By Kola King
In the run-up to the 2015 presidential elections, All Progressives Congress (APC) party candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s unique selling point was his background as a former general and former military head of state. Many believed he had what it takes to combat the war on terror. As it happened, he went on to win that election, defeating the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). As soon as President Muhammadu Buhari assumed power, he gave a clear charge to the military high command to rout out Boko Haram in the North East region. Back then terrorism was confined to the North East region where about 2 million people were displaced from their ancestral lands and had become refugees in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. At that time, Boko Haram controlled around 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium, in its bloody six-year-old campaign to carve out an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.
Indeed Buhari’s charge to the armed forces was a wake-up call. At that point in time, Boko Haram controlled local government areas in Borno and Yobe states where they had raised their flag and established their influence, power, and authority in those areas. As expected the armed forces swung into action and before long had recovered all LGAs from Boko Haram and also restored relative peace in those areas. Over time the armed forces had established relative peace in the North East, especially with the acquisition of the Tucano jets and more lethal military hardware. The Tucano jets have become a game changer in the war against terror in the northeast.
At the onset, the war against terror was purposeful, decisive, and focused but along the way the war seem to have lost steam as it was generally perceived that the political will to fight the war was absent. It is for this reason, field commanders were seemingly held back in their efforts to prosecute the war to its logical conclusion. It will be recalled that in March 2020 Major General Olusegun Adeniyi theatre commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in Borno State voiced his frustration over the war in a video that went viral where he expressed regret that his men were prepared for battle but were held back by limitations in terms of military hardware in light of the superior firepower of Boko Haram. Shortly after, Adeniyi was recalled from the war front and reposted to Nigerian Army Resource Centre.
Much as the armed forces can thump their chest and bask in the glory of restoring relative peace and calm in the northeast, the same thing cannot be said about the growing security challenge in the North West and parts of the North Central that have become the epicenter of terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping. It’s as if the war on terror has been widened having spread downwards to the North West and parts of the North Central. In fact, Zamfara, Kaduna, and Katsina states have become hotbeds of terrorism. In the same vein, large swathes of territory in Niger State have been taken over by bandits and terrorists. In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir El Rufai has cried himself hoarse, claiming the Ansaru faction of Boko Haram are working in tandem with bandits to wreak havoc in the state. El Rufai had claimed that the terrorists had formed a parallel government in Kaduna State.
For instance, Southern Kaduna has been a prime target for bandits and terrorists where several communities have been attacked and several lives lost in the process. Even in northern parts of Kaduna communities including Igabi, Ikara, Giwa have not fared better as terrorists have continually desecrated many farming communities, putting agriculture which is the mainstay of many rural economies in jeopardy. Also, Birnin Gwari has become a notorious epicentre of banditry and terrorism. That’s why Governor El Rufai has for the umpteenth called upon the government to descend heavily on the hideouts of the bandits and terrorists and decimate them. In any case, the activities of terrorists reached a crescendo last March when these outlaws attacked a Kaduna-bound train killing eight passengers and taking over a hundred passengers as hostages.
The situation of things in Zamfara and Kaduna has taken a new dimension, hence it’s important to illustrate the current happenings in those two states. For example, bandits operating in Zamfara now kidnap farmers in various communities in the state and make them work as slaves, according to the Sunday Tribune report.
One of the affected farmers in the Dansadau area of Maru Local Government Area of the state, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, narrated the ordeal he and his colleagues are facing at the hands of the bandits.
Despite claims that the farmers in November 2021 negotiated with the bandits to allow them to go about their farming business and have access to their farms, the bandits, he said, have not ceased their attacks by abducting them to work as slaves.
Narrating how the bandits have turned most of the peasant farmers into slaves to Sunday Tribune he said, “they [bandits] will usually storm a village in a commando-style, kidnap the villagers and take them to the farms owned by [leaders] of the bandits’ kingpins where they would be forced to work on the farm”.
Most of the time, he narrated further, “such victims would be kept in the farms for months to be serving the bandits,” owing to fears of what could befall their families.
He further explained that the farmers had continued to pay the bandits for their protection, saying that was one of the reasons they negotiated with the bandits in November last year.
“Before then, sometimes the bandits would collect between N1m and N2m from the farmers for protection as well as to allow farmers access to their farms.
According to him, it was as a result of their terrible ordeals that farmers in the local government decided to dialogue with the bandits on their own.
“We told our traditional rulers that this is what we want. Sometimes in November last year, we met with the bandits, and, at the end of the day, we reached an agreement with them. That is why you see in Dansadau axis we have relative peace.”
In a similar vein, farmers in Birnin Gwari Local Government Area of Kaduna State have reportedly agreed to pay the huge amount that bandits levied them to access their farmlands.
