Nigeria: Insecurity - When Not to Negotiate With Bandits

27 February 2021

For those who think negotiating with bandits is capable of opening a new window of resolving recurring and perturbing trails of banditry hounding our nation, yesterday turned out a nightmare as Nigerians woke up to yet another mind-numbing kidnapping of no fewer than 300 students of Government Girls Secondary School Jangebe, Talata Mafara Local Government Area of Zamfara State.

When I enquired from a friend on the Zamfara abduction, he smiled and responded, "So, you people still believe in Nigeria? Continue to believe to your shame. There was no kidnapping; it was just stage managed in order to allow political fat cats access funds in the false impression of paying ransom to bandits in the bush that are kept and sustained for this game called banditry."

My friend is always angry whenever kidnapping in any part of Nigeria is mentioned. For him, the government has the solution to end banditry. However, my friend is of the opinion that since some state governments have refused to end banditry; it clearly shows that these bandits are still useful to them.

Indeed, if it is true that some state governments are behind banditry, then, democracy is defeated to a large extent. Why should a state government support banditry when the activities of these criminals have turned many states into war zones and barred local and foreign investments in a nation where job opportunities are scarce as streams in the desert?

Yesterday's abduction of Zamfara female students may well turn the catalyst for yet another round of outrage that may dominate global and national discourse in the coming weeks and months. Just as it happened during the Kankara boys' kidnap in Katsina State where the number of the abducted kids vacillated, the figures of the captured girls may follow the trail of the Kankara episode.

Many questions are begging for answers. How is it possible for bandits to kidnap 300 school girls without knowledge of the security forces? What has happened to intelligence gathering? That these bandits were not intercepted while herding these girls to only God-knows-where remains a miracle. That the incident took place barely a few days after a similar abduction of scores of male students in Kagara, Niger State, has revealed that our nation's bandits have now abandoned cattle rustling for the lucrative business of mass human seizures.

It is against this backdrop that we need to re-examine the motive(s) of those advocating amnesty for bandits that are now engaged in waging war against education. For me, Boko Haram and bandits are the same and one. If Boko Haram as a group is opposed to Western education, bandits who raid school hostels and turn our children into commercial products for ransom payments are also opposed to Western education.

Respected Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, has been engaged in advocacy aimed at granting amnesty to these bandits. The Islamic cleric sees these bandits as equivalents of Niger Delta militants who were engaged in destroying oil installations and kidnappings of expatriates before the amnesty programme by former President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua lured them out of the creeks.

However, it is on record that these militants, who were eventually granted amnesty and sent abroad for skill acquisition programmes, were not involved in unprovoked murders and attacks. They never made ruins of communities and were never engaged in warfare to draw attention of the Nigerian government and the world to the plight of the Niger Delta Region.

The bandits Sheik Gumi is pleading amnesty for are murderers of children, women and the aged. They have made ruin of many villages and towns, and even driven indigenous people from their ancestral lands. These bandits are criminals who live daily on the criminal activities unleashed on defenseless Nigerian citizens.

I am at a loss what these bandits that have wreaked havoc on communities and killed hundreds of thousands of our people are looking for. What are their plights and what have that got to do with ordinary farmers and villagers that are now their victims? Even the Federal Government has accepted the fact that most of these bandits are foreigners. The leader of Zamfara bandits who recently met with Sheik Gumi in Shinkafi, Zamfara State, does not appear to be a Nigerian.

It is a desecration of our sovereignty by both state and non-state actors to engage bandits dressed in full military regalia for negotiation. Why should we grant amnesty to criminal groups that have vowed to destroy our nation? Do we now have two nations and militaries? If these brigands are now allowed to do what they like, are we not transferring the reins of governance to them? Though there is no consensus among governors, especially from the North, on whether to use force on these bandits, are we not postponing the evil day if we continue to treat them with kid gloves?

As long as the government delays action in annihilating these outlaws and bandits, so long will state governors continue to pay ransoms. It is not enough for the Federal Government to declare opposition to amnesty sought for bandits, President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration must go all out to smoke them out of their holes and bring them to justice. We cannot afford the luxury of paying a peace price to these bandits who have continued to elongate our long nights of bloodshed unleashed by their dogs of war.

Considering the alarming evils these brigands have brandished on Nigeria, negotiating with them for amnesty amounts to rewarding them. When evil men and women are rewarded, peaceful persons are dissuaded from walking the path of the law. If the government is to serve its role of securing lives and property, then, the government must never allow any group to compete with it.

Our national leadership has not done enough in tackling insurgency and banditry. Not a few are doubtful of our present democracy and its affirmation to defend citizens at all cost. In most instances, vulnerable communities have been left exposed without adequate intervention from security agencies in the event of attacks. If our security forces are overstretched, the need to resort to community policing remains an irrevocable option.

As our nation groans under yet another abduction saga that is set to spark another global outrage, it is necessary to review the 'Safe Our School Initiative' and see what has gone wrong. The recurring raids on schools have the capacity to discourage enrolment of students in a region that lives in the backwaters of educational underdevelopment. In a world ruled by education, our nation should never allow a situation where bandits deploy arms to terrorise children out of schools

The Nigeria Police must walk their talk by pulling through the frameworks for the implementation of state police or what is also known as community policing in order to democratise our nation's security. Those who think our present police structure is capable of reining in the activities of these bandits are simply oblivious of present realities. The Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu, must not allow the idea of community policing to go with the wind. Apart from the need to restructure the police force for effective functions, communities must be involved in safeguarding lives and property.

The best way the government can negotiate with these bandits is to obliterate them and safeguard citizens and their property. No matter how hard we try to move Nigeria forward, these bandits, if not completely destroyed, will continue to pose as present and future danger for our nation.

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