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North-west insecurity: Banditry or Jihadists’ occupation?

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Sir: Nigeria’s North West has been plagued by years of imperilment ranging from cattle rustling, clashes between herders and farmers, attacks by heavily-armed robbers on highways, kidnapping, religious, political and communal conflicts. 

The series of devastated and renewed attacks on innocent civilians in the name of banditry has left many people, not even the security agencies on the front to come to grips with the reality of the situation as to whether the heinous act been perpetrated in the region is banditry-related or Jihadist occupation.

Lives are been lost on an almost daily basis and people live in tension with agonising uncertainty for the onslaught of the terror. Many villages, especially in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states were either hunkered down or reduced to ashes by the terrorists and this poses a serious existential threat that the zone might become yet another epicenter of terrorism in the Sahel.

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As it was rightly established that man can’t shoot what he is not seeing, neither can he fight an enemy and succeed without understanding the essence, motives and ideological root of the crime. This is to say that there’s a dire need for the security agencies to fully understand whether the violent killings were carried out in Nigeria’s north-west by bandits with a financially driven motive or by jihadists with a politically driven motive to establish an Islamic state.

On May 23, 2020, the representative of Sokoto East Senatorial District in the Senate, Ibrahim Gobir, has claimed some parts of his constituency are under the control of bandits. The legislator said: “Our biggest problem now is that the bandits have taken over many villages and are having a field day.” They have constituted themselves as judges. They have sacked the traditional and political institutions there, so there are no judges at all.

The question here is why bandits sacked and appoint judges without political motives? Is this not Jamaat al Ansar al Muslimeen fi Bilad al Sudan, the Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organisation that was fragmented into different units in order to improve their chances of carrying out attacks without being detected by the security agencies? Ansaru has been inactive for years following a clampdown and dismantling its members and that of its leader in 2016. The group seems to be making a comeback under the guise of bandits, forging a tighter relationship with other criminal gangs and continue to carry out attacks in the region while our security agencies are being lured into believing that they are engaging with bandits and therefore, maintaining the same security architecture, engagement and neutralising bandits.

The situation, if left unchecked, will worsen the already worse security situation in northern Nigeria in its entirety. Nigerian state is strongly advised to check the resurgence of terrorism in North West and its strategy towards the war on terror. This is necessary because banditry and violent extremism are quite different. The former has political inclination while the latter can be carried out for financial gain.

Rabiu Musa wrote from Bayero University, Kano.

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