Kabiru Adamu is a security management and intelligence specialist. In this interview, Adamu who is the Managing Director, Beacon Consulting Ltd examines the various dimensions of armed banditry in Nigeria and proffers solutions on how to tackle the menace. Excerpt:
Can you trace the origin of armed banditry in Nigeria?
Armed banditry in Nigeria can be traced to the civil war in 1967 to 1970 and the inability or failure of the government in place then to carry out an effective demobilization programme. Yes, there was the 3Rs programme but the component of demobilization was not effective enough in mopping up the arms supply that could have been a very certain way of responding to the civil war. Those weapons were left in circulation.
You can also trace it to the effect of the war in neighbouring countries such as Niger, Chad and the effect of that in Nigeria, and of course, the ‘kwanta-kwanta’ phenomenon in Borno State where armed individuals crossed the border into Nigeria and effected the kwanta-kwanta banditry. Unfortunately, other parts of the North, especially locations that are close to Niger and Chad were also affected. Therefore, a combination of internal and external factors, I would say, is the origin of armed banditry in Nigeria.
Another factor, which is the more recent, is the ineffective component of law enforcement of the state, especially the allegation of extortion by the police which meant that individuals instead of seeking redress with the law were allegedly extorted and resorted to arming themselves through armed banditry.
What is your opinion on the factors that gave rise to armed banditry in Nigeria?
The factors that gave rise to armed banditry in Nigeria are; the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, weak governance, the existence of the so-called ungoverned spaces and the failure of the criminal justice system to arrest and punish offenders as well and the weakened value system, especially the family system which is unable to inculcate in children the difference between wrong and right.
The religious institutions are another factor, then the media which should play its role as a neutral arbiter but unfortunately, has become part of the entire, very sentimental Nigerian society that has been divided along religious and ethnic lines, pushing propagandas that unfortunately are dividing us instead of bringing us together. Where the value system has collapsed as a result of these things I have mentioned, the consequence is criminality including armed banditry.
What impact has armed banditry created in Nigeria so far?
The fundamental element of every society, including security, safety, livelihood, the standard of living becomes crippled as a result of armed banditry. It also contributes to the weakening of the state; especially the sovereignty of the Nigerian state to provide for its citizens as enshrined in the constitution and the social contract and, in the long run, it would lead to the collapse of the state.
There are political, economic and social dimensions to the effect of banditry. No matter how you look at it, it leads to a weakened state and a drop in the standard of living and all other functions of the state. In the long run, the respect which the country is being given in the comity of nations is gradually eroded. Consequently, the possibility of the collapse of the state too cannot be excluded.
How effective has been the government’s response in tackling armed banditry in Nigeria?
The government’s response in tackling banditry has mainly been in the deployment of the military. You can trace several military operations as well as the establishment of new military formations. Unfortunately, that has not been very effective for the simple reason that these military formations do not address the root causes of banditry. We have mentioned the proliferation of small arms and light weapons; conflicts in neighbouring countries such as the civil war in Niger and Chad. We also mentioned the lack of effectiveness of the administration of the criminal justice system and there is also a linkage to climate change.
So for any policy measure to be effective, the root causes have to be addressed including the collapse of the family value system and the importance of both the family unit, educational and the media as influencers and contributors in the value system.
What roles do the states and local governments have in addressing the problem of armed banditry?
Unfortunately, both the state and local governments have not been very effective in addressing the root causes of armed banditry. In Nigeria security remains on the exclusive list which means states and local governments would always rely on the federal government. But if we look at the root causes of banditry – the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, weak governance, the collapse of the value system, and the ineffectiveness of the administration of the criminal justice system – then states and local governments have a role to play. For instance, the role expected of the state is that almost all the forested areas belong to the state governments, only the game reserves belong to the federal government.
So they (states) have a responsibility to ensure that all the ungoverned places are manned and not used by these bandits to hibernate and carry out their nefarious activities.
There have been allegations of complicity by politicians in sponsoring bandits for political purposes. Do you agree?
This is real. In Nigeria, almost all the political parties, unfortunately, are responsible for that. You just need to go to any campaign activity of any of the political parties and you will see the number of non-state actors wielding weapons.
For the more sophisticated type of arming non-state actors, there are several instances in several states where some elements have been seen to cohort and associate with these bandits. Whether out of complicity or direct arming or just allowing them to operate for certain political reasons, it is very clear that some politicians are abetting and contributing in encouraging the activities of these non-state actors, including armed bandits.
Do you think community policing can address the problem?
Yes, community policing can assist in managing and containing the issue of armed banditry. But for community policing to be effective, a lot of issues have to be addressed; we need to ensure that all the root causes earlier mentioned are properly addressed. It is definitely one of the ways of addressing the problem of armed banditry in Nigeria.
What security threats does armed banditry pose to the 2023 general elections?
With regards to the 2023 elections, where you have a situation that some locations within the country are considered ungoverned spaces, where certain locations have elevated security threats to the extent that normal government activities cannot take place or people have to abandon their locations and move to other areas, then it may be impossible for elections to hold and therefore armed banditry is a huge threat. This is especially so in the hot spots of the North West and North Central; for credible elections to hold armed banditry would need to be contained and the perpetrators would need to be arrested.
What would you proffer as solutions to armed banditry in Nigeria?
The number one solution to armed banditry is for Nigerians to rise up as a people to reject anyone involved in banditry. The responsibility starts with Nigerians, unfortunately, the value chain has emerged for armed banditry where it is very obvious that it is not just the criminals but several persons are supporting or contributing to the value chain in terms of the provision of food and other essential commodities. So Nigerians must make a firm statement and say ‘enough is enough.’
Secondly, the government has to play its role; I have talked about porous borders, the proliferation of arms. I have also talked about the weak governance system as well as the ungoverned spaces. Law enforcement too should be enhanced so that the disposal of the law enforcement agencies, not necessarily the military, but the other law enforcement agencies, especially the National Park Service under the Ministry of Environment has that responsibility. They are in charge of the forested areas and their capacities should be enhanced so that they dominate these areas speedily.