Banditry: The problem with PMB’s approach

Like many other weeks before it in the past several years, the past one week has been very tragic for the people of Jibia in Katsina state. It was during this period that bandits sent a notice to the people of Jibia of an impending attack. Such notices are not unusual since banditry became the order in the North-western part of Nigeria. The criminals do normally not fail in their promises although it does not have to be on the day they mention. Thus, since Thursday, June 10, 2021, the people of Jibia town have known no sleep. I partly blame them because when banditry was restricted to the rural areas, most people in the local government headquarters did not give a damn. Some of them who were fanatical in their support for Buhari even claimed out of mischief that we were only speaking to show the failure of his government even though they could not deny our support for him throughout the period he was doing everything to become president.

The message here is, if you are reading this from the comfort of your room in the city or any other part of Nigeria and you think banditry is not your problem or that it is a problem already solved by PMB, I pray you never get disappointed.

A day before bandits sent notice to Jibia, they killed two people near Bugaje. Their offence was that they were driving from Bugaje to Katsina in the early part of the night and their headlight hit a group of bandits coming on their motorcycles. This was seen as contempt by the criminals and they opened fire on the people in the front seats of the firewood carrying van, killing the two of them. The blood of Nigerians is not any more sacred than the blood of mosquitoes these days. Many people in Bugaje ward are now moving their families to Katsina town for fear of bandits. Resist the rape of your wife and you lose your life and your wife is beaten up and raped anyway.

Two things happened to the Jibia town people on Sunday, 13. Three people travelling down south were kidnapped around Kankara and their abductors later called to ask for a ransom of N300m; due to their desire to go to farm and cultivate what they eat like they have been doing even before any politician came to advise them, four young people went to farm around Shabba village north west of Jibia town. Themselves and their two cows were abducted from their farms and moved to the bush. Concerned community members called in the Nigerien police who moved in swiftly to kill two and arrest one of the bandits. The abductees were freed to join their families. With many friends and relations in the Nigerian Army, Police and Air Force I cannot be against the Nigerian military. But they should not be angry if I say, and rightly too, that the local people around the border now have more confidence in the Nigerien military than they have in their Nigerian counterparts.

What is happening in Jibia LGA is virtually what is happening in other frontline LGAs in Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, Kebbi, Niger and Sokoto states. In reality, worse things are happening in some other places. For example, in the past two weeks mass killings have taken place in Zamfara, Kebbi, Niger and Kaduna states. I only mentioned my local government to tell you that I am directly affected and this is not hearsay.

But when will these things be over? I listened to Mr. President’s interview on Arise News and I have no doubt that Mr. President is sincere in his intention to bring an end to the security challenges bedeviling the North-west and other parts of the country. I have no doubt, too, that Mr. President is doing everything he can to solve the problem of insecurity in the country.

As a teacher, I have come across many students who worked hard to answer an examination question and filled many pages with their beautifully written answers only to score a zero at the end. There are usually two reasons for this. One, the student did not take time to read and understand the question before he begins to answer it. Two, he read and understood the question but he doesn’t know the answer. However, since he has registered for the course and told examiners that he is qualified, he has to provide an answer even if it is the wrong one. This phenomenon manifests itself among politicians who campaign and win elections. The second analogy is that of an unqualified and incompetent politician.

The first analogy is that of a very competent and experienced person like President Muhammadu Buhari who does not take his time to understand the problem and provide a solution based on current realities. Instead he only uses his experiences of the 1950s and 1960s to provide solutions to 21st century problems.

Mr. President seems to have the erroneous belief that the corrupt-free military of the 1960s or even 1984 is the same institution today. That is why after the Kankara students’ abduction of last year when he was asked for his reactions by the NTA, the first thing he did was to thank the Nigerian military. There was nowhere in that interview he mentioned Miyetti Allah group, who according to the governors of Katsina and Zamfara were responsible for the freedom of those children.

Again in the Arise News interview, he emphasised on his meeting with security chiefs, the marching order he gave them and the reports he received from them. And I ask, does Mr. President have no other way of knowing what is on ground except through those security chiefs? As a politician, Mr. President has his party leaders and ardent supporters in every ward of the 774 local government areas of Nigeria. Is this structure not an alternative for the president to confirm what is on ground and use it to surprise and issue orders and praise or rebuke his security chiefs? His claims that bandits are being decimated in the North-west and that people are now going to farm show that he is not getting the correct feedback. The example I gave on people abducted on their farms is only one of those incidences. There are villages I know where people are paying taxes to bandits to allow them to farm and nothing is changing.

Now, does the president understand the identity of our bandits at all? Mr. President was in power four years before Zulum became the governor of Borno but it was Zulum who told him that Boko Haram members are Nigerians. I thought even as he was campaigning for elections he had a very good idea of the identity of Boko Haram membership, how they started and where they were. Those pieces of information were necessary for him to “hit the ground running” as he promised in 2015.

Now, coming to the herdsmen, he told Governor Ortom that the herdsmen operating in Benue are not Nigerians. Did PMB reflect over this statement? How did they come into Nigeria? Does Ortom have control over our borders? How many immigration officers were punished for allowing foreign herdsmen to cross our borders in large numbers and begin to destroy our farms? Again, MACBAN has been speaking for herdsmen in Benue. Doesn’t he think that the group should be investigated to verify whether or not they are directly involved in crime? Note that it was not only Ortom who once accused MACBAN of complicity in crime. An erstwhile Zamfara Commissioner of Police Nagogo once did it while PMB was sitting in the Villa.

Are those “foreign” herdsmen the same as bandits operating in the North-west? I would disagree with Mr. President if he says yes. The leaders of bandits in the North-west are well known to government. At different points Katsina and Zamfara state governments held meetings with them in open spaces and none of those criminal gang leaders came from Niger Republic or some other country. They were all Nigerians. Katsina state governor, who said, ab initio, that he was going into peace accord with them at the instance of PMB, has since withdrawn from the accord and claimed that the bandits had breached the terms of the agreement. Yet, none of them has been arrested up to this time I am writing.

But I see. The president does not believe that those bandits are foreigners. In fact, if his statement is anything to go by, there is no banditry as we claim. It is “people with the same language and culture .. killing themselves, stealing each other’s properties.” Haba! Mr. President, please look for another means of getting your reports. You are vividly being misled by some mischievous aides. Banditry in the North-west is real and it is not a communal clash. It is a section of an ethnic group unleashing mayhem on the rest of us.

Another area of my disappointment is the attempt by the president to push blame on the governors. If he does that for non-APC governors I can excuse him. But President Buhari should remember that ahead of 2015 elections he went round telling the electorate to vote APC candidates because he had a mechanism to make sure that they did the right thing. Now, that we are being killed, kidnapped, scared away from our farmlands and our dignity is being attacked, where should we shift our blame?

Prof Jibia writes from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Kaduna state.