Bandits and a Nation’s Need for a Naming Ceremony.
We do not need any diagnosis to tell away the fact that Nigeria is plagued with terrorism – whether the domestic or the transborder type – as all the clinical manifestations of terror are themselves there for all to see, even the blind. But the major challenge for Nigeria is in her poor management of her own self-inflicted condition of terror – both domestic and transborder – which, though, now metastasizing, she has been living with for years, the latest of which, due to her incurable love for a neutral trope has remained in the lexical confines of the term “banditry.”
In the transborder sector, Nigeria, in the Lake Chad Basin, battles with Boko Haram, Ansaru fundamentalists (whose activities are now ebbing), Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and other fundamentalist sects in that “axis of evil.” Nigeria, however, in the face of terror, takes a conciliatory approach instead: forgiving and reintegrating “repentant” terrorists. On the domestic front, Nigeria is confronted with terror-related attacks by armed Fulani herders, “bandits” and recently separatists. My focus here, in this piece, is on the bandits whose activities, though known in various parlance, are not given a proper designation.
Occupying the forest axes of Katsina, Kaduna and large sprawling vast ungoverned spaces of Nigeria’s Northwest, bandits, whose activities include kidnap for ransom, coordinated attacks on security installations and personnel (like that seen at the nation’s premier military degree-awarding institution, NDA), maiming and killing of defenceless citizens and gunning down military fighter jets, now administer taxes in their own controlled spaces and portions within Nigeria. What that should tell us, ordinarily, is that the state that is Nigeria is failing and a state within a state emerging therefrom in the form of non-state actors who always act when state actors and all institutions of state fail. For the sake of emphasis: taxation constitutes one of the ways of maintaining governance presence over an administered area and is therefore one of the legitimate ways a government establishes its authority within her territorial spaces effectively. If a non-state actor assumes such role, it means government has failed or is failing, if not entirely absent. So, having stated this, I refused to be schooled by Lai Mohammed!
For any group to gun down, using sophisticated weapons such as surface-to-air missile, a nation’s military (not civilian) jet with such precision and boldly come out to accept responsibility for such aerial attack is not only an act of war but a clear declaration of it against that government to which the military and the jet belong. And for any entity that cherishes to be called a government, it requires a strategic approach, perhaps a more devastating attack on the position and location of such enemy, a kind that does not only counter but degrades it permanently or largely. Let it also be known that, by international law standard, highjacking of an aeroplane itself tantamounts to terrorism, not to talk of gunning a nation’s military jet fighter down. But Nigeria remains silent and fails to call terror by its name! Worse is that it is now claimed in many quarters, including in the foreign media spaces, that Nigeria, rather than take war to bandits in their hideouts takes fat ransom thereto; a certain report – to which the Nigeria Airforce has already issued a refutation – made the rounds, claiming that a princely ₦20 million in sum was given to the bandits to shelve an attack against the president’s jet.
What troubles one even the more is that among the members of the Buhari-led cabinet, against whose government the said attack was targeted and launched, is this apparent lack of synergy or parity on what the activities of these nihilists are or constitute. To the minister of information, Lai Mohammed, it does mean no more than “common criminals” collecting taxes from motorists and by extension other road users as seen in other parts of the country (seemingly the South).
This comparison draws one to that by the nation’s Chief Law Officer which likened the activities of armed, sanguinary, killer herders to those of automobile spare parts dealers. Such categorisations show us where the bread of the government in office is buttered, especially when viewed against the background that it was with a largely uncommon immediacy that our military – even when it was not within their constitutional sphere – declared unarmed ragtag group of banner-waving IPOB members terrorists after its ignoble operation codenamed “Python Dance II”, in a face-saving denialism which a court has helped to sustain. Still on the plane of confusion for the government at the centre, Garba Shehu, media aide to the president properly calls the activities of bandits terrorism, contradicting the position of Lai Mohammed. Both Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed are spokespersons, each in a sense – the former to the president and the latter to his government. That both officials are at conflict with what the activities of the bandits constitute is revealing of the fact that Buhari’s entire cabinet and officials may be at divergence, and not at convergence, over what is plaguing Nigeria’s Northwest.
The confusion is not only what we see among government officials who squabble over what terrorism is or is not, but that we have in Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, an armchair diplomat who allegedly operates the government’s back channel with the bandits telling us they are only disgruntled lads needing petting; a subtext and subterfuge which means “forgive and reintegrate”! Sheikh Ahmad Abubakar Gumi, our self-appointed ambassador plenipotentiary running the Nigerian mission in the forest domain of the bandits speaks of amnestying terrorists; it gets worse even. Gumi, who under this diplomatic immunity, takes pictures with gun-toting bandits recently tells us that though the activities of bandits constitute terrorism, declaring war against them could “end” Nigeria with tendency of fundamentalists joining and giving such war a religious dimension, yet the cleric is at large. I did not miss the point here as Gumi’s message was simple and direct. Banditry, if we read Gumi well, is one and the same with fundamentalist terrorism, after all has not Gumi himself told the so-called bandits once that their killers are Nigerian soldiers of the Christian South not those of Muslim North?
Whilst we relax and name what we want terror and what don’t want nothing, let me remind this nation that now revels in “sin by silence” that we are not safe within the confines of its spaces anymore. How difficult is it for the entire intelligence community and security agencies to come to terms with the fact that a group that attacks schools and takes students hostage for ransom, that guns down flying objects, and that bombs a moving train is now an amphibious formation encircling the Northwest, one willing to take us on air, land and, who knows, by sea? While we keep muddling through in the face of this undeclared war and butchery it is fitting to ask whether the Commander-in-chief has lost his command or is still in command. Has not the Mallam Governor of Kaduna, one of the terrorised states, told us of barrage of letters he sent out to the president over the same matter wherein the governor claimed to have demanded a proper labelling for the bandits, one which allows our military to carry out a frontal and conventional warfare against these unnamed and numbered foes?
It was my friend who once said, “If you think something exists, give it a name,” so hat else do the president, the Attorney General, the military and even others wait before such a pronouncement is made? A naming ceremony? Perhaps that!