• From crime to a hydra-headed monster that threatens the present way of life

In the troubled North West and North Central, where banditry now ravages near-unchecked, it is turning from simple crime-and-punishment, to a plague threatening to down the entire societal mores.

In the South West, where it manifests as herder killings and provokes terrible inter-ethnic tension; and South East and South-South, where it comes as lunatic attacks on security agents at check points, aside from attacks and arson on police stations, it is threatening anomie, if not outright anarchy.

Banditry, powered by rogue arms and ammo in rogue hands is, therefore, an existential danger that must be faced down and defeated.

But back to the troubled North West and North Central, specifically Zamfara and Niger states, the current vortex of the emergency.  In both Jangebe (Zamfara), where bandits seized pupils from an all-girls boarding school, and Kankara (Niger), where they prowled on boy-boarders, in a dilapidated all-boys science secondary school, the latest face and phase of the evil is made manifest.

The pupils may have been released to the relief of their parents and guardians, thanks to a prompt response by the security agencies.  But that such could still happen within a spade of two weeks of each other, even after the early Chibok (Borno) and Dapchi (Yobe) Boko Haram kidnaps, shows a deep chink in Nigeria’s security armour that must quickly be sealed.

Then, the sheer horror and trauma, coming from the seized Jangebe girls! A tearful Hafsatu Anka, an SS 2 pupil, said the captors herded the girls “in trenches, littered with human faeces”, as reported by The Nation, just to hide them from view.

Hafsatu further volunteered: “There was no clean water or good food; and we felt we had already spent years during our first day in their camp.  The bandits kept firing in the air to scare us.”

As if that was not enough trauma, the girls ran into the father of one of their classmates, who the bandits had earlier kidnapped.  But seized dad made frantic gestures to seized daughter, not to betray any sign of recognition — else both of them could be doomed!

In the aftermath of it all, many of the girls are opting out of boarding school.  Seven northern states are also shutting down boarding schools in endangered areas, to re-stock, appraise and re-think the security situation and plot adequate cordons.

That could well result in many teens, boys and girls, dropping out of school, aided by many parents, in the first instance, reluctant to send them; in a region that badly needs mass education to boost its future competitiveness.  That could be the bandits’ rogue fulfilment of Boko Haram’s rogue charter: that western education is “haram”.  Yet, the North West/North Central bandits claim no religious indoctrination or radicalization!

With the on-going insurrection in the North East, these then are the grim prospects that face the North West and North Central governments and people.  Beyond getting rid of bandits, therefore, the Federal Government should closely partner with these governments to plot sanity after banditry.

Unless well and carefully handled, the post-banditry period could even be home to a worse crisis.  A massive hopelessness, resulting from breakdown of norms, could plague the whole North, and by extension, the entire country.

This dire prognosis is not helped by the dawning but unsettling reality, of banditry as lucrative business; with many hustlers plotting and taking their cuts, at the many illicit “value” chains — informants, gun runners, drug peddlers and even dire malcontents, that simply have a score to settle with the sitting order!

The Kagara boys got told by their captors that they had a ready stream of informants, who they pay huge money; and without whom they couldn’t even launch a mission.  To that network of informants, banditry is newfound business which they are ready to milk — unless, somewhat, the security agencies nab them and bust their network.

This does not appear the case now — at least for many of them.  But it could be, with better and more systemic intelligence gathering.  Bandit informants are about the most pernicious in the chain. For a cut of blood money, they point to soft targets; and mainstream banditry and other violent crimes.  That is why the security agencies must break up their illicit chain.

Then Bello Matawalle, the governor of Zamfara State, is alleging subversion, by those determined to ruin his initiative, of making peace with repentant bandits.  As controversial as giving heinous killers free passage is, the governor’s allegations require a swift and serious probe.  Whoever is found aiding and abetting banditry should be hauled in, interrogated and punished.

Banditry has bucked simple crime to become a multi-pronged crisis.  That is why the government must do a multi-layered response.  Without that, the future is cloudy and bleak.

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