EVIL FORESTS AND TERROR GANGS IN WESTERN NIGERIA

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Oludayo Tade urges Southwest governors to network on their security policies and rout criminals hibernating in the forests

Living in terror spaces seem an apt description of what Nigerians encounter daily. The leadership of Nigeria has not lived up to meeting what is contained in the National Security Strategy (NSS) released by the Muhammadu Buhari government in 2019. In this document, the federal government of Nigeria is said to be committed to the National values of “freedom, equality and Justice”. The National Interest of Nigeria is said to be “preservation of Nigeria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and welfare of her people”. It recognises that armed banditry, kidnapping, militancy, separatists’ agitations and farmers and herders’ conflict, and porous borders collectively account for 40% of Nigeria’s national security threats. However, insecurity thrives because government wants freedom and equality but denies those victimised justice, and it mouths territorial integrity but continues to open her borders to transnational organised criminal gangs and transnational herders who continue to occupy ungoverned forests and wreaks havoc on livelihoods of indigenous Nigerian peoples whom President Muhammadu Buhari swore to secure and look after their welfare.

It was due to this obvious inefficiency of federal government controlled security agencies in taming mounting national security threats coupled with the experiences of victimisation in the hands of hellish terrorists who have turned highways and ungoverned forest spaces in western Nigeria to Kidnappers Bank of Nigeria (KBN), that southwest governors harmonise their thoughts for the establishment of Western Nigeria Security Network, codenamed Amotekun to secure the region from external aggression. From Ondo, to Ekiti, Osun to Ogun and Oyo States, the cries of indigenous peoples whose relations have suffered victimisation due to kidnapping, and herdsmen lawlessness are thunderous. The experiences vary and cut across social status. It affects those in government like Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and those out of government like Chief Olu-Falae who has been serial victim of kidnapping and herdsmen’s farm destruction. The sad tale continues in agrarian communities of Ibarapa in Oyo State where farmers, residents and investors have been murdered allegedly by criminal gangs of Fulani extraction. The federal government asked people to diversify to agriculture but those who have embraced farming are being displaced by forests gangs, and criminal kidnappers operating under the umbrella of herdsmen. Igangan community leaders cried to their state government and security agencies but they were let down as kidnapping continued. When confronted with security dilemma with no help from state government and the police, citizens are forced to employ self-up strategy which may be illegal but safety expedient.

While Ondo State seemed proactive, the Oyo State government was reactive and allowed a non-state actor, Sunday Adeyemo also known as ‘Igboho’, who is not a stranger to top politicians in the region, in defiance to the law confront the palace of Seriki Fulani accused of mediating payment of ransoms and bailing arrested tribal criminals. Even if Igboho’s approach was crude, the opportunity for Governor Seyi Makinde and the police to arrest the situation was provided by the seven-day ultimatum he issued. Rather than moving in to douse the tension and reassuring residents of their safety and bring perpetrators to book, they looked on until Igboho with his supporters moved to Igangan, addressed the people and the aftermath triggered forced reactive state mobilisation to speak with the affected communities. The meeting revealed that no fewer than 15 women had been raped with the payment of N50million naira to kidnappers. Some prominent investors from the communities were also killed by these violent criminal Fulani gangs.

While there are many law-abiding Fulani settlers who have co-habited peacefully for decades, the incursion of transnational Fulani gangs hibernating in forests in the name of herding but who later switch to kidnapping and torture of victims to pay millions threatens such historical peaceful relations. What the law abiding Fulani settlers ought to do is to expose the criminals straining their relationship with the host communities and not cover up for tribal criminals or mediate ransom payments. This is where profiling sets-in. Although there is sense in Governor Makinde’s approach not to label the Fulani ethnic groups as kidnappers, but the fact remains that victims of kidnapping debriefing unveiled the characteristics of their kidnappers and this data ought to have been used proactively in nipping the crime in the bud in the Ibarapa communities. Criminal profiling has been embraced as standard practice globally during which evidences from crime scene are used in identifying and predicting the personality of the offender. Criminological profiling assists in understanding the modus operandi, motivations driving crime, and offender characteristics with a view to preventing future crimes. Through it, we are able to know the geography of offending, likely victims, and time of offending and the character of victimisation.

That said, the kidnapping and banditry in the southwest region cannot be entirely successful without criminal collaboration of insiders. There are those who supply information on movement of who to kidnap, their relations, routines among others. There are also corrupt traditional rulers who compromise the security of their communities by accommodating criminals and releasing their lands in exchange for insecurity. Such traditional rulers should be deposed by government of such a state to serve as deterrent to others. Each state in the region needs to track influx of foreigners into their transport sector such as those doing Okada business. They need to be registered to work. Transnational beggars also litter most urban landscape in the region and may constitute security risks. While playing national unity politics of reception, indigenous security must not be sacrificed. Residents must also be warned against employing undocumented live-in workers.

The nature of security dilemma confronting western Nigerian peoples stems from the politics of national security. Western Nigerian peoples have observed overtime that offenders of farm destructions, complaints about kidnapping and banditry do not get desired attention and response from government. They therefore read state complicity in their criminal victimisation. Further to this, there is mutual suspicion between indigenous peoples of western Nigeria and the Fulani nation. This suspicion is fuelled by the uncertainty which they nurse about the intention of the Fulani in the region while the Fulani are suspicious of the Yoruba intention towards them. In other words, Yoruba fears the Fulani of attacking its ancestral home and displacing her people in pursuit of expansionist agenda while the Fulani also fears their evacuation from the zone. Owing to this fear, each side is accumulating power and capabilities to defend themselves and this can lead to further insecurity through avoidable wars.

Three critical elements of deterrence theory should be implemented to save the situation. One is SWIFTNESS. The response of the State (Federal and State Governments) must be swift and not allow things to degenerate to the level of destruction as witnessed in Igangan before acting. It does not show responsive and responsible governance. Second element is CERTAINTY that the offender will be arrested and punished. Resort to self-help is mostly precipitated when the victims of crime feel unprotected by those who should and see offenders being shielded by the State. How many victims of farm destruction, rape, kidnapping and murder have been served justice in the affected communities? The third is SEVERITY of punishment. It sees kidnappers, bandits, rapists among others as rational human beings who calculate the costs and benefits of kidnapping and banditry before venturing into it. This element is saying that it is not sufficient that the offender is arrested; he/she must be inflicted with punishment sufficient enough to deter future offending. Not doing this accounts for the festering of the crime. Southwest governors must network on their security policies and collectively enforce the ban on open, night and underage grazing and rout criminals hibernating in her forests.

Dr Tade, a sociologist sent this piece via dotad2003@yahoo.com