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Harbin Kunama: Can Buratai Make Another Difference?

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It is quite heart breaking to know the absurdity that every geopolitical zone in Nigeria, with the exception of the South West, has its peculiar security challenges. In the South South, it is militancy; violent secessionists have their abode  in  the South East;  farmers/herders crisis is rooted in the North Central; Boko Haram insurgency is rife in the North East; while  armed banditry, cattle rustling, kidnappings and killings are the latest nightmare of people in the North West, and in the last four years, Nigerians in  Zamfara, Katsina and  Sokoto states in the North West have been major victims. What has tainted the conscience of leaders is the glaring failure of the political class in the various states to tackle these security threats. They have allowed this violent criminality to  gain currency and stabilise into  the monster it is today. The leaders preferred to make political capital out of the insecurity situation, but reality now stares everyone in the face. 

This much could be inferred by the recent desperate wailing of   Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari,  who plainly begged President Muhammadu Buhari  to impose a state of emergency on  his state because of insecurity. Likewise, his  Katsina State counterpart, Aminu Bello  Masari,  also moaned: “Today, reports I received from security agencies are all about threats of kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry. It is now a daily occurrence as no day passes without a case recorded. It is not even rustling of cows,  but now kidnapping of people.”

Masari further painted the gory scenario in these words: “Our state is currently under serious siege by armed robbers, kidnappers and armed bandits who arrest rural people at the grassroots at will and demand ransom, which if not paid, they kill their victims.”

This account is painful and touchy, to say the least. 

At various times, the onus of taming the crises has always fallen on the shoulders of the Nigerian Army.   The truth which has failed to prick the conscience of these  political leaders in the affected states is their obvious slack, which reverses the gains the Nigerian Army makes each time the federal government permits the intervention of soldiers.

The Army’s ‘Operation Sharan Daji’ in the same North West, in 2016 , effectively tackled  the menace of  armed banditry and cattle rustling. But  the gains were soon reversed by the ineptitude and indifference of the state governors towards securing the lives and properties of their people.           

Perhaps, some Nigerians may not be adequately informed about the severity of the scourge of armed banditry, armed robbery, kidnapping, killings and cattle rustling which have cumulatively sapped the human and economic lives of the people.  A recent report by a security analyst paints the picture dreadfully.

Quoting local sources, in Anka Local Government Area  of Zamfara State alone, there are  an estimated  5,000  armed bandits domiciled in the area and terrorising the people.  Now, if a single local government area could harbour such stunning number of bandits, a census of their population in the entire state and added with the bandits in Katsina and Sokoto states would reveal staggering  and appalling figures.    

It implies that the scale of violence visited on hapless, innocent citizens is significantly high.  It necessitated the launch of ‘Operation Harbin Kunama III’, commencing from April 1-30 June, 2019. But the fundamental question is, with the horrible insecurity in region, does the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and henchman of the counter-insurgency operations, Lt. Gen. TY Buratai and his troops stand a chance of repossessing  Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto states from the jaws of  armed and violent criminal gangs as done before? No doubt, Gen. Buratai  is one exceptional Army General who  doesn’t fail in any assignment,

The gallant Nigerian soldiers have never faltered in such national assignments in the past because they see it as a challenge to their ego and pride in the nation.  Incontestable records indicate that Nigerian troops have always triumphed against enemies of the state and its people.

Soldiers have not only decimated and defeated Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, but they have frustrated and curtailed the capacity of fleeing remnants of terrorists from regrouping and executing co-ordinated attacks on local communities. Terrorists have been restricted to a few obscure areas  in the region, where they sneak to commit atrocious acts on the populace. 

And Operation Python Dance I & II in the South East finally buried the ghosts of armed criminal gangs who operated as armed robbers, kidnappers and violent secession agitators.  Peace  and security has returned to the South East and law abiding citizens are no longer  freely molested, harassed, intimidated and gruesomely murdered by armed gangs.

Soldiers replicated similar feat in the South-South where bitter militancy disrupted the economic livewire of Nigeria.  Several special  military interventions like ‘Operation Crocodile Smile,’ have berthed the desired respite in the once  restive oil-rich region. And the multiplication of several militant sects have been unable to break the  resolve of soldiers  and  the security architecture erected by the Army in the region.

The violent farmers/herders skirmishes in the North Central part of the country have been served the same dosage by soldiers. Respite has descended on communities in Plateau,  Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states with the launch of several operations like ‘Operation Whirl Stroke’ and ‘Harbin Kunama I & II’.    

Therefore, the  war on armed bandits  in the North West is not an exemption.  Gen. Buratai  and his troops are prepared to go the extra mile to  dislodge the armed criminal gangs domiciled in the forests and caves of the affected states.   

At the official launch of ‘Operation Harbin Kunama III’ at the 1 Brigade Complex  Headquarters,  Gusau, on April 1, 2019, Gen. Buratai’s speech indicated a deep understanding of the  security threats manifest in the  menace of armed banditry, killings, kidnappings and destruction to properties.

He said, “…the menace of banditry activities has continued to persist in some parts of the North West region and along the border areas. The unwholesome and dastardly acts of these bandits have adversely affected the socio-economic activities in these areas with attendant effect on human and economic security. It has also led to deaths and maiming of innocent people with the attendant wanton destruction of properties.

“Harbin Kunama III is planned to mitigate the current threats to security in Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states. Specifically, the exercise is designed to decisively eliminate all forms of banditry activities with a view to ensuring lasting peace in the affected areas. I wish to assure the good people of Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara States that the NA will carry out its constitutional mandate professionally and within the ambit of the law while adhering to the ROE (rules of engagement).”

Again, soldiers have stepped out on the podium and into the battlefields to war with another sinister security threat.  They deserve support and cooperation from  leaders and the natives, especially on information gathering. 

All must know that the general elections have come and gone and it behoves on  all political actors  to support the Army in order  to remedy  permanently the scourge of armed  banditry and killings in the North West.  These politicians must allow the Army to do its job professionally and efficiently. No one should meddle in the exercise. Surely,  the sponsors of the killings  have known now that  the game is up for good.

– Abayomi is the convener, Global Human Rights Project, Rome.


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