Banditry: A nation at crossroads

The terribleness of the simple minded and dubious policy of appeasement is unfolding in a great measure. It has empowered and emboldened terrorists on one hand and greatly jeopardized the well being of the society on the other. Consequently, the lives, limbs, liberty, dignity and properties of the people are all at the mercy of bloodthirsty armed gangs of bandits and kidnappers. These criminal gangs operate with dumbfounding levels of impunity, frequency and accuracy that have no parallel in the nation’s crisis ridden history.

In a span of weeks, the nation has shockingly witnessed a wave of mass abductions in Niger and Zamfara states. There were two of such incidents in Niger state within a week that reflected the worsening state of insecurity in the North. Dozens of travellers were kidnapped and N50 million ransom was demanded by the kidnappers. Negotiations were ongoing when another armed gang struck in Kagara and kidnapped dozens of people. It is a sad reality that resembled a fiction scene in a novel or action movies. The incidents were followed by the latest abduction of over two dozens of people in Zamfara state, a society that’s still traumatized by the kidnapping of the 300 secondary students in Kankara a few months ago.

Incidents of mass kidnappings always attract public attention as a result of publicity that highlights the commonality and negative impact of such incidents on the well being of the society. However, the rampancy of kidnapping on major roads and in people’s homes is no less worrisome even though the incidents don’t usually make news headlines. Presently, a colleague and ally has spent five days in captivity. He was kidnapped along Zungeru in Niger state on his way back to base and the kidnappers demanded N50 million ransom. Numerous tales were told about the terrible ordeals of mental and physical torture experienced by victims of kidnapping and their families. In some cases, the tragic nature of the surrounding circumstances cut through one’s conscience and inflict a deep wound. Last year, bandits armed with AK47 attacked one family in Batsari town, Katsina state. The head of the family and the eldest child were killed in the presence of the second child. He was compelled to resist the kidnapping attempt by the gruesome killings of his father and elder brother and he paid the ultimate price.

Ideally, the architects of the dangerous policy of appeasement should have been held accountable for the exacerbation of the security challenges. Sadly, we are at the strangest point in our history where arrogance and impunity reign supreme. It has become crystal clear that there is no scintilla of sincerity in the adoption of the terrible policy. Certainly, it was merely employed as a smoke screen to cover up the looting of public funds on a massive scale. In other words, it is a subterfuge scheme that enables kleptomaniacs in positions of authority in the states to fraudulently advance class enrichment agenda at a time when agony and despair are abound.

The worst affected state of Katsina, for instance, has been dedicating billions of naira annually to security in the last five years. A so-called amnesty programme was introduced by the state government to tackle the menace of cattle rustling in 2016. It was under the programme that repentant cattle rustlers were purportedly given cash incentives. The task was undertaken by a committee chaired by the secretary to the state government. It was extended to bandits/kidnappers at the peak of banditry in 2019 and provides for a sum of N250,000 to any repentant bandit. An obese political figure who played a part in the negotiation claimed a hero’s status for “risking” his life to meet with bandits in the bush. He gleefully basked for weeks in that false sense of heroism which in reality constituted a great disservice to his own people.

It amounts to a wishful thinking borne out of either naivety or incuriousness for anybody to believe in the workability of the dumbest approach ever. Bandits and kidnappers are criminals of the worst kind who operate in splinter groups at different locations and employ different strategies. Ransom collection though is the only motive of the evil act of kidnapping. When millions of naira are regularly put in the hands of such enemies of humanity by the state, it inevitably empowers and emboldens the criminals. Accordingly, the escalation of banditry and kidnapping in the north is the natural consequence of this dangerous policy of appeasement. The shocking revelations made recently by a renowned anti corruption crusader have exposed the multi dimensional nature of the terrible strategy. Corruption is the driving force of the dubious scheme under which billions of naira have been looted in the last five years. The latest massive looting was the N800 million ransom expenditure that secured the release of the kidnapped 300 students. However, It was discovered that N30 million was given to the bandits while the kleptomaniacs in positions of authority made N770 million from the scam. Recently, a naive cleric has been lured into the scheme to give it a semblance of propriety. The misadventure has brought him into the spotlight for the wrong reasons having met with bandits and subsequently made statements that are at odds with reality, facts and logic.. Quite embarrassing.

It is worthy of note that the Niger Delta amnesty programme was formulated and implemented by the federal government. It was a combination of stick and carrot approach that contained a threat far greater than the one posed by bandits armed with AK47 on motorcycles. I had witnessed first-hand the effectiveness of the military strategy that compelled the militants to embrace the amnesty programme. The well coordinated military operation was characterized by massive deployment and firepower in the air, at sea and on ground. More importantly, the level of morale among the troops was very high as a result of judicious management of resources that accorded priority to the needs and entitlements of the troops.

Indeed, times have changed so did the leadership but unfortunately not for good. Nevertheless, it is high time the leadership ended the five years abdication of responsibility and took decisive action against the terrorists and the kleptomaniacs in the interest of the nation. Power is transient whether or not it’s exercised for good and the inevitable judgment of posterity could either be kind or harsh.

Wada Esq writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers state

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