Buhari, Bandits and the Law

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GUEST COLUMNIST: MAGNUS ONYIBE

By Magnus Onyibe.

From cattle rustling to ‘human rustling’, all seem to be fair game to the bandits disguised in the garb of cattle rearers now testing the skills and will of the new chiefs of our armed services.

The spate of killings, abduction of students and the general state of insecurity in our country are so grim that putting a value to life in Nigeria has become such a harrowing experience due to the horrific pains of counting dead bodies. That is going by the terrifying account given by Mike Inalegu, one time Sole Administrator of a local government in Benue state , who stated that in Agatu, about 6,000 people were killed between 2013-15 due to herdsmen-farmers conflicts.

So also is the ritual of burials of those murdered in cold blood such as the over sixty (60)-some say over one hundred (100)-farmers whose throats were slit in Zabarmairi , Borno state.

Included in the orgy of killings and burials are large numbers of children as well as hordes of pregnant women, some of whom their wombs were reportedly ripped open across the north east, north west and north central parts of our country.

In total , some 20,000 Nigerians are estimated to have died due to violent conflicts in our country since the return to multi party democracy in Nigeria from 1999.

In kaduna state, north west Nigeria alone , 937 people were killed and 1,972 were kidnapped. That is according to the 2020 report recently presented by the state commissioner for lnternal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan.

The grisly deaths described earlier are usually accompanied by the agonizing cries of the bereaved family members, whose wailing and weeping from their deep pain can be so blood cuddling that even the devil’s heart may be stirred or melt. Yet the victims and families of the gruesome murder are Nigerians that have entrusted the safety of their lives and properties to our leaders who have largely been unable to help them fend off the hunters of their lives.

When all of the forgoing miseries are put together, the weight is so crippling and gut wrenching that the feeling of loss of sanctity of human lives becomes very gripping and beyond description.

That is simply because the number of deaths is so stunning and the process of dying is so careless that the word Hobbesian is appearing to be too mild to describe how precarious the lives of Nigerians are today . The stunningly and astonishingly horrible state of anarchy is even made worse by the increased tempo of kidnapping of students in schools in the frontline states. It’s stating the obvious by pointing out that the students are now living in mortal fear of being kidnapped or killed by bandits any moment .

How traumatizing and what a disincentive for them to attend school in the future !
Given the reality described above , it is certainly not an exaggeration to state that parts of our country are steadily becoming gangster territory where the rule of the jungle appears to have replaced the rule of law which seems to have been abrogated by the rampaging bandits .

The level of lawlessness is encapsulated by the currently circulating video of the terrified innocent school children being tortured by the bandits that kidnapped them last Thursday, from the school of forestry, near Nigeria Defense Academy, (NDA) kaduna .

It is obvious that the risks to life in states like Borno,Zamfara, Kebbi, Gombe,katsina , and kaduna where criminality is carried out with such reckless abandon is so rife that one may be led to believe that human life is less valuable than that of the cattle that the criminal elements are using as camouflage.

For far too long, bandits have been mocking Nigerians, particularly the leadership.
Like the abduction of students in Kankara, near president Buhari’s hometown of Daura on the eve of his official visit to the state.

Under the noses of political leaders since the past 21 years of return to multi party democratic system of Government , the nefarious ambassadors have been hounding our fellow citizens with minimum or no consequences at all .

While the death enterprise of the criminals have been thriving, the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians have been in severe jeopardy. The outlaws seem not to even care that a new set of military service chiefs have just been installed and therefore their increased tempo of kidnapping and killings even before the military top brass settle into the job, would be infuriating, as such it could result in severe consequences for them.

Clearly, the bandits who have become dyed-in-the-wool, and emboldened by each success in their missions, are highly motivated criminals and therefore only subscribe to the philosophy of raping , maiming and killing either as hobby, passion or mission.

These merchants of death hounding fellow country men and women, in my view, are nothing short of domestic terrorists and they come in a wide variety.

There are the religion extremists that have transformed into insurgents currently wreaking havoc on the lives and livelihoods of fellow citizens in the north and setting the region back,development wise ; the environmental rights agitators that morphed into militants and sea pirates that were wrecking oil/gas facilities in the Niger Delta,thereby upending the economic growth of Nigeria; and the castle rustlers disguised as pastoralists who have now expanded their ‘trade’ into kidnapping humans instead of just rustling only cattle.

