The rural banditry and terrorism ravaging Nigeria’s northwestern states are products of a poor criminal justice system, ethnic profiling and criminality propelled by poverty, a body of security experts said in a report.
The Centre of Democracy and Development for West Africa, CDD, identified the key actors and drivers of the violent crime that has killed over 12,000 and displaced over one million persons in the region.
The raging violence in the Northwest, which extends to Niger State in the Northcentral, has taken a war-grade dimension with terrorists delivering audacious attacks on military installations and rail lines in addition to crumbling rural communities and attacking travellers on highways.
Although there have been heated debates over the motivations and agenda of the terrorists, locally referred to as bandits, CDD dispels reports that the violent entrepreneurs are sponsored by the northeast’s Boko Haram insurgents, aggrieved politicians, the Fulani ultranationalist, or foreign powers.
“The conflict in the northwest cannot be reduced to a factor or an actor,” the body said in its report, titled: Northwest Nigeria’s Bandit Problem: Explaining the Conflicts Drivers. “Rather, the crisis is rooted in several overlapping economic, political and social problems.”
‘Poor Criminal Justice System’
The poor administration of justice, CDD said, has contributed to the uprising of violent criminals in the northwest. Corruption and ineptitude among the police and judicial officials were identified as reasons for taking up arms by the bandits. The report also identified the highhandedness of security operatives as a factor contributing to the violent crime, leading to an endemic killing spree and bloodshed.
One former bandit narrated to the experts in the report that his father spent seven years chasing justice for his rustled cattle, detailing how justice was not achieved until the man died. “We became impoverished by judicial cases hence the decision to take up arms,” the repentant bandit was quoted to have said.
The Hausa self-defence security outfit, code-named Yan Sakai, has deployed excessive use of force and violence against the Fulanis in Zamfara and Sokoto on suspicion of being bandits sympathisers, the CDD said.
The volunteer guards who emerged in the northwest communities in the 2000s have on several occasions killed innocent Fulani kinsmen extrajudicially, fuelling the existing violent crime. The Fulani militants revolting against being targets of ethnic cleansing orchestrated attacks against their Hausa counterparts.
“Security forces, more so the Yan Sakai, began harassing, robbing, and killing ordinary herders on suspicion of them being bandits,” the report revealed. “As herders left the northwest for other communities or countries, they began to spread among their fellows that Fulanis were being prosecuted in Zamfara in particular.”
Criminality Propelled by Poverty
Violent crimes influenced by overwhelming poverty in the northwestern states were also identified as a driver and one of the root causes of banditry in the region. The social-economic development provides fertile ground for conflict and criminal violence, said the report.
“As of 2019, each northwestern state has a higher rate of poverty than the national average of 40.1 per cent with Sokoto having the highest rate in the country: 87.73 per cent of the state’s population live in poverty,” the report stated. “Conflict is exacerbating this low-level education and development as one million Nigerian children are out of school due to insecurity in the northwest.”
One other factor driving banditry and terrorism in the region, according to the Abuja-based think-thank, is the land use disputes between farmers and herders, leading to intercommunal clashes between the two parties. Many farmers in the northwest are said to be Hausa while herders are predominantly Fulani.
“Some Fulanis have taken to farming and urban livelihood,” the report highlighted in parts. “There are strong divisions between pastoralists and the urban Fulani.”
Bandits on the Prowl
About a hundred groups of bandits with over 30,000 militants are operating in the northwest, killing, maiming, and kidnapping innocent citizens and residents of the region, the CDD has said.
The bandits, predominantly Fulani, include Hausa, Kanuri, and other tribes in the region. They depend largely on information gathering about their targets from informants who work in cahoots with them.
“Some bandits command more than 1000 fighters, though such groups tend to be loosely organised, granting significant autonomy to their commanders, colloquially known as lieutenants,” the report said. “One former bandit noted that in many groups, a lieutenant may even seek commanders’ permission to form a group once they have weapons and fighters.”
Political Will Is the Way forward
The CDD recommends that any efforts to end terrorism and banditry in the northwest region will require greater political will and unity among concerned leaders of the affected states.
The report noted that it is not enough to kill bandits or jail them, adding that the government has to be patient and have the willingness to make tough compromises and a holistic view of security.
Experts in the report also suggested that the killing of the late bandit kingpin, Buharin Daji, led his bandit group to fracture into nearly thirty groups thus increasing insecurity rather than reducing it.
“Any solution to end banditry will be contingent on security sector reform and improving trust between security agencies and local communities,” the report noted.
Despite repeated assurances, the Buhari administration has not been able to stop the violent criminals, a measure of assessing the President’s national security promise.
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