There has been ongoing clamour by Nigerians for the federal government to designate criminal elements operating in the North West geopolitical zone and some states in the North Central as terrorists. This will enable the Armed Forces to apply the same measures adopted against Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists operating in the North East.
The activities of the so-called bandits draw parallels with Boko Haram.
Just like Boko Haram began the mass kidnapping of students from Chibok in Borno State in 2014 to Dapchi in Yobe State in 2018, the bandits are engaging in mass kidnapping of students in Niger, Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Kebbi States. Between last year and now, over 1,000 students have been abducted from their hostels, and while a good number have been released after ransoms were paid. Hundreds are still in the captivity of the bandits months after they were taken away.
These so-called bandits have also shown they are well armed with warfare armament. Earlier this year, they brought down a military jet on combat duty with anti-aircraft guns in Zamfara State. And earlier this month, they attacked the Abuja-Kaduna rail track with explosives, damaging the train ferrying travellers between the two cities.
And just like Boko Haram assumed territorial control of Sambisa Forest and several local government areas in Borno State where the hoisted their flags and collected taxes from the hapless inhabitants in the run-up to the 2015 general elections – which forced the Jonathan administration to postpone the election in order to fight off the terrorists with military forces assisted by foreign mercenaries to great effect, the outlaws operating in parts of the North West and North Central have been imposing taxes and levies on communities where they control. According to media reports, since last year, bandits have imposed huge levies on communities in Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto villages. In January this year, they placed N5 million monthly levy on some communities in Shiroro local government of Niger State. The residents of Iburo, Gandu, Dnasa, Dandu, Pyegbere, Dnasapa,Jhazhayidina, Goffan 1 and 2 Chukuba and Galapy were to come up with the sum if they did not want to be attacked.
In Zamfara, farmers pay heavy taxes in order to access their farms without being abducted.
A resident of Dankurmi Village in Maru Local Government Area of Zamfara State told an online media: “In my village, we pay N800,000 as tax and N900,000 as harvest fees. Even if you pay, they will come to your farm and abduct you. Only God can help us.
A farmer in Sabuwa Local Government Area of Katsina said they now negotiate with bandits before they are allowed to harvest their crops.
He said about 45 farmers were killed by bandits in the local government area alone in 2020.
It is the same with Yankara community under Faskari LGA of Katsina State where farmers negotiate with the terrorists on how much they will pay, depending on the size of the farms, before they can harvest the crops.
Bandits have been reported to have burned farms whose owners did not meet their demands.
The horrifying torment such agrarian communities undergo is directly responsible for the food crises Nigeria is passing through at the moment with steady food price hike pushing more and more families under the poverty line.
The calls to declare bandits terrorists and deal ruthlessly with them have come from several quarters, from individuals and institutions, including the governors of Kaduna and Ondo State, Malam Nasir el Rufai and Rotimi Akeredolu, respectively, the entire 36 Houses of Assembly speakers, the National Assembly, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum, Afenifere, and Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), among others.
Only former army doctor-turned Islamic cleric, Sheik Ahmad Gumi, has opposed such a call, claiming without any valid argument that giving them the terrorist tag would cause a holy war in Nigeria. As a newspaper, we do not see the merit of the sheik’s argument.
Also, the comparison of these terror mongers with touts by the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, pis just as disingenuous as when the Governor el Rufai earlier referred to them as mere businessmen. It is this trivialising of the atrocities these terrorists wreak on innocent Nigerians that has given the impression that the federal government is unwilling to wield the big stick on the terrorists, and why they have been emboldened to the extent that they now shoot down our military jets and plant explosives. These are not act of common criminals; these are acts of terror.
As a newspaper, we are unequivocal in declaring that bandits are terrorists and should be treated as such. The federal government must muster the political will to do the needful.