Nigeria: It's Terrorism, Stupid!

Zamfara state in Nigeria.
2 March 2021

Let me start by saying for the umpteenth time that, the security and welfare of the people is the primary purpose of Government - at least, so says Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) (the Constitution), and it is time for Government to step up to this plate, and take full responsibility. Nigerians are living in morbid fear these days, and they couldn't care less about how many local governments were seized by Boko Haram when PDP was in power, and how many have been rescued by the APC, seeing as the general level of insecurity is undoubtedly on the increase. Our foremost concern, is how our safety can be secured permanently. To achieve this will involve a whole lot of focus and strategy, including having proactive law enforcement as opposed to our reactionary one, and investing in proper border control; then Government needs to stop playing politics with the issue of security, secure all educational institutions, especially those in the Northeast and Northwest which are targets, deliver good governance, and do much more about poverty alleviation and socio-economic development. A combination of this, will be a step in the right direction.

Downgrading and Downplaying Terrorism

According to Pete Seeger, "The first step in solving a problem, is admitting there is a problem to be solved". I concur. That is why I'm beginning to fear that the problem of the unprecedented insecurity that presently plagues us in Nigeria, may not be solved in a hurry. It is somewhat bizarre that, instead of Government approaching this terrorism and insurgency with gusto and aplomb, and the seriousness and urgency that this level of insecurity demands, they are busy playing politics, and downgrading and downplaying such a major problem to Banditry and stereotyping, while creating a new buzzword, 'Bandits'.

Or could it be that the reason that Government has decided to downgrade and describe these horrendous criminal activities as common random banditry, is to forestall any calls for the proscription of the Cattle Herders Association, whether Miyetti Allah or Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore (the Fulani wing of the Association), because admitting that Herdsmen who may be engaged in these crimes are terrorists, may result in the call for the invocation of Section 2(1) of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (TPA) against them, that is, the proscription of an Association whose members are terrorists. In fact, supporting acts of terrorism or a terrorist group attracts a 20 year prison sentence upon conviction (Section 4(1)(b) TPA). Many have argued that if IPOB can be proscribed, so also should Miyetti Allah. But, would such proscription be fair to genuine Herders who are law abiding, and simply trying to eke out a living? We must take them into consideration, especially as they derive benefits from their umbrella association.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a Bandit is "a thief with a weapon, especially one belonging to a group that attacks people travelling through the countryside". Granted, while undoubtedly we are experiencing banditry in some cases, in most other cases, it is banditry and much more. Apart from the Boko Haram insurgency, we are experiencing domestic and transnational/international terrorism, from contingent, absolute, local and foreign terrorists. We have two types of kidnappings which sometimes overlap - terrorist kidnappings by the insurgents, and kidnapping for ransom payments.

The definition of banditry is similar to that of armed robbery, but it still seems as if describing such terrible criminal activities as banditry makes them sound less gruesome than they really are, making perpetrators sound as if they are 'romantic' outlaws like 'Robin Hood', who despite being an outlaw was loved by his people and known for being kind and generous, robbing the rich to redistribute the wealth to the poor. This is not the case with Boko Haram or the other Herdsmen/terrorists who are wicked and evil - unlike Robin Hood, they are hated and feared by the majority. The criminal Herdsmen fit like a glove, into the definitions of terrorists. Rape, which has become common place, especially in kidnappings, is a recognised weapon of warfare, and has been classified as a crime against humanity. There is nothing casual or romantic about such a heinous crime. Even amongst criminals, rape and crimes against children are considered to be the worst form of criminality.

I watched part of an interview of Sheik Ahmad Gumi on our Arise Television, in which he chastised the Interviewer for referring to the terrorists as criminals. The Sheik stated that they (the terrorists) may be watching the programme (and possibly be angered by being called criminals). He responded that Journalists are also criminals, for referring to these terrorists as criminals! Really? Has it come to this - blaming Journalists for doing their job, in order to placate offenders? By the way, how else does one refer to those who kill, maim, rape and kidnap - as Martyrs, Saints and Heros? When did it become a crime to call people what they have proven themselves to be, because it sounds derogatory and they don't like it? These kind of vicious, violent criminals cannot by any stretch of the imagination, be classified as being in the same category as Robin Hood!

