It has been long in coming. At last, bandits are now terrorists. There had been a multitude of voices urging that these marauders be declared terrorists.
When the call for bandits to be declared terrorists was getting deafening, there were even attempts by some to obfuscate the issue. The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed reportedly said the armed bandits terrorizing North West and some other parts of Northern Nigeria are common criminals. He said unlike Boko Haram and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who have ideologies and flags, they are simply criminals. According to him, bandits are just common
criminals who believe in Nigeria’s unity and sovereignty, unlike Boko Haram and IPOB. The minister made this known during an interview on TVC’s ‘This Morning’ programme.
He noted that bandits should not be compared with Boko Haram insurgents and IPOB separatists because they cannot be attached to a religious or an ideological goal.
The minister stated this in early October this year.
Earlier in the year, in May, the same minister had stated that the prosecution of bandits is not the responsibility of the federal government because it is not a federal offence. The minister made this known at a press conference in Abuja while responding to statements credited to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the security challenges facing the country.
The minister said, “The PDP alleged that kidnappers and bandits are not being brought to justice. This is apparently aimed at the federal government. “It is shocking that a party that ruled this nation for all of 16 years does not know that kidnapping and banditry are not federal offences. “The PDP should therefore call out the states, including those being controlled by it, to ensure a rigorous prosecution of arrested kidnappers and bandits.”
The minister disingenuously failed to mention that the bandits are not only kidnapping Nigerians but have also killed hundreds of Nigerians who could not pay the ransoms they demand for the release of their victims. Also, many communities in parts of Kaduna and Plateau states had been serially decimated so much so that groups like the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) had alleged ethnic cleansing.
Sadly, controversial Islamic scholar, Ahmad Gumi, warned President Muhammadu Buhari and the federal government not to declare bandits in the North as terrorists. The scholar said declaring them as terrorists would come with a big price. Gumi, an ex -soldier and medical doctor, has been campaigning for amnesty for the outlaws terrorizing states in
the North West and some part of North Central Nigeria. He had gone to forests in Kaduna, Niger, Katsina, Sokoto and Zamfara states to meet with some notorious bandits with a view to striking a peace deal with the outlaws.
Most Nigerians couldn’t buy into Gumi’s argument, including Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina and the forum of House of Assembly Speakers. These eminent Nigerians had instead urged the federal government to declare the bandits as terrorists. The Senate had also made similar call in September. Citing reasons why such a declaration was necessary, Kaduna State governor Nasir El-Rufai said it would enable the military to go all out against them without the fear of running foul of international laws.
It was therefore a great relief when Nigerians heard that a Federal High Court in Abuja had ruled that the activities of bandits, as well as other similar groups, by whatever names they are called, in any part of the country, amounted to acts of terrorism and subsequently declared them terrorists. The court further held that the federal government must publish the order in the official Gazette and in two national dailies.
Reacting to the ruling, the attorney general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami said it would now embolden the federal government to go all out to crush all forms of banditry in the country.
The order declaring bandits terrorists was sequel to an application filed on behalf of the federal government by the director of Public Prosecution, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mohammed Abubakar, regarding the activities of Yan Bindiga, Yan Ta’adda and other groups of bandits in the country.
In the exparte application, the federal government had prayed the court to outlaw the Yan Bindiga and Yan Ta’adda groups, as well as other terrorist groups in the country.
The declaration of the bandits as terrorists has given added impetus to the federal government to declare total war against them. Given the atrocities that they have committed, there was no need to have waited this long before calling a spade, a spade!
Government should also note the statement by Sheik Gumi that declaring bandits terrorists would not make any difference! Efforts should be made to prove him and other skeptics wrong.
In addition to military operations, the government should address the underlying reasons why North West, North East and North Central have become hotbeds of bandits’ terrorism. Federal and state governments should facilitate settlements between farmers and herders by reforming livestock production. They should cooperate with Niger Republic and other border countries to stem cross-border flows of weapons and jihadists.
Efforts should also be made to better police lawless forests and gold mining areas. International partners should help address humanitarian needs. The causes of violence in the North West and North Central are complex and inter-related. At its root is the long-running competition over land and water resources between predominantly Fulani herders and mainly Hausa farmers, both of whom have over time mobilised armed groups (referred to by the authorities as “bandits” and “vigilantes”, respectively) for protection.
Climate change-related environmental degradation and high population growth have intensified this struggle. Amid a boom in the trade of small arms and light weapons in the region, organised gangs operating from ungoverned forests have proliferated, engaging in cattle rustling, kidnapping for ransom and armed robbery, including of
miners and traders. All these issues must be addressed holistically to restore peace in the North in particular and the country in general. Peace when restored will propel this country to sustainable growth and development.