By Adebayo Obajemu
Last week was one the country would like to forget in a hurry; it was a day like no other in the fight against bandits who have been ravaging the northwest. Unlike the northeast where Boko Haram have waged a 12 year insurgency, the bandits came out of nowhere in the northwest by kidnapping people ransom. But all this suddenly changed last, leaving the country dazed.
The daring attack on the prestigious, and hitherto widely thought impregnable and highly fortified Nigeria Defence Academy, NDA, has not only raised the stakes of gapping loopholes in our secuity architecture, but has also created in every Nigerian for the impression of a siege mentality.
“When I heard the news of the attack, I quickly looked over my shoulders, and peered at the calendar only to discover this is not month of April. Honestly as a nation we should embarrassed, and the military saying there is no security that cannot be breached has further heightened the ludicrousness of our situation as a core banana republic”, says Prof. Adeagbo Moritiwon, an eminent political scientist in his chat with BusinessHallmark.
The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Tony Ojukwu, said: “The invasion of the institution with high international repute where very intelligent military officers are produced is most unfortunate, unexpected and condemnable.”
Speaking further, he said the attack on the military institution was bad in itself, and that the killing and abduction of some soldiers were the “worst form of human rights violations of our time.”
Many retired military officers have condemned the attack, saying it portends serious ill-omen to national security, and with many of them alleging possibility of fifth columnists in the attack. The fifth column angle is the position of many retired top brass like Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Bode George and Commodore Olawumi Olakunle, whose television interview caused unease in official quarters.
Recall that of recent, there have been steady attacks army and police formations across the country, especially in eastern part of the country. But this is the first time a military institution is being targeted.
Armed men suspected to be bandits had attacked the Kurar Mota community in Bungudu Local Government Area of Zamfara State, killing at least 13 police officers in July 18. The incident occurred on Sunday when the assailants invaded a police formation and gunned down officers on duty.
According to witnesses, the bandits came to NDA in large numbers in the early hours of Tuesday. Aside from the officers killed and kidnapped, some others sustained gunshot injuries and we’re said to be receiving treatment at the NDA hospital.
The attack on the military facility comes amidst heightened insecurity in the North-west, with Kaduna State at the epicenter. Hundreds of students have been kidnapped in various schools across Kaduna State in the past five months as the state governor, Nasir El-Rufai, has stood his ground on his no ransom payment policy.
The latest attack on the military facility tells how bad the situation has become as the fate of an ordinary civilian hangs in the balance.
Recently, there were intelligence reports that Boko Haram flags were sighted at the Afaka Forest close to NDA and Kaduna Airport.
The attacks came as Kaduna Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, demanded bombing of forests and killing of all bandits as recipe for freeing the country from their siege. Heavy casualty was also reported on the side of the bandits as soldiers fought back to repel attack on a military formation in Ninge, Niger State.
It was learnt that the assailants, who came on motorcycles in a large number, stormed the army formation in Ninge and began to fire sporadic gunshots, but were repelled and chased out by troops.
The police said a large number of bandits attacked a divisional headquarters with the aim of looting its armoury. The police confirmed three officers were injured after armed bandits attacked the Maraban Jos Divisional Headquarters in Kaduna State.
The police spokesperson in the state, Muhammed Jalige, said the gunmen attacked the facility at 11 a.m. on a mission to loot the armoury.
However, he said the officers on ground repelled the attack and successfully defended the armoury.
“The bandits came in large number in three Sharon utility vehicles and, in their desperate attempt to override the personnel on duty, shot sporadically in order to gain access into the divisional armoury,” Mr. Jalige said in a statement.
“However, the bandits met with professional and stiff resistance from the personnel on duty.
Mr. Jalige added that the guards “were able to secure the amoury, the entire station and other adjoining facilities at the division.
Mannir Dan Ali, former editor-in-chief of Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper, says the shooting down of a military jet by bandits shows how organised banditry has become, more daring by the day.
“The issue of banditry according to experts and ordinary Nigerians, is becoming serious, unfortunately the country’s leadership is not taking drastic measures to combat the menace that has suddenly made Nigeria a cousin to Somalia”, Dr. Abdullahi Ohiare, a sociologist told this medium.
He said government has not addressed the menace, in spite of the enormous threat it has posed to security. Nigerians often refer to them as bandits and they are a networks of sophisticated criminals who operate across large swathes of northern-western and central Nigeria.
These gangs on motorbikes terrorise the region, stealing animals, kidnapping for ransom, killing anyone who dares confront them and taxing farmers – it’s a huge money-making operation.
Over the last four years the security forces have not been able to get a handle on the situation, which millions of Nigerians feel is out of control.
Not too long ago, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Dutsinma-to-Tsaskiya road in his home state of Katsina but few people dare travel on it after countless attacks by bandits.
What is more parents of kidnapped students from Bethel Baptist High School, in Nigeria’s Kaduna state are traumatized, but only 70 out of 136 were released last week after payment of additional huge sums.
Before their release, the bandits were calling these parents at Bethel Baptist High School asking for food for their captive children.
Currently most top government officials, including security chiefs take the train linking the capital, Abuja to Kaduna because of frequent abductions on the road between the two cities.
Not too long ago, a serving army general was recently killed on the main road from Abuja to Kogi state and his sister, who was travelling with him, kidnapped.
In July, 13 military policemen were killed in an ambush in Zamfara state when at the same time at least 150 villagers were abducted.
At the moment at least 300 students are being held by kidnappers who seized them from their schools in Kaduna, Niger and Kebbi states at different times over the last two months – many taken in broad daylight.
Some are Islamic primary school students as young as five and most of them, if the kidnappers are to be believed, have fallen sick.
In all these cases, the gangs are asking for huge amounts of money to release the children – ransoms the parents cannot afford, while the authorities insist that they will neither pay ransoms nor negotiate with criminals.
The bandits, whose hideouts are in vast camps in forests, are brazen. But Sheikh Gumi said the military and the police know their locations. As they hold out for payment, they hassle parents with demands for bags of rice, beans and cooking oil to feed their captives and bikes.
Dozens of schools spread across at least five northern states have been closed by the authorities as they are unable to protect them.
This has not stopped the gangs, who have recently turned to targeting more high-profile figures such as a local emir and his family.
“Some of the gang members have been boasting of their alliance with Islamist Boko Haram militants… allegations that have not been independently verified.”
Hundreds of villages have been deserted after some of the most brutal and deadly attacks. In some areas, the gangs dictate what the locals can do and levy taxes.
Reports that a military jet was shot down on in July by one of the gangs were at first flatly denied, but later the military confirmed it when villagers in the area told reporters they had helped the pilot to escape to safety, the military issued a statement with a more positive spin – commending the “gallant pilot” who had come under “intense enemy fire” after a “successful” mission.
The authorities may have tried to downplay the incident but it shocked security analysts.
“We know the bandits have all those bazookas, rocket launchers… We didn’t believe they have the technical know-how and capacity to use them,” retired security official Mike Ejiofor told the media.