Who are these armed bandits?
The average Mr. Citizen is familiar with the exploits of the man who rules the underworld and goes by the blood-chilling name of armed robber. He has been with us from the time of creation.
Called by different names in different tongues, this man who seizes what does not belong to him at gunpoint, gained prominence or notoriety especially after the civil war in 1970 when weapons of war became more freely available as illegal firearms.
His tribe mushroomed or multiplied rapidly and spread quickly like evil fire across the country.
They robbed traders on their way back from the markets. They terrorised members of the local communities in their homes at night. And when they became more daring, they plied their deadly trade even in the bright daylight.
Some of them who had taken roots in the cities became more notorious and were even celebrated when they robbed banks and factories and warehouses. Permanently armed and dangerous, they were clearly above the law.
Ironically, they even enjoyed a perverse sort of respect from criminally minded law enforcement agents.
One of them, Ishola Oyenusi, in the seventies, was a Lagos socialite. Generous to a fault with his money, Oyenusi was the undisputed darling of Lagos society women.
But he turned out to be an armed robber, albeit one that was always expensively dressed in lace materials. The day he was being led to the stake to be publicly executed, he had enough time to taunt some police men who were escorting him saying something to the effect that when he was king of the underworld, none of them could come near him – he would gun them down.
Oyenusi glamorised the evil exploits to the extent that some other people who later took after him quickly gained notoriety in the old Bendel State. One of them, Lawrence Anini and his chief of staff, Monday Osunbor, had him as their role model.
And they had some senior police officers on their payroll. Anini, the daredevil outlaw, was the quintessential modern day Robin Hood. He robbed the rich and threw the money on the road for the poor.
Kidnapping of people for ransom came later. It combined the ruthlessness of the deprived militants in the Niger Delta creeks with the method of the gun wielding armed robber to give birth to a new and dangerous crime that made both homes and the roads unsafe for the wealthy.
The militants did nothing to monopolise this evil trade. Without much ado, they willingly gave the franchise away to all manner of criminals all over the country.
Kidnapping became a growth industry. As if in compliance with the principle of federal character, no state and virtually to ethnic group is deprived of this depraved evil exploit. It is therefore difficult today to associate kidnapping with any particular state or ethnic nationality or, for that matter, any particular faith.
Since the motivation is blood money, the common denominator is greed and avarice. In this business, blood is not even thicker than water.
And that is why you hear the chilling story of those who arrange the kidnapping of their relations and then serve as go-between to negotiate with the kidnappers.
When the ransom is raised, they then go to the kidnappers’ den in the forest to drop the ransom money and share the blood money with them.
Among the various criminals and their dangerous exploits, the Boko Haram insurgents are in a class of their own. Though they rob, kidnap and kill for money, they have a defined, though objectionable, goals. Plus a clear identity and leadership structure.
They are against whatever the larger society stands for – their brand of Islam, if that is what it is, promotes a return to the pristine world of the stone-age era.
They hold anything that has any bearing with modernity to be haram and that ironically includes the weapons they wield recklessly against innocent citizens and the suicide bombs they throw or the belts they strap around other people’s innocent children.
Almost identical with the Boko Haram is the murderous, but largely unidentified band of nomads called herdsmen who, blinded by economic imperatives, have resorted to killing and maiming people who have refused to turn their farmlands over to them for cattle grazing.
Like the kidnappers and the robbers without boundaries, the herdsmen have produced the franchise for other criminal elements in the society who now operate in the name of herdsmen. Those who hold the franchise share no ethnic affiliation with the Fulani herdsmen.
Nor do they have any cattle to graze. But they have enough residual and inherited ethnic and religious prejudices as motivation to settle age-old scores through violence.
But the group that gives me so much concern is the nebulous one called armed bandits. I am worried because it appears to me that security men have not addressed their minds sufficiently to the issue of armed bandits and how to intelligently and adequately tackle them.
They have not, to the best of my knowledge, exposed them so we can at least know who they are. Who are these armed bandits? I have asked many knowledgeable people this question and each time I had drawn blank.
But the stories in the media have so far proved unhelpful. Take a typical report that goes like this: “Armed bandits have killed at least 45 people in parts of northern Nigeria.” Some reports call the armed bandits cattle thieves or rustlers.
In one other report, the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, was said to have confirmed that some “armed bandits” invaded the village of Gwaska in Birinin Gwari. The police chief said at least 200 policemen are now patrolling the area.
The nearest anybody got to in trying to identify the origin of some of these bandits was the claim that they came from Zamfara State.
Which is something but not all. It does not confirm that the bandits are indigenes of Zamfara State. Similar reports have been given of unidentified bandits, armed to the teeth, who have also been killing people in the rural areas of Zamfara State as well as other states.
In 2013, I read a report, which said gangs of “ heavily armed bandits prowl the vast Dajin Rugu forest which spans several square kilometres across Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger states – their own Sambisa forest.
From that time to now is long enough time, in my view, for the security men to tell the public who they are and where they came from and why they are untouchable.
I don’t want to believe that these “armed bandits” who are allowed to freely roam Nigerian territories come from another planet, some unearthly spirits who mingle with the night to cause havoc.
If the bandits are so elusive, like a will-o-the wisp, security agents must devise some equally mysterious or spiritual ways of tackling the menace of these sepulchral objects before they overrun the country.
We certainly have enough security problems to last us for many more decades if the approach to fighting insecurity remains rooted in the old ways of doing things.
Those criminal elements, who behave like the unidentified flying objects, UFO, flying around unhindered, should be stopped in their tracks because they pose not only security problems, they are a veritable threat to President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term ambition.