The wave of renewed rural armed banditry, cattle rustling and inter-connected crimes, which is the bane of security in Nigeria’s Northwest zone has spurred fresh concerns to inhabitants of this geographical zone. It is not only the people directly at the receiving end of these organized crimes by armed criminals that are worried, but every Nigerian is having sleepless nights over this unacceptable development. At the beginning of the present political dispensation, some State Chief Executives in the Northwest region, like the Zamfara state Governor, Alhaji Bello Mohammad Matawalle and his Katsina state counterpart, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari and so forth, played their hands on the option of peace talks with the bandits and their representatives. Interestingly, other leaders and stakeholders were involved in the dialogue to find lasting solutions to the horrendous acts of armed bandits and their collaborators.

Armed banditry in the region generally started in Zamfara, like Borno state also bears the infamous badge of importing Boko Haram terrorism into Nigeria. Initially, the criminals agreed to armistice or a ceasefire; pledging to allow peace reign. Precisely, Zamfara’s Gov. Matawalle was widely hailed and celebrated beyond the shores of the Northwest, and nationwide for achieving peace and security in the troubled state within his first 100 days in office. He recorded this feat in just 57 days of his administration. Good and relieving as it sounded, the consensus reached with armed bandits soon ran into muddy waters. And the signs came plainly pointing to the sponsors and veiled actors. And what followed needed no interpretation of a soothsayer to understand.

The incumbent Governor Matawalle had disagreements on political and governance issues in the state with his predecessor, Alhaji Abdullaziz Yari. The face-off between the duo simmered explosively and dramatically saw the revival and return of bandits, who had downed weapons. It marked the end of the peace pact with bandits. The experience of Zamfara is similar to virtually all the states where armed banditry has become a torn in the flesh in the Northwest. And bad blood stimulated by politics of leadership, control of state resources and the battle of supremacy among stakeholders and leaders in these states have fertilized, greased and nourished armed banditry. Of course, there could be other factors favourable to the bludgeoning of banditry in the region, but the refusal of these criminal acts to abate despite several seemingly fortified interventions voices a failure somewhere within.

Therefore, the Northwest region has continued to be assailed, burdened and caged by these criminal armed gangs. And in a region with a predominantly forested terrain smooth for their operations, rural dwellers have been subjected to avoidable pains, sorrows and hardships for the heartlessness and insensitivity of others. But those worst hit by the atrocities of bandits are innocent citizens and, so, it has elicited the concern of Nigeria, and Nigerians. The world is concerned and humanity is upset by it. It is confounding that some Nigerians have pleasured in sowing a different version of Boko Haram insurgency in Northwest. It is more painful that those responsible for arresting these acts of criminality at the embryonic stage have preferred to be onlookers, promoters and sponsors of the death sentence on their people.

It is one of the costly mistakes Nigerians made by failing to descend the sledge hammer on Boko Haram at its infantile stage, until it developed a thick skin. In the Northwest too, there is a conscious imitation of the indifference and lacunas which created conducive atmosphere for the consolidation and thriving of Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast region. Many can still remember that leaders of different shades under the auspices of Borno Elders Forum (BEF), where Boko Haram sprouted were indifferent to the brewing and potentially explosive and dangerous insurgency in their enclaves. But unconscionably, they rushed to assemble, deliberate and issue a public statement, stating their position and condemnation of the administration of President Buhari for clampdown on the extremists religious sect, Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), otherwise known as the Shiites in Nigeria. To date, BEF has remained aloof to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has entrenched itself and hijacked by external forces and terror sects, as exemplified by ISWAP. For years, Boko Haram has not only been a national security problem, but both Nigerians and the indigenes of the Northeast can bear testimony to its devastative and destructive effects on the once peaceful region.

The people of the Northwest are replicating the same culture of silence, endorsement and emboldening of the acts of armed banditry in the Northwest, instead of working against it. So, apart from the other numerous problems contending against the effective tackling of banditry in the Northwest, by the Army, there are also the mischief makers who have successfully re-baptized the acts of armed banditry and other criminalities in the zone with tags unrelated to what is happening in the area. There is a very conspicuous, conscious and misleading politicization of armed banditry in the Northwest by labelling the crimes as ethnic or religious. Given the explosive nature of religious and ethnicity issues in Nigeria, these are very repulsive attempts to inflame minds and ginger the further rapid spread of armed banditry and cattle rustling to other parts of North.

This is completely irrational and satanic. These armed bandits are clearly criminals, further driven by economic motives and to propagate inaccurate identities of the armed banditry activities, even where it resists is erecting conditions conducive for its boundless escalation. Like BEF, the leaders in Northwest are doing nothing or very little to contain, the hate preachments, indoctrination and massive recruitment of their youths into these terrible and armed criminal sects terrorizing and oppressing their people. The implication is that these Northwest leaders have not learnt the lessons abound from insurgency in the Northeast. Therefore, one can notice a discomforting repetition of the mistakes which landed the Northeast into the trouble and security quagmire it faces today. Northern Nigeria; no lessons learnt yet? Once a security problem is allowed to entrench deeply, it becomes difficult to uproot it. It took the decisive and focused leadership of the Nigerian Army under Lt. Gen TY Buratai, the COAS and leader of counterinsurgency operations to unveil Boko Haram and their sponsors as enemies of humanity.

The army chief took the battle to Boko Haram’s strongest havens in Sambisa forest and vicinities, as evident in the hatred of him by Shekau and his men. Shekau has shown it lamentingly in videos and all manner of public messages, even during the last Ramadan fasting, in which they trumpeted that Buratai and the Nigerian Army are against them. But it has been a tough confrontation, with its attendant waste of precious lives and public resources at great cost to the Nigerian state. There is every need for Nigerians and in particular, people of the Northwest to learn that bitter lesson from the Northeast. And every other person that seeks to divide the country through such divisive campaigns, instead of identifying the actual problem accurately and standing together to bring an end to the issue of banditry in the Northwest should first consider himself doomed before others. Peace and security are the only antidotes to development and prosperity.

Ajibili writes this piece from Abuja.

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