Mahmoud Hamman is a professor in the department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. In this interview with Daily Trust, he identified citizens’ cooperation as a major factor in winning the war against banditry and insurgents. He however attributed lack of this cooperation to the loss of confidence in the country’s security agencies, as well as the failure of governments to deal “decisively” with the masterminds and perpetrators of violence, among many other issues. Excerpt:
Daily Trust: As a historian, what is your take on the security challenges facing Nigeria, especially if there is anything that we need to learn from history?
Professor Mahmoud Hamman: The most serious security issues facing this country today are insurgency and banditry and both involve heinous atrocities like terrorism, arson, kidnapping and murder, which inevitably lead to massive displacement of communities and the dislocation of the economy. For over a decade now, the various security agencies, particularly the Nigeria Army and Police, have been tackling the perpetrators and degrading their capacities, but they are still active and causing havoc, especially in the Northeastern, Northwestern and parts of the North central geo-political zones of the country. The pertinent question is why are the insurgents and bandits still active in these areas in particular in spite of the tremendous efforts of the security agencies to contain them? The answer to this question may be found in our recent history.
The collapse of public administration at the state and local government levels from 1980 to date is one of the factors contributing to our current security woes. The foundation of peace and security in every society is effective governance as reflected in the extent to which the constituted authorities have clear knowledge of the day-to-day affairs of the people under their jurisdiction and developed appropriate policy mechanisms to regulate their conduct or behaviour.
Until the 1980s, the northern states of Nigeria were known for their relative stability and peace compared to other parts of the country. This was partly the result of the development over the centuries of state systems that were characterized by well-defined hierarchy of authority from the center to the lowest level of society.
The weakening of public administration at the state and local government levels in the North began to manifest in the early 1980s as a result of some monumental errors in political and administrative decisions of the Northern states. For example, in 1980/81 the government of Kaduna State under Alhaji Balarabe Musa decided in the context of the oil boom euphoria and the restoration of democratic practice in the country to abolish the Jangali (Cattle Tax) and Haraji (poll or head tax) ostensibly to reduce economic burden on the masses.
DT: How can the decision taken only by Kaduna State be said to have impacted the entire northern states?
Hamman: This is because shortly thereafter, the various governments of the Northern states followed suit, obviously for political reasons. However, it did not occur to them that throughout history, exactions like tax, tributes, levies etc that are imposed by states or sovereigns and which have economic value, are fundamentally instruments of administrative and political control that serve to maintain the loyalty and obedience of the subjects. Hence, their sudden and uncritical abolition may have even security consequences for the nation-states.
In the case of the states of Northern Nigeria, this oversight by their governments in 1980 has today proved to be extremely costly in terms of security of life and property. This is because various processes and procedures that have very important security implications for the states usually preceded the annual collection of both Jangali and Kharaji. They effectively checked the excesses of the highly mobile and restless herdsmen and sedentary rural and urban dwellers.
DT: It is amazing for taxes to be counted as security measures?
All right, let us begin with the Jangali. The process started with the enumeration of cattle population across the entire Northern region on the basis of individual herds under the jurisdiction of Native Authorities (NAs). During this exercise, the herdsmen and their settlements (ruggage) were registered. The size of each herd of cattle was determined by counting the animals therein. The migratory orbit of each pastoral family was also documented on this occasion. This exercise constituted the first phase of official contact between the herdsmen and local authorities.
After a few months, the actual cash payment was made by individual herdsmen as per the registered cattle population of each herd. This exercise involved the district heads, the village heads and the various Ardo’s (pastoral leaders) of the herdsmen and it constituted the second phase of official contact between the herdsmen and various local authorities.
The third phase of official contact between them was when the annual compulsory, but free inoculation of cattle was conducted by veterinary personnel against epidemics like Rinderpest and Bovine Tuberculosis. Every herdsman would naturally want his herds to be inoculated and therefore needed no persuasion.
