Bandits test Tinubu’s resolve to rout them out
Bandits have killed over 100 persons; kidnap 65 in Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna
Victims are from communities that failed to pay tax to their lords
Security agencies could not respond to distress calls by community leaders
The president must act decisively against bandits without delay, else his silence may be interpreted as a lack of focus.
Tinubu must come up with a strategy of securing rural communities; learn from Algeria.
By Theophilus Abbah
In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023 as president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu outlined five principles that would guide his administration in the next four years. The second on the list reads thus: “We shall defend the nation from terror and all forms of criminality that threaten the peace and stability of our country and our sub-region.” He further expatiated this principle in subsequent paragraphs, by saying, “Security shall be the top priority of our administration because neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity and violence. To effectively tackle this menace, we shall reform both our security DOCTRINE and its ARCHITECTURE. We shall invest more in our security personnel, and this means more than an increase in number. We shall provide, better training, equipment, pay and firepower.”
The principle and prioritization of security may be a long-term vision of the Tinubu administration, but bandits and terrorists are engaged in immediate bloody activities, killing Nigerian citizens who failed to meet their demands, apparently not minding the change of guard in the highest office in Nigeria. The most audacious of the attacks happened in Sokoto and Zamfara States, where bandits have killed over 60 persons in two local governments because peasants failed to pay levies imposed on them by gun-wielding forest lords. The killings took place barely five days after Tinubu took his oath of office to protect Nigerian citizens, as president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Victims of the attack in Sokoto State were from Gwadabawa and Tangaza local governments areas. Defying the fact that there are police posts in every district and local government headquarters in Nigeria, the bandits mobilized their men into the villages, without being intercepted by the authorities, killed, slaughtered and set ablaze corpses of scores of persons.
Security shall be the top priority of our administration because neither prosperity nor justice can prevail amidst insecurity and violence
One report gave the account as follows: “The operation started after evening prayer where they attacked the two villages simultaneously. In Bilingawa, not less than 18 people were killed during the attack on Saturday evening.The [attack on] Sakamaru was the worst scenario where scores of people were slaughtered and others with gunshot. After killing them, they set their corpses and that of their animals on fire by ensuring that most of them were burnt beyond recognition.”.
A former local government chairman, Bashar Kalenjeni, demonstrated the helplessness of the people, and how undaunted the killers were, when he said, “We wanted to bury them [victims] in the night but the bandits came back and dispersed us. As at [that] morning, the deceased are still there unburied. The “offence” of the villagers was their refusal to pay levies imposed on their communities.”
Kalenjeni explained further that “the bandits imposed levies on their communities which were meant to take charge with immediate effect, and also dictating to residents what to and not to do. But the villagers refused to succumb and because of that they attacked them, killing 37 persons while several others sustained various degrees of gunshot injuries and currently receiving treatment at General Hospital, Gwadabawa. There are others who are still unaccounted for. Right now, we are waiting for security operatives to lead us to the villages in order to bury the dead ones.”
From the above scenario, it was clear that even after the bandits had done the worst to the communities, perhaps, over 48 hours and counting, security agencies were still not on ground to provide the cover needed to secure those communities. The people would feel let down if the state cannot protect them against criminals or mafia, as being experienced in the country.
At the time bandits killed about 60 persons in Sokoto LGAs, other bandits attacked Zamfara State, killing about 25 persons in two rural communities in Maraudin Local Government Area of the state. In this case, the bandits rode motorcycles into the communities in broad daylight, at 2pm. A report said, “They arrived at the village on motorbikes around 2pm and opened fire on the residents. The frightened residents scrambled into their houses for safety. Thereafter, the armed criminals moved to Sakkida community and shot dead five people there. Some of the slain residents have been buried.”
The “offence” of the villagers was their refusal to pay levies imposed on their communities
Like the situation in Sokoto State, the bandits that attack and killed villagers in Zamfara State rode away, without security operatives intercepting them. The bandits moved to another community and abducted 30 young girls who were in the forest collecting firewood in Gora village. Other accounts by villagers had it thus:“We woke up peacefully, there was rain and some locals had prepared to go to the farm. Suddenly, there was a report that the terrorists have attacked a neighbouring village, Sakkida. The local vigilante, JTF, called the people of Janbako and sought for help.
“Our volunteers and other community members took up arms and headed to the village. There is a hill before you reach the village. Not knowing that the terrorists had laid ambush behind the hill, they opened fire on our people. Today in Jambako, 22 people were buried.
