Bandits on the prowl

LAST week, Katsina State governor, Honourable Aminu Bello Masari, vowed that he would no longer negotiate with bandits in the state. His grouse was that they had reneged on an agreement reached with the state government. According to him, they promised to repent and leave the North-West, but “they did not honor the agreement; they betrayed us.” Speaking to BBC Hausa in a live Instagram interview, Masari said: “We choose to sign a peace agreement with the bandits so as to avoid loss of lives and properties but it didn’t yield a positive result. This time around, we will hand things over to the security personnel. In our effort to honour the agreement between us, we abolished all vigilantes and volunteer groups and we allowed them (bandits) to continue with their normal activities in the state.”

Governor Masari’s qualms are understandable, but there is no evidence to suggest that he will have a reprieve anytime soon. The felons are having themselves a ball: they have discovered that the Nigerian state is fickle and tenuous, and are exploiting the situation to criminal advantage. In November 2019, the Masari administration released six bandits detained by security agencies in exchange for some abducted persons. At the time, Dandume, Sabuwa, Faskari, Kankara, Safana, Danmusa, Batsari and Jibiya local government areas in the state had come under intense attacks. Actually, Masari is not alone in his dilemma: in Zamfara State, the felons saw the amnesty granted them by the state government as a compromise reached by two parties of equal weight at the negotiating table, with some latitude on both sides. This was of course not the outcome expected by a government that had bent over and backwards, allowing criminals to go scot-free just to achieve peace. In January,  scoffing at the amnesty granted them, the bandits unleashed terror on the state, killing 31 persons in cold blood. In Kaduna State, an exasperated Governor Nasir el-Rufai has also just threatened to deal with the bandits terrorising the state.

Across the states of the North, particularly the North-West, the bandits have increasingly grown in daring and ferocity, constantly subjecting communities to the most painful barbarities. In spite of the interventions by the Nigerian state to checkmate the situation, mindless killings, displacement of thousands and destruction of property remain the order of the day. The bandits recently abducted the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Nasarawa State, Bishop Joseph Masin, letting him go only after receiving a ransom. According to reports, three vehicles were sold to raise the ransom. This week, fresh attacks in Taraba State reportedly raised the death toll to 17. The bandits attacked Maigoge ,Maihula, Ananum and Akate communities in the state, taking lives at will. Penultimate week, bandits killed 18 persons in Faskari and Batsari local government areas of Katsina State.

On its part, the Federal Government seems quite upbeat about its spurious tactics. On Sunday, June 7, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to intensify his administration’s response to banditry. Last week, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadiq Abubakar, said that more than 300 armed bandits were killed and their camps destroyed in a military operation in Katsina State. He warned bandits to surrender their arms or face justice, urging soldiers not to spare any of them in an effort to allow farmers to return to their livelihoods. And on Tuesday, the Defence Headquarters indicated that the Air Component of Operation Hadarin Daji had destroyed another camp of bandits and killed many of them at Kwayanbana Forest in Zamfara. According to the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Major-General John Enenche, the air strike was carried out on June 7 in continuation of the air operations being conducted under Operation Accord. The feat, Enenche said, was achieved after intelligence reports and series of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions established that some makeshift structures were hidden under the dense forest vegetation.

As we noted in previous editorials, the Buhari-led Federal Government, intent on preserving the iniquitous status quo, has consistently opposed the clamour for the restructuring of the country, an integral part of which is the creation of state police. Nurturing the false belief that a country as geographically, ethnically and religiously diverse as Nigeria can be policed centrally, it has continued the pernicious practice of reducing the 36 state governors in the country to helpless chief executives falsely branded Chief Security Officers. While a core essence of organised society is to ensure that bandits and other felons are not given free rein over the populace, there is nothing to suggest that the country as presently constituted can achieve that objective. For as long as it is policed centrally, for so long will the country experience the kind of ludicrous situation in which a governor threatens to cease parleying with bandits who should have been put behind bars in the first place. Governor Masari gave the bandits latitude “to continue with their normal activities in the state,” because he was helpless, not because he really wanted to. This situation has to change.

To be sure, we appreciate the ongoing military offensive against bandits. But the country’s security problems require much more. Decentralisation is the key. The government should not leave the proverbial leprosy unattended to while treating ringworm.

 

 

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