Charles Onunaiju argues that to win the war against the bandits, the flow of arms must be stemmed
The ignoble triple dare-devil of terrorism, banditry and kidnappings are the ferocious driver and core enablers of Nigeria’s worsening security nightmare.
The Zabarmari rice farmers gruesome murder for which Boko Haram took responsibility was still fresh, when a reportedly motorcycle-riding and assault-rifle wielding bandits invaded Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State, forcing over 600 students to flee in the dead of the night.
That these school children have been successfully rescued from the bandits and reunited with their families did not diminish the ever lurking reality of the criminals and their capacity to continually undermine national security and paint the country as unstable before the rest of the world. It will not be a matter of how the criminals were engaged in one single event and even overwhelmed as in the case of the Katsina school boys but on how serial criminality including terrorism, banditry and kidnapping is comprehensively rendered impotent, ineffectual and unattractive to prospective conscripts that would mostly count in the restoration of the integrity of the country’s national security and consequent local and international confidence.
Despite that crime and criminality have been with us, even in the most pristine times, it is only recently, especially since the return of civil rule in the late 1990s that it has morphed into a serious national security challenge.
Even the Boko Haram insurgency was largely confined to low-level clashes of the group with security outfits in Borno State in addition to the incendiary preaching of their founder and his henchmen. And even, as the terrorist group began their campaign of violence far away from Borno State, the method of improvising gas cylinders which are loaded in cars driven at high speed to hit their targets, which sometimes produce devastating impacts like the attack of the United Nations building in Abuja was crude.
But, somehow this rag tag terrorist group would soon metamorphose into a deadly and sophisticated armed group and there is the need to interrogate how it happened.
Without interrogating the origins of sudden bursts of high profile terrorist resurgence and escalation of acts of recalcitrant banditry and kidnappings, a realist solution may be far from being found. The fact that Northern Nigeria is currently the national epicenter of these criminals raises the question of the causal relationship between the escalation of these crimes and the collapse of the former maximum ruler of Libya, the late Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi and the fall of its heavy armory to non-state actors, especially to assort criminals and gun runners. While the fall of that regime and its consequences of escalating terrorism, banditry and other crimes within the Sahel and Lake Chad region were the result of Washington-led NATO alliance reckless armed intervention in the country’s political conflict, Nigeria under the leadership of the former President Goodluck Jonathan was an accessory to NATO’s armed intervention and consequent instability in the country.
When the Libya conflict broke out in 2011 with the armed opposition forming a parallel government of the so-called National Transitional Council (TNC) which was encouraged by the West and quickly recognized by it, only Nigeria under president Jonathan extended recognition to the Libyan armed opposition against a clearly and very solid African Consensus through the mechanism of the Africa Union (AU) that stridently canvassed and insisted on African-led negotiated and mediated solution to the conflict. The Nigeria government broke with the then Africa’s consensus to support NATO’s armed intervention which eventually led to the assassination of the Libyan leader and the chaos that ensued in the country, which up till today has several armed claimants to the government of the country. The regime of Colonel Ghaddafi has always had a sophisticated armory though, with a less stronger army than its Syrian counterpart that resisted Western regime-change plot.
As usual, with its predecessors and even successor, the Nigeria’s government under President Jonathan did not then, with hindsight or foresight analyze Nigeria’s strategic long term interest of the consequence, for our country of sudden fall or collapse of a heavily armed regime within its regional perimeter, when joining the West and its military alliance in canvassing regime change and armed intervention.
As typical of the West in cutting and running, it took no measure to secure the heavy armory of the colonel Ghaddafi regime after its fall, while its remnant forces which fled in different directions throughout the region as military instructors to assorted group of extremist insurgents and criminals ignited new conflict in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, just as the former members of the Iraqi military and the Baath party militia thoughtlessly disbanded by the Americans after the fall of Saddam Hussein formed the nucleus of ISIS and other assorted criminal gangs in the region.
Through the porous borders of Chad and Niger, who have common border with Libya, sophisticated arms flowed into Nigeria, given the then, flagging Boko Haram new lease of life and spawning a wave of audacious bandit and kidnap gangs that are currently ravaging Northern Nigeria.
As the West’s military alliance, NATO acted in flagrant breach of its famous article 5, its only provision for collective military action, which can only be invoked in an instance of a member coming under attack, the Nigeria government provided the only regional or African legitimacy to obvious illegal action of the Western military alliance.
Libya was not a member of NATO and its article 5 would never have sufficed in the illegal armed intervention and the consequent destabilization of the country.
In the current situation, where the continuing chaos in Libya and the flow of weapons down to the Sahel and Lake Chad region continues, with Nigeria’s internal security reaching a breaking point, what can be done to arrest and even roll back the chaos that is enveloping the country’s landscape, especially the northern region? The current war waged by the military and police against terrorists, bandits and kidnappers would occasionally tear through the heart of the treacherous criminality but would not conclusively alter its trajectories without effective intelligence, that traces and cuts off, the supply lines of weapons and amour, the principal enabler of criminal insurgency and desperate recalcitrance.
For a start, the military intelligence and other sister intelligence agencies need to create a quasi-shadowy trading group, possibly finding and enlisting smugglers that would trace, buy and mop up these weapons that ostensibly trade very lucratively in the black market. Killing or neutralizing criminals and terrorists while the weapons continue to flow in, would not significantly pressure the several illegal armed groups into submission or negotiation.
There is also public policy context, in the bourgeoning trajectory of crime and criminality, including terrorism in Nigeria. The dysfunctional institutions of government at all levels whereby policies are stripped of its public content and captured by state actors and their capricious and vested interest allies for private aggrandizement limits and narrows the framework to popular engagement.
However, the low-hang fruit of possible and potential defeat of the triple daredevil of terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping that is ravaging Nigeria and especially, its northern region now is to re-align military and police strategies to the fundamental issue of arresting the flow of arms to the bandits and terrorists, without which they will be easily overrun and subdued.
Onunaiju is research director of an Abuja based Think Tank