“Security operatives were called but they replied that they cannot come immediately because their armoured personnel carrier was not on the ground. The security operatives tried, they chased the terrorists. When they came back, they came with motorcycles that belonged to the terrorists. Many people were injured, some were shot, and others were hit with machetes. In Janbako, there were no security operatives stationed there to provide security. Now they’ve abducted our girls, over 30. They sent a message that this year, if we want to cultivate our farms in Daggera, we must have a truce with them.We’ve been doing that with them, we can’t even count the number of times we entered into such an agreement. We don’t know what to do.”
Furthermore, less than 48 hours to the Democracy Day celebration, bandits raided communities in Niger State, killed about 38, kidnapped and injured unknown number of persons. The account of the raid carried out by the criminals shows how unperturbed they were. Reports said, “they raided Katako village in the Rafi local government area of Niger State on Friday where they killed 25 people, and proceeded to Kusherki town in the same local government area where they took the lives of 13 more people on Saturday. on the same day, the gunmen found their way into the popular Mariga Market in the Mariga local government area of Niger where they attacked and injured scores of traders. They did not stop there as they went ahead to rustle the traders’ cattle and made away with the sales of the market men and women.”
Also in Kaduna State, less than a week into this administration, bandits invaded the Shiwaka, Unguwan Bagudu and Sabonlayi communities of Birnin-Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State, killing two and abducting 30 locals. Some persons from the community claimed that the bandits attacked the communities because the locals could not pay a N10 million farming levy imposed on them before they would be allowed access to their farms.
A youth leader in the community, identified as Isa, explained their predicament thus: “For now, farmers are afraid to go to farms for their safety as such looming food scarcity is imminent, unless the situation is arrested. We are still appealing to President Bola Tinubu that people in our communities are ever ready to assist in dealing with this menace. The problem is that, based on experience, even if the levy is paid, the bandits will never stop carrying out their attacks against innocent locals. These past weeks, many attacks were carried out at various locations by the bandits with many unreported victims and casualties. In fact, the capital of Birnin-Gwari was stormed by the bandits twice this week. So, the situation is escalating, sincerely.”
Of these attacks, it was only in Zamfara that the military embarked on a counter-offensive, but it was not clear how many kidnap victims were rescued from the stronghold of the bandits. A report about the military operation quoted a military source involved in the operation as saying that the troops on fighting patrol received credible information of armed bandits attacking Rogoji Village and Sakida-Janbako Village in Bakura and Maradun Local Government Areas of Zamfara State respectively…
The report said: “On arrival at the village, the bandits fled on sighting troops advance. Consequently, the troops went on the pursuit of the bandits with a heavy volume of fire, and in the process, at least five bandits were neutralized. We also recovered sophisticated AK 47 rifles and some special ammunition. Similarly, cattle, goats, and donkeys were recovered during the operation.”
On the attacks in Sokoto communities, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 8 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Godwin Mutkut vowed that the perpetrators of the deadly attacks in Sokoto State would be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law in a matter of days. But that has not happened. Mutkut is also the Coordinator of ‘Operation Hadarin Daji’.
To curb bandits Tinubu should take the following steps:
- He must take decisive steps immediately, without wavering. The military must respond to bandit attacks without giving excuses. The president must not be silent about bandit attacks. Security agencies must be made to give account for the lives lost to bandits in the territory they cover.
- The president must not delay in giving the military the order to curtail bandits and terrorists. Under the last dispensation, even when intelligence information were received, the police and military did not act, because they claimed to be waiting for command from Abuja. At times, the order for them to act may never come..
- The president’s body language matters a lot. If the bandits notice that Tinubu is indecisive, or unwilling to tackle them for political reasons, they would intensify their attacks on rural communities. Under the previous administration, it was believed that Buhari’s body language emboldened bandits and terrorists.
- The objective of bandits is to acquire wealth through their guns and swords. They impoverish rural Nigerians in their quest to make wealth. The president must urgently put in place security measures that will cover our rural areas, as well as our cities. Actions in this regard must not be left to elitist debates. Killers do not respect the rhetoric of the elite.
- Dialogue is important in tackling banditry, but it is fruitless to engage them in dialogue as long as they have an upper hand. In the 1990s, when terrorists made life miserable for Algiers, the government recruited paramilitary personnel in every district. The personnel responded swiftly to terrorist attacks in rural areas, until the terrorists were overwhelmed, and began to beg for dialogue – and amnesty.
- Bandits cannot withstand the firepower of our security agencies. They flee at the sight of our military. At the peak of the military operation in Zamfara, they flee to neighbouring states to continue extorting peasants. Therefore, the military must be equipped without delay to confront bandits.
Dr Theophilus Abbah is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Forensic Investigation and Fraud Examiners of Nigeria.