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Treating terrorists as terrorists

By Editorial Board
30 December 2021   |   4:10 am
With the wave of killings, kidnapping, arson and other criminalities spreading across many northern states, it is slightly consoling that at last, the perpetrators, hitherto labelled ‘bandits’ in the North West....

With the wave of killings, kidnapping, arson and other criminalities spreading across many northern states, it is slightly consoling that at last, the perpetrators, hitherto labelled ‘bandits’ in the North West and North Central have been properly recognised as terrorists that they really are. Thanks to an order from the Bench, the Buhari administration has no excuse whatsoever to not designate and call terrorists just that in order to bring down upon them the full weight of Nigeria’s military power and law, including the deployment of Tucano-type aircraft where necessary.   Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja ruled recently on an application filed on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari and declared that ‘the activities of Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups and other similar groups constitute acts of terrorism…’ He ordered them so tagged, proscribed, and his order gazetted as well as published in two national newspapers.

This is a major step towards dealing more decisively, more effectively, with ‘acts of terrorism and illegality’ in particular, and insurgency in general that so threaten, in the words of the honourable judge, ‘the national security and the corporate existence of Nigeria.’ Nigerians now expect government to move quickly beyond mere statements and documentation unto action. As many informed commentators have said, this is a decision that was long due but on which the Federal Government has, for reason best known to it, prevaricated.  Over time, many concerned, well meaning, reasonable citizens, groups and media organisations have urged  the Buhari administration to declare all acts of banditry as acts of terrorism  in order to empower itself with the legal  basis for a more decisive  action. The Guardian had, in an editorial that cited  copiously the provisions of Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 (as amended) stated that ‘by refusing to appropriately designate these murderous groups as terrorists, this government denies itself the full, unreserved application of military and other measures that international laws grant against terrorism and terrorists.’ As the paper had emphasised in the editorial, “a terrorist, by whatever face-saving name called is, purely and simply, a terrorist.”

Late September, the Senate deliberated on a motion sponsored by Ibrahim Gobir representing Sokoto East and therefrom urged the Federal Government to declare the criminals as terrorists, track, arrest, and prosecute their leaders,  and ‘eliminate them by bombing their hideouts.’   A few weeks later, the 36 Houses of Assembly, at a Conference of Speakers in Kaduna, demanded that Buhari ‘declare bandits as terrorists and enemies of the state…because their activities are the same mode of operations used by terrorists.’

The President and his advisers did not, until lately, adopt the recommended course of action even as he regularly, lament the loss of precious lives and the destruction of property and farmlands, and also commiserate with victims of every heinous act. It is indeed strange that a leader can for so long be contented with regular lamentation and commiseration!

It is gratifying that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), is reported to promise that ‘The government will gazette, publish and publicise the proscription order against bandits,’ adding that he would be “working assiduously” in collaboration with relevant government agencies, including security operatives “to do the needful to take full advantage of this declaration.” Malami went on to say that, by obtaining the judicial decision, government ‘‘has taken bold steps to deal ruthlessly with all terrorists groups and their sponsors in efforts to bring lasting solution to the myriad of security challenges in the country.’’

Weeks after, and going by increasing reports of wanton destruction of lives and property in the affected region, it is not at all chest-beating time yet; not until there is demonstrably clear evidence that the ‘war on terror’ is being won. So, the government that has the constitutional obligation to protect the people and assure their welfare should simply get on with the job. This is more so that as Malami said, the ex parte application was filed on the instructions of President Buhari.

However, the war against terrorism is not the responsibility of only the Federal Government; the state and local governments too must put in place solid measures to support the government at the centre. And in this respect, it is good that the Conference of Speakers ‘‘resolved to make appropriate laws to address the fundamental issues that breed insecurity in the land, as well as  create   employment  for the youths and curb the menace of insecurity in the country.’’ But beyond the normal making of laws, every tier of government must think out of the box. There are heartwarming reports of the good job against criminality that civilian vigilante groups, local hunters and state security formations are doing in various parts of the country. No doubt, they can do much more if properly equipped and motivated.

The Federal Government security apparatus is overstretched and obviously unable to cope with the hydra-headed security challenge that confronts this country. But this should not be so after nearly two terms of an All Progressives Congress (APC) government that promised in its manifesto to ‘‘urgently address capacity building of law enforcement agents in terms of quantity and quality,’’ as well as ‘establish a well-trained, adequately equipped and goals-driven Serious Crime Squad to combat terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery, militants, ethno-religious and communal clashes nationwide.’’
It is high time that the ruling APC government led by Mr. Muhammadu Buhari lived up to its promises in 2015 to fulfill the relevant promises  that will empower  the states and local governments to more capably take charge of  security in their  respective areas of jurisdiction. Both the party and its governments are reminded that within the overarching promise to ‘entrench true Federalism and the Federal Spirit’ as promised in the campaign manifesto, the APC further committed itself to ‘begin widespread consultation to amend the Constitution to enable states and local governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of each community. Ultimately, federalism, as it is practised in civilised climes, is recommended unreservedly to the APC government as matter of honour.