Family displaced by bandits
Family displaced by Boko Haram ( Afolabi Sotunde, Reuters)

By OBINNA EZUGWU

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, anarchy is effectively on the loose. In large swaths of its North, bandits and Boko Haram terrorists reign supreme, kidnapping students, men, women and children from their homes largely unchallenged, with potentially dire consequences for its economy and continued existence as a stable polity, while the country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, many say, appears out of depth, or even disinterested.

After suffering two consecutive negative GDP growth in 2020, caused largely by Covid-19 pandemic induced lock downs, and consequently going into a second recession in five years, the country celebrated an exit from recession in February, as Q4 2020 report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that the economy grew by 0.11 percent. The IMF projects further 1.5 percent growth in 2021. But as security challenges mount, forcing many farmers to abandon their farms, school children to stay away from schools and foreign investors to increasingly grow cold feet, food inflation has been on the rise, and the country may be headed for real trouble.

Last year, 2020, the country attracted a total FDI of $2.6 billion, down from the $3.3 billion it attracted a year earlier. It would be sensible to blame Covid, but the pandemic does not fully explain the trajectory. Plunge in FDI in the country, has largely coincided with rise in insecurity. In 2019, the total $3.3 billion recorded was a 48.5 percent plunge from $6.4 billion recorded in 2018.

But even worse, as many local farmers abandon their farms for the relative safety of their homes or IDP camps, a food challenge is looming. NBS figures showed that food index rose sharply to a record high to stand at 20.57% in January 2021 compared to 19.56% recorded in the previous month. The pattern has continued as farmlands continue to shrink.

It’s a country where no-one is safe anymore. Non-state actors call the shots in vast areas of its landmass. In Borno, Northeast where a combination of Boko Haram and Islamic State terrorists have been staging attacks for over a decade, recent days and weeks have seen them grow more daring. On Saturday, terrorists from the Islamic State-backed faction of Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), said killed 33 Nigerian soldiers in Borno state during an ambush on the troops in Monguno.

The terror group also claimed 20 soldiers were injured in the attack, with attached pictures showing about 15 bodies of dead military officers and seven operational vehicles, military hardware and ammunitions they captured from the army, displayed as proof.

It is the latest in series of audacious attacks by a terrorist group becoming more emboldened by the day, with body count of hundreds of soldiers and civilians to show this year alone.
Not less than 33 soldiers were said to have been recently killed when two explosive-laden vehicles rammed into a military convoy in Wulgo. The suicide bombers were identified as Abu Bakr al-Siddiq and Bana Jundullah. The group also claimed four military vehicles were destroyed. In February, about 20 soldiers were also killed in Malari, Borno State, by the insurgents.

Only a fortnight ago, the terror group took over Dikwa an ancient town about 90km from Maiduguri, the Borno state capital after launching attacks in the town over period of months.

Few days earlier, the group hoisted their flag in parts of neighbouring Marte local government, all of which point to the fact the insurgents are growing in strength.

But the Northwest has fared perhaps far worse in recent days with Katsina, Buhari’s home state, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna witnessing mass kidnappings of school children and locals almost on a daily basis. Further central in Niger, a new frontier is unfolding. And indeed, Abuja, the nation’s capital, is also becoming a hot-spot for banditry and kidnapping.
On Thursday night, bandits in their numbers invaded Federal College of Forestry Mechanism in Mando area of Kaduna State and abducted 39 staff and students, and are now demanding N500 million as ransom. On Friday, the military said it ‘rescued’ 180 who had run inside the bush during the attack, but the actual kidnapped students remain with the kidnappers.

Yet, yesterday, Sunday, the bandits returned. This time, to Government Science Secondary School, Ikara in the state. Commendable, the army, according to Samuel Aruwan, Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, were able to fight them off on the occasion, preventing them from abducting the students.
But stories of such prevention are rare. On Wednesday the precious week, the bandits raided Kwaita community in Kwali Area Council of Abuja, and during their operation, shot a pregnant woman and abducted her husband, as well as three others. Earlier in late January, the bandits successfully abducted seven orphans and a security guard at the Rachels Orphanage Home in Naharati, Abaji Area council in the capital city, and only released them after collecting millions in ransom.
Yet, while Abuja can be said to be relatively safe, Niger is already a hot zone, a status highlighted by last month’s abduction of three teachers, three non-teaching staff, nine family members and 27 students of Government Science College, Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area of the state; an incident that resulted in the bandits killing one student who tried to flee.

