A few days ago when I read in the news that ‘bandits’ have levied operators at a gold processing site in Jibia LGA of Katsina State N10,000 “for uninterrupted running of the site”, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to laugh, or cry. Yes, it has reached the point where an extreme emotional response to the tragedy that Nigeria has become is expected. The story went further to say the levy was imposed after the criminals invaded the site, killed two and injured five. The question that immediately arises is: Is Jibia in Nigeria, or is it a standalone turf where any and every insane person can decide to go on a murder spree before taxing innocent citizens?
While my question above is merely rhetorical, I harbour a very literal version of it in my heart. The same heart which bleeds for every single Nigerian who has lost a relative to these beasts called ‘bandits’, or anyone whose family has had to pay hard-earned money as ransom to murderous, entitled criminals who seem to be unstoppable in their carnival of death. I share the same frustration with the gentleman on a now-viral clip who began a ransom negotiation call with polite requests for reasonable reduction, only be met with callous insults from the kidnapper on the other end of the line. The gentleman, of course, lost his patience and flared up, angrily telling the ‘bandit’ to go ahead and kill the victim.
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While not every victim’s family can have the guts for such a display of exasperation, certainly not every victim’s family can afford the ransoms. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, let me update you: While ransoms can be as silly and laughable as a chicken, goat, or even recharge card (depending on the locale or circumstance), they can get as ridiculously high as N200 million. Then, as if systematically, it is negotiated downwards. Depending on how much a family can raise, it comes down to various levels, anything between N10million to N500,000 if a negotiator manages to hit the right spot with a kidnapper.
But back to Jibia, the latest bizarre matter of criminals charging citizens a levy of N10,000 and the even more bizarre response of the police. The Katsina State Police Public Relations Officer, SP Gambo Isah, while confirming the incident in a tone-deaf statement, said: “Yes, the bandits attacked the processing site, killed two people and injured some others who were later taken to hospital for treatment. We have already launched an investigation into the real motives of the bandits.” Really, Einstein? Even a child can decipher the real motives behind the Jibia attack. Whatever happened to action? Do not forget that Jibia is actually in Katsina State, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari. The symbolism is, if anything, striking and telling.
Then take a look at Zamfara State, when recently ‘bandits’ reportedly killed at least 30 people, raiding several villages in a region that has been in a security crisis for more than two years. This is only the latest in a series of brazen attacks that have claimed lives of innocent villagers, sometimes over a hundred per attack. When security operatives don’t show up to help, able-bodied men and youths take up crude weapons to defend their communities, earning the ire of the well-armed gangs of criminals who return to stage violent reprisals. It is a vicious cycle, really. The fact that no tangible development has even reached these Nigerians underscores the weight of their suffering at the hands of so-called bandits.
That’s why the imposition by ‘bandits’ of a ‘levy’ on innocent, law-abiding citizens in Jibia – and indeed some other parts of northern Nigeria – should be viewed as full-blown insurgency. This is because they are not only occupying areas, but they are also charging taxes, both things which only the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the legal right to do. The fact that they go about killing whoever does not toe their nefarious lines is enough cause for a heavy-handed response from the government. I daresay so-called amnesty for ‘bandits’ is a failure, because time and time again they pick up their arms and return to the forests, and to their evil ways. It is high time the ‘bandits’ are reminded that they do not run the country.