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Weaponising Banditry: Indulgence and Complicity

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Insecurity is the greatest bane of the Nigerian state as we stand today; followed closely by its twin sister, food scarcity, or what we vaguely call famine – occasioned by the fear of, and despair about the level of killings, abductions, and all sorts of violence assailing us all over the place. What heightens the sense of doom on the tail of insecurity is the perceived poor handling by civilian governance at almost all levels.

To be fair, the confusing and dangerous signals that seem to portray our leaders as incompetent or indulgent of the activities and atrocities of criminal elements endangering the well being of the nation, are not peculiar to the elites. Ordinary folks, and different strata of the Nigerian populace, engage in actions and narratives that oil and fatten the greed, grip and guts of these miscreants who go by all manners of tags: bandits, kidnappers, cultists, thugs, terrorists, insurgents, and the latest fad, secessionists.

When you profit through ignorance or brazen profiteering instincts by supplying foodstuff, ammunition, and whatnots to bandits, forest-loving killer herdsmen and notorious kidnappers, you are weaponising them…providing them the strength and stamina to surge ahead in their depravity. Like the case of Hassan Magaji of Galadimawa village in Kaduna State who was arrested last month, June, alongside his workers for selling loaves of bread to kidnappers and bandits terrorising the people of Birnin Gwari and Giwa Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Magaji was lulled by the booming blood-money business, which was fetching him about N400,000 per month, before he was discovered and intercepted. One of the bread sellers was even aghast, and confessed that he didn’t know that providing food to bandits, most of whom were known to the communities, was illegal! The implications are sobering.

When you walk into the dens of bandits, hold meetings and prayers with them in order to appreciate and authenticate their notoriety… because you are convinced that the harshness of military action in reining them in had exacerbated the madness of the bandits, and therefore, a less threatening approach was necessary – you are ultimately weaponising the miscreants. Like Sheik Ahmad Gumi cavorting with criminals, and parroting their moronic campaign that bandits – ordinary criminals without any redeeming ethno-religious or socio-political causes beyond crass personal enrichment – needed amnesty so as to look for better means of livelihood, you wilfully expose millions of your compatriots, far and near, to danger, and existential threats from people who ought to be scourged in public arenas, and thrown behind bars for the rest of their miserable lives.
We have heard and read, and sometimes watched unconfirmed reports of aircraft allegedly dropping supplies and unidentified objects in remote areas for the benefit of insurgents. Even when the military were advancing and pushing back the misguided terrorists called Boko Haram or ISWAP, the allegations of fifth columnists or criminal saboteurs chipping away at the successful counter-terrorism efforts of our valiant soldiers kept coming up in both the social and traditional media. We continue to lose men and materials in this long-going war in which our lean resources are being frittered away – resources that would have been better deployed to life-giving ventures and employment-promoting programmes.
When the media, especially the social media, make viral and trending, poorly produced brutal videos promoted by insurgents, bandits and other criminals; and we daily poking fun at seeming setbacks of our military in skirmishes with the insurgents; we are invariably lionising the murderous escapades of lunatics without cause whose endgame is to frustrate the peace and prosperity of our country; we help in weaponising the criminals, and provide more recruitment statistics for them to validate their impact in transmitting terror and horror.
On the other hand, the actions, images and sentiments expressed publicly by our military top brasses can also inadvertently produce unusual psychological and physiological inducement for the criminal brigades. When a retiring chief of staff reportedly claimed the long-running combat with terrorists might take another 20 years before we could breathe easy, you’re weaponising the scallywags. When people in strategic positions infer in open fora the inferiority of our combat hardwares, the unsavoury troop morale as a result of bungled intelligence gathering mechanism; the sudden sackings and deployment of soldiers and officers; the exposure of disparaging videos of soldiers complaining about one act of neglect or the other…all these military leakages and over-information cumulatively weaponise the enemy combatants.
When Amotekun, the quasi-military community security organ of the southwest, are denied access to modern ammunition (I’m not sure if the Civilian JTF (Joint Task Force) of the Northeast are allowed to carry guns); the so-called ‘foreign’ Fulani herdsmen supposedly wield their AK-47 guns across the Nigerian landscape, which by the way have been outlawed. However, we have not read any report where an AK-47-wielding Fulani herder posse had been “shot at sight”. But we have read of arrested gun-wielding vagabonds captured by vigilantes after committing one atrocity or the other being allegedly set loose by law enforcement units, for want of evidence! These acts of seeming complicity and insensitivity merely strengthen the capacity of criminal minds to enact more heinous crimes
When the Nigerian police spend years investigating gruesome murders, carnage, reprisal attacks, sacking of villages, and all sorts of villainy, without reasonable conclusion on the side of justice; without perpetrators and their handlers brought to book; without fluid and full administration of criminal justice on identified assailants; without actions and punishments seen and believed to be fair, equitable or even-handed, we invariably weaponise the undesirable elements in their notoriety.One of the major markers of underdevelopment in the management of human activities is the sluggish and lethargic response to emergencies and grave occurrences. When settlements are under attacks, and the security forces are caught pants down; or when communities have had suspicions of imminent attacks, and have notified law enforcers who then hold press conferences to assure “all to go about their legitimate businesses, for there is no cause for alarm”… only for the killers to come into those communities, unchallenged, and hold the hapless people hostage and hopeless for hours, in a destructive frenzy. When they walk away triumphant, leaving chaos, corpses and catastrophe behind…we officially weaponise and coronate our vicious enemies.

Gradually, the industry of kidnapping for ransom has transformed into a huge and horrendous economy of scale where “transactional terrorism” is conducted on wireless phones; cash exchanged on highways and open rendezvous; registered sim cards freely used; and hefty airtime extorted from unfortunate families of terrorised victims. And between our hard-working police force and the intelligence community, and the so-called sophisticated technology of our telecommunication companies, we have spectacularly failed to capture or frustrate the extortioners, or collapse their enterprise.

Many of the surviving victims have alleged collusion of law enforcers and law breakers. Public trust is shattered, perceptions of government are ugly.

Every instance where criminals take their loot home, where the police wring their hands in impotent frustration, where a family is deprived the joy of living, where a government sends out another futile and farcical condolence letter, is a password furtively released to weaponise the bandits and their nefarious counterparts.

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