The reign of non-criminal bandits and sane madmen

Killer herdsmen invade Enugu community kill four injure scores


-Chukwuemeka Otuchikere

An ambassador is an honest man sent abroad to lie and intrigue for the benefit of his country” – Henry Wotton

Life in present day Nigeria continues to throw up indescribable surprises and drama that literally leaves a person nonplussed. After five years of telling Nigerians that Boko Haram was technically defeated, the immediate past Army-chief-of-staff General T.Y Buratai shocked many of his compatriots when during his screening for ambassadorial nomination before the national Assembly said that the nation may have to contend with Boko Haram and terror for another twenty years or more.

This was followed by Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara state who tried to draw a distinction between the indigenous Fulani and those he claimed came from outside. He further advised Nigerians to recognize them as non-criminal Fulani even as he advocated for them to bear arms. The stance of Bello Matawalle has created a perfect catch-22 situation. The militia terrorising the country go around masquerading as herdsmen also. They infiltrate the company of actual herdsmen to carry out their nefarious enterprise which is wholly criminal in nature. To call these bandits non criminal is obviously a disfigurement of reality. While the governor knows the truth concerning how the foreign Fulani arrived at this point in our history, he chooses to be economical with the truth.

While this type of mindset displayed by the governor is not different from that of Kaduna state governor, Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai who in another dispensation had owned up that he paid the Fulani militia to stay away from his state. It seems that the Department of State Security (DSS) and others trusted with national security did not bother to find out the identity of those whom Mallam El-Rufai paid off. One is piqued to observe that certain elements within the leadership of our country sympathize with these bandits while advocating for amnesty for them.

Currently, these bandits appear to run a parallel government in some of these states. They behave and carry on like the ‘untouchables’ in most of the communities.

Covertly, those in authority are predisposed to handle the apparent breakdown of law and order with undignified aplomb having compromised their legitimacy through unguarded and inciting utterances.

These outlaws have thrown caution to the wind, capitalising on the lack of political will on the part of government to wield the big stick. The scale of kidnappings has reached unprecedented levels. The frequency of these audacious abductions only confirms the long held notion in some quarters that there is some level of official connivance. What is more? Even Sheikh Gumi owned up on national television that those in authority know the hideouts of these bandits and terror militias in northern Nigeria.

In the evolving drama playing out in the north, the fabled talakawas continue to act as the pawns even as their children, wards and wives are always victims of these countless abductions.

Sheikh Gumi has initiated some degree of peace talk with these bandits as he visits their camps in various northern states. The Islamic cleric has suddenly assumed the role of the ‘unofficial’ mediator between bandits and the Nigerian society, while openly soliciting state support for the bandits, trying to draw similarity between them and the Niger Delta militants who got amnesty. Sheikh Gumi might have to explain further why the Nigerian government should compensate these foreign fighters. Since in the same interview, he had gone further to educate Nigerians that the militia were Fulani from outside the country mobilized by some aggrieved persons to execute revenge or vendatta against persons or communities that had wronged the local Fulani community. Plausible as this sounds, he further stated that the Fulani respected their traditional values and culture of revenge apparently more than they will ever regard the Nigerian constitution or laws which forbids self-help or extra-judicial behaviour.

Now that the militia has graduated to abducting school girls, one does not see how that tallies with the earlier postulations by Gumi. Besides, the unwritten pledge to make certain parts of the country ‘ungovernable’, the script playing out bears strong resemblance to that of Boko Haram. It is clear that Boko Haram seems to retreat in direct proportion to the magnitude of abductions in northern Nigeria. Many keen observers see a correlation between massive abductions in schools and Boko Haram methodology.

While the political and military authorities appear slightly bemused churning out what can simply be termed unverifiable guesswork as to the powers behind banditry and insurgency in northern Nigeria. The latest was that drug barons were sponsoring the abductions. Yet no baron is being quizzed or any significant power broker anywhere. The citizens continue to reel under the yoke of insecurity and other socio-economic challenges. More recently, this included the transient food blockade by an umbrella union of northern produce and meat farmers who stopped transportation of food items to the entire southern Nigeria on the heels of clashes between northern traders and their southwestern host at Shasha Oyo state.

As the days go by, the drama appears to take on real intensity. The government appears absolutely clueless to borrow a phrase liberally thrown around during the Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) era.

Commuters on the nation’s highways are daily kidnapped by these bandits and murdered at the slightest provocation. While another angle to the increasing state of insecurity in places like Zamfara and Birinin Gwari is unchecked illegal mining of gold and other valuable minerals.

The appeal will be to those that invited these militia groups to mercifully do a rethink and appeal to them to sheath their swords and go back to their homelands. Though they are defiantly calling for dialogue with the authorities, my counsel is that those owing them should kindly pay up and save the country the repeated embarrassment of these mass abductions.

Otuchikere, is a social commentator & entrepreneur.

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