In "Understanding Terrorism", A thesis by Lieutenant Harry R. Jackson of the US Navy, the author asserts that "They (the terrorists) endeavour to legitimise their activities in their own eyes, as it is to convince the public of their worthiness". This is exactly what these people have obviously done in their talks with Sheik Gumi to elicit his sympathy - we saw a video in which one of the terrorists portrayed his group as victims of a bad Government - no tangible means of livelihood, no money, no education for their children and so on. This is common to majority of Nigerians, so much so that, unemployed graduates now do menial jobs in order to survive. We are all victims of cumulative bad governance - it doesn't mean that we should all become armed robbers, because we are bitter!


Terrorism doesn't have a universal definition, but according to Schmid & Jongman (1988) in 'Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, theories and Literature', "Terrorism is an anxiety inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi) clandestine individual group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat and violence-based communication processes between terrorist organisation, imperilled victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience (s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought".

Section 1(2) of the TPA defines acts of terrorism to include inter alia, an act done with malice aforethought which may seriously damage a country, unduly compel a government to perform or abstain from performing any act, seriously intimidating the population; and it mentions grievous bodily harm, killing, kidnapping and destruction of private property as some of the crimes that constitute this offence.

The definition of acts of terrorism in the TPA covers the field, that is, it covers banditry (armed robbery), assault, murder, kidnapping, rape etc. My point? 'Banditry' is just a piece of the whole Terrorism cake/puzzle, along with kidnapping, rape, theft, assault, murder etc.

From the foregoing definitions, for instance, it is indisputable that the constant kidnapping of students by Boko Haram or whoever, is an act of terrorism - it is obviously done with malice afterthought to intimidate Nigerians into not sending their children to school anymore, since members of that group don't believe in western education (while Islam on the other hand, encourages the quest for knowledge), or to force Government to close schools down. Additionally, there is the serial and random kidnap of people for ransom on highways etc - these abductees are targets of opportunity, targets of demand of huge funds in exchange for the lives of these abductees - pure criminality for financial gain.

Governor El Rufai's Take: A Realistic Approach

Last Friday, we again woke up to the very disturbing news that another 317 schoolgirls were abducted from Government Girls Junior Secondary School, Jangebe, Zamfara State in the wee hours of the morning. We pray for the safe return of all the abductees. Amen.

Governor El Rufai, in an interview with BBC Hausa Service was quoted to have said: "We cannot negotiate. Eliminating them is the only solution to banditry... ... I never believed that a Fulani Herdsman who ventured into banditry and is collecting millions of Naira as ransom, will repent. I spoke to Dr Gumi who is my friend; I explained that the majority of these bandits don't believe in the religion. That is why they kill mercilessly. Anybody who thinks a Fulani Herdsman that was used to only getting N100,000 in a year after selling a cow, but is now getting millions through kidnapping for ransom will stop, is only wasting his time... ..".

Governor El Rufai's summary, is one of the most realistic summaries of the situation which I have heard recently. He identified part of the problem, leaving sentiments, ethnic and religious colouration out of it - this is the first step to solving the problem. He identifies some of the perpetrators as Fulani Herdsmen and bandits, who do not believe in religion, as most of what they do is unIslamic. When they kidnapped the Chibok girls, they raided the school store and stole all their food and provisions. In Islam, stealing is a 'Hadd' crime against God, punishable by the amputation of the offender's arm. Similarly, when some of the Chibok girls returned, a couple of them came back with babies which they had given birth to while in captivity. A belief that females are sexual objects meant for the pleasure of their abductors is also unIslamic, while rape (Zina Al-Zibr) is punishable under Sharia Law either by applying the Hadd penalty for zina (death by stoning for a married convict or 100 lashes of the cane for an unmarried offender); or Hirabah - a crime of violence/forcible taking (an interpersonal crime) or Ta'zir falling under the principle of Al-fi'l al-darr (Islamic Law of Tort), in which a claim for moral damages can be made.

