Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari cannot be seen as a failure. But his two-term tenure as Nigeria’s civilian leader may be interrupted by the toll that banditry and terrorism have taken on his security agencies.
Hardly a week passes before the forces declare murders of bandits or terrorists. But terrorist gangs also occasionally exact a price in forces and civilians.
In a recent attack, the bandits killed 83 civilians, most of them women and children, and according to a Nigerian army statement, the bandits had used the civilians as human shields in a battle with the forces.
The rise in banditry has forced the military to deploy aerial firepower in some cases to deal with the threat in Nigeria’s north central and northwestern 12 states.
Caught in the crossfire
But the 83 dead on Tuesday, December 20, 2022 in Mutunji, in the Maru Local Government Area, in the northwestern Zamfara States, show the dangers of that. Nigerian Air Force (NAF) planes dropped bombs that killed 215 people, most of them bandits in their hideout.
It was indiscriminate.
Bandits fleeing NAF airstrikes ran to a small town called Mutunji for shelter but were hit by shells, a military dispatch said. “
Mr. Zailani Bappa, Special Adviser on Public Information, Media and Communications to Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara, conveyed his condolences and deepest condolences to the families of the victims caught in the military crossfire against the bandits.
Read: Nigerian army investigates civilian deaths in airstrikes
The incident, one of the worst so far, is an indication that the army is becoming more desperate in its offensive against bandits who have been legally declared terrorists, Agboola Olayinka, a security expert, told The EastAfrican on Tuesday in Abuja.
Nigeria had been debating whether to classify the bandits as terrorists or simply criminals interested in kidnapping for ransom. Officials recently decided to categorize bandits as terrorists, which would allow security forces to view their threats as dangerous and use weapons that would otherwise draw criticism.
In addition to atrocities, bandits have taken over some remote communities in the 12 Northwest and North Central states, imposed illegal levies and taxes on people, and destroyed social infrastructure, especially schools, telecommunications, and electrical facilities.
In Kwata, a small farming settlement in the Zurmi Local Government Area of Zamfara State and Shirroro in Niger State, bandits invaded, forcing peasants to abandon their homes and farmland.
Bandits, known as terrorists such as Boko Haram, kill, maim, kidnap and rape women in the troubled states of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Kaduna, Niger, Kaduna, Kogi, Benue, Jigawa, Plateau and part of FCT.
However, banditry is older than the Buhari administration. It started as a farmers vs. herders crisis in 2011 and was initially seen as a passing cloud. But it has turned into full-blown terrorism that has displaced more than 2.1 million people.
In Zamfara state, for example, around 69,000 IDPs, Kaduna 71,000, Katsina 61,000, Sokoto 45,000, while at least 3,000 have crossed the borders through the Maradi axis to take refuge in the republics of Niger and Chad.
One of the Shiroro farmers, Mr. Tarka Mohamed, said the bandits demanded the farmers pay 1.2 million naira ($2,500) to allow them access to the farmland and cultivate it.
Usman Kelly, another farmer in Zamfara, who said many farmers have fled his place, said they were forced to pay levies but bandits prevent them from entering their farms.
The Nigerian Red Cross Society has confirmed fears of imminent food insecurity in the north-west and central north saying: “The situation is critical and requires immediate attention.”
Buhari, who is expected to leave his post in 2023, said he wants the forces to eliminate the problem of banditry before the end of 2022, a deadline that has not been met.
“The army is now strong, well fortified and impregnable. If someone or a group dares to test our will now, they may not live to regret it,” Nigerian Home Minister Rauf Aregbesola said in Abuja.
But the governors of the affected states are frustrated that the problem is growing.
Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of the state of Niger expressed his helplessness in the face of the relentless invasion of various communities by bandits. In his state, some 50 villages are now occupied by bandits.
Ibrahim Dan-Musa, spokesman for the northern youth lobby group Northern Ethnic Groups Assembly, NEYGA, says the police are poorly funded and motivated, and the army, fighting a decade-long insurgency in the north-east, seems be at the end of his ingenuity on how to reduce the spiral of insecurity.
However, the war against banditry can be helped. The original terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS in West Africa are in a deadly battle for supremacy in which fighters kill each other in an attempt to carve out an Islamic state.