Banditry as resource control

By Dons Eze, PhD

As far as Nigeria is concerned, we explain resource control to be a system where a group of people will use their comparative advantage to force the government to funnel the nation’s common wealth to their side.

It started after the “One Million Man March” organized by Daniel Kanu of the “Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA)” infamy, where Nigerian youths were asked to march all the way to Abuja to “beg” former military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, to put off his military uniform, and put on babariga, and transmute to a civilian President.

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Youths from all over the country had converged in Abuja for the “One Million Man March”, including youths from the Niger Delta region, who after seeing magnificent edifices at the nation’s capital, ostensibly built with the oil wealth from their area, became agitated, began to compare themselves with the goose that laid the golden egg, but got nothing in return.

When they returned home, some of them entered the creeks, and began to fire at, and to seize ships in the high seas, destroyed oil installations, and kidnapped oil workers, Asari Dokubo, Atake Tom, and many their ilks. In no time, the entire Niger Delta region became restive and high security risk, and people feared venturing into the area, while the lifting of crude oil from the country, the mainstay of Nigerian economy, significantly dropped.

After a long battle, the government responded by not only granting oil bearing states in the Niger Delta region, thirteen percent derivation of the country’s oil revenue, but also granted amnesty to the militants. Some of the Niger Delta warlords were also awarded one huge contract or the other as part of their settlement. That was how the war in the Niger Delta region somehow subsided.

Borrowing a leaf from the Niger Delta experience, youths from the northern part of the country began to press for their own resource control. For more than ten years now, the North has been holding the country to ransom through one form of violent activity or the other, and the government has been responding by funnelling the nation’s common wealth to them through various means.

They started with Boko Haram, which they told us simply means “Western education is evil”. But ironically, this same people have been making use of Western made weapons – guns, rocket launchers, etc., to terrorize, kidnap, kill, maim and rape Nigerians, and also, use Western made communication equipment or gadgets like video clips, to communicate their activities to the outside world.

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Because the northern youths have nothing concrete on the ground to trade off, or to exchange, unlike the youths in the Niger Delta region who have crude oil buried under the belly of their land, the Nigerian government began to funnel the resources of the nation to them, through different other means.

Every year, a huge chunk of the country’s budget is dedicated to “fighting insurgency” in the North East. These budgetary allocations are used to buy weapons for the fighting forces in the field; to build camps, scattered all over the North East for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of the area, feed and clothe millions of these IDPs; and pay huge ransoms to the terrorists, to free their captives. Paradoxically, and very often, most of these weapons meant for our fighting forces, also found their way in the hands of the terrorists.

When it looked like the government was focusing more attention on youths in the North East, youths in the North West of the country began to agitate, to draw government attention to their own side, so as to have their own resource control. Pretending to be herdsmen, but armed with AK-47 rifles, they began to kidnap, maim, kill, and rape unarmed other Nigerians, and burn down their houses and farmlands. In the various negotiations for the release of their captives that followed, billions of government money were parted with, through intermediaries or negotiators before the kidnappers would agree to free their victims.

While we call these banditry or criminality, used to surreptitiously defraud the nation, or to steal the nation’s common wealth, those who hold the lever of power in the North, see them differently, and try to justify the acts, one way, or the other. Bauchi State Governor, Bala Muhammed, said the Fulani herdsmen were free to carry AK-47 rifles and use them anyway they wished, while Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawelle, said the bandits were “not criminals”.

On his part, renowned Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, categorically stated that the armed Fulani herdsmen were not bandits, but “militants fighting for ethnic survival”. According to Gumi, who always has free access to these kidnappers in their various dens inside the forests. “I hate to call them bandits. They are militants fighting for ethnic survival. They want to defend themselves. If you are talking about victims, they have more victims on their side than others”.

Sheikh Gumi claimed that these murderous Fulani herdsmen were “fighting a war of existence. If you have seen them (herdsmen), you will discover they have nothing like civilization other than the guns they are carrying. They are not killing people; they are just engaged in ethnic revenge. The Fulani herdsmen are kidnapping to make money”, he stated.

What all these entail is that the Fulani herdsmen, with their very influential backers, have discovered a new means of making money, which is kidnapping for ransom, as Sheikh Gumi clearly stated, and this has turned out to become a very lucrative business for the Fulani people.

The bandits will enter into a school compound, collect as many school children as they would want, herd them inside some waiting vehicles, or take them on foot, inside the forest. A go-between will suddenly emerge to begin negotiation with both the government and the kidnappers, on how much would be paid as ransom in order to secure the release of the hostages. No security agent will know where these kidnappers and their victims are staying, or have access to the place, only the mysterious go-betweens.

At the end of the negotiation, the government will play the necessary ball, and the hostages are released. The government will tell the world that no ransom was paid to secure the release of the victims. We will all clap for them.

The next day, another group of kidnappers, or even the same group of people, will surface and repeat the same act, and the government will equally play the same ball. Any wonder why a common Fulani herder can afford to wield an AK-47 rifle that costs between N300,000 to N400,000.

Kidnapping of school children has become a recurring decimal in many parts of Northern Nigeria these past few years. It happened in Chibok, in Dapchi, in Kankara, in Kagara, etc., the same commando style attack by the bandits, sorry, “freedom fighters”, according to Sheikh Ahmad Gumi.

How will it look like, if a well known Igbo leader, be he secular or religious, enters the forest of the South East to dialogue with the Eastern Securuty Network (ESN)? Won’t such a person instantly become a guest to our no nonsense security agencies, who will force him to explain how he got to know the ESN, its activities, and his role in the organization?

But no such thing has ever happened to Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and many other Northern negotiators with the Fulani bandits. They are very powerful people. They are untouchable people. Nobody will ask them questions regarding what they know or do not know about these bandits or terrorists, the motivations behind their actions, and their roles in the organization.

At the moment, everybody pretends not to know about these bandits, who they are, and where they stay, even our eagle-eyed security agencies. They live in the air. Nobody knows how they are funded. They are not human beings. They are spirits, without flesh and blood. That is why it will be very difficult to defeat terrorism in Nigeria, anytime so soon, or why it will take twenty years to defeat terrorism in Nigeria, as former Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, had stated.

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