The reign of a false dichotomy between banditry and terrorism in Nigeria could be coming to an end soon as the national assembly adopts resolutions to call a spade a spade.
Last week, the two chambers of the Nigerian national assembly, in separate motions, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare bandits as terrorists and wage total war against their sponsors. The first call came from the Senate on Wednesday, and on Thursday, lawmakers at the House of Representatives also echoed the sentiment of their colleagues at the Upper Chamber.
The security situation in Nigeria has gone from bad to worse in the past six years, especially in the northern part. While the government of President Muhammadu Buhari claims to have decimated the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist organization which has terrorised the country for twelve years, the emergence and rapid rise of “the new lords of the northwest” – the so-called bandits – appear to have ridiculed whatever achievement the government could lay claim to. Their activities have plunged the country into an unprecedented state of insecurity.
Banditry is not an entirely new phenomenon in Nigeria as it dates back to the pre-civil war era and could be noticed in virtually every part of the country. The long-known banditry activities were predominantly stealing of domestic animals and armed robbery by local thugs.
However, the recent experiences in the northwest are particularly worrisome, glaringly much more sophisticated and deadly than just banditry, as the government would want the general public to believe. The modus operandi of these so-called bandits includes cattle rustling, kidnapping, robbery, and rape. Their sheer boldness and frequency of attacks have thrown the entire region into panic mode, with economic activities grounded in many communities, hundreds of lives lost, many children orphaned, and women thrown into widowhood overnight. The widespread and recurring violence has propelled observers and security experts to find a link between these criminals and terrorist organisations.
A study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) found that Boko Haram has for long been teaming up with the bandits to unleash terror on the country, and their relationship dates back many years. The alliance was said to have been formed to help Boko Haram expand its territories far beyond the northeast and to the other parts of Nigeria and other countries in the Lake Chad region. In addition, some newspaper investigations have reported ongoing mass recruitment of these bandits by various terrorist organisations, including Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fii Biladis Sudan, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), and Boko Haram.
Immigration Advice Services gathered that these bandits’ reign of terror took a drastic twist in July when they shot down a Nigerian Air Force Alpha Jet in north-western Zamfara state. In the attack, the jet came under intense fire from the bandits, leading to its crash, but the pilot managed to escape by ejecting from the aircraft. In August, they also attacked the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), which is one of the foremost military schools in Nigeria, killing two soldiers and abducting another senior officer.
Their widespread human rights abuse has rendered children academically disadvantaged as a result of regular kidnappings, which has forced many schools to close. Opportunistic abductions of both adults and children have assumed a new height in recent times. This year alone, over a thousand students have been kidnapped, with hundreds of them still held in captivity by these criminals. Reports show that in 2021 alone, about 5 million US Dollars have been extorted from Nigerians as ransoms for kidnapped persons.
Despite the glaring evidence, all calls for the current administration to proscribe the bandits as terrorists have not been given deserved attention. For the avoidance of doubt, these criminal elements have committed atrocities worth defining as terrorism, going by the country’s Terrorism Prevention Act, 2011 as amended by the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act, 2013. There are more than 10 types of crimes regarded as terrorism under the act, and nearly all of them have been committed by these criminals.
In 2017, the federal government was quick to proscribe the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for agitating for an independent State of Biafra, and its leader Nnamdi Kanu is currently being prosecuted for treason and terrorism.
The recent call by the national assembly is a reflection of the Nigerian masses’ views toward the bandits. Moving the motion, titled “Declaration of Bandits and their Sponsors as Terrorists,” on Thursday, September 30, Babajimi Benson, a lawmaker from Lagos, said such an order would aid the prosecutions of the bandits and their sponsors.
“I will like to echo the same sentiment and ask colleagues to join the Senate in urging Mr President to declare bandits and their sponsors terrorists,” Benson stated. Making such declaration and giving it the force of the law “will renew the vigour and resolve of our gallant security personnel in dealing with the menace of banditry as the mode of operations and rules of engagement will be scaled up accordingly.”
A day before that, the senate had made the same call to the president while also calling on relevant agencies to give utmost support to victims of banditry in the country. One of the Senate resolution sponsors, Senator Gobir, stated that the situation had become of serious concern, especially after the killings of security officers, including three mobile policemen, three members of NSCDC and 15 soldiers, on September 25 in Sokoto State.
This is not the first time such calls would be made by a constituted authority. Following the continuous inexhaustible excuses by the federal government, the Northeast Governors Forum has recently applied for the fiat of the office of the Attorney General of the federation to prosecute terror suspects in military custody in Maiduguri. Many civil rights organisations, and legal practitioners have also made the same call to the Buhari administration.