As a result of all these annual official contacts, every herdsman and his residence were documented and information on them was available in public records. So, no herdsmen would think of committing heinous crimes and expect to get away with them undetected by public authorities and therefore criminality amongst them was reduced to the barest minimum.
However, with the abolition of Jangali in the Northern states, over 40 years now, no public officer would know the identity and whereabouts of the herdsmen and hence they operate as faceless freelance and can commit any offence in one area and escape to another undetected. It is, therefore, no wonder that going by the testimonies of the victims of banditry in the northern states, the herdsmen seem to be some of the principal actors in this matter.
DT: Are you advocating for the restoration of Jangali and other pastoral practices before the 1980s?
Yes, restoration of Jangali with all its annual protocols and procedures in all the Northern states of Nigeria will be one of the solutions to our present challenges. However, it is pertinent at this juncture to draw attention to the issue of pastoral infrastructure whose provision will definitely enhance the containment of crimes perpetrated by herdsmen. All grazing reserves in the country, about 415, should be revived and forests, which now serve as safe havens for bandits, should be reclaimed by government to create new grazing reserves in order to accommodate the numerous herdsmen in the country and promote the modernization of the country’s meat and dairy industries.
In the case of Haraji or poll tax, it affected adult males only; men above 18 years old and were registered annually on the basis of Wards (Unguwanni). Every ward head (Mai Unguwa) with the assistance of a scribe was responsible for the annual registration of the residents of his ward for purposes of tax collection. Like the Jangali, the Kharaji collection was also preceded by some procedures and processes that had very important security implications regarding the identity, address and occupation of the eligible citizens of the ward.
When the poll tax was abolished in the northern states, most ward heads did not know the residents because the annual tax registration exercise was stopped. Hence the male inhabitants of the ward, both young and old, can now easily operate in their neighborhood or elsewhere as criminals and gangsters undetected since the ward heads, not to talk of the district heads and local government chairmen and councilors have no official basis of interaction with them and know their identity. Against this background, one may also recommend the restoration of Kharaji and all its annual protocols and procedures throughout the Northern states in order to enhance the formal interaction between the populace and constituted authorities even for reasons of security alone.
DT: Before ward heads could discharge these responsibilities, they need to be recognised by the country’s extant laws….
Yes, this is why the issue of marginalization of local administration and security architecture of traditional rulers at district, village and ward levels since the abolition of Jangali and Kharaji must be addressed. The phenomenon of redundancy of traditional leaders at the grassroots level obviously have grave security implications. The common adage that ‘the idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ applies here. These traditional leaders have not only political and administrative value in modern administration but even more seriously security/intelligence relevance throughout this country, because they are closest to the people.
With regards to the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast, the incorporation of local hunters in the military effort is relevant especially in the Sambisa forest which have been their hunting grounds for centuries. However, the announcement by Yobe State Government that it would not repatriate the almajirai to their various states of origin and reunite them with their parents is counterproductive as it would only facilitate the recruitment of Boko Haram foot soldiers in the state. Indeed, the practice of Almajiranci in the whole of the Northeast geopolitical zone should be banned in order to deprive the insurgents of the opportunity to reinforce their ranks.
DT: Many stakeholders are canvassing for the use of community policing mechanism to fight the security challenges in different parts of the country?
The issue of community policing has been debated in this country for long and there is now apparent consensus on its necessity. The question, however, is how quickly could it be implemented especially in the northern zones where insurgency and banditry are rife.
The significance of community policing in the context of overall improvement of the security architecture of the country can be to strengthen intelligence operations based on their deeper knowledge of the local environment. It can also help to reduce the bureaucratization of security matters by eliminating red-tapism in security reporting and enhancing response time to emergency alerts. It is also important in identifying the bases and networks of criminals in the localities and the criminals’ methods of operation.
DT: Community policing may be only effective in known settlements, but bandits and insurgents operate in the bush and they largely use motorcycles as their main mean of mobility?
