Claim: An aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, has claimed that bandits did not exist when his principal was in power.
Verdict: The claim is false. Modern banditry presently witnessed and associated with armed herdsmen in Nigeria could be traced from events that occurred in 2011. However, activities of armed herdsmen predated the administration of President Jonathan as the root causes that led to herders taking to guns to protect their livestock, others rustle cattle and consequently kidnappings for ransom, have been brewing for long. Its viciousness could be traced to events that transpired when the erstwhile president was in power.
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A Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, made a series of claims on his twitter handle on changes that have occurred since his principal handed over power to President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015.
The tweets, which touched on inflation and security juxtaposed prices of goods between 2015 and 2022, concluded that “Bandits did not exist under Jonathan.”
Brief on banditry
Banditry in Nigeria is a loose word that refers to criminal gangs that raid communities in their large numbers with the aim of abduction and rustling of livestock. Armed with sophisticated weapons, the gangs leave trails of blood and destruction in affected community due to the carnage of destruction they mete out during their operation.
The act is akin to Fulani herdsmen. It has grown to incorporate other ethnic groups in the country who find refuge in the vast forest that connects various states in northern Nigeria. Though their action is felt in the southern part of the country, majority of their attacks are in the north as they know no boundary, with Fulani kinsmen not spared.
The genesis of the problem is related to cow rustling which has been an age-long activity in the country and traceable to pre-independence Nigeria. Recently, the uproot of herders from lands they have occupied for decades, if not centuries, as well as climate change resulting to migration of herders seeking greener pasture for their herds in wet areas have contributed to the crises. Their movement oftentimes led to clashes between farmers and in some cases communal conflict.
This situation has been exacerbated by the flow of illegal arms into the country through porous borders from neighbouring countries.
It is safe to say that what started as a means of protection conflagrated into full blown criminality to rake in money from proceeds of kidnapping and rustled cattle by criminal gangs, or terrorists as they are proclaimed by the federal government.
Violent form of banditry witnessed in the country could be traced to Zamfara state.
A lecturer at the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, who has researched the historical background of the state, Dr Murtala A. Rufa’I, in an interview with Daily Trust noted that armed banditry surfaced in 2011 when the first armed group led by Kundu and the notorious Buharin Daji, both of Fulani background, emerged.
Rufa’i stated that the group was named Kungiyar gayu, meaning an association of young guys, but was publicly called Kungiyar Barayin Shanu, (cattle rustlers association).
He added that their real motive became known in 2012 when cases of cattle rustling turned to killings of villagers in the state to unveil their deep-rooted grievances.
But the event that changed the trajectory of the conflict was the killing of a prominent Fulani leader, Alhaji Isshe, on the accusation of harbouring criminals and supporting rustlers.
Rufa’i stated that the late Isshe family mobilised fighters and extended invitation to the gang for reprisal attacks a few days later, thus, reprisal and mass killings of innocent people.
He added that members of the gang multiplied in number, strength, power and weapons and even connections in 2013.
The tenure of President Jonathan started in 2010 till 2015, during this period, a research article by Prof. Samuel Egwu, titled, Political Economy of Rural Banditry in Rural Banditry in Contemporary Nigeria, reported that in 2013, gunmen armed with sophisticated weapons attacked farms owned by the the Vice-President Namadi Sambo and late Emir of Zaria, Alhaji Shehu Idris carting away over 1,000 cows of the former and 200 of later. These bore hallmark of bandits in their early stage. Also, a news report by Vanguard newspaper in 2014 stated that about 20 people were reportedly killed by unknown gunmen in the Dogon-Dawa village, Birnin Gwari Local government area of Kaduna state. Still at its early stage, the use of unknown gunmen then referred to bandits as a name was yet to be ascribed to them.
While a report by Daily Trust on 7 July, 2014, reported that “Birnin Gwari is notorious for gangs that attack vehicles and dispossess passengers of their money and valuables. In some cases, they abduct and rape female passengers. Residents of various villages in the area revealed that all their cows had been stolen by the bandits, giving rise to a situation that they say will affect food production in the area.”
Also, Bandits’ attacks were also recorded in Taraba and in February 2012 as over 23,000 Fulani herders poured into Cameroon from Nigeria’s northeastern state of Taraba, following deadly clashes with farming communities. The gangs stole herds, looted and burnt homes, and assaulted women.
Violent attacks by bandits began, in earnest, when President Jonathan was at the helm of the country but it exploded under President Buhari who failed to curtail their activities.