According to Ishaq Usman Kasai, Chairman Birnin-Gwari Emirate Progressives Union (BEPU), bandits imposed multi-million naira levies on the farmers.
In a statement, he said the farmers resorted to negotiating with the bandits because they were helpless.
Furthermore, he said farming activities in Birnin-Gwari had been crippled as about 70 percent of farmlands have been inaccessible by farmers in the last three years.
“In many communities, farmers paid millions of Naira before they were allowed to access their farmlands.”
“Some of the agreements reached during the negotiations on the side of the farmers include allowing the farmers to access their farmlands without kidnapping or any form of intimidation by the bandits while the bandits should be allowed to be coming to towns and villages where the peace deals were entered for healthcare, buying and selling as well as any other normal business,” he said.
Kasai said the bandits had suspended kidnappings and attacks in some communities but they have continued to snatch motorcycles and other valuables from farmers.
However, as the war on terror rages and spreads, there have been misgivings about the capacity of our armed forces, and perhaps complicity of some security forces as well as the apparent lack of political will to confront these terrorists and bring them to heel. Already President Buhari has advised the military to fish out criminals within its ranks before they destroy the image of the armed forces. Still many security analysts who are former military officers including generals have always lamented that there was a missing link in the war on terror, which is the political will by the government to rein in these monsters. For this reason, the battle against terrorists have been haphazard and lacking effective bite and power. Little wonder the Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has accused the federal government of being complicit in the attacks on many communities and villages in Benue State. Governor Ortom went so far as to suggest that the manner in which perpetrators of this dastardly acts were being handled by the Federal Government was an indication that the Buhari administration was in cahoots with them and that it was a surreptitious attempt at a Fulanisation and Islamisation agenda, which is a clear attempt by Fulani herdsmen who are mostly from the Sahel region in West Africa to take over lands belonging to the indigenous people of Nigeria. To tackle the worsening security situation in Benue, last July Governor Ortom inaugurated the first batch of a 500-Man Benue State Community Volunteer Guards (BSCVG). The Governor lamented that from 2011 till date over 5,000 Benue indigenes were murdered in recurrent attacks by armed herdsmen which left over 1.5million persons displaced.
Arising from this situation thousands have been displaced from their ancestral lands in Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Taraba states and have sought refuge in Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. According to Statista, Nigeria has the third highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa. In 2020, it counted 2.7 million internally displaced people.
As the president comes under increasing pressure and attacks for handling the war on terror with kid gloves, he seems to have realized that whatever strides he has made in terms of infrastructural development will pale into insignificance in comparison to the creeping failure of the war on terror if he does not change tactics. The war on terror is turning out to be a chink in his armour. Thus with an eye toward his legacy, he has become more voluble and proactive in reading the riot act to the armed forces to take the battle to the terrorists and decimate their ranks once and for all. He has for the umpteenth given the military charge to eliminate the terrorists without any reservations. Speaking at the World Humanitarian Day in Maiduguri, Borno State last Friday, President Buhari told the armed forces: “I, therefore, implore you not to relent in your efforts, continue to take the fight to their hideouts, and ensure they are completely eliminated.”
As if taking a cue from the Commander-in-Chief, there’s been a renewed tempo and urgency against terrorists, insurgents and other criminal elements as fighter aircraft of the Nigerian Airforce have pounded terrorist Commander, Fiyal Ba Yuram, who succeeded Abubakar Shekau, in his enclave in Sambisa forest and killed scores of terrorists. Also, several hideouts of Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists were destroyed while many terrorists met their waterloo in precision air strikes. Similar airstrikes were undertaken in Lake Chad axis, believed to a training camp for terrorists.
With the change in tone and tenor of President Muhammadu Buhari, the security forces seems to have gained a new momentum in the battle against terrorists. Thus Buhari’s order to security agents is seen as carte blanche to hunt terrorists within Nigeria’s borders.
More importantly, Buhari said security agents have the mandate to hunt, pursue, and speak to terrorists in the language they understand. He spoke at the Citizens Summit for National Integration, Peace, and Security organized by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and Partners, held in Abuja. He promised to successfully tackle terrorism and banditry across the country.
He said: “We have directed the military to crush those terrorizing our citizens, peace and security are gradually being restored to the country.
“We must take the fight to the terrorists and demonstrate that there is no hiding place for them within the borders of our country.
“Each one of them will be hunted, and pursued and spoken to in the language that they understand.”
On the whole, the president’s tone and language appear to be the impetus needed by the armed forces to rout out banditry and terrorism from the land. At last President Buhari is prepared to match words with action. This is an indication that the president is not only ready to bark but prepared to bite as well. Now the missing jigsaw puzzle in the fight against terrorism has fallen in place. If the armed forces can sustain the current tempo of attacks on terrorrists, then there’s every likelihood that the tide of war will change in favour of the military. As they say, attack is the best form of defense. All said, the president’s current action is better late than never.