Ungoverned spaces, ungoverned minds and their governors.

ISWAP members

By Owei Lakemfa

Some parts of Nigeria are becoming increasingly ungovernable. The news every day is, in some cases, grave and the prognosis is not so good. The United Nations Development    Programme, UNDP, reports that in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, insurgency-related conflicts had in eleven years from 2009 claimed almost 350,000 lives.

Direct insurgency, it says, is responsible for 35,000 of these casualties, while an estimated 314,000 people died from indirect causes. This tragedy, it reports, has dismantled the already fragile health and food systems and resulted in 1.8 million out-of-school children.

Then the  Borno State governor, Babagana Umara Zulum, added a dampener:  the Boko Haram, its breakaway faction, the Islamic States West Africa Province, ISWAP, has mutated to a more terrible group.  His verdict is that: “ISWAP is more sophisticated, more funded and they are more educated. And we shall do everything possible to defeat ISWAP, otherwise what Boko Haram did will be a child’s play.”

Zulum also warned that, unlike Boko Haram, ISWAP is a multinational terrorist mixture with some coming from outside our shores, including Libya and are “resettling here”. That means they are making Nigeria their preferred home.

However, Zulum’s counterpart,  Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State last week at the Presidential Villa informed Nigerians that Boko Haram and ISWAP are not as dangerous as bandits rampaging the North West: “I am persuaded that the insurgency in the North-West is far more serious than Boko Haram, both in terms of the numbers of the people affected… We are talking of tens of thousands of people getting killed, getting kidnapped. It is far more serious than Boko Haram. The only thing is that these guys don’t occupy territories, they are in the forests and ungoverned spaces…Because, this is a situation largely in which people of about the same ethnicity, same religion are killing each other, stealing each other’s property, creating an industry out of criminality.”

He said banditry and kidnapping had been elevated to a business that makes far more financial turnover than the original trade-in cattle breeding. He claimed that the financial resources available to the bandits are enough to destabilise the country. El-Rufai argued that the Fulanis involved in banditry would not give up the nefarious trade as they make far more money from it than they would have made from the legitimate cattle business.

But the country has lamented enough; what are the leaders doing? First, he claimed that preliminary investigations show that some security operatives are working for the terrorists. Since the Jonathan administration had made a similar complaint, what has the Buhari administration done about it in the last seven years it has been in office? El-Rufai didn’t say.

However, the governor has some good news: The locations of the terrorists are known, and they must be wiped out at once rather than the present piecemeal approach. From his vantage position, he advocated for simultaneous ground and air attacks in all the states hosting the criminals to prevent them from escaping.

So what has stopped the military and security forces from dealing with banditry? Rufai gives some ridiculous excuses. First, he says “somebody has to go in and kill them”. We know that already, that is why the country pays hundreds of thousands of men and women underarms. Their primary duty is to go after such criminals and bring them to justice or eliminate them.

Secondly, he claims there are not enough men. So, what has stopped the government from carrying out mass recruitment rather than letting the insurgency fester, taking so many lives and destroying the economy?    Thirdly, he claims the Armed Forces “doesn’t have enough firepower”. Ridiculous! What happened to the normal and extra-budgetary provisions for arms procurement?

The military he also claims “doesn’t have the technology”. What does it take to acquire the necessary technology, especially when there is no international embargo against technology transfer or sales to Nigeria?

A fifth and most ridiculous excuse El-Rufai gave is that “no one is going to commit suicide”.  Are you kidding me? That the trained soldier having to take on bandits amounts to attempting suicide? Why not then fold up the country and hand it over to the bandits? One of the twin reasons why we have government and people like El-Rufai in power is to provide security for the people.

The other reason is the welfare of the people. So, how can the action of soldiers carrying out their duty amount to committing suicide?    This government which initially blamed the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for the sorry state of the country, has been in power now for almost seven years and cannot put the Armed Forces on a footing to engage bandits?

El-Rufai has another ridiculous excuse: that the military had been reluctant to fully engage bandits terrorising the country for fear of being dragged before the International Criminal Court, ICC.    He tried to explain this nonsense thus: “The media, civil society, always like to protect those that are at the receiving end of something, not looking at the victims of those people sometimes. You know, no General wants to retire and then you go to the US, they arrest you and they say you bombed civilians and so on.” But must civilians who are the victims of banditry be bombed by the government they allegedly voted into office? No!

El-Rufai had in January 2022 advocated such inhuman measures: “I have always believed that we should carpet-bomb the forest; we can re-plant the trees after; but let’s carpet-bomb the forests, kill all of them. There will be collateral damage but it’s better to wipe them out and bring peace back to our communities so that agriculture and rural economies can pick up than to continue this touch and go, touch and go isolated responses to banditry”.

What people like El-Rufai advocate is not fighting bandits but carrying out genocide against people living in the rural or forested areas. Yes, he and whoever gives such inhuman orders which amount to crimes of genocide must live in fear of being brought to justice; if not in Nigeria, then outside the country.

Nigerians submitted part of their liberty and the entire wealth of the country to their leaders; they do not deserve excuses. So, those who cannot properly govern have the freedom to leave office and return to their homes. Also, the basis of governance in the country must be social justice; our laws and Constitution provides for this. So even the terrorists caught in the act have a right to a fair hearing, including legal defence. We do not need to commit criminality to bring criminals to justice like that, in itself, would be criminal and unjust.