The acts of Herdsmen regularly going into peoples' farms to kidnap them (like in the case of Chief Olu Falae in Ondo State), destroy their crops by grazing their cattle on peoples' farms, sometimes burning village property, killing inhabitants and raping the women - what we saw occur in Benue and Plateau States - are examples of domestic terrorism (if done by local Herdsmen) and transnational/international terrorism (if done by non-Nigerian Herdsmen). These are very serious felonies. See the case of State v Haruna Usman in which Usman, a 15 year old Herder stabbed Happy David to death. Usman stabbed David in back numerous times, and was sentenced to death by the trial Judge.

Handling Terrorists

There are various ways of handling terrorists - ranging from the "We do not negotiate with terrorists" stand, to open or secret negotiations with them. For us in Nigeria, the truth is that we have very few Absolute terrorists (for example, suicide bombers), that is, terrorists who have a tangible raison d'etre and will not negotiate, unless the negotiator somehow succeeds in downgrading them from Absolute to Contingent terrorists, which are the ones who we mostly have in Nigeria - those who kidnap and take hostages - they seek and welcome negotiations.

Some people consider the no-negotiation stand to be dangerous, as it puts the lives of the hostages more at stake, if the demands of the kidnappers/terrorists are not met. On the other hand, those who subscribe to the no-negotiation stand, believe that this stand makes it clear to the terrorists from the onset that they will gain nothing from holding hostages, and discourages kidnapping. They believe that giving in to the demands of these kidnappers, will only encourage them to kidnap more. People believe that the reason why kidnapping has become so popular in Nigeria, is that it has become a lucrative criminal enterprise, because we readily pay the huge ransoms demanded or negotiated amounts; and naturally so, since we do not want to risk the lives of loved ones, innocent people and helpless children.

Our Government indulges in secret negotiations with terrorists. They never carry the public along in what actually transpired between them and the kidnappers, or how the release of abductees was secured (open negotiations). Controversies always trail releases, as the Government would have the public believe that it does not pay ransoms, when sometimes the public hears otherwise.

Negotiation, is not always about payment of monetary ransoms. In 2014, the US Government secured the release of one of its soldiers, in exchange for five Taliban prisoners who were being detained in Guantanamo. In 2011, the Gilad Shalit Prisoner Exchange, in which the Hamas exchanged Shalit for 1,027 mainly Palestinian prisoners detained by the Israeli Government, took place. Our Government needs to be more up and doing, learning strategies from other Governments on how to free hostages and deal with terrorists.


Whatever they are called - bandits, criminals or terrorists, the most important issue is not what they are called, but how to stop their dastardly activities. For negotiations to be fruitful, there must be a viable income deriving alternative. For one, Miyetti Allah should spearhead the setting up of ranches for their members, especially in locations where they enjoy the sympathies of the State Governments, to avoid any more crisis with Farmers. There's a lot they can learn from Israel, on how they turned desert into viable land. Similar types of incentives like agricultural loans given to Farmers can be given to Herders or their Association, to assist them in moving their business to the next level - modern systems of cattle breeding. Let us study countries like South Korea (SK) and China. 60 years ago, SK was a rural agrarian economy; Nigeria even gave them aid - today, SK has transformed into a first world country. 40 years ago, China was a poor, corrupt country with a stagnant economy. In the last 30 years, China has lifted close to a billion people out of extreme poverty, and approximately 70 million since the inception of the Buhari Administration. Above all, our society needs to be more equitable. The gap between the rich and the poor has become too wide, and poverty is the cause of majority of the criminality we are experiencing. We need to be strict about border control. If Government claims that many of the Herdsmen wreaking havoc are non-Nigerian, then their points of entry into Nigeria should be sealed, in order to protect our own people. Nigeria urgently needs to develop a wholesome strategy, to conquer this criminality, or else... ... .

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