Dr. Tukur Muhammad Mukhtar is of the Department of History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto. In this interview, the don, who specializes in Social History with specific reference to legal history traced the root causes of insecurity in Nigeria with particular reference to armed banditry. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the general security situation in the country?
The prevailing security situation in the country generally has to be seen within the historical perspective that Nigeria as a nation came up as a result of the amalgamation of other independent tribes and communities. Of course, the multi-cultural and religious nature of the Nigerian state is not supposed to be a problem and is not supposed to be a factor in our security challenge. Rather it should have been the instrument for our development. But be that as it may, we were colonized by the British and we have the neighbours. Artificial boundaries were created between us and other brotherhood and those led to certain challenges, especially during the struggle towards independence. There are also issues of regionalization between Nigerians where the Northern, Western and Eastern regions were created. Our grandparents then struggled to unite Nigeria. Sir Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik of Africa), Obafemi Awolowo; they were all very sincere in trying to develop Nigeria as a sovereign country. But very unfortunate for us, the regionalization, later on, took a nepotistic undertone. So policies were created by regional governments that other parts of Nigerian societies see as a problem. For example, Awolowo came up with free education for all earlier than any other region and Ahmadu Bello; the then Premier of the Northern region came up with a modernization policy. This brought some problems that I believe if you understand the history very well, you will see that those were part of the crises that led to the 1966 coup. So the seed for security challenges was sowed right from there.
But all the same, we should have been planning towards addressing these problems. Now we allow things to go out of hand because we left the regulations of our forefathers. We left the ethics and the foundation laid by them and this is how I view it.
Then the military government came in with a lot of interest. Now politics, democracy from 1999 came in with its own problems. But there are certain features or issues that our leaders didn’t take care of earlier since around 1999. There were crises in our neighbouring countries. Chad was sometimes in crisis in the early 1999 and later on, the Arab spring came up, it affected Libya. We saw how Gaddafi was ousted. That led to a proliferation of light arms in the hands of civilians and very unfortunate for us, they got their way into our country. Nigeria, I am sorry to say, claims to be mighty, but at a point Nigeria was empty. We don’t have absolute control of our borders, we don’t have an absolute record. We don’t have careful and standard population control. So every dick and harry came in the name of ECOWAS protocols and ran down to Nigeria and this affects the Nigerian population. For example, if you look along the fringes of the northwestern states of Kebbi, Zamfara, Sokoto Katsina, Jigawa upward to Maiduguri border, border administration becomes a serious problem to security and even to the societies living in those borders. This is because people come in and out at their will. It is very unfortunate this happens only in Nigeria. If you are going to the Niger Republic, they will check you, put their record properly and go in. But we allow our borders to be very porous. Now the implication is we don’t have control of our population. So we will be having a crisis in enjoying infrastructural facilities with those that are not Nigerians.
It may be interesting to know that, sometimes, our colleague conducted research on the Zabarmawa community who originally came from the Niger Republic in Sokoto. The finding was very astonishing, that they control a greater percentage of small and medium businesses here in Sokoto and Kebbi state whereas the indigenous people are there jobless. I don’t know why. Honestly, this has a connection with the security challenges we are having.
Another side of it is that we are experiencing governance crisis. Look at it from a global perspective that there are certain global issues that are affecting governance, climate change which is affecting rainfall distribution and agricultural production; COVID-19 pandemic and international oil politics that is affecting mono-economies like Nigeria because we solemnly depend on oil as a source of revenue. Once the oil price crashes, then we will see our governors crying foul because we are not prepared for it.
What is your take on the issue of armed banditry, especially in the northern part of the country?
As far as I am concerned banditry is a kind of offshoot of other criminal activities that the country has been facing. The bandits took advantage of the security situation in our country. Don’t forget in the last 10 years, we used to brag that Sokoto was the most peaceful state. I am telling you this banditry didn’t start today. So go back to the last ten years and find out what happened with our governance, with our societal structures and situation then we will now understand how the banditry began. In the beginning, they were ordinary criminals that steal cows and whatever. But it took a different dimension because it later became a lucrative business. Now coupled with the porosity of our borders they got hold of arms, light weapons, and whatever. So this thing affected the rise of banditry activities. Now how could it be possible for a bandit to operate within the Gundumi forest? I always question myself when I pass through this forest, that three kilometers away from the main road, you can see whoever is there from both sides.
