Defeating banditry is an urgent task

THE alarm raised recently by the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed, over increasing attacks by bandits in the state foregrounds the existential crisis facing the country. And to jolt President Bola Tinubu and his security chiefs out of complacency, the United States government has just issued a fresh travel advisory to its citizens to avoid 18 Nigerian states where life is insecure and brutish. Efforts to defeat criminality, underpinned by new strategies, should therefore be redoubled and the entire country mobilised for this purpose.

Originally operating in the North-West, bandits have spread their murderous tentacles to other parts of the country. They have created a humanitarian crisis and pose a significant threat to Nigeria’s security and stability. Forging alliances with Islamists, they have also helped Islamic terrorists to spread from the North-East to the North-West and North-Central regions.

Tinubu must act fast and decisively. Last week, the US State Department placed 18 Nigerian states on its ‘Level-4’ risk scale, the highest risk category for American citizens abroad. From earlier warnings merely urging caution, this time, the memo was explicit: “Do not travel” to these states.

Their intelligence is accurate. Bandits ambushed and killed 13 soldiers and officers in Chukuba, Shiroro Local Government Area, Niger State, last month. They also brought down a Nigerian Air Force helicopter, killing the pilot.

In June 2023,132 people were killed by bandit groups in Sokoto, Zamfara, Benue and Katsina states. On July 24, 34 people, including seven soldiers, were killed by bandits in Zamfara’s Dan Gulbi district, Maru LGA.

Meanwhile, Fulani herders/terrorists have continued their genocidal rampage in the North-Central states and in Kaduna. More than 80,000 more persons have been displaced in Plateau State, according to locals, since May; and between May and June, about 200 people were killed in Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Mangu LGAs.

The bandits engage in cattle rustling and kidnapping-for-ransom. Banditry has had a devastating impact, including displacement, loss of lives, and economic hardship. Farmers are unable to access their farmlands and forced to pay exorbitant tribute. Travel has been disrupted in parts of the country. Over 151,380 people were displaced in Niger State alone.

Geography is also an enabler. Four focal states– Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger – have vast interlinked forests, facilitating hideouts and mobility for the bandits. The Kamuku forest covers an area of 1,121 square kilometres and links the four states and Kebbi State.

Poor leadership by state governments also plays a crucial role in the proliferation of banditry, adds the International Crisis Group.

Defeating banditry requires fresh thinking, new strategies, and resolute law enforcement by the federal and state governments. The locals must be integrated into the interdiction measures.

There should be more boots on the ground, especially in recovered territories to prevent the bandits from returning. This requires two urgent measures; withdrawing the two-thirds of the Nigerian Police personnel currently attached to VIPs and other individuals; and empowering local security units, well-armed, trained and equipped.

The longer Nigeria delays in amending the 1999 Constitution to birth state policing, the further it slides into insecurity. Without effective local policing, terrorism and banditry cannot be defeated.

The influx of small and light weapons through Nigeria’s porous borders and ports that helps the bandits should be stopped.

Only failed states offer dubious amnesty to murderers, kidnappers and terrorists; the various governments should stop this self-defeating tactic. It has never worked.

Banditry is a complex security challenge posing significant threats; Tinubu and the state governors should give it their undivided attention.

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