The numbers tell us that the Nigerian State is being overwhelmed by gun-wielding terrorists, bandits and militants. On Wednesday, Kaduna State presented its 2020 security report. The numbers are frightening – 937 people were killed, 1,972 people kidnapped for ransom and 7,195 cattle were rustled just last year. The most affected area in the state is Birnin Gwari, the Emir of which described graphically the “normal” reality they live in – 200 to 300 heavily armed men will surround a village; kill, abduct, steal, burn their food stores regularly. Rape and sexual violence have also reached industrial levels. The people are living in hell on earth. It is not surprising that so many people are abandoning their homes, farms and livelihoods and running to the cities to live precarious and miserable lives.
In Zamfara State, traditional rulers told the service chiefs, who visited the state this week, that there were over 30,000 armed bandits in Zamfara forests, a number that far outweighs the less than 10,000 troops deployed to the state to tackle insecurity. The Zamfara State Governor, Matawalle, announced on Tuesday that he had discussed the deteriorating security situation with the President who has ordered the deployment of an additional 6,000 troops to crush the bandits if they failed to surrender their arms within two months. This means the forthcoming battle will be between 30,000 well-armed bandits and 16,000 soldiers, who we are told will crush them. We are Nigerians so we pray for their success in crushing the bandits.
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The Zamfara people have also demanded to know the sense of the declaration of “a no-fly zone” in a state that does not even have an airport. The Chairman of the Traditional Rulers of the State and Emir of Anka, Alhaji Attahiru Muhammad Ahmad, speaking for his colleagues told the new service chiefs led by the Chief of Defence Staff, General Lucky Irabor, who were on an official visit to the state that Zamfara had no airport to warrant the declaration, insisting that there were states worst hit by armed banditry but that were not declared no-fly zones. According to the Anka emir, “There is no connection between mining and armed banditry. We have no evidence that aircraft are coming to provide weapons to bandits or that miners are giving arms to bandits.” In plain words, the people of Zamfara were telling the Nigerian State THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY ARE DOING.
The two months ultimatum given to bandits in Zamfara State to surrender is an indication of this lack of understanding. The bandits are making millions on a daily basis and they appear confident that they outnumber and outgun the security personnel so why should they take the threat seriously. For years, hundreds of armed bandits are roving around as raiding bands and doing what they want to do without challenge. The reality is that the bandits and terrorists are the ones delivering credible threats to governments, security personnel and communities. Many communities are currently contributing money and paying bandits not to attack them. The response of the Zamfara State Government this week is to ban: “the movement of motorcycles in groups in all the nooks and crannies of the state and security operatives are directed to apprehend the violators of this order.” This is the right thing to do but what is the value of a directive that cannot be enforced?
After their Zamfara visit, General Irabor led the service chiefs to Katsina. Governor Masari told them about the necessity for a single command coordinating the military operations to decisively deal with the security situation in the region: “I know the military has a central command, but we want a situation where the command will dissolve borderlines between Katsina and Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna and between the borders of all the affected states so that the operations will be going on simultaneously in all the sides such that the criminals will not have anywhere to run to if they come under attack,” he told them. The armed forces, he added, should realise that the bandits are the same group of people with the same source of arms and ammunition, moving from one state to another. The politician was telling the generals that they are fighting a war of position – deal with bandits one state at a time while the bandits are fighting a war of movement where they move away from planned and announced assault in one state to surrounding zones where they can operate without disturbance. When therefore in two month’s time, the 6,000 additional troops are sent to Zamfara, the bandits will simply move out to another state and return when the coast is clear.
Meanwhile, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State has announced that the way forward was for him to supply vigilante in the State with automatic pump-action riffles to enable them to take the battle to the bandits. As firearms is on the exclusive legislative list, state governors have no powers to arm their vigilante groups. The reality of the overwhelming force of bandits and the low capacity of our armed forces to deal with them is forcing many state governments, and indeed communities to pursue the path of self-help. It is interesting that in both Zamfara and Niger states, the bandits have organised congresses to debate and map out their own strategies. They have issued demands to state governments to disband and disarm vigilantes as a condition for future peace. They are turning Max Weber on his head. Rather than the state having the monopoly of the means of violence, they want to have that monopoly for themselves without competition from the vigilantes. I am not sure what this tells us about our armed forces but I suspect there is a message that we should decipher. In Niger State, Governor Bello has responded to the bandits saying: “We are not going to disband the vigilante as a result of threat from the bandits.
Governors are chief security officers in their states but they cannot provide arms without authorisation from the federal government. The time has come for a national conversation on this matter, which can get out of hand whatever decision is taken or not taken. As I argued last week, there is no nationally coordinated strategy to combat insecurity and the bandits and terrorists are the ones taking initiatives in their own interest. As the scale of the problem grows, and security forces are becoming increasingly overwhelmed, Nigeria has to get back to the drawing board and develop an effective and sensible plan to provide safety for citizens and visitors.