It is worth pointing out that human “rustling” has become more attractive simply because of the high Return on Investment , (Rol) on kidnapping for ransom that is currently more financially rewarding than Cattle Rustling and therefore the latest focus of the bandits.

This is evidenced by the huge income they must be raking in from their new line of ‘business’ of kidnapping of humans on highways which has recently been expanded into breaking into schools and carting away students in the manner that robbers break into banks vaults and cart away cash.
It is very likely that in the dark minds of kidnappers, schools are like ‘sitting dock’ or bank vaults where huge volumes of cash are warehoused .

Apparently, to them , why should they take the risk of staging road blocks on the highways just to hijack only a handful of motorists , when they can easily breach a wall or gate and gain access into school hostels and cart away hundreds of students and wait for state governors to send emissaries to negotiate the payment of ransom to secure their release?

Unsurprisingly, the Americans in making their recent offer to help Nigeria find and recover the latest victims of kidnap, have acknowledged what most of us have been stressing , which is that those abducting students for ransom are not members of Boko Haram and ISWAP. It is now affirmed that the kidnappers are common criminals with the sole of purpose of extorting money through intimidation like armed robbers do to their victims and their family members .

Although , some governors of the affected states have chosen to keep living in denial by claiming that they did not pay any ransom, l wonder why the kidnappers would persist in the business of kidnapping, if they were not getting handsomely rewarded. The fact that they kidnap a new set barely hours after releasing their last victims (back to back) speaks volumes about how lucrative and less risky the business of kidnapping has become to the outlaws compared to Rustling cattle.

It reminds me of how indigenously fabricated crude oil refineries spring up in the Niger Delta soon after existing ones were destroyed by government authorities.They were serving a purpose -creating jobs for the displaced farmers due to oil/gas exploration. In the absence of opportunities fishing and farming, operating crude refineries created opportunities. That’s why bursting of crude oil pipelines to siphon some for refining was thriving and sustaining the local economy. The proposed establishment of modular refineries in the Nigerian delta region for the communities via cooperative unions are now about to solve the environmental and piracy problems in the manner that the establishment of ranches would settle the herders-farmers conflicts across Nigeria .

Pardon the deviation which is to remind relevant authorities that there is no problem without a solution if they choose to think outside the box.

Comparing cattle rustling to kidnapping of humans , the risk that the bandits face from genuine cattle herdsmen who put up resistance by fighting back fiercely when they attempt to rustle their livestocks is higher than when they simply stroll into schools , shoot sporadically into the air to intimidate the young lads or lasses and abduct them from their hostels without resistance.

Apparently, President Buhari was very sure of what he was saying (after all, the security agencies report to him) when he admonished governors not to negotiate with or pay ransoms to bandits as it would only embolden them to continue to engage in the obnoxious practice. We need not be rocket scientists to figure out that ransom money would provide the bandits with more funds to acquire more deadly weapons to intimidate more victims.

With the current increasing spate of kidnapping, particularly of students , from Chibok, in Borno in 2014 to the recent abductions of Kankara boys in katsina to Jangebe, in Zamfara state and Kagara , Niger state to the current abduction of more students in the school of forestry near Nigerian Defense Academy in kaduna state, president Buhari’s prediction of an endless circle of kidnapping, paying ransom and kidnapping again, has come to manifestation. One is befuddled by the fact that the governors who have been paying ransom failed to heed the advice of mr president who is in a pole position to have hard facts on the matter of insecurity and the consequences of ransom paying.

It is a no brainer to conclude that the siege by the bandits has despoiled the north east, west, and central so much so that it is now on the verge of not only causing famine in the north, but by extension, the whole nation that depends on farmers from the zone for staple food. That is because our brothers and sisters in rural northern half of our country have been unable to engage in the practice of agriculture for their own sustenance, how much more sell to the rest of Nigerians.

And the destructive activities of the bloody religious insurrectionists still festering out there could also have severe negative impact on education in a region where the rate of out of school children is already very alarming-10.5m in the country as a whole and 69% of whom are in the north.

The assertion or narrative on the worsening number of out of school children is underscored by the fact that the schools where the criminals have not already kidnapped students (which are now like high valued ‘cargoes’ in the ways that robbers target bank vaults or bullion vans) had to be shut down.

If the shutting down of schools to avoid exposing our young ones to the danger of kidnap persists, then Boko Haram, the religious insurgents who pioneered the kidnap of students , with Chibok girls in 2014, would have succeeded in their mission to upend Western education in the north.

