflicts everywhere:

Nigeria is assailed on all fronts by insecurity. In Borno and other parts of the northeast, a dangerous blend of Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province, ISWAP insurgents are unrelenting in a battle of territorial control with the armed forces. Bandits make life miserable in the Northwest and Northcentral regions. Among the most affected states are Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Benue and Kogi.

Bandits are made up of groups of loose gangs operating in different enclaves, especially in the worst-hit states of the northeast. The Centre for Democracy and Development estimates that there are no less than 80 bandit groups operating in the Northwest. The group collective membership is put at more than 30,000 and does not have a central leadership.

The bandit wields a gun and demands money from his traumatized victim. The plunderer may rape, maim, rub, rustle cattle, kidnap or kill without blinking an eye. They inhabit the jungles from where they come out at random heavily armed and move about in large convoys of motorbikes terrorising their victims.

The statistics will tingle the ears. In two years bandits have snuffed life out of thousands of people. Some 500,000 others have been displaced by their activities, while farmers can no longer freely go to their farms.

– A Diary of attacks:

Although bandits are not known to hold strong ideological principles, a thin line separates them from Boko Haram or ISWAP insurgents. They do not care a hoot about religion, as their victims cut across all religions.

In addition, they target schools, markets, commuter buses and large gatherings for the attacks.
From December last year till date, bandits have reportedly abducted well over 1,000 students from various schools in the Northwest.

These included over 300 students who were abducted 11 December from a boys secondary boarding school, Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State. The boys were marched to Zamfara State through the forest, where they eventually regained freedom, after much negotiation.

In February, gunmen stormed a female secondary school in Jengede, Zamfara State where they abducted students in excess of 300°

Kaduna State has suffered much in the school abductions. On 11th March gunmen stormed the Federal Government College of Forestry Mechanisation, Afaka, Igabi LGA and kidnapped 39 students, made up of 23 females and 16 males.

20 students and two staff were kidnapped from a private varsity Greenfield University, in Chikun LGA, on April 20th. Some of the students were killed by the bandits.

On Monday, 5th July 2021, some 140 students have whisked away from Bethel Baptist high school in the state. “The kidnappers took away 140 students, only 25 students escaped. We still have no idea where the students were taken,” said Emmanuel Paul, a teacher at the school.

The students were released in batches after payment of heavy ransom. The last batch was released in November.

What may be termed mother of the bandits’ rage was yet to come. On Tuesday, 7th December, Nigerians at home and abroad were treated to a bizarre spectacle, that took criminality to a new low. At about 9 am that day, a 42-seater bus, conveying people from Sokoto to Kaduna State was set ablaze with its content, by bandits.

The gangsters had ambushed the travellers at Gidan Bawa, a village in Sabon Bimi Local Government Area, shot at the bus, and promptly set it on fire. The Police and Sokoto State government confirmed 23 deaths, while unofficial sources put the casualty figure far above that.
The victims included 30-year-old Shafa’atu who later died in hospital. after recounting the banality:

“They kept firing at our vehicle until it somersaulted three times and burst into flames. Only I and one other passenger miraculously came out of the bus but the other passenger later died from gunshot injuries.

“I lost my four children, three girls who were grown up and my 10-month-old baby. I watched them, including my mother, maternal uncle, nephew and niece burn to ashes while the attackers were watching with delight.”

The last three months have been very terrifying for Sokoto. The tales of grave forebodings coming out of the seat of the Caliphate, will make the revered Jihadist, Uthman Dan Fodio, cringe in the grave.

Three weeks before the gruesome arson, the State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal fought back tears on Wednesday, 17th November during a condolence visit to Ilella LGA. No less than 43 people had been cut down in multiple attacks by the marauders in Kalmalo, Munwadata, Sarma, Runji and Masasa villages of the LG. The attack reportedly started on Monday 15th with the killing of 15 people in Ilella town.

A notorious bandits kingpin on the run, Bello Turji is believed to be the mastermind of the attacks in the eastern part of Sokoto.

The spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims and Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa ad Abubakar captured the situation. “Bandits now move in the North from house to house with AK47.” He lamented that the region had become the worst place to live in Nigeria…”

A lucrative business:

Banditry whose root is traced to incessant herders/ farmers conflicts has become very viable. Bandits were believed to have extorted about $5 million random in 2021 alone.

“kidnap-for-ransom is the most lucrative industry in Nigeria today,” Bulama Bukarti, senior analyst in the extremism policy unit of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said.

The hunger for quick money aside, the gunmen have also become more daring in their operations. For instance, they desecrated the Apex military training school, Nigeria Defence Academy, NDA, on Tuesday, 24th August, killing an officer and abducting another.

Earlier on Monday 19th July, bandits brought down an air force jet on a sting operation. Flight Lt. Abayomi Dairo, miraculously came out unhurt in the attack. Suspected gunmen have also launched an unsuccessful attack on a train between Abuja, the nation’s capital and Kaduna.

In addition, in the last few months, gunmen have stormed some correctional centres notably in Kabba, Kogi State, Benin, the Edo State capital and Oyo town in Oyo State. Hundreds of inmates were set free in the jailbreaks.

The bandits’ rage has been blamed on a number of factors. Banditry is on the increase because it fetches good money. The country’s porous borders where foreigners come in without checks and the topography of the Northwest favours their operations.

In addition, the government has not demonstrated the political will to fight bandits. It has in fact, been tolerant of the vice. President Muhammad Buhari has often been accused of shielding the bandits because they are mostly his Fulani kinsmen. The security forces are ill-equipped and overwhelmed.

Bandits as terrorists:

Banditry deprived the society of peace to the extent that a court proscribed it as an act of terrorism.

Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja, made the declaration in a landmark judgment on Thursday, 26 November, the court said “Yan Bindiga group”, “Yan Ta’adda group” and others alike are active terrorists.

The judge agreed that Yan Bindiga, Yan Ta’adda and others were responsible for “wanton destruction of lives and properties in Nigeria, particularly in the Northwest and North-central states”.

It mentioned, “kidnappings for ransom, kidnapping for marriage, mass abductions of school children and other citizens, cattle rustling, enslavement, imprisonment, severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, other forms of sexual violence, attacks and killings”.

In his pronouncement, Justice Taiwo proscribed Yan Bindiga, Yan Ta’adda and all bandit clusters “either in groups or as individuals by whatever names they are called”.

The judge directed the Federal Government to publish the proscription order in the official gazette and two national dailies

Following the declaration, controversial Muslim Cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi who have holding discussions with bandits in their enclaves and pressing for amnesty for the criminal group, threatened to withdraw his fraternity.

In many ways, 2021 may well be the year Nigeria went to war with itself, without acknowledging it. Will 2022 mark a truly new dawn for the country in the war against insecurity? Time will tell.