Bandits’ attacks and the validity of Ribadu’s claims

Continuous assessment and timely advisory to the handlers of a nation’s security architecture greatly assist them in sustaining the hard-won achievements and improving in areas of weakness. While the general public may not be privy to certain covert accomplishments and crucial information on the security situation, public opinion remains essential for maintaining the progress made in enhancing security.

At a pre-convocation lecture titled 

‘Navigating the Maze: Addressing Multi-Dimensional Security Challenges in Northern Nigeria’ on April 18, 2024, at Usmanu DanFodiyo University Sokoto, the National Security Adviser, NSA, Malam Nuhu Ribadu, stated that the administration of President Bola Tinubu has made significant progress in reducing casualties from terrorist attacks. Ribadu highlighted that organised terrorist attacks have been curtailed, making highways such as Abuja-Kaduna and Zaria-Kano secure for travellers at any time of the day.

Additionally, he mentioned that security agencies have successfully deprived miscreants of access to weapons and free movement, leading to the liberation of over a thousand individuals, many of whom were villagers held captive for up to two to three years. Furthermore, the proliferation of arms nationwide has been reduced through the interception of weapon flows and the arrest of gunrunners.

On the other hand, on Friday, April 12, the Nigerian Army reported that it had killed 188 terrorists and arrested 330 during operations conducted across the northern part of the country in just one week. Additionally, troops deployed across the country rescued a total of 133 kidnapped people during the same period. However, the NSA admitted that the country still faces challenges, acknowledging that estimates suggest there are over 300 bandit warlords, each commanding at least 50 fighters, operational across different zones of Northern Nigeria.

Fighting insecurity in a country like Nigeria poses a significant challenge due to inadequate modern infrastructure and low levels of awareness in many areas. These shortcomings, coupled with the silence in some communities, greatly hinder efforts to confront bandits directly and effectively implement non-kinetic approaches. 

Furthermore, local communities engagement must be well planned, if not, it will be retrogressive. For example, a national daily reported that the special security outfits established in some states in the North-west are being accused of indiscriminate arrests and killing of innocent people without recourse to judicial process.

The big question is: Have Nuhu Ribadu and his teams made visible and appreciable progress in the fight against bandits and criminals? This question is best answered using a reductionistic method, where we examine things from different angles but with a broader perspective.

The South-east zone is experiencing silence as the Monday Sit-at-Home Order by the Independent Peoples of the Republic of Biafra, IPOB, has fizzled out and targeted killings have been eliminated, though pockets of kidnappings for ransom still occur. The commendable improvement in the security situation in the South-east has not only restored public trust and confidence but also instilled a sense of security among the populace, who now trust the government’s ability to protect them.

The amnesty programme in the Niger Delta has been sustained, resulting in the absence of new militancy or attacks on oil facilities. This has led to improved crude oil production and the initiation of new production activities. Recently, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, and FIRST Exploration and Petroleum Development Company Limited (FIRST E&P) Joint Venture announced the commencement of oil production from the Madu Field in Oil Mining Lease (OML) 85.

In the North-east, one can say that the military successes have pushed the Boko Haram and ISWAP insurgencies to the fringes, just pockets of attacks on soft targets. Though Boko Haram still operates, but at a minute level if their previous attacks are yardsticks. Most of the affected communities in the North-east have returned to their normal way of life, and state governments in the North-east and the North East Development Commission, NEDC, are doing great work.

The North-west zone is frequently in the news due to bandits carrying out attacks to attract attention and acquire foodstuffs, kidnappings for ransom, or instilling terror in the population. While there has been some success in disrupting bandit networks and organisations, they persist through approximately 300 bandit warlords and their small armies of fighters.

The remaining bandit leaders and their gangs in the Northwest are sustained by activities like ransom, illegal mining, and local community informants, although these have been tackled to some extent. NSA Ribadu was also quoted as saying that one indication of progress is the significant increase in the price of an AK-47, which used to sell for less than N500,000 last year but now goes for N5 million.

The kinetic and non-kinetic approaches employed by Nigeria are the best ways out. This approach has significantly fought kidnappings for ransom and the trade of illegal arms in many countries. A good example is the Philippines and Columbia, where the Philippines combated kidnappings for ransom, particularly by militant groups like Abu Sayyaf. Colombia successfully tackled kidnapping for ransom by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). 

A multi-faceted approach – local community involvement, public enlightenment, improved law enforcement, intelligence gathering, tackling local community informants, and international cooperation – is key to tackling insecurity to a minimal level.

Speaking at the African High-level Meeting on Counter-Terrorism in Abuja, organised by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ms. Amina Mohammed, stated that one way to eradicate the roots of terrorism on the continent is for Africa to work towards rebuilding its social contract with its citizens and delivering good governance. Although Nigeria is not yet completely out of the woods, as stated by the NSA, so far, it’s been a good journey for Nuhu Ribadu and his team.

Zayyad Muhammad writes from Abuja via 08036070980, [email protected]