Not many people were surprised to learn that parts of Kaduna State have been taken over by terrorists. We had it coming all this while. Governor Nasir el Rufa’i had always alerted the president that the terrorists would overrun the state if the federal authorities continued to treat them with kid gloves. The governor’s recommendation was simple: Wipe out the terrorists. But, for some inexplicable reason, the federal government seemed to believe that the terrorists could be apprehended and reformed.
Terrorists cells have now festered all over the country. Although Governor el Rufa’i is arguably the most outspoken on the subject among his peers, there is evidence that the carving out of territories by terrorists is not exclusive to Kaduna. Many states of the North have their ‘No-Go’ areas while the forests and highways of southern states frequently record cases of guerrilla-style kidnappers whose sophisticated weaponry and daredevilry blur the line between the preferred euphemism of banditry and the universally acknowledged terrorism.
El Rufa’i’s late July letter to the president was an urgent call to arms. This was not the usual alarm about the mass murders, arson, kidnapping for ransom and general anomie associated with terrorism and about which the governor had been outspoken in the past. This was about balkanisation of the state, the ceding of a part of Nigerian territory to terrorists.
In the areas under their control, the terrorists are the de facto government. According to el Rufa’i, the terrorists are establishing a base in the vast forested area between Kaduna and Niger states. In the areas under their control, they have banned political activities and any form of campaigns. For example, in Madobiya and Kazage villages, the terrorists have demonstrated their intolerance of democracy and secular government.
The governor further disclosed that, “Members of the Jama’atu Ansarul Musulmina Fi’biladis Sudan (aka Ansaru) hibernating in Kuyello district of Birnin Gwari LGA recently conducted a nuptial ceremony during which they married two yet-to-be-identified female residents of Kuyello village. The ceremony was attended by various Ansaru members and witnessed by residents of the area. After the marital rites, insurgents in attendance reportedly conveyed the brides to the dreaded Kuduru forest, in the same District.” Muhammad Kabir Isa, a university don, told BBC hausa service that the ploy of establishing kinship with locals is a method of “getting more followers and those that will adopt their radical ideology.”
In the absence of any regular government presence, the terrorists routinely adjudicate disputes, impose fines and other forms of punishment and collect taxes from the hapless citizens under their rule. Governor el Rufa’i disclosed that,“Multiple reports also exist of bandits and terrorists exacting protection levies and similar taxes from farmers and communities, in return for permission to cultivate their fields.”
There are reports that the terrorists are vigorously pursuing their plan to spread their extremist ideologies among locals by marrying indigenous girls in the communities they control. They are obviously digging in for the long haul, planning ahead and populating whatever space they control with a new generation of prospective radicals. Many of the locals who have the strength have voted with their feet and become inhabitants of IDP camps.
Shehu Balarabe, a legislator representing Birnin-Gwari and Giwa constituency in the House of Representatives, gave a graphic detail of the horrific experience his people are forced to undergo.
Balarabe said: “Look at what happened at Damari. The place is like a local headquarters, but the people have run away. Women and children have fled their homes. There was even a pregnant woman who gave birth on the way. She and the baby died… What kind of terrible situation is this as if there is no government?”
Ansaru is an Al-Qaeda affiliate. The group claims some kind of legitimacy because it protects its host communities against violent attacks from other terror groups in the region. This has created the milieu for recruitment and radicalisation of the local population. Just like Boko Haram, they regularly preach against democracy and western education. Last July, they distributed leaflets in the native Hausa language advocating for more members: “The only way we can bring about change is through armed Jihad, but we have abandoned the divine way and followed the satanic and Jewish way,” the leaflet declared.
The Ansaru group in Birnin Gwari is led by one Mallam Abba who portrays himself as a devout cleric. Their dressing is unique. Since 2012 when they split from the Shekau-led Boko Haram, they have been recruiting more members and acquiring sophisticated weapons. Communities with no security presence now rely on them for protection and fending off attacks from local bandits. Some exasperated and terror-weary locals say the protection offered by the terrorists is more reliable than government’s.
Experts believe that Ansaru has received training and weaponry support from Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) since its official merger as the foreign group attempts to expand operations in Nigeria through Ansaru.
The Counter-Terrorism Guide portrays AQIM as an ambitious terror propagator. “Since 2011, dissident groups of AQIM members broke away to form MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) and al-Mulathamun Battalion and its subordinate unit al-Muwaqi‘un Bil-Dima (“Those Who Sign With Blood”) led by former AQIM battalion leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar”.
The profiling also adds that, “In August 2013 these groups merged to form al-Murabitun and officially formalised the groups’ ties; their stated goals are to “unite all Muslims from the Nile to the Atlantic in jihad against Westerners” and to curb French influence in the region. In 2014 and 2015 additional AQIM members split from the organisation to join groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” AQIM has a history of attacking UN forces in Mali.
That is the company Ansaru keeps. Nigeria and its government should not nurse any illusions about how formidable the enemy is. There is no terrorist more dangerous than a terrorist with a cause, no matter how misguided.
Nigeria should learn from how such cases of religious extremism played out in other places. The most significant takeover of democratic space in recent times happened in Afghanistan. To date, the world is still stunned at the speed with which the Talibans overran Kabul after the withdrawal of US troops, and established their theocracy. Two weeks earlier, the Pentagon had calculated that Kabul could fall within six months, not less.
One month before the Taliban swept into town, President Biden, in answer to a journalist’s question about whether he saw any parallels with the end of the Vietnam war, said: “None whatsoever. Zero.” He added that the Taliban were not “remotely comparable in terms of capability” to the North Vietnamese Army. How wrong!
Lesson: We ought to tackle our burgeoning Ansarustan with all the seriousness we can muster.
Like the Taliban, Ansaru is strategic in its use of violence, exercising restraint to win the local populace and mounting a scorched earth policy against rival violent gangs in the area. Even if the Nigerian government was able to wave some magic wand to make the terror group vaporise overnight, the seed already planted in the new converts to extremism among the local populace will eventually germinate. This is why critics of government’s initial lethargy in handling the terror threat with the ferocity it required have a point.
According to David Rapoport’s “Waves” theory of terrorism, terrorist groups “can disintegrate when no longer capable of inspiring others to continue with violent resistance to authority, to violently redress one or other grievance, or to protest violently against a lack of political concessions. This point also suggests that terrorism and its motivations are clearly impacted by the conditions of and changes in social and political cultures.”
Last month, following the attack on security forces in Ajata-Aboki community in Shiroro Local Government Area of Niger State, President Buhari declared, “This atrocity only serves to further strengthen us against them… When they lash out during times of global suffering it is the act of a cornered animal, an act of desperation…
He added, “And to the sadists, I say this: we are coming. No matter what rock you crawl under, what hole you sink into, what lie you hide behind, we are coming and we will find you.”
If the twin combo of government’s assurances to the terrorised populace and threats of extirpation of the terrorists could make the anarchists cut and run, there wouldn’t have been any of them remaining for Governor el Rufa’i to finger today.
This is a war, not a skirmish. We can’t have an Ansarustan inside sovereign Nigeria.
(Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached on [email protected], Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021).