It would be in consonance with the extremist ideology of the Boko Haram sect, which when translated into English language is: Western Education is sacrilege.
Taken from the foregoing optics, president Buhari must have been at his wits end and rankled so very badly to have given the nation’s security forces the order to shoot-at- sight any AK47 wielding persons found in the forests of our country.

To take such a draconian measure , he must have come to the conclusion that his reluctance to take drastic actions over the past five years has probably not been the best path to ending the rising tide of insecurity.

That’s quite unlike the case in Ghana where the law courts ruled against open grazing of cattle and the police boss started enforcing the court order by directing his men to shoot-at-sight any cattle found roaming the streets. That’s what solved the problem in Ghana when the country was faced with a similar threat of pastoralists and farmers crisis, in Agogo state.

It was scary when l saw the police boss captured in a video footage directing his men, based on the court order, to shoot-to-kill any cow found roaming the streets or forests .

I was nonplussed, but it is believed that it is the brash and harsh action by the Ghanaian authorities that has put an effective end to open grazing of livestock and thus diffused the herdsmen-farmers conflict that was looming in Ghanaian horizon like a bad storm.

But l believe that the leadership of cattle herders in Nigeria that is much more organized wouldn’t allow the situation to degenerate to such bizarre level in our country. Hence l’m encouraged by the recent statement credited to the umbrella body of our own cattle herders,miyetti allah , particularly the Ondo state chapter that they are now open to embracing the initiative of plying their trade in ranches. That’s an initiative already undertaken in Ghana where the authorities have set up a ranch in the Volta Region in compliance with the law banning open grazing.It is also a venture that Kano state governor Abubakar Ganduje is equally implementing in Kano state,Nigeria, even without being compelled by law,but by existential reality.

By now ,some avid readers of literature books must have figured out that the title of this piece is derived from the famous book titled “To Kill A Mockingbird“
For those who may not be familiar with the book,it is a novel by the renown American author, Harper Lee.

It was a Pulitzer Prize winning book published in 1960 and widely read as a classic in American school system.

Although the very arresting title “To Kill A Mocking Bird”does not speak directly to the core issue discussed in the book which is about a child’s view on race relations and justice , a particular dialogue in the book is very striking to me. It conveys or drives home the message that l want to pass along about the danger inherent in president Buhari’s directive to our country’s security agencies to shoot-at-sight anyone bearing AK47 rifle in the forests.
The referenced line in the book goes like this:

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

I’m enthralled by the caveat “ …remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” which is the message that l would like our president to take away from the book which l’m also recommending that he reads in his spare time.

Drawing from the wisdom in the caveat “…remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird “, l would like to suggest that president Buhari considers adding a cautionary note to his shoot-at-sight directive something like: “…but don’t forget to observe security agencies professional ethos or rules of engagement.”

I’m not unaware that mr president has rebuffed, via his spokesman , Femi Adesina the entreaties by civil society organizations to rescind his shoot-at- sight directive. He reportedly did so during a meeting with some traditional rulers.

The doubling down is perhaps owed to the fact that the atrocities have probably become too repugnant to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria. Also, as a parent , mr president must be miffed, if not aghast after watching the videos of the traumatic experiences of the young boys and girls spending days, weeks, months and even years with their abductors- one of the Chibok school girls, Leah Sharibu is still in captivity since April 14, 2014.

By next month it will be seven years since the young girl , Sharibu seized from her school hostel simply because she choose to go to school to acquire education in a period that gangsters reign supreme in her region of birth .

President Buhari might still have the images of the Kankara boys when he was counseling them after they regained freedom from their captors flashing in his memory . And the current video of the young innocent students kidnapped last Thursday being tortured by their captors must have added ‘salt to an injury’ as we characterize disgust in this part of the world.

As the saying goes , desperate situations deserve desperate responses. So , what l’m trying to say is that President Buhari is also human, and he might have justifiably reached his limit of endurance and he is therefore enraged by the unprecedented level of insecurity in our country.
More so because it is in spite of all the efforts that he has made within the ambit of the laws of the land to rein in the religious insurgents and wipe out the bandits currently wreaking havoc around our country and ruining the lives of our country men and women.

Obviously, our president can’t afford to stand by and watch in the manner that a defeated farmer helplessly watches a swarm of locust worm descend on his maize farm and destroy it, or be like a fish pond owner watching piranha attack and destroy other fishes or living organisms in the pond, while being unable to do anything to stop the ravenous fish specie from having its way.

