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Politics behind banditry in Northeast states

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor)
24 December 2020   |   4:22 am
There were three grievous aspects of the recent mass abduction of 334 students of Government Science School, Kankara, Katsina State: The bandits fetched that number of boys with minimal resistance.

There were three grievous aspects of the recent mass abduction of 334 students of Government Science School, Kankara, Katsina State: The bandits fetched that number of boys with minimal resistance. They ferried the students across the state boundary without Nigeria’s security intercepting them. Thereafter, officials of the state government went into negotiation for the boys’ release.
Earlier in an interview with State House Correspondents, Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, said although the bandits terrorizing the Northwest geopolitical zone started small, they have grown big in size. What the governor did not add was that the so-called bandits have grown full-fledged also in sophistication, strategy and weapons, such that they have been able to overwhelm the nation’s security agencies. 
Perhaps, riled by the sad narratives around the Kankara boys’ kidnap, a former Director in the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Mike Ejiofor, expressed dismay that government should involved itself in negotiating with criminal bandits.

Speaking in a breakfast programme of Channels TV, monitored by The Guardian, Mr. Ejiofor agonised that the governments of Katsina and Zamfara States laid the foundation for the prosperity of kidnapping by negotiating with bandits.  
Ejiofor stated: “They started negotiation with the bandits, who were not even ready to give up on their activities and this is what we are witnessing now. Even this Kankara incident, the governor came out to say they are negotiating; that is unacceptable. And you give these people the boldness and courage to continue to perpetrate this act.
“I am not a pessimist, but these things will continue to happen unless we strengthen the security of these states and take decisive actions. The Federal Government should take decisive actions against these bandits operating in the Northwest. 
“These well-organised bandits are looking for money. Anytime they do such kidnap, they are paid, and they use such money to buy more arms… This, definitely, is not the work of Boko Haram, but the work of bandits in the two states.”
But, although security experts say that Mr. Ejiofor’s postulations are academically sound, they argue that it is not the best or only practical approach to confronting such security threats, given the socio-political dimensions to the menace.
Others note the overwhelming schedule of the military in the light of their invitation to peace keeping in civilian operations like electoral duties and policing the cities, especially mounting needless road bocks in the southern part of the country where there is no security threat of any sort. Some observers however are of the view that Ejiofor’s condemnation of the state governors does not take into consideration their constitutional limitations vis-à-vis expectations from the electorate that voted them into office.  
As such, they contend that when a president abandons national security for states, the governors will be at liberty to negotiate with the recalcitrant bandits, especially since governors do not command instruments of coercion because of Nigeria’s centralised security arrangement.

BUT, prior to the recent abduction of the Kankara Science School students, the spiraling wave of criminality in Northwest was taken as a political weapon by opposing political actors to undermine their rivals. That may explain why the Federal Government could not take responsibility or exercise authority to stem the menace, apart from the failure to reappoint the former Defence Minister, Mansur Dan Ali.
Therefore, the finger-pointing and blame-game predated the current governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, who succeeded Governor Abdulaziz Yari of APC in a default electoral mischance in the 2019 general elections.
Immediate past chairman of Senate Joint Committees on Petroleum Resources, Senator Kabir Marafa, cried out in the plenary of the Senate that former governor Yari was encouraging the bandits. Marafa alleged that the bandits were bold enough to hold court in the forests and even impose levy on innocent rural dwellers and farmers because of the backing they received from the Government House.
While Marafa and Yari were embroiled in altercations over the politics of who got the APC governorship ticket in the state, the serious security issues raised by the Senator were dismissed as part of his bellyaches against Yari for standing against his (Marafa’s) quest to be governor.

Marafa had revealed that Yari was distracted from his duties as a governor by his secondary responsibility as the chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
Marafa had stated: “I have faulted the governor’s halfhearted approach to the problem of banditry that had grounded almost all activities in the state. The first step to end the banditry was for the governor to show courage by bringing those around him that are accused of having a hand in the infamous crimes to book.
“The second and most important one is taking his job serious by stopping without further delay all his regular trips to Abuja and outside the country and concentrate on providing the much-needed leadership in the state. If he remains an absentee governor, there is no how he can tackle the menace of banditry in the state. It is only when he is on ground that other things can take shape for the good of the state.” 
If the disagreement between Senator Marafa and former governor Yari over the nature of response to banditry in the state was based on political differences, many people thought the loss of Zamfara to opposition PDP would have put paid to the menace. But instead of abating, the menace has continued such that Governor Matawalle, at a point accused the former governor of stoking the menace. 
Matawalle accused the former governor and his supporters of disrupting the peace process initiated by his administration, alleging that Yari was instigating his thugs against coordinated security arrangements in the state.  Governor Matawalle wondered why Yari was not happy with the peace recorded so far by the current administration.

Failure of body language
AT the outset, the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari continued with body language, which suggests that as a former military officer, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria possessed the magic wand to end insecurity in the country, particularly the insurgency in the Northeast region.
The recourse to armistice or accord with bandits gained currency shortly after Matawalle negotiated with the bandits, leading to the repentance of some and surrender of assault weapons.
However, it could be said that Kaduna State governor raised national consciousness about the carrot approach to the growing insecurity and criminality in Northwest. Governor Nasir el-Rufai astounded Nigerians, when he announced on national television that his administration went in search of leaders of herdsmen to appease them with cash for the loss of their cows, saying that killings in Southern Kaduna was a form of reprisal attacks for past losses of cattle and grazing opportunities.  
Despite current finger-pointing between PDP and APC over the recovery of the abducted Kankara boys, it is obvious that a mix of politics, economic and strategic missteps in the security apparatus of the country is to blame for the unrelenting banditry in Nigeria’s Northwest.
Matawalle might have won over some criminal lords, but the incidence of artisanal mining of gold and other precious stones in Zamfara is playing a silent role. Indians and Asians are believed to be capitalising on the situation to plunder the area with freebies and weapons to the criminals.

The strident calls by Northern Elders Forum (NEF) on President Buhari to review the continued stay of the service chiefs have been described as part of the strategic moves to end criminality in the region.
Not long ago, some soldiers on guard duty were said to have made away with about N400 million in cash belonging to a high-ranking official. The money was allegedly proceeds of hush money and protection given to some agents of foreign nationals mining the mineral deposits in the Zamfara State and part of the Northwest.  
A highly placed military source said since President Buhari decided to retain the service chiefs against obvious national interest, getting total loyalty from those in the field could be difficult.
If indeed new brooms sweep clean, it could be said that until a review is undertaken of Nigeria’s security architecture, the patrons or sponsors of banditry in Northwest Nigeria would remain elusive.