EDITORIAL: Treating Bandits With Kid Gloves

Photo Credit: MARXIST

SAN FRANCISCO, January 11, (THEWILL) – There is no denying the fact that the most worrisome concern for most Nigerians now is increasing poverty and a general state of insecurity across the country. Not even the ravaging and deadly second wave of the Coronavirus is instilling as much fear into Nigerians as insecurity and increasing poverty. From the North to the South and from the East to the West, the general belief now is that Nigeria has become one of the most dangerous places to live. Little surprise then, that Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, recently described the security challenge in the country as a “state of desperation ” as Nigeria continues to hold an unenviable third position in the Global Terror Index.

THEWILL, therefore, finds the recent assurance by President Muhammadu Buhari that the state of general insecurity as well as the activities of bandits in the country would soon be brought under control this year as not convincing enough. For more than five years running, it has all been rhetorics without the real political will to deal decisively with the problem.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, had raised the alarm on the general state of insecurity in the country, especially the North, a few weeks ago. Not too long after the alarm, over 70 rice farmers were killed in broad daylight in Zabarmani while some bandits later stormed the Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, Katsina State, where 344 students were abducted and taken to a notorious forest in Zamfara State. The Kankara boys were released after almost a week in captivity through negotiations with the criminals.

Another kidnap attempt by another local gang in Katsina State was foiled in the same Katsina just about the time the Kankara boys were released. The local rogues, apparently, were also looking for attention and settlement in what, unfortunately, has become a thriving business in the North as they tried to kidnap some other students.

It is sad that all these atrocities happened in the home state of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. Only last week, the Katsina State governor, Aminu Masari, was even “celebrating” the rescue of no fewer than 103 hostages held by gunmen in his state.

“We have so far returned 103 of the kidnapped victims and the process is still ongoing. We are doing this as quietly as we can, to make sure that nobody is harmed and further kidnapping is stopped,” Masari had said, adding, “This is in continuation of the exercise that started with the rescue of the 344 students of Government Science Secondary School at Kankara town of the state.”

The governor disclosed that the government was taking advantage of the recent release of the Kankara boys, saying, “We saw an opening and we are working with some stakeholders to make sure that we exploit the opening and bring back as many kidnapped victims as we can.”

Though he maintained that no ransom was paid to the kidnappers as the state government worked with the army, the police, the Air Force, and the department of state security to bring back the victims, only a few Nigerians would be fooled into believing such given the kid gloves with which the government has been treating bandits in the country, especially in the North.

Kogi State governor, Yahaha Bello, a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress, had earlier expressed frustrations at the kid gloves with which the bandits are being treated during his visit to President Buhari at the Aso Villa recently. He wondered how long the government would continue these bizarre negotiations with bandits who, according to him, are nothing more than common criminals, affirming that he would not stoop low as the chief security officer of his state to negotiate with bandits, who, he affirmed, are never sincere.

“The bandits are spilling into the state especially on Abuja-Lokoja highway carrying out attacks on commuters recently. We are not going to fold our hands and watch, neither thinking of negotiating with any criminal gangs; we know what to do and they are aware of what we can do.

“In the days ahead, I will lead security agents into their hideouts and smoke them out”, the Kogi governor said, maintaining that those who have refused to take the opportunity of the various government empowerment programmes to be self-reliant would not be allowed to unleash terror on innocent citizens.

He also warned “Those who want to engage in illicit endeavours such as armed robbery, kidnapping and banditry will be crushed”, saying “The federal and state governments have lofty empowerment programmes for different categories of persons to engage themselves meaningfully.”

We quite agree with Governor Bello on this as we find the new approach by Masari and his gang antithetical and counter-productive to the government’s much flaunted war on terrorism. It is really incomprehensible that a government that is making so much noise on the exploits of its armed forces on the battle field with terrorists is at the same time negotiating with some local bandits under the guise of “exploiting new window of opportunities.”

Borno State governor, Babagana Umara Zulum, has always been expressing his disappointment on the inability of the armed forces to indeed secure a portion of the state, maintaining that majority of the attacks within the last two years, took place between Auno and Jakana, a distance of about 20 kilometers.

“I have had occasions to defend the Nigerian military in order to boost the morale of commanders and their troops at the front lines because I know the true picture of things, however, I am really disappointed that despite all support from both the federal government and from us in Borno state, our military is failing to secure an area of 20 kilometers, which is the distance between Auno and Jakana. And incidentally, the majority of Boko Haram’s attacks along this Maiduguri-Damaturu-Kano road, keeps happening between Auno and Jakana. So, if the military cannot secure 20 kilometers, how can they keep us with the hope they will defeat the Boko Haram?” Zulum had lamented recently, even as he also berated the army and state government-sponsored rapid response squad on a recent visit to that section of the notorious highway.

THEWILL can understand Governor Zulum’s frustrations as hardly would a day passes in Nigeria, especially the North, without any news of kidnappings, abductions and senseless killings as it appears armed bandits and hardened criminals are now more determined to exploit the weak security architecture in the country to their advantage. This is more so as the security agencies, especially the police, appear to have been overwhelmed with most of its personnel highly demoralised, especially in the aftermath of the EndSARS protest.

The boldness at which dare-devil criminals and armed gangs are now launching attacks and perpetrating heinous crimes across the land is quite disturbing and alarming. More worrisome is the new trend where some state governments are announcing publicly that they were negotiating with armed bandits as if armed banditry and criminality have now become legal vocations.

The implication is that armed and local gangs keep springing up every now and then with the hope that sooner or later the government would be forced to call them to the negotiating table for settlement. While this is not a general trend in the Southern, Eastern and Western parts of the country, the audacity with which these bandits operate across the northern part of the country is highly worrisome as local gangs now compete among themselves to unleash mayhem on the people just to draw the attention of the government for negotiation and eventual settlement.

THEWILL condemns this new trend of negotiating with bandits as the Katsina government is currently doing as this is one sure way of turning the Nigerian situation into another Somalia and Libya where local gangs compete for attention as they are doing now in most parts of the North. The situation in Zamfara, Kaduna, Borno and other northern states is not better than the situation in Somalia, yet the governors are still flaunting their negotiation skills instead of dealing ruthlessly and decisively with the bandits.

Nigeria cannot continue to sacrifice the precious lives of its soldiers on the battlefields against terrorists when some governors, apparently with the tacit support of the Federal Government, are secretly negotiating with local bandits who will later become a thorn in the flesh for the government. The Kogi State governor, Bello, is shouting it loud and clear now and has taken the message to President Buhari. We are however not sure if the President would hearken to the cries of Bello just as Zulum and other Northern elders have been crying it out across the troubled region for some years now.

THEWILL however commends the governors in the South West and South East for coming up with their anti-crime outfits such as Amotekun, especially, in the South West. We must however warn that Amotekun and others should only work hand in hand with the police and should not be transformed into another notorious outfit like the recently disbanded Special Anti Robbery Squad.