By Wole Olaoye
If government decides to negotiate with bandits and pay them off with the hope that such an ill-advised move will stem the scourge of hostage-taking, rape, cold-blooded murders and wanton spread of terror and destruction of property, then we should probably, in penitence, visit the graves of executed armed robbers — including ‘Dr’ Ishola Oyenusi, Monday Osunbor and Lawrence Anini — and apologise for dispatching them via the firing squad.
I had the privilege of interviewing both Osunbor and Anini on the eve of their execution in 1986, thanks to the military governor, Col. Inienger. They told me salacious stories of their exploits believing, as they had been told by a staff of the Military Hospital, Benin, that I had the ears of the governor and that I could swing some sort of amnesty to save them from the firing squad. I couldn’t tell them that they were pencilled for death the next day… But that is a story for another day.
What did Oyenusi do that these bandits have not done? How much did all the major kingpins of the underworld in Nigeria of the 80s make compared to the handsome ransoms routinely harvested by the current kidnappers and bandits? In the reptilian world, the combination of Osunbor and Anini would be mere lizards while these Boko Haram-type-outlaws would be Crocodylus niloticus, a.k.a the Nile crocodile.
The argument for extending ‘amnesty’ to the bandits is led by Sheik Gumi whose intervention is coming after the governors of Katsina and Zamfara had unsuccessfully paid undisclosed sums to the criminals to cease fire and return to lawful society. Gumi believes that he can succeed where the governors failed. But first, some conditions have to be met: “I’ve spoken with them face-to-face and they’re ready to lay down their arms if their conditions are fulfilled, and I find all conditions they gave as justifiable, said Gumi.
“They don’t want to be lynched when they come into our markets, or be profiled just for riding a new motorcycle… They want amenities, schools, hospitals. I hope Nigerians will come together so that we have everlasting peace.”
The cleric noted, rather curiously, that negotiating with bandits was similar to a similar process employed with Niger Delta militants to restore peace in the region. He also justified his position with an illogical reference to survivors of the Nigerian civil war:
“Nigeria has faced civil war in which the vanquished was not stigmatised and their wealth was returned to them, so we should consider them as those who were vanquished in a war, and we should not stigmatise them, and we should give them all their rights and privileges as a nation,” he said. He advocated that compensation be paid to bandits affected by the military’s crackdown. Gumi suggested that the federal government apply the security budget to address the bandits’ demands, saying that most of them had lost all their possessions to cattle rustling and extortion. He warned that if we fail to heed his call, we could be having another Boko Haram on our hands.
Governor Matawale of Zamfara State thinks so too: “We know our security operatives can’t stop the bandits and we were convinced that the dialogue remains the best option. We have drilled boreholes in 138 identified bandits’ camps in the state and we will not relent until peace returned,” he added.
Until the various meetings with bandits in Zamfara, Katsina and the latest one by Sheik Gumi were publicised, the general public did not even know that the authorities knew the location of the bandits’ camps.
So we knew where they were! Goodness! But we lack the will to do what the law says — reward good behaviour and punish crime. Aha!
The good sheik has already been taken to the cleaners by public commentators who are miffed that he was comparing armed bandits to Niger Delta militants fighting for their human and environmental rights. The mention of civil war survivors is considered quite unfortunate, too. Many people feel that crime should not be rewarded and that, if we still have one country, the law should be applied uniformly throughout the federation.
That was exactly the position that Nasir el Rufa’i, Governor of Kaduna State, was canvassing in his swift response to what many people saw as Gumi’s glamorisation of banditry. In an interview with BBC Hausa, the governor said the bandits should not be encouraged to profit from their crime. He declared that his government was at war with criminal elements. “We cannot negotiate”, he said; “eliminating them is the only solution to banditry. Anybody that thinks a Fulani man that ventured into kidnapping for ransom, and he is earning millions of Naira, would go back to his former life of getting N100,000 after selling a cow in a year, must be deceiving himself.”
El Rufai frowned at paying compensation to the criminals. He asked, “Why should they be compensated after killing people, destroying their houses. Who offended them?” He added that the lack of unity among governors of the north-western states was also hindering the fight against banditry and advocated unity of purpose and synergy of strategies among the governors. Perhaps as punishment or revenge for his views, bandits have increased the tempo of blistering attacks on some communities in Kaduna State.
I am sure that the federal government does not want to be a glorified paper tiger. Right now, most people have given up on the ability of the security agencies to rout the armed bandits. In some parts of the North, people have come to terms with ‘settling’ the bandits quietly rather that insist on government protection because they have realised that government itself needs protection. There is nothing more dispiriting than hearing that bandits have kidnapped policemen and asking for ransom. When the rescuer becomes a hostage, where are the people supposed to turn to?
Apparently, bandits have carved out their fiefdoms in many parts of the North and both federal and state governments can’t seem to muster the required will to address the problem with the required level of ferocity. I am delighted that the presidency last week ordered the police to arrest any herder bearing arms, even though Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State thinks they have a right to brandish their AK47s. It says a lot about how far gone our tolerance of criminal elements is, that we have to instruct the police to arrest them henceforth! Let’s wait and see if they are now arrestable.
Granting amnesty to bandits is as ill-advised as the failed rehabilitation of ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members. Many of them returned to a life of crime. Meanwhile, government had wasted scarce resources at a time more deserving refugees were begging for attention in the various IDP camps where Boko Haram victims are kept, mostly in subhuman conditions.
We should be ashamed to say that a rag-tag band of bandits hiding in some bushes are too powerful for our police and armed forces. How did we become this helpless?
The only language that these hardened thieves understand is violence. The god of their psyche is always on the side of the bigger gun. When you negotiate with them, they consider you weak. Faced with extirpation, they melt. We ought not to be in the business of bribing people to permit society to breathe. You don’t negotiate with evil; you stamp it out.
Faced with a similar situation in 1999, Boris Yeltsin famously declared at the Istanbul summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) as follows, “I would like to stress here that a lasting peace in the Chechen Republic and so-called peace talks with the bandits are not the same thing, and I would ask everyone to make no mistake about that.”
That is the kind of firmness I expect of the Nigerian government whose hyped programmes and achievements have been swallowed up by various merchants of death spreading insecurity throughout the country. Anyone who will violently deprive another of his or her possessions, spread terror, rape and pillage in order to make money, does not deserve live.
He who treats the black mamba as a pet should number his days.
LKJ goes home
In four years of frenetic interventions in Health, Water Provision, Education, Housing, Roads, Rural Development, Water Transportation, Employment Generation and media development in Lagos State, Governor Lateef Kayode Jakande was virtually competing with the federal government. His performance record is still unmatched. With his passing, Nigeria has lost a truly visionary leader. History will be very kind to LKJ, the father of modern Lagos State. God rest his soul.