Then how do they operate successfully?
The issue is, we saw it as a minor problem at the beginning despite intelligence because I believe the security operators provide the intelligence for them. But our government because of weakness they refused to act. So now, it is getting out of hand. So if you look closely, the whole issue of North-west is inter-connected and there is no synergy between the state governors that govern those states. So when there is an operation in Zamfara, they slip into Sokoto and the security operatives will say we are only operating for Zamfara that is all. And when there is an operation in Sokoto, the bandits slip into Katsina and that is how they keep going on.
Now look at it, in Sokoto specifically, there is another security challenge that we think is minor but is going to be deadly. Look at this axis of Silame, Balle in Gudu local government area, those people that are causing the problem there, they are not bandits even though, there are some acts of banditry that they do. They claimed to be Jihadists. Now they go into communities, they preach, but one aspect is the individual contribution towards this kind of thing because it is within the individual groups that they draw their information, what the government is planning, when they are supposed to launch their reprisal attack. They get this information from the individuals. Within these individuals, they have their storekeepers who keep their ammunition for them. Who keeps their riffles, who supply them with whatever they want and transport anything for them? And even those who keep some of the funds they acquire.
So you can now see how complex this issue is and how complex it becomes for government to address it. Because they operate at their will and the government only responds when there is an attack. This is a serious problem because our security intelligence is supposed to be superior to help the government in planning. Now giving the constitutional crisis, Chief Security Officer in the state, the Executive Governor, has no control of the army; no control of the police. He only operates in understanding with them but he cannot direct an operation and they said he is the Chief Security Officer. Can you see the limitations and that is why you see a lot of the state Governors running helter-skelter to see Mr. President, begging him to order for a particular operation? This is one aspect.
The other aspect is there are crises even within the security circle. Imagine how a security officer interrogating a suspect, but you find the clip circulating on social media. Don’t you think that clip is already in the hand of other bandits? So our security platform becomes vulnerable that even the bandits can infiltrate it. As far as I am concerned whoever is recording that video is divulging sensitive information of the state. So the government will have to operate under a strict intelligent mobilization system and even operation but we lost that. And this is why this act of banditry is becoming complex.
Now if you look at it closely, in Sokoto state, for example, you find the security challenges as regards to banditry along Isa, Sabon Birni, Goronyo, Rabah, then Kebbe and even Shagari. Now you will find them in Tureta because they share a border with Zamfara. So there has to be a proper grounding on how the government will handle this but obviously, the kind of snap operation that is going on is not enough from the side of the government, even though, I don’t blame the government alone because individually we have our roles to play.
So look at the dimension this thing is taking; it is taking the ethnic dimension. The victims feel, they are Hausas and that is why Fulanis are killing them and ravaging their economy. But this is supposed to be investigated because these are clues that we should intensively research on.
What do you think are the causes of banditry?
The causes are; derailment of our values, societal and religious values. Secondly, insincerity within ourselves; from the community, the individual, and government. As a patriotic citizen, when I see somebody or I am suspecting somebody, am I supposed to attack him? I should report him to the appropriate authority so that they act appropriately. As an individual, that is how I should behave to become patriotic. We should not aid them in any way because by being accomplices, we are aiding them.
Then we must think about our border and we must take education seriously because those committing this atrocity are not educated. They don’t know what their religion says about the killing of innocent life and the punishment awaiting the killer in this world and hereafter.
So what do you think is the way out?
The way out like I said earlier, we have to reverse back and think within ourselves, the government, the community, the individual have to sacrifice whoever is involved. If my child happens to be part of the bandits, I will expose him and not interfere. I will allow justice to take its course. If my brother is a local government chairman or as a District head or as Governor, my political party man is within a clique who have provided information to them, I will allow justice to take its course. So if we allow justice to take its course, you imprison those who need to be imprisoned or sentence those to be sentenced to death and whatever, according to their offences. Then you should come back and start charting a course to social reorientation. We will have to reorient ourselves on ethics, our religion, and cultural ethics. All our religions preach peace, then why are we suffering now?.