Niger has since remained in the news. Indeed, the student’s abduction had been preceded by the abduction 40 Niger State Transport Authority (NSTA) passengers. Almost daily, kidnappers raid communities and abduct as many people. Days afterwards, the scene was Gidigori town in Rafi Local Government Area where the bandits kidnapped unspecified number of people, burnt five cars and carted away valuables. The latest high profile kidnapping in the state was the abduction of over 50 passengers along the Tegina-Minna road in the same Rafi Local Government.

Elsewhere, Zamfara, the original home of the bandits is boiling. On February 26, a group of gunmen invaded the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe and abducted 279 students. They were only released last week, after, it was learnt, despite claims to the contrary, ransom was paid.

This was yet followed by abduction of scores of villagers, numbering about 60, at Ruwan Tofa village in Maru Local Government Area of the state. The neighbouring Sokoto is also in the thick of things, and the daring invasion and subsequent abduction students in Kaduna Thursday night, which came barely a week after similar audacious kidnapping of nine persons, including a family of six – a housewife and her two children – at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria quarters in the state after engaging military officers in a shootout point to how desperate the situation has become.

Strangely, while the abductors are growing in guts, the government many say, appears to be unwilling to stamp its authority, and has instead adopted a policy of negotiation and appeasement of non state actors who now dictate things, to the disappointment of many Nigerians who continue to voice their frustrations with the president.

“President Buhari must wake up and make up his mind that he wants to put a stop to this rising insecurity, particularly the herdsmen problem,” said Mr. Ebenezer Babatope, elder statesman and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain. “If he continues with what he is doing, this nation is in trouble.”

Following the release of the Zamfara schoolgirls few days ago, Buhari, to his credit, vowed that their kidnap would be the last. And in a subsequent interview, his spokesperson, Mallam Garba Shehu, disclosed that he had given security agencies order to shoot at any non state actor seen with AK-47. But like his previous pronouncements, nothing significant has changed. Bandits are still on the prowl, relentless in their business of abduction for ransom, now a booming trade.

Indeed a revelation last week, by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, in an interview with the BBC, that billions of dollars voted for purchase of arms to battle the menace of insecurity under the immediate past service chiefs, remain accounted for, has highlighted what many believe to be aloofness in the face of looming anarchy by the Buhari administration.

Though the NSA in a statement by his office later backtracked – albeit under pressure – that he had been quoted out of context, not many are impressed. And as the situation continues to get out of hand, critics have not been in short supply.

You cant pay people for banditry. The only business that thrives in Nigeria is stealing governments money, banditry and kidnapping,” remarked former Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi at a book launch in Awka few days ago.
“And thats why your country is not progressing. How do we go and negotiate and pay somebody, a bandit, when we have not paid those who are working. We are owing those who have legitimately worked. We are negotiating and paying those who have stolen kids. It is a criminal system. It is important we walk away from it. Lecturers are owed. How do we compensate those who have not contributed anything to the economy?” he wondered.

Indeed, banditry appears to have become a staple in many parts of the country with thousands of people falling victim. In a report last year, SB Morgen intelligence said between the year 2011 and 2020, Nigerians paid N7 billion as ransom to kidnappers. Kidnapping has become, by many accounts, a booming trade in the country, and the bandits are cashing out big while the country tethers on the brink with the president unable, in many people’s opinion, to provide much needed leadership.

“There is so much insecurity in Nigeria. There are killings everywhere and they (APC) told Nigerians that they will solve the problem. But the problem is not being solved,” Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike said while hosting APC chieftain, Orji Uzor Kalu recently.

They appoint Commissioner of Police (CP) based on patronage. A politician from my state will go to see the Inspector General of Police and ask him to give him a CP. And the IG will not post CP based on competence to fight crime but based on the fact that the man in the party says he wants so and so person.

When the person comes, will he fight insecurity? No. Thats the problem we have in this country today. How can I partner with such a government? A government that will not do things based on competence.

The emboldened bandits have since begun to export their trade to Southern Nigeria in the name of cattle herding. From Ekiti through Ondo to Oyo and Ogun, indeed throughout Southern Nigeria, kidnappings, rape, murder and mindless violence by those identified as Fulani herdsmen and have wreaked havoc on households, and led to the death of breadwinners and loss of livelihoods.
And in what is looking like an emerging sad new reality in the region, gunmen last week invaded the Environmental Studies Department of the National Institute for Construction Technology, Uromi in Esan Northeast Local Government Area of Edo, and abducted two students and a teacher identified as Miss Uzo.