It is important to completely ban the use of motorcycles for several months in the states where banditry has assumed serious dimensions so that the movement of the bandits can be detected and reduced to the barest minimum, thereby diminishing their ability to elude security forces.
It is widely reported that the most important vehicle for bandits in the Northwestern and Northcentral geopolitical zones now is the motorcycle. When they embark on major operations against targeted rural settlements, each motorcycle carries up to three armed riders. It is reported that the bandits reinforce their tyres with dry camel or donkey skins by inserting their tubes inside the skins before inflating the tyres. This tactic enables them to operate even on the roughest bush paths and on top speed, thereby eluding security agencies easily.
DT: It is said that bandits are now recruiting from pastoral families…
Yes, it is true. Bandits who dominate the Abuja area are imposing a levy of young boys on the various pastoral families in their areas of operation. Each family is supposed to send one boy to join their gang or else their security and that of their cattle could not be guaranteed. The life of the Ardos (pastoral leaders) of the herdsmen who seem to be cooperating with the security agencies in their moves against the bandits are also threatened and some have even been killed already.
The bandits are also said to have started interfering with the social life of the pastoral communities by compelling some girls to marry people who are associated with them. If the parents of such girls resist, their security and that of their cattle will be in jeopardy. It is therefore very necessary and even urgent for the security agencies to devise ways and means of penetrating the pastoral communities and detect the bandit masterminds by trailing their recruits and other associates through the forced marriages.
DT: What do you think can be done in the Northeast to address the myriad of security challenges?
In the Northeastern zone where Boko Haram insurgents are active, it will be advisable for the Nigeria Army to overwhelm them by massive mobilisation of troops both on the ground and air in the Sambisa forest and Lake Chad region. A whole division should be deployed against them at once in each of the theaters of war. That means encircling the insurgents by about 10,000 troops in one fell swoop. This strategy worked in the Republic of Chad when under the Command of their President Idris Derby, 9,000 soldiers swept across the lakes in response to Boko Haram attacks. By the end of the operation, over a thousand Boko Haram insurgents of the Al-Barnawi faction were eliminated and thousands of firearms were seized.
It was reported that many of the insurgents escaped into the Nigerian territory as fugitives in Sambisa and other parts of the Borno area. A similar move on the part of the Nigeria Army in concert with their multi-national allies could easily mop them up and bring to an end the menace of the insurgents in the Northeastern geo-political zone.
DT: It seems you have forgotten the Mambila-Plateau imbroglio.
Yes, theirs is more serious and devastating. The terror and arson perpetrated by the Mambila ethnic militia on the Mambila-Plateau against the pastoral Fulani community since 1979/80 culminated in the June 2017 genocide that claimed over 1,000 lives of pastoralists and about 25,000 of their cattle killed or rustled without any consequence so far.
More than 25,000 refugees escaped into the Cameroons and so far, many of them have not returned to Nigeria. This scandalous incident was the most documented of its kind in the history of this country and its gravity was first brought to the notice of the world by a very senior Military Officer, namely Brigadier General Benjamin I. Ahanotu, GOC 3rd Division, Nigeria Army, Jos. He was dispatched by the Federal Government to stop the carnage.
In spite of the directive given by the then Acting President, Professor (Yemi) Osinbajo, none of the perpetrators was apprehended and prosecuted as he directed. The well-known leaders and masterminds of the Mambila militia, both in the Taraba State government and the Sardauna local government area council, as well as their principal foot soldiers and field commanders during the genocide are still walking freely and openly boasting that they will still do it again.
Neither the state government nor the Federal Security Agencies are treating the matter with the seriousness it deserves. This unfortunate situation may be sending the wrong signals to troublemakers in the country. Such heinous offences should not be left hanging for too long, because they may provoke counter measures by victim communities.
Hence, it is very important that the Nigeria security agencies revisit this spectacular incident and bring the culprits to book as a deterrent for criminality in the future.