The very grim security situation painted above and in which our country finds itself now, might explain why president Buhari decided to wield the ‘big stick’, no matter whose ox is gored.
But as we may be well aware from our various personal experiences, decisions made in anger are bound to backfire.

And one way to mitigate the potential unintended consequences from the current shoot-at-sight directive by an obviously upset president Buhari , (so that it does not constitute future collateral damages) is to add the caveat that would forbid members of the security agencies from abusing the directive-executing it recklessly or in breach.

It is in that regard that l would like to suggest that mr president revisits that Shoot-at-right directive in the interest of good governance, respect for the rule of law and adherence to fundamental human rights principles as enshrined in the United Nations, UN charter of which Nigeria has ratified and subscribed.

I’m not unaware of the universal dictum, ‘all is fair in war’.

And to some extent, our country can be said to be engaged in an internal war with the outlaws. Just as some of our fellow citizens that are in the eyes of the storm and even some military men/women in the frontline , would understandably like to thumb their noses at those of us calling for respect for human rights and other war conventions, when the criminals are nothing short of butchers of human beings.

Unarguably, they have the right to encourage the adoption of the principles of ‘all is fair in war’.

After all , they are the ones bearing the brunt of the villainous mobs, so they feel the pains the most.

Be that as it may, l would like to make a case that our security agencies can do better by not descending to the low levels of the criminals by flouting the universal rule of engagements in the manner that president Rodrigo Duterte of Philippine is allegedly doing in his country by authorizing security agencies to gun down drug cartel members whenever and wherever they are suspected or found. Although fighting a good cause, his method is leaving a bad taste in the mouth. So his legacy which wouldn’t be noble will not be celebrated by men and women of goodwill after he leaves office as any positive accomplishments that he might have chalked up, would be diminished by the singular act of not respecting human rights of fellow citizens.

By not observing the rules of engagement, our law enforcement agencies ,may inadvertently be sinking into the low level of being indistinguishable from the outlaws also known as bandits or killer herdsmen, depending on whose prism is applied.

And such lawlessness may leave a lasting negative effect on the psyche of members of the military and society at large . I can easily recall when back in the days, the men and women of the mobile police force were referred to as kill-and-go in Nigeria.

It has remained a stigma and epithet which SARS-the dreaded unit of the Nigeria police force now disbanded borrowed briefly from the mobile police force.

To stem the ugly tide of abduction of students from the schools now assuming a pandemic dimension, how about making determined efforts to keep the schools open by deploying a sizable(like half a dozen) contingent of well armed members of the security forces in each of the schools that are vulnerable? The disbanded SARs members can be retrained for that purpose so that they can serve as counter forces that could repel any attack as first responders before calling for reinforcement.
The United States of America, USA took such a precautionary measure in the wake of terrorists shootings in schools, other public places and the measure stemmed the tide.

Before that, the country had also placed armed Marshals in the cabins of commercial airplanes after the hijack of airplanes by terrorists who crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the pentagon in Washington, DC in September of 2011. Having marshals in commercial airplanes is part of what made it possible for the airplane shoe bomber involving a Nigerian to be tackled shortly after 9/11.

So the strategy of having Marshals in airplanes helped to ward off other potential hijackers.
And so did posting armed members of the security forces to schools, public spaces, pending when superior measures were later introduced serve as deterrent to further attacks.

Certainly, failure to adopt such a measure in Nigeria can’t be that our country lacks the number of military men and women to carry out that task which would be temporary.

I guess the case l’m trying to make is that the nation’s strategists should stretch their imagination further in other to come up with better options to stem the scourge of insecurity of lives and properties presently bedeviling our country. There must be options better than the shoot-at-sight directive which might have been made in anger.

The president Buhari that at the inception of his administration nearly six (6) years ago initially resisted fuel pump price increase , the removal of fuel subsidy and the devaluation of the naira , later accepted the reality.

In my assessment, president Buhari may not be as inflexible as most Nigerians tend to think he is.
I may be wrong, but that’s my conviction.

As such, l remain persuaded that he is open to amending his stance in this matter of shoot-at-sight of Ak47 riffle bearing individuals in the forest which is deemed or considered to be draconian in the current atmosphere of democracy as opposed to military dictatorship.
Rather than shoot-at-sight, l expect a more rigorous enforcement of the rules of engagement by security agencies and the introduction of more laws promoting ethnic unity and harmonious co-existence in our beloved country.

•Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst ,author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government, sent this piece from Lagos.