The fallout has led to an inevitable escalation of ethnic suspicion and tension with the ethnic warriors like Sunday Adeyemo, popularly called Sunday Igboho, Nnamdi Kanu and so on, becoming increasingly popular in their enclaves, a potentially explosive situation.

The key issue here is that there is no government commitment. The problem is institutional. If the Police were allowed to do their job properly, they alone can tackle the criminal elements amongst the herdsmen, said Aremo Oladotun Hassan, president, Yoruba Council of Youths.
But what we hear is that a criminal herdsman would be arrested and in the next two minutes, a call will come from Abuja and he will be released. That is impunity on the part of the government. When it comes to the issue of dealing with criminal herdsmen, you find out that the rule of law does not apply. All you get is government making excuses for them, and that is where the problem lies.

The idea that it is farmers/herders clashes is to paint a different picture from what is actually going on. The fact of the matter is that these people are terrorists who were brought into the country by some interest groups from the North prior to 2015 general election. These people they brought from Mali, Sudan and other places to cause mayhem in case they lost election, have refused to leave.

Yes, there was insecurity before 2015, but it was not as bad as this. And for us in the Southwest, we knew the Fulani we were living with at the time.”

Indeed, when in 2015, the All Progressive Congress (APC) with Buhari as its presidential candidate swept to power on the back of raging Boko Haram onslaught in the countrys North east; many in the region and elsewhere heaved sigh of relief.

Buhari, a retired major general, had promised to bring his military experience to bear, and rout Boko Haram who kidnapped over 250 school girls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State in 2014, and incurred global outrage and delivered final nail on the political aspirations of then incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan.

But five years on, the hopes of a better secured Nigeria, with thriving economy, which many looked forward to, have given way to despair and frustration. The economy has nosedived. Insecurity has grown into a monster.

Under this administration, life has lost its value, and more and more citizens are coming under the influence of criminals. We do not see any evidence of willingness on the part of President Buhari to honour his oath to provide security over Nigerians, Director, Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, the Northern Elders Forum said in a statement recently.

In civilised nations, leaders who fail so spectacularly to provide security will do the honourable thing and resign.”

In May last year, International Crisis Group in a report titled, Working Document Fulani Militias Terror: Compilation of News (2017-2020), said between 2017 and May 2, 2020, Fulani herdsmen alone conducted 654 attacks, killed 2,539 and kidnapped 253 people in the country, mostly in the North Central and Kaduna.

Nigerians are suffering widespread and systematic terrorist attacks by, mainly, Boko Haram, the ISIL-aligned Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP), Fulani militias and Ansaru, the report had said.

The Global Terrorist Index 2019 published by the Institute for Economics and Peace, indicates that the primary driver of the increase in terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa was a rise in terrorist activity in Nigeria attributed to Fulani extremists: in 2018, Fulani extremists were responsible for the majority of terror-related deaths in Nigeria (1,158 fatalities), with an increase by 261 and 308 percent respectively from the prior year.

The group said bandits have killed about 8,000 people since 2011 till May 2020, and forced more than 200,000 to flee their homes. The number would have risen exponentially with attacks and kidnappings now more regular.
Other frontiers are opening. A few days ago, heavily armed militants in the oil rich Niger Delta region, announced they were ready to resume hostilities, citing neglect and sundry failed promises by the Buhari government.

In the Southeast, Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had recently launched a security outfit called Eastern Security Network, which he said was to protect the region from herdsmen and criminals. The outfit has had confrontations with the country’s military and other security agencies, particularly in Orlu, Imo State.
Growing attacks on police stations in the region suggest something sinister is brewing. For many, President Buhari’s aloofness appears to have brought the country to a point of no return.

“Many of our country men and women are beginning to show symptoms of depression and hypertension due to high state of fear engendered by insecurity, killing and kidnapping going on in the country,” noted Dr. Sola Olutoye, a psychologist.
For Hassan, the unfolding scenario was always inevitable given the government’s seeming unwillingness to tackle the criminal activities of suspected Fulani herdsmen.

For how long are we going to accept this situation? Look at the Southwest at the moment, what we are facing now is beyond herders and farmers clashes. What we are